My post for this week is about 'web strategy' for institutions and educators. (I used to write a lot about 'web strategy' for enterprise software as a journalist). As we all approach the tension between courseware (Blackboard, Sakai, Moodle) vs. the DIY (do-it-yourself) ethos of Web 2.0 (blogs, Ning, Facebook, social networking, etc.--that's us in this faculty seminar), a few thoughts struck me as I got stuck with a simple Blackboard task....
For one of my classes, I wanted to look up a course handout that I didn't have on my local drive at home. No big deal, I thought, I'll just look it up online on Blackboard. But it wasn't as easy as that: the handout was last used--it had turned out--a few years ago for the same course. But Blackboard's search capabilities are non-existent. I had to go through my individual courses one at time and search using my browser's find button. Ugh.
This is, of course, less than ideal and it got me thinking about the problem we're already having in keeping track of content across different platforms and tools (blogs for my class). One of the appealing things about Blackboard is it is a 'portal' that gets you to contents (your courses) easily across time. We can expect Blackboard (eventually) to get social networking and blog abilities (and maybe even proper searching!) It won't be perfect, but institutions and standards are good (especially when it comes to making sure students can access the software and for re-using courses over time). Once you've used Blackboard once for one class, you can use it for all your classes, right?
For the world of Web 2.0, re-use is a problem. My wikis for my courses including LIB 200 will need re-launching every semester (with content for a new class). Re-using a blog (as a substitute for courseware like Blackboard) is not easy. I wouldn't relish having to use Blogger as the main entry point for a class. (Right now, I'm still using Blackboard to post materials--and I have several extra pages for research links, class notes. There is a blog roll there to connect students with Blogger.) Yes, shouldn't all this content--on Blackboard or on blogs--be available to everyone in the College? Well it could be with a proper search ability, for example.
For searching, this are obvious solutions. Institutions might investigate tools like Google's Site Search engine (about $250 and up to index a modest number of web pages). Students and faculty would be able to search relevant content across a pre-defined set of blogs and so forth--for example, the content for our Community 2.0 courses.) That's what we would need for the different types of users who might be interested in a 'vertically or horizontally linked' set of courses: current students for a course, loyal students who take several courses by the same prof., prospective students to an institution, and indeed other faculty members interested in seeing what is being taught across classes.... I could add that as we think about online/distance learning and/or hybrid courses, all these problems become even more pressing. (You don't want to re-invent the proverbial wheel with Web 2.0 when teaching online.)
The bottom line? Well, the DIY aspect to Web 2.0 is wonderful in some ways, but it makes it difficult to search and find content across different tools and platforms, and reusing course content (not to mention general administration tasks, like remembering all those passwords!!) is another problem. I'm actually betting on Blackboard and other courseware platforms to get smarter. If they do, we'll be able to work within a standard set of tools that support the best features of Web 2.0 for all.... Anyway, it's exciting to be doing it ourselves, but there has to be a better way in the near future mixing standards, best practices, etc., and platforms (like Blackboard or Blogger) that we can share and one day agree upon as an institution....
Have a good Spring Break everybody!