I find myself experiencing a kind of joyful obsolescence at the moment while reading the recent stream of posts from Andre Malan’s blog. I’m nothing short of blown away, and if you are at all interested in WPMu as an educational publishing platform (that will, indeed, prove the prototype of a “BlackBoard killer” sooner than later) you should really be reading his blog regularly. He has a series of posts that have nailed the various ways to approach WPMu as syndicated publishing platform for teaching and learning, and his examples in this post point to one nuanced, open-ended vision of eduglu that Jon Beasley-Murray articulated at Northern Voice last year: students should be able to use any blogging platform they want and simply feed it into an aggregating course blog . Well, Andre has delivered the goods.
Take a look at the test case he is currently working on with Jon’s Spanish 312 course. If you mouse over the list of student blogs in the sidebar you’ll quickly notice that they have their blogs on a variety of different services such as Blogger, Xanga, Livejournal, WordPress, Movable Type, etc. And all the feeds are being brought into one course site (or Ghost Blog as Andre calls this flavor of the various types of course blogs). Moreover, such a setup is made infinitely easier with the Add to BDPRSs WordPress Plugin which provides the ability to let the student add their own feed to the Ghost Blog.
Now, one question that will inevitably arise is whether or not you can feed only a particular category of a blog (or a specific tag) into a this Ghost site in the event a student is using their blog for more than one course, or as a general publishing space for all his or her ideas. I know this is possible with WordPress, but I am not sure how all the other services deal with category/tag feeds, this will probably change from service to service and may suggest the value of using one platform over another if this capability is not readily available.
Nonetheless, the ease with which a publishing platform like WPMu can allow students and professors to create, share and ultimately control their own work suggests that this is the model of the future. Finally a framework that allows one to manage and control his or her intellectual life digitally apart from a university; a system that illustrates how we can begin to use these tools as a digital notebook/portfolio/sandbox that can be easily shared with others and made to resonate thoughtfully on innumerable levels; a methodology that suggests the work you are doing during these formative years of your education is valuable, should be maintained by you, and is of use to others. That is the message the LMSs have utterly failed to communicate. The architecture of these aracane systems intentionally insulate students and faculty from the ideas of others, thereby fracturing the very heart of the open experience that teaching and learning should represent at its best. The design of this model up and until now has basically communicated to students that their work is worthless and their existence within a digital learning community is tantamount to just another netid on a server.
Aside from all the profiteering and greed that has come to characterize the struggle for dominance in the LMS market (with BlackBoard leading the way in this deaprtment, as opposed to anything resembling innovation), the plain fact is that their model is obsolete and students like Andre and his cohort are framing the future of digital education one blog post at a time. And I can’t even begin to tell you how fired up that we have them on the open team!