Overwhelming students with too many online platforms

So this isn’t a blog that’s one of our required assignments, but more a quick reflection on my own experiences with the OLE course the past few weeks as it resonates with a comment a student recently made to me.  I am leading a team of faculty and staff in the Wilder School who is visiting several of our classes to discuss diversity and inclusion.  This has been a positive and meaningful experience as we have received a great deal of feedback from students on various issues.  But one comment in particular has stayed with me and become more salient as I have been participating in the OLE course.  In one of the undergraduate classes, a student commented that he is frustrated with how many different platforms his instructors are using and the challenges that poses for students to have to learn these different platforms, log in to different programs, etc. I have to say I feel his pain as each week we are exposed to different online options and I struggle with learning how they all work and what they do.  Granted, I signed up for this and am hoping to identify the few options that will enhance my particular courses and teaching styles, and I know that I have devoted 8 weeks to doing this.  But I do think we should also consider the effect on our students of having multiple instructors experimenting with multiple programs that they have to navigate and learn and we are basically dragging them along for the ride.  I don’t have a solution to this but thought it was worth raising.  I suspect, and hope, that the ALT lab instructors have some awareness of this issue and some ideas about how to manage it.  I am also sensitive to the notion of academic freedom and instructors’ rights to teach the way they feel encourages the most learning, but I am also sensitive to the students’ experiences.  I’m interested in others’ thoughts.

6 thoughts on “Overwhelming students with too many online platforms

  1. Sarah,
    You raise some very good questions and legitimate concerns! I often ask myself these very same questions too. My primary objective with OLE is to explore what is out there and to learn how to incorporate the latest technologies to help my students remain engaged and be part of a learning community. I totally agree that sometimes it becomes too intrusive.
    Good luck,

  2. I totally understand your perspective, but I believe OLE is designed to give you the opportunity to explore a lot of the options that are available to instructors, in many cases you may come across tools that seem to serve similar purposes. What you’ll have to do is to know what your options are and then decide which ones are best suited for your engaging your students and meeting your learning objectives/goals. There are some tools that may work for a majority of instructors however, in some cases what works for your content area/students might not work for another instructor’s content area. I think it’s about finding that balance of what works for you. At the same time even though there are several options out there you may decide to just pick one at a time and integrate it into your teaching to see how it goes.

  3. I don’t know if it can be controlled but I agree it should be considered.

    One thing I think about is whether the particular environment/tool is just for the course or if it’s in broad use outside academia or in a particular career path. One of the reasons we opt to use WordPress is that it is free software which students would have access to outside their affiliation with VCU. It’s also currently runs one out of every four websites on the Internet. It’s also highly flexible software and can be used to do many things. Compare that to the traditional learning management system. I consider most skills acquired to use things like Blackboard as wasted energy. It’s a limited tool that isn’t used outside academia and it is prohibitively expensive.

    At a larger scale, being able to grasp and take advantage of different systems seems like something that will be more and more necessary. Students seem to have little problem doing that in non-academic settings. Tool complexity certainly varies but I often wonder if it’s less about complexity and more about motivation. It’s also another reason I tend to use public tools (rather than academic ones) with students. Those tools tend to have certain common design patterns and are engineered to be usable because people aren’t forced to use them (often not the case with academic software). It’s also why I try to focus with students on basic approaches to new tools rather than step-by-step directions.

    I believe that articulating why you choose a particular tool/platform can help with motivation and understanding for students (something we could do better in OLE). We go through more platforms in OLE that we might otherwise in an attempt to give you a broader experience so you might choose later with more intent.

  4. This is a real issue for everyone. Philosophically, I’m with Tom about learning things that will prove useful after students leave school. Lifelong learning skills includes particular tools but also basic skills like how to manage the many platforms they will likely use in their “real” lives after college. And, BTW, simple advice like a spreadsheet for passwords or a password manager like LastPass (https://lastpass.com/).

  5. Pingback: The possibilities of/for #onlinelearning – Jonathan D. Becker, J.D., Ph.D.

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