On a pretty regular basis I hear griping from people in the edtech blogging community about how terrible CMS platform X is, or how they are being forced to settle on the functionality provided in CMS platform Y. Rarely, however, do people get specific about what they can’t accomplish in the existing CMS (I’m referring to the existing market leaders – you know who I mean.) So here’s your chance – use the comments below to tell me, and others, what you think is wrong with the ‘majors’ right now, & more importantly what you need to accomplish but can’t in your existing CMS environment. I’ll start things off:
- Student content creation: most of the major systems are centered around the instructor as the main producer and publisher of content; while most of them do not omit some ability for students to create content, it is usually limited and still controlled by the instructor
- Group activities and Sequencing: most of the major systems have a hard time facilitating selective release and sequencing of tools (not content) especially to groups of students; e.g. group A, go have a discussion on this topic, to last no longer than 1 day, then take this particular test, and only when the entire group of you pass the test proceed to using the whiteboard to brainstorm topic Y (I’m making this up if you couldn’t tell)
Now here are a few complaints I hear regularly that personally I think are less valid:
- The systems are all “Closed” spaces, content silos: First off, for the vast majority of instructors, students and educational institutions I’ve been in contact with, this is a good thing, not a bad one. Like it or not, the online ‘classroom’ is still conceived of by many in the same way as their real life classroom, and as far as I know most of these never had an open door policy about who could sit in on the class. But even disregarding this, you can (at least I think you can) provide open or guest access to courses hosted within CMS, you just need to configure the authentication properly
- Large centralized CMS require too much central administration and take the power out of instructor’s hands: While there’s sometimes a grain of truth in this, for some of these systems this has as much to do with your institutional IT policies than it does for how the systems function themselves. And I would venture that the people making complaints like this are typically not representative of the user population as a whole, but instead quite technically sohpisticated early adopters who want to have full control over the technology regardless. My experience in bringing in CMS systems when they first were introduced was that faculty were happy if you could automate and remove much of the administrivia like creating course shells and adding accounts, and it was only the course level functionality they were concerned about.
- Lack of support for constructivist education: This seems partly true, as some of the points I outlined above make clear. But too much is made out of this point without people explaining specifically what kind of constructivist education they want to do and what they need to accomplish it. Using some of these major CMS, you don’t *have* to structure the course around content the instructor produces. You could, as a for instance, start the course with the statement of a problem to be solved, and then have a sequence of discussions resulting in a number of group project documents – wouldn’t that qualify? Maybe I’ve misunderstood. I do understand that many of these tools seem to originate from a different content-centric paradigm, but until people start to describe clearly how what they want to do differs, we’ll likely be stuck with this model.
- You’re stuck using their substandard tools: This one really bugs me. Before CMS, we were picking individual applications and trying (usually quite unsuccessfully) to stitch them together into some coherent whole. The innovation of CMS was to provide many of these tools in one coherent package. So, the complaint goes, some of the implementations of these specific tools (e.g. a discussion tool) aren’t seen as up to par. So the CMS companies expose their APIs and come up with programs to allow third party tools to participate in their overall environment, making it easier to bring together disparate tools than it was in the days pre-CMS.
Anyways, I am not trying to defend the current crop of CMS, simply to understand better what specific legitimate complaints people have with them. At a certain point, your paradigm of online education may simply be radically at odds with the one that CMS seem to support. Which is fine. But I’d venture your paradigm is probably also radically at odds with the institution you work at, (if in fact you work at an institution at all.) You can keep going with that line of thought, but I’ll stop there. Instead, I invite you to post a comment on what you are trying to do with your current CMS that you simply can’t accomplish. Cheers, Scott.