Monday, July 24, 2006

debate: student blogging: proprietary vs. open/free

On Wednesday I attended a workshop at the institution where I will be employed full-time this coming year. The workshop was a Blackboardtraining, focused specifically on some new additions that CSR has purchased for this software (though these additions were purchased from a different company—Learning Optics (?)): “journals” and “team sites.” “Team sites” are supposed to be the equivalent of wikis, and “journals” are supposed to emulate blogs.

While I am philosophically opposed to using proprietary software, I have been using Blackboard and WebCT over the past few semesters, because with teaching four courses/semester and working toward exams, I had little time to construct an alternative. This coming semester I want to begin having students blog and assumed I would use wordpress or blogger for this purpose, but thought I should check out this workshop anyway. Unfortunately, the lure of using Blackboard is strong once again—the “journals” option is so eeeaasyyy. There is very little “set-up” time involved. No teaching students how to use RSS feeds in order to easily read each other’s blogs. Etc.

Here is what I am wondering/thinking about: If the students don’t know the difference between keeping their blogs on blogger versus keeping their “journals” on blackboard, does it really make a difference in terms of where they keep them? The way this question is worded is kind of a cop-out—a kind of “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” concept. I guess the more important question should then be—do we make explicit our choice and explain the difference to them?

Overall, I believe all of this sounds a bit weak on my part—like I am trying to rationalize the easier route. I’m not. I just want to know a bit more about how or if we should involve—in a pedagogical way—the debate around proprietary vs. open source/free source/open knowledge. And also to get the views of others on the differences between using University sanctioned (but closed/privatized) software and other open/free versions.

In other news...
Yesterday: did 31.3 miles on the bike--Lake George, NY


dave said...

Okay here comes a long rant:
What are you thinking? Why would you pay someone for something you can do for free? and it isn't easier to use Blackboard and WebCT!

1. The University spends money on these programs when they should be free. So in the end the cost of this software is being passed on to students with rising costs of education, further raising the digital divide in the long run. There are actually free versions of Blackboard and WebCT. Try Saki or moodle. or If we are trying to make education universaly available why restrict it more.
2. Sure WebCT seems easy but the long term cost is huge. Students aren't actually learning the technical tools that would help them.
3. When they leave the University are they going to be able to keep their WebCT "blog"? Probably not, or only if they pay.
4. WebCT and Blackboard, in my experince are bad programs, they operate like MSWord etc., where they use propietary code to hide from the user important information (Trojan Horse) and treat the end user as if they are an idiot.
5. Sure doing this right (yes I am evaluating this in terms of right and wrong) might involve more work, but since when is being lazy an educational goal . . .

dave said...

Rant continued:
Isn't teaching the students to process RSS a valueable life skill? Whereas journaling on WebCT is about as real world applicable as learning how to use a ditto machine.

The pedagogical argument-if we are teaching indepedance, critical thinking etc. (here I am being at a bit broad) how can you do that by using ideologically corrupt tools?

The journal option might be easy now but not really in long term value. Like shopping at Wal-mart, might be cheap and easy now, but think of the long term social consequences.

dave said...

Still Ranting:
And do you realize that now that Blackboard has purchased WebCT they are hiking the price of these coursewares, charging schools more money to use a product every year. That is, you actually can't buy the product you buy the right to use the product every year, and then they hit you with charges for tutorials etc...BS!

VTmtngrrl said...

Dave--obviously I know where you stand on this issue, and I am (and have been) in complete agreement with you.

I certainly wasn't meaning to imply that being lazy is an educational goal; nor do I view myself as lazy. I could use the technologically challenged argument, but I see that as a cop-out as well--though both of these hold true: 1) I am no extraordinarily tech-savvie. 2) I am...or adjunct who had to teach four classes between two colleges while studying...I'll stop there...we all know this story. Many of us share this same narrative. And I'm sure that in large part we are that group that these software companies prey upon.

Anyway, I agree with your analogy of "journals" to WalMart. I see that. I get that. My post was more about getting at pedagogical arguments around the use of these various tools. So, for example, that argument that using RSS is valuable is an important one. And I'm also wondering to what extent we should or might want to explore these issues/choices with our students and in what ways we might go about doing this.

I know that the work you're doing over at academHacK is in large part serving to avoid having posts like mine. And considering the fact that I wasn't the only faculty member at that training, there is a great need for the work you are doing. I appreciate it.