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First Day of Class 2020

Planted 02020-08-18

The joys and struggle of online class.


My University is now all online — at least until September — and the way forward seems to be online discussion boards.

Now, I can see online discussion boards as a decent way forward. Decent because it seems Universities are now starting to reach the technology of the 1980s and 1990s because that’s when many new Internet forums began.

So, if none of this is new, how can Universities be so bad at it?

It’s largely due to Learning Management Systems (LMS). You may have heard of Absorb, Schoology, Canvas, Blackboard, or Moodle. These are all popular LMS providers.

The landscape looks a little like this:

  1. Students hold money and have access to the internet
  2. Universities hold accreditation and access to LMS
Dynamic between Students and University
The dynamic between Students and University.

Students want accreditation, and Universities need money. But if accreditation is delivered online, I can only see a future that shifts away from Universities being the ones to provide accreditation.

See, the world is a lot bigger than universities can handle. And companies are starting to step up and fill the gaps that Universities can’t fill. Amazon has AWS training and certification. Salesforce has Trailhead. Google has started Grow with Google. This is the future I see.

  1. Students with time and access to the internet.
  2. Companies with learning resources and access to jobs.
Dynamic between Students and University
The dynamic between Students and Companies.

It seems evident that with this infrastructure, most Universities have decided to play no part in the future. Historically, and currently, they act as a middleman for accreditation.

The lock-in for most students used to be unparalleled access to information, but we all have access to that now. The primary value of University today is competence signaling to hiring managers — the degree. And the degree is falling in accreditation value.

Back to the woes of using an LMS for University.

Most of my time is wondering, What am I supposed to be doing?

This is school, I know that I need to be completing things, but where can I quickly and easily get an overview of that list?

This is a problem stemming from a blend of instructors not having any standard for listing course information and the poor design of the LMS.

There’s a nice calendar feature that I would love to use, but some instructors don‘t use it, so it doesn’t give an accurate picture. This non-standardization on the instructors part causes a lot of frustration and under-utilization.

The process of telling me what you want me to do shouldn’t be complicated. I just want to know what is being asked of me. I shouldn’t have to go looking for that information.

Most classes are now discussion boards

And I love it. Partly for the same reasons I loved The Real Skills Conference. Because it allows everyone to be vulnerable with the newness of it all, it’s a more valuable experience than in-person classes typically provide.

Now, this is just day one, and expectations are often overset at the beginning of any process, so it’s crucial to temper them a bit.

Canvas LMS is not a useful discussion platform. It makes it so much more painful knowing there are dedicated platforms that have spent years working on building tools for better discussions — and yet we get a garbage fire.

It’s not that bad, but it’s definitely not good either. Remember, Internet forums have been around for decades, so I don’t see valid reasons for such poor quality.

It’s so janky that I wrote some custom CSS styles for Canvas to make it easier to parse.

It’s likely going to be one of those weeks that makes you want to crawl up into a ball in the corner. But it’s great. I am growing and learning.