by Dr. Suzanne Kissel
I can’t believe that it’s been as long as a month since I was invited to join GoodSemester. The email has been sitting in my inbox since February 15th, waiting for me to make the time to attend to it properly. On March 15th, however, the folks at GoodSemester announced that anyone could sign up for an account, for free, no invite required.
So much for exclusivity.
But exclusivity is not really the point of platforms like GoodSemester. The platform is designed to take advantage of connections between people and materials to generate knowledge. For instance, the primary means of sharing content in GoodSemester is through Notes. Although the types of content supported by this feature are fairly standard, the sharing capabilities inherent in the system are not. Authors can keep notes private, restrict them to course participants, or make them globally available. If the later is selected, notes are licensed under Creative Commons, meaning that others can use them with proper attribution. Under ideal conditions, therefore, the note becomes a collaborative item with the initial author able to see changes that others have made and participate in the conversation. In GoodSemester, the function most commonly seen as analogous to the classroom lecture is made collaborative; however, any attempt to compare GoodSemester’s notes and notepad to LMS content functionality soon falls apart. It is like comparing apples and oranges; there just isn’t enough in common to make a worthwhile comparison.
This sparks questions about how we can categorize GoodSemester. Is it an LMS? I don’t think so and the folks who created the platform agree with me. In a recent interview with the company founder Jason Rappaport, Michael Feldstein acknowledges the difficulty of categorizing the product. He also identifies this as an issue typical of today’s marketplace:
And one of the questions platform developers and teachers alike are asking is how much functionality do you really need? Is it just WordPress? Is it WordPress plus Google Docs? Is it WordPress, Google Docs, and grade book? Is it a simple LMS with only a handful of tools and an app store? There are lots of different models.
He’s right, of course. It seems that most of the new technologies that I’ve evaluated for teaching are designed to do a few things in a near revolutionary fashion rather than all things as expected. They pit openness, collaboration, and an individual focus again products that define themselves as system. If there’s one thing that I know about all of the products that I use to facilitate instruction is that they are not systems.
But the question is that whether all of these products that-are-not-systems relate to the systematic mindset that so pervades how institutions of higher education approach technology. This is never more evident than in LMS selection process. Since 2002, I’ve participated in these sometimes very long, very drawn out activity that seems to question everything, other than whether the institution really needs an LMS at all. The fact that an institution needs a system to take on the complex and increasingly vital operations associated with hybrid and online learning almost goes without saying.
I’m not going to quibble with whether the institution needs a system or not, but the burgeoning of tools reinventing how we teach online begs the question of why schools can’t create their own system? Rather than embarking on a process to select an LMS, it would be so much more cost effective and efficient to pour that energy into building an LMS from all of the pieces and parts abounding in the marketplace.
It is becoming increasingly clear that institutions need to step away from the apparent safety of buying an all-in-one solution and start exploring the possibilities of building what they really need.