Forcing Students to be Free?

After the Indie Ed-Tech gathering, BYU has tried to make sense of the personal API goals and combine them with pre-existing initiatives that have been floating around. We’ve been trying to design personal learning environment applications, dynamic messaging systems, and discussing how the personal API fits into all of this. An important question arose from a design critique: are we solving a problem students have or a problem we think they have? The topic of discussion moved from all the great tools we can provide students with to what is ever going to compel students to use a tool like thisHow is this not just another LMS to students? Another place the university requires me to login. When I woke up this morning I scrolled through my twitter feed. Optimism, plans, buzzwords, articles, and many conversations about what students need. Discussions on how we are going to free our students of institutional control and finally allow them to be the kind of student they want to be.

What real needs is this application going to meet? Luckily Tarah & I are also students, and have heard a lot of discussion about student needs, as well as share our own needs.

  1. Aggregated notifications. I can’t even aggregate my notifications within one LMS! I am personally expected to login to multiple LMS tools, a department calendar, an institutional calendar, course messaging and announcement systems, university messaging systems, and I’m sure other locations. This doesn’t even include the emails I am constantly refreshing to ensure something new didn’t come up. If there was a way to streamline and aggregate all of this, this could fill a need that students have.
  2. Portfolios. In many capstone courses, students are required to submit work samples from each of their courses in the program. I remember gathering (and improving) French papers from many different semesters and years. I feel comfortable assuming that not every student plugs their laptop into an external hard drive for backups on a weekly basis as I do. I recently had a roommate who stumbled across this problem in her public relations program. It was time to show work samples, and because of a new laptop, she was out of luck when it came time to produce papers she never thought she would use again. This functionality could also provide work samples for job search, and has the potential to create personalized, data-driven resumes and CVs.
  3. Course communication. Although a lot of this happens via phone number exchanges and friendships, there are many students within courses who do not have the same student relationships. A dynamic, archived messaging system could provide students with the opportunity to see what conversations students are having, pose questions, schedule study groups that welcome all students in the course, etc. It can even allow for students to provide instructors with feedback in some cases. Providing a forum for these types of conversations beyond the contrived chat feature of the LMS could expand student relationships and course communications.

These are needs that students have but the reality is that at every institution is a bright, innovative group of individuals who find ways to solve these problems. Any tool created would need to meet these needs to such a level of convenience and usability that they would move away from their existing routine.

The issue I saw with all of this is that we have discussions of what is good for the student, and what the student needs without ever actually asking the average student. Maybe students don’t want to control their data or personalize their learning. Maybe they’re just hear for the certificate, to get in and out as easily as possible. I would hope not, but I think as we continue to design, test, and roll out applications the student needs to be at the center of these conversations.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s