University of Maine visit
On Friday, I drove four hours north through the snow-covered pine forests of Maine to visit the U of Maine campus. Maine reminds me a lot of West Virginia, except with more moose and lobster. Thanks to Seth Tyler and the entire group at the BioMedia Lab at U of Maine for being such great hosts.
I say this a lot, but one of the best things about the invitations to share the OCW story is that I get to see so many just really cool things going on at other schools around the world. In addition to churning out truly elegant web sites for U of Maine (the School of Biology and Ecology site is Exhibit A), Seth’s group has created a really outstanding LMS called Synapse. I’ve used my share of LMSs and Synapse easily has the cleanest interface I’ve ever seen, plus a few administrative features I really wish I’d had available when I was teaching.
Synapse was born when a faculty member came to the BioMedia Lab unsatisfied with existing LMSs and asked to have a custom teaching site built. It’s been created and run by four people on part time effort. The whole thing has me thinking again about the impending doom I see for LMSs, which I’ve talked about before, although in a new way. In addition to Web 2.0 tools and IP practices causing LMSs to atrophy into student information management tools, it also seems increasingly possible that small groups of educators may be able to easily roll their own LMS to suit their particular needs. In other words, instead of thousands working on Moodle, you may get emerging clusters of five to ten with nearly identical needs creating an LMS that serves unique local conditions.
It’s unclear even if will be necessary to share code from other open source LMSs to do this, or if borrowing concepts is enough and coding can be done from the ground up. This scenario begins to approximate many of the characteristics of open educational content–where there is not a one-size-fits-almost-all need like with big open source software successes like LINUX and Firefox, but rather lots of individual local needs. A situation where the concept is more important than the actual code. To say the least, I’m intrigued.