We had a visitor in the office today seeking advice for an online learning effort in Africa. In the course of the discussion he was describing possible ways of combining open course materials, which they were planning to create from scratch, with LMS functionality. Since the content would be IP-vetted and openly licensed, there was no need for it to be behind an authentication system, so the question was how best to link the content with the student systems in the LMS.
It reminded me of the implementation of my distance learning course at Emerson circa 2001. Because this was in the early days of LMS development, Emerson did not have student registration linked to LMS enrollment. At the time, many students would register correctly for the course, but it would be as much as two weeks before they were properly enrolled by academic technology in the LMS site for the course.
To ensure these students didn’t fall behind, I’d placed the course content outside the LMS in a personal web folder and inserted it into the LMS frame via a link. To properly enrolled students, it appeared to be in the LMS, but I could point the registered but unenrolled students directly to the web folder.
This had the added advantage of making the content easier to manage, as editing in BBEdit was easier than the content interface of the LMS. I mostly owned all the content, so IP wasn’t a big concern, though there were a few example passages lifted from stories that I felt were minimal risk and defensible via fair use.
I was suggesting this approach to our visitor when he mentioned that he wished there was a mobile solution, as cell phone connectivity was much better than WiFi where they were working. It was at this point that it struck me how open content strategies opened up new opportunities for mobile learning:
Since the content is openly available and doesn’t need password protection, it doesn’t need to be carried in the LMS. In fact, it can travel in a wide variety of ways–CDs, zip files, flash drives, bit torrent. The student just needs to be able to install a local copy on their laptop at the start of the course, and they are freed from the need for WiFi.
A student in Rwanda could use her phone to sign-into the course through moodle’s mobile interface. She could then discuss with other students the content that she had previously worked through locally on her own with the previously downloaded content.*
Moodle already has a number of mobile apps available, and freed of the need to carry content and the related bandwidth penalties, they can be used exclusively for the administrative and interactive functions around the pre-installed content. We’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about how to make MIT OpenCourseWare content more digestible on mobile devices. This is the first time I’ve considered whether, in some mobile environments, it actually made sense to not do so.
* Student scenario courtesy Jan Philipp Schmidt.