This morning’s first talk, by John Appley and Albert Borroni of Oberlin College, raises a very interesting problem: as the LMS becomes increasingly popular, its functionality will be increasingly desired by groups and organizations (such as departments, administrative offices, etc.) — but putting content from such groups and organizations into the LMS places that content behind a password. There’s thus a tension highlighted here between the LMS’s closed structure and the need for certain kinds of college communications — particularly, in their analysis, public relations type information — to be open. (And thus their talk focuses on ways that information from the LMS might be fed into open websites.)
For my purposes, though, this also highlights another question about openness and the LMS: there’s certain kinds of student writing and interaction that really benefits from openness as well. It’s been useful for me, in my teaching, to have my students writing in public spaces, such that they have a wider readership for their thinking than just me, and even than just themselves. When students’ work can potentially draw responses from other interested readers, they wind up thinking more seriously about the relationship between writing and audience, and about the ways that their thought fits into a wider realm of discourse than just the protected space of the classroom.
On the other hand, it’s necessary for them to be safe as they’re learning, to be free to make certain kinds of mistakes and missteps without fear that every little foible will be instantly discoverable by every future employer’s googlings. So while I want to use open social software tools to run my classes, I want my students to use screennames within those tools. I distribute to the class a “super-secret guide to screennames” such that we all know who’s who, and are required to be responsible to one another in our discussions. In the end, I think this is a pretty good balance between ensuring that the classroom remains a safe space and fully situating it within a wider network of discussion and exploration.