An ed-tech ecosystem…always evolving

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Yesterday a stool, today a flower…

When I started my work in May, my task was deceptively simple: Help EMU standardize on a web conferencing platform to facilitate a synchronous online classroom experience. Virtual/online class sessions had been used previously in a few of the graduate programs here at EMU, but with no standardization. The Nursing and MBA programs used GoToMeeting, and the course I helped design and facilitate for the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding used Adobe Connect. But IT departments crave standardization, so that was my task. (We standardized on WebEx, by the way, but that’s not the point of this post…)

It became quickly evident, though, that my first task was but of a piece in a larger puzzle. In the following months, I’ve had a few different ways to name that puzzle (“puzzle,” itself, being one of those names). The name I’ve used most often is “ed-tech ecosystem.” As I described the components of this to my director, he came up with the image of a three-legged stool, those three legs being…

  1. Learning management system/LMS (Moodle on our campus)
  2. Virtual classrooms (WebEx)
  3. Video/rich media platform

That last bit is something we currently do not have at EMU, but it’s starting to become more of a focus in my work, as the requests from faculty related to video, e.g. lecture capture for online classes or flipped classrooms, have started to pick up. As an IS organization, we need to figure out how we’ll handle these requests in a sustainable, standardized fashion.

But wait, there’s more! (There always is in this line of work.)

In more recent research I started to come across new pieces of this puzzle. First is the “CMS” pictured above. In general IT lingo, CMS stands for “content management system.” For content on our public website at EMU, for example, we have a CMS to author, organize, and publish it all behind the scenes. In ed-tech lingo, CMS means something different. Here, CMS refers to educational content management (authoring, editing, publishing). This kind of educational content authoring/management software is probably best exemplified by SoftChalk (which we don’t have at EMU).

Then just yesterday I had a request from an undergraduate faculty member who wanted to organize the collection and editing of student-submitted work in a portfolio format. He had figured out a way to do this in Moodle in prior classes, but the process which highly cumbersome and frustrating. Later that day, I was reading a story sent to me by my director and saw this story on Campus Technology, explaining how and why LMS and ePortfolios have been two parallel software platforms to this point. I quickly realized that we also don’t have a ready solution for ePortfolios for students! But I was able to quickly draw out for him a workaround using shared folders in Google Drive (formerly Docs), and just dropping a link to the folder into the Moodle course. Phew.

I guess all of this is to say that I like the “ecosystem” metaphor the most for my work. An ecosystem is a complex, living thing, always shifting and evolving in response to countless stimuli both internal and external. So today when I updated the picture on my whiteboard (see above), the flower seemed more apt than the stool. And on it grows…