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Building An Open LMS Using Google Apps and Free Tools

May 14, 2014 By Ian O'Byrne

Building An Open LMS Using Google Apps and Free Tools

In a continuing series of posts I’ll discuss the key components and classes of the Instructional Technology & Digital Media Literacy (IT&DML) program.

The IT&DML program is a graduate level program designed to make individuals experts in the use of educational technologies and digital media in teaching and learning. To learn more about the IT&DML program you can follow the string of posts here.

Open and Free

One of the key components of the IT&DML program is that we’re big believers in “open” and to that end as much of the content of our program is open, and available online for your use. The rationale for this is two-fold. I believe this helps us adapt and react to changes in the industry and classroom. I also believe that if our materials are open and online, then anyone can use them…but also they can be critiqued and reviewed by anyone. To that end, I have been, and will continue to reflect on the texts and tools, and the components of the program here on this blog.

Another big focus of our program is on free. I mention often in talks that “free” is a good price point…and I wanted to build a program that was as free as possible. Yes, you can view, review, and use the materials for free as they’re open. Yes, there is a cost per credit for the program and the certificate. By free I mean that there are no textbooks to purchase. The only real purchase that you might need is to buy yourself a new computer, Chromebook, or tablet. Our program is BYOB – Bring your own browser. Everything is in Google Apps, and other free online tools. We don’t use Blackboard for anything. The rationale for not using Blackboard is that I believe it’s asinine to train my teachers to use Blackboard as the LMS/CMS for our classes…and then they don’t have access to Blackboard when they go back out in the school systems. For that reason we only use free tools to build our classrooms and program interface. The remainder of this blog post will try to explain as much of this infrastructure as possible…without showing you sensitive student data.

Student Blogs and Digital Learning Hubs

One of the first things students in the program do is build their own student blog and digital learning hub. The blog is primarily their thinking or reflection space. All of the student blogs, (and future blogs) are available on our Twitter feed. I pump everything from everyone through the Twitter feed to make it available to the group…and everyone. Keep in mind, this is a firehose of information from students learning…and learning in a constantly changing space. There will be fresh, half-baked ideas…and most of them will be from me. :) I also blog and try to model what I expect from students.

The learning hub is their teaching, or work space. I require that both of these spaces are solely their property…and they remain open. The rationale is that we need to create and curate our online brand. Also, in the spirit of open, we’re all providing other learners online with content that you can use in your classroom. The digital learning hub of students serves as their digital portfolio and allows them to create and archive learning products over time. This hub should serve (hopefully) as their classroom and professional website after they leave the program. We require that students routinely archive a copy of all content that they would add to their learning hub…to my learning hub, the digital texts and tools online repository. Students are to constantly add, edit, and revise content on the DT&T site. They’re free to copy/paste content from the DT&T site to their hub. They’re also to add their own content to the DT&T site as an archive. If they have content they believe is better than what I currently have…go ahead and edit it to improve it.

Google Groups

Instead of having a series of email chains that does nothing but clutter our inboxes…we have a Google Group set up for all announcements, class assignments, discussion forums, etc. It’s the first (and last) place faculty and students (past, present, and future) should look for info about the program. Once  you’re in…you’re in. If you have a question about a class assignment for the “good of the order”, please ask here. Chances are that others in the program have the same question as you.  See a great Chrome extension…share it here.  I share job postings, and grant opportunities here as well. It’s an in-house email and messaging system for all.

Google Hangouts

We use Hangouts for a lot of different purposes. Everyone is on G+, and we use G+ for most of our classes. Students are allowed to send me a Hangout to ask a question, get feedback, at any time. I have a nice Android phone…and I’m usually online (or near a computer). If I don’t respond right away it’s because I’m driving. We use Hangouts for quick messaging to other students in the class. We also use the video Hangouts for synchronous class meetings in our hybrid learning format. The IT&DML program is a hybrid, or blended learning program. This means that there is an “equal” amount of online and offline (face-to-face) class time. I tell students as they enter the program to throw out their conceptions of online and offline, especially in terms of the classes. Hangouts allows us to regularly have virtual “face-to-face” meetings.

GAFE, Google+, and Communities

Most of the classes use Google+ Communities for class activities. We do have students post openly on their blogs. We also have students post openly on their hub. Most of the students also openly post their work and content to G+ and Twitter…but are not required to (for the most part :) ) We use private Communities in G+ to build classrooms for each of the courses.

We also use Google Sites, and GAFE for class materials and work shared. The key textbook in the program is the Chromebook. Students and faculty share and create materials in Google Apps and share with each other and the faculty. In some of the classes we use Google Sites and Wikispaces for class materials.

Finally, we have a folder set up in Google Drive for the entire program. The most up-to-date syllabus for each class is available here. This is also the spot that we share all class materials. Readings, PPTs, videos, etc. Students are given permission to the shared Google Drive folder at the beginning of the program…and upon completion of the program I leave you in the folder. My thinking is that if you chose to peek back in now and then to hone your skills…ENJOY!!!

Students are also increasingly active on Twitter and are skilled (and expected) to connect and interact with other individuals online. We think it is important that they build their own PLN to support them throughout their career. We also hope that the IT&DML program will continue to be a healthy, thriving program that creates our own version of a PLN online…and here in the region.

This was originally published at Digitally Literate.

Image CC by opensourceway