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Open Sourcing Online Education

Posted by reyjunco on January 20, 2011 in Commentary, How-to |

This post isn’t about the OpenCourseWare movement (which I think is really cool) but instead about using open source and/or free online tools to enhance the way we teach online courses. This is my first semester  teaching the Social Media in Higher Education course (syllabus) that I developed. For logistical and administrative reasons, I’m teaching the course completely online which is a first for me. Some of you may know that I’m not a big fan of online courses. I know, it’s funny – you’d expect me of all people to be into online ed. But I’m not– I much prefer the engagement and real-world contact with my students in traditional classroom environments.

In addition to not being a fan of online courses, I hate (yes, I’m using the correct word here) Learning Management/Course Management Systems. They aren’t intuitive at all, they aren’t social, and they seem to be designed by people with little background in usability or in creating engaging virtual communities (as good counterexamples, check out any popular social media website: Reddit, Twitter, and even *gasp* Facebook). Since my course is about social media, I figured I’d use as much social media as possible as part of the process. Here are the open source/free applications we’re using and why:

phpBB iconFor threaded discussions: Instead of using the threaded discussion feature of D2L for our required weekly discussions, I’m using a self-hosted install of phpBB an open source forum platform. Clearly, I’m technologically-minded and have pretty good tech skills; however, it took me 30 minutes to create a discussion forum under the “week 1″ section of my D2L course. Alternatively, in 30 minutes I had completely installed and configured phpBB, created my profile, and created discussions for both weeks 1 and weeks 2. I’m using a separate thread to discuss “housekeeping” items including questions about the syllabus. phpBB has a comprehensive user’s guide for my students and a great documentation for me. Lastly, phpBB has powerful security controls allowing me to keep these conversations private.

WordPress ButtonFor blog posts: I’m using WordPress as a blogging platform– one of the most popular blogging platforms and my favorite. As part of the course, students will blog weekly (starting in two weeks) to critique and expand on social media research. We’ll also use the blog to engage an audience beyond course participants (that means you). I’ve set up the multi-author Social Media in Higher Education course blog using my own hosting and domain. Like phpBB, WordPress offers fantastic documentation. A special thanks to Dean Chris Long at Penn State for inspiration and examples of graduate student blogs.

For reference management: In addition to being required to discuss readings in the course forum and on the blog, students are required to build and maintain a Mendeley library and to join a Mendeley group for our class. Mendeley merges the functionality of an academic social network with reference managing software. Accounts and desktop clients are free (up to a certain upload limit) and work across OS platforms. Mendely automatically populates reference entries from PDF metadata and allows for synching of research papers to the web and across all of your devices (yes, Mendeley even has an iPhone app).

DropBox LogoFor file-hosting: My go-to app for document synching across devices and platforms is DropBox (referral link which gives us both extra storage for free). For the class, we’re using DropBox to host the readings for each week, arranged in separate folders.

Twitter LogoFor communicating with other scholars and higher education practitioners: I have experienced both the personal and professional benefits of engaging in communities of scholarship and practice on Twitter. Therefore, my students will be required to “attend” a number of the education-related chats on Twitter. Furthermore, students will learn how to engage in a Personal Learning Network to both receive and give support in their scholarly pursuits.

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  • tsy

    Just curious what you think of Quora? It seems to be an expanded twitter but in a meaningful way…

  • reyjunco

    @tsy I haven’t done much on Quora yet. Do you have some thoughts about how you’d use it in a class like this one?

  • http://JonHearty.com/ JonHearty

    This is awesome! Online education is full of potential, although it doesn’t seem to have gained as much recognition as it deserves. Congrats on teaching your first course entirely online! Despite your dislike for the idea, I’m sure you will learn a lot from it. Good luck!

  • reyjunco

    @JonHearty Thanks Jon. You’re right – there’s a lot of potential there, but it’s mostly unrealized. It’s truly a shame that 99% of online courses are taught using static Learning Management Systems. We can do better than that.

  • tsy

    @reyjunco @tsy Once Quora reaches a critical mass I suspect it will replace twitter by allowing a more indepth conversation > 140 characters.

  • reyjunco

    @tsy I suspect that it won’t replace Twitter but instead be seen as “another place” where we “do something else.” For me, Facebook is where I go to socialize and Twitter is where I go to work and network. Quora may be the place where we go to answer questions, spread Whuffie, and get help.

  • KevinRGuidry

    Thanks for sharing this info, Rey, especially the syllabus!

    I don’t have any particularly strong opinions about course management systems except that I detest that they are being rebranded as “learning” managament systems. That just strikes me as disingenuous and unethical as it suggests that learning is something that can be managed when at best it can be guided.

  • http://twitter.com/NancyRichmond Nancy Richmond

    I was looking to use a tool for graduate students in an online to use to share and collect references (About 25/30 Students).  Thinking Zotero might be an option.  Hadn’t heard of Mendeley.  Did it work well for your class.

  • http://blog.reyjunco.com/ Rey Junco

    Yes it did. It’s surprising that I still get email notifications from people not in the class who start following the group. On a related note, I use Mendeley as my reference manager and it’s fantastic. 

  • http://twitter.com/NancyRichmond Nancy Richmond

    Will give it a try in the next session.  We should have a meeting of the minds at some point:) Thanks for sharing! I would be happy to share my syllabus as well.  Regards, Nancy

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