Over at cac.ophony.org, I jumped rather harshly on a pretty innocent careless remark by Luke:

No faculty member really wants to teach a course entirely online

and it’s grown into a very interesting discussion in the comments there. My colleague Phil Pecorino joined in, Luke responded with some fascinating further challenges and thoughts, so did I, and I think some excellent questions are being raised.

And it’s traveling a bit farther, with a great blog post by Jim Groom at bavatuesdays. Jim makes some good points about choosing (and conceptualizing) the “space” of an LMS. But I want to expand a bit on one point he makes near the end. He says:

On a space like BlackBoard there is no way to engage a community space beyond that defined by the course unit. A different kind of social experience that necessarily flows out from the classrooms into the building halls, dorms, cafeterias, etc. has no real outlet in a BlackBoard environment. It is this space of collaboration, socialization, and interaction beyond the unit of the course that is not being translated adequately into these virtual learning spaces.

I think this is an extremely important criticism of Blackboard–and of Learning Objects (which is promoted as blogs/wikis/etc. for Blackboard). It’s a criticism that I’ve made quite loudly about Learning Objects, both to them and to our own CUNY people, for almost two years now. In my mind, a blog or wiki that is closed, not public, defeats about half (or more) of the benefit of these tools. Every time I’ve made this argument, though, I’ve been met with the claim that because the LO tools can be “exported,” they’re really public after all. But that export is just a static website–a collection of files. It’s no longer, once it’s exported, a blog or wiki or anything of the kind. (But there is a promise that they will, soon, actually be shareable and open within a program or institution, or at least for a specific student across courses, even if they’re not truly completely public)

But all is not lost, or so terrible, really, even with these tools. Over time (and with the opportunity to use them myself), I’m a bit more convinced of the utility of a “walled garden.” There is something to be said, there are productive uses, for closed (or semi-open) social software tools, too. “Walled” means “closed,” but it can also mean “protected,” and that’s not always a bad thing for all students.

And here’s the other important consideration–the fact that the institution (or program, whatever) uses Blackboard (or whatever closed CMS) does not mean that that’s the only thing available to classes in the program. It’s obvious, I know, but I think it’s worth pointing out. Sure, in the CUNY Online Bac, or my own campus, Blackboard is the “official” CMS, but all the tools of the public Web 2.0, all the social software, is still out there. It’s possible, and really not too difficult, to have the best of both worlds–use Blackboard for what Blackboard’s good for, and use wordpress blogs, writely, YouTube (as my colleague Tony Picciano wisely recommends), mediawiki, tikiwiki, flickr, wikispaces, myspace, etc., etc., as needed, and when desirable.

It’s important to keep looking, and keep developing, new tools–even while “stuck” within the walled garden of Blackboard. Link in, link out, and get the benefits of public and open, at the same time and in the same course as Blackboard is the official “big” tool.

I can’t say I’ve done too much of this myself recently, since my own teaching has been so limited to just the one course–but I’ve done a lot of it in the past, and I’ve encouraged and helped faculty at my own campus to do the same.

But there’s more to be done with this theme, definitely–especially in campus-based open solutions (or part-open, or closed/open), to create more effective virtual campus-wide learning communities. And cross-campuses (cross-CUNY for example), and within regions, or interest areas, or academic disciplines, or nations–all the way out to the whole huge wide open public of the interblogowebsphere.