Distance Learning Strategies in the Brick-and-Mortar Classroom (SBL 2009)

My paper proposal has been accepted for the Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies section of the annual conference of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). The working title is, “The Contribution of Distance Learning Strategies to Brick-and-Mortar Learning.”

This fall, I am again thoroughly revising my courses “Introduction to Old Testament” and “Elementary Hebrew I.” In this revision, I plan to focus on building the classes as online collaborating communities that happen also to meet for four hours each week in a physical classroom. This presentation at SBL will report on the use in the brick-and-mortar classroom of strategies still typically associated with distance learning: podcast lectures, course wikis, blogging, the use of Web resources for research and as grist for critical thinking, online groups, and so on. I am also interested in the use of existing social community platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and social bookmarking sites Delicious and Diigo, as alternatives to the more restrictive possibilities folded into Course Management Systems like BlackBoard.

As my plans come together, I will blog on the separate aspects of this plan, with a focus on how they might contribute to desired learning outcomes like critical thinking, taking ownership of learning, forming essential questions, collegiality, and the like.

In what ways do you think that the tools of distance learning offer unique possibilities for learning, beyond what has been possible in the physical classroom? How do you imagine putting such strategies to work in your brick-and-mortar or online classrooms?

3 Responses

  1. How about Moodle or other open source LMS applications?

    I have often wanted to link a research-in-progress site (based on Drupal or Daisy Wiki?) to an LMS (such as Moodle) so that courses could be more interactive and include active research.

  2. Hi David,
    Your comment makes me want to revise a part of my post: I talk about using various tools “as an alternative” to course management systems like BlackBoard or Moodle. Since my I do use BlackBoard, I should better have said, “as a complement.”

    (I’m using BB as my example in what follows because that’s what we have and what I have used, not because I diss Moodle: I actually hear Moodle is more intutive and open-ended than BB.)

    When I’ve used BB as a closed system, it has worked fine as a sort of home base; pretty well as a clearinghouse for handouts and audio-visual materials; and hardly at all as an environment for creative discourse. BB provides space for a course wiki, that (I think) can be made to be “open” to the Web, but 1) third-party wiki sites are just better, and 2) once I archive and recycle the BB course, web links to the wiki will (I think) become dead. The same applies to BB student blogs. In general, my students have responded to BB as an artificial space to go and talk: those familiar with the social web have to leave that web behind to go talk in BB, and for those not familiar with the social web, BB offers a less-than-intuitive environment for learning online discourse.

    So, like you, I have become interested in exploring how permeable a CMS/LMS might become. I would like to treat BB as a sort of home base, a portal, with its tentacles extending out through its shell casing into online wikis, online aggregation pages like NetVibes or Google Reader, online blogs. That is, a BB or a Moodle might succeed at linking to and from everything, where it is less successful at trying to be everything.

  3. I have been looking at the limitations of the current technologies (more in how they are used, which affects how they are designed). When you post a course into an LMS, it generally becomes static. The data and links within the course pages don’t typically update interactively when new data is provided to a list (say a list of events or dates). While this might be good for making sure students in a current course are dealing with the same content, I believe this orientation is limiting. I would like to see an LMS like Moodle (or other) linked to or integrated with external systems (such as Drupal or other) so that when collaborative research is performed on a wiki or CMS, the results are posted immediately into a course. And also out, if the course is structured as a research opportunity.

    Especially if one re-architects a course to emphasize collaborative learning and joint research. This would blur the distinction between learning and research, which I think would be great.

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