Learning activity management system, a nice cuddly acronym from a rather mechanistic sounding name for a new open source software platform that is based on a new approach to Learning Design. Put simply, the argument runs that although we have pretty well developed understanding of presenting learning objects for individual use, we have little understanding about how to deliver learning objects that are designed for collaborative learning and to do so in a way that makes them readily re-usable.
LAMS is a flash based tool that enables a teacher to sequence learning objects through a drag and drop interface. This includes content focused objects as well as those which might be called process learning objects (some of which are part of the LAMS software) such as conversational tools. Philosophically, none of this is new to teachers who have for many years understood the need to promote different approaches to learning, recognising that filling students with vast mounts of pre-determined or prescribed content isnâ€™t really appropriate and that what is more useful is the development of lifelong learning skills.
What LAMS is attempting to do is bring up to date the work that good teachers do in planning lessons and the production of work booklets that facilitate students active learning through a range of engaging activities including group work, inquiries, presentations to support evaluation, problem solving strategies, etc. The question must be, is there a significant gain in using a tool like LAMS for this purpose – will the ability to reuse sequences of learning with subsequent groups with the option of adaptation based on experience be worthwhile?
I think that the answer has to be yes, but the important caveat has to be that no amount of intention on the part of the LAMS designers will prevent a teacher using a system like LAMS for delivering a content driven curriculum if that is philosophically where their teaching and learning pedagogy sits. In addition, if the learning objects are poor in terms of their â€˜learning intentionsâ€™ then again the LAMS software will not in itself make a difference as fundamentally it is only a sequencing tool albeit one with a number of cute features.
At the launch of LAMS, I had the chance to talk to Professor James Dalziel who leads the project and was impressed with his understanding of this issues I raised. Questions like:
– how does LAMS fit with the notion of community learning?
– why are the discourse tools so rudimentary when a collaborative approach is at the heart of LAMS?
– where is the facility for self reflection and the sense of a personal space?
– Why, given the stated philosophy of LAMS is their no potential for symmetry between the â€˜teachersâ€™ and â€˜learnersâ€™?
These points he recognized and didnâ€™t disagree with. They were answered in two ways, the first was that LAMS would do more as modules were written and hopefully and open source community grows. And secondly, some other OSS tools perhaps already do these things and LAMS should not try to be all things to all people.
This answers contrasted to those that mark Pittinsky, the CEO of Blackborad, gave me when I asked him about the poor set of tools his software has. His reply was that only 20% want the extra features whilst 80% are happy with what they have and so there was little commercial imperative to develop them even though he believed that there was merit in them. The difference I think (and hope) is that James has a strong view of contributing to an agenda for change and making a difference and is not driven by commercial market forces.
Good thoughts here, Stephen. You echo the things that concern me in this space also.
The key issue here is that, unless the pedagogical beliefs and inclinations of teachers are driving the use of these tools they will, regardless of how sophisticated they are, simply be used as content delivery mechanisms, as this is the underlying pedagogy behind so much of our present (tertiary) education system.
I guess we can at least applaud the honesty of the Blackboard CEO who offers a very blunt economic reality into the discussion!
I understand that the next iteration of LAMS will have wizard-style templates to encourage teachers to develop “good” designs. I agree that there is scope for extending the range of the tools and the forthcoming LAMS community website will hopefully facilitate this.
I would agree Derek, pedagogical issues are hard for schools to address, but for Tertiary institutions the challnge is, I believe, an order of magnitude bigger.
Hi Peter, I hope that LAMS does indeed crack the opensource approach as this offers so much more potential.