Online Course Management Systems

Interrupting hiatus for brief rant-like post…

I just spent an hour doing TWEN training with our teaching faculty and their staff assistants.  Am I the only person that’s bothered by (a) Wexis created course management systems, and (b) TWEN’s dominance in these?

I don’t have a problem with TWEN as a system. It works fine for me. However, I don’t like how it (and the Lexis CMS, although in my various affiliations with four different law schools, I’ve yet to see a law professor use it) make the experience of using a legal database…less special. Hmmm. I’m trying to think how to phrase this without sounding like the talk my mother gave me about sex when I was 13. Shoot. I don’t think I can.

Okay, Lexis and Westlaw are great. They’re filled with all sorts of information and can deliver it quickly. However, using them is not without consequences. So a legal researcher really shouldn’t use them until they’re ready and can appreciate all the consequences. Given the severity of the consequences, using Wexis should be a really special event. And when a student is logging into TWEN every day to check a syllabus or see the standings in the Ping-Pong Tournament (an actual TWEN page at UK), Westlaw starts to feel like just another web page and not something that will let them rack up a $60,000 bill in two hours. (Again, an actual story I heard from a firm librarian.) As far as TWEN’s dominance, I think it gives West a little more of a leg up over Lexis in the hearts and minds of our students.

So, what to do about this? Well, I suppose that one could request that professors use both the West and Lexis CMS’s in their classes. That’s pretty unlikely to happen, though. We could hope that Hein creates a CMS, which would take out the competition between the the two big guys. Or, we could MacGyver something up with Web 2.0 apps.

In the most recent edition of LOEX Quarterly, Krista Graham has an article titled “Piecing Together an Online Toolkit,” which goes through some free applications that can take the place of a commercial Course Management system. They are:

Just through some poking around the Internet, I’ve also found the Sakai Project and ATutor, which are both Open Source Course Management systems. I wonder how possible it would be to get buy-in from our teaching faculty to use one of these?

Okay, back to hiatus and back to taking care of business.

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Community and Aggregation

While I was waiting for the coffee to kick in this morning (it still hasn’t), I decided to start playing around with TweetWheel, a website that shows how your Twitter friends are connected with each other. (Also, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I. LOVE. GRAPHS. ) This is what my TweetWheel looks like (click to enlarge):

I was really surprised by the interconnectedness of my Twitter contacts. For comparison purposes, here’s the latest look at my Facebook Friend Wheel (again, click to enlarge):

I guess that’s why, although Facebook has more bells and whistles (e.g. photos, shared posted items, notes/blog posts), Twitter feels more like a community and it’s easier to “meet people” that you otherwise wouldn’t. It’s started to make me long for the days when I spent hours at Television Without Pity and had an Internet posse.

Of course, there is a way to combine community and bells and whistles…that would be my favorite Web 2.0 service du jour Friend Feed. (You can follow me here.) The nice thing about FriendFeed, besides that fact that it’s actually operational most of the time *cough* FailWhale *cough*, is that it’s a one stop shop for people to catch your activity on various Web 2.0 sites (Forty-three at last count) and a conversation can start based on these feed activities. Be warned, though – because of this FriendFeed can be a major time suck.

How can libraries (as institutions) use this? I see no harm in creating an institutional profile. (And create one for yourself while you’re at it because I guarantee you’ll either learn something new or at least see something amusing.) It’d be a way of pushing all of your libraries services (such as a flickr account or del.icio.us bookmarks) in one place and may act as a discovery tool for these services for patrons. Who knows? Maybe a conversation or two may spark up which could lend itself to some Information Literacy training.) However, I think a better option for libraries who want to aggregate their Web 2.0 services would be to use the not yet released Sweetcron. It will require a little more technical know-how to use, since it’s self-hosted and open-source (thus allowing for customization), but the payoff of being able control it (read: institutionally brand it), remove your library from the FriendFeed noise (which can be overwhelming) and not being at the mercy of a 3rd party host (*cough* FAIL WHALE *cough*) may be worth it.

March 2007 Journal of Legal Education

If you have an interest in the intersection of legal education and technology, there are two articles to note in the March 2007 Journal of Legal Education.

  1. Beth Simone Noveck, Wikipedia and the Future of Legal Education, 57 J. Legal Educ. 3 (2007).
  2. Matthew Bodie, The Future of the Casebook: An Argument for the Open-Source Approach, 57 J. Legal Educ. 10 (2007).

Source: Law School Innovation