Why I Will Never Use My University’s LMS Again

There is a new LMS coming to Carleton. The switch has been flipped. We’re moving from Moodle to Brightspace. All of the things that we used to do for ourselves now depends on an office somewhere in Kitchener-Waterloo (24 hour support!).

This post is not a long reasoned argument about the use or not of LMS in higher ed. It’s just what I’m feeling right now about our particular circumstances. I’m imagining where things might lead. Let me share my worries.

I would be delighted to be wrong about all of this.

Every higher ed institution in Ottawa now uses Brightspace. And because of historical agreements, many students and programs end up taking classes across the different institutions. Can you imagine the pressure towards a ‘standardized’ experience that this would create? “It’s too confusing to students to navigate all these different course designs!” it will be said. It is said. I’ve heard it said.

So we’ll be encouraged to use the resources of our education support people to design our courses. At which point, it’d be good to check the fine print. Your course is your course, of course, unless you are contracted to design and teach a course, or perhaps you’ve used too many institutional resources to build it… at a certain point, your course might not be yours after all. Teaching from beyond the grave, anyone?

But we’ve got standardization. Multiple choice, short answer, essays, that’s standard. Easy to roll out. Everyone understands that game. You can’t really experiment or try to ungrade or empower your students, when everything’s standard. Not particularly good pedagogy; not really higher education, but by god it’s easy to churn out course shells fast. But oof, now there’s all this cheating. Better get eproctoring. Better get plagiarism detection. Examine how we got to this point where cheating is a rationale response to a series of hoops that carry little pedagogical value? Perish the thought. And don’t point out the problems with these ‘solutions’, lest someone hit you with a SLAPP. Imagine if the money spent on contracts for all this was put into providing stability for contingent lecturers – you want to make a difference for student experience? That’s where I’d spend the money.

This fall, we move back to the classroom for the smaller classes; or at least, that’s the plan. But all the big classes – or the classes that could be made bigger – well, keep an eye out…

So – I won’t use the LMS because it reifies a model of teaching I don’t believe is good pedagogy. While I still have the position and privilege to resist, I will. The more one uses an institutional LMS (or is compelled to use it), the more all of our freedom to teach using a different model – exposing students to other ways of learning, to ungrade, to turn things inside out – is eroded. I keep control of my teaching materials by making them open on the web; I keep control by giving it all away. It’s out there, on my own terms, and for good or for ill, people know what I’ve done. It pushes in ways that are uncomfortable, it makes space for things that don’t work out and that makes students extremely uncomfortable: I want them to try things that just might not come together within a seminar. But I don’t grade the thing, I work with the student to understand their process. This ain’t standard. It doesn’t scale. By design. (I once argued in a meeting that a class of 600 students was unethical. The instructor for that class was present. You can imagine how that went over).

But the pressure is mounting.

Consider the scenario- All those rich juicy data points that come from using the LMS. ‘We’ use those for their own good! We can see how many times they log into the LMS, correlate that with their GPA, cross reference with their demographic profile! But woops, Dr. Graham’s class doesn’t use the lms… that sure messes up those students’ analytics profiles, right? They’d be unfairly marked as ‘at risk’ (or some other consequence) because they don’t have as many ‘touch’ points as the others. That’s just one scenario. Others can be imagined.

Look, I worked in for-profit online education. These things exist. At where I worked, they also used the same tools to turn the gaze onto the faculty. Not enough points of contact with the system in a defined time frame? You got the ax.

But also: monoculture. No ecosystem survives monoculture. If everything’s standardized, nothing’s special, so why do we have four higher ed institutions in Ottawa anyway…

My ability to predict the future has always been poor, so I look forward to being proven wrong about all of this. But right now…