Creating community: a new proof-of-concept.

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to spend two days asking “I wonder what THIS button does?” and “Gee, I wonder how I could make THAT happen?” in the (virtual) company of two of my favorite people — the Right Rev Jim Groom, and LLU’s own Barbara Sawhill. Our official task was to re-imagine a fully-online language learning platform, focusing on ease-of-use, community building, and increased student engagement across the board. We also needed to provide for things like synchronous A/V chat, quizzing, grade distribution, audio and video recordings, linking out to various online resources, and bringing in information via RSS.

Our unofficial (self-assigned) task was to blow stuff up.


courtesy ChrisIrmo, via Flickr

It’s technically true that you CAN get most or all of the items listed above via a course management system. But. My day job is to provide support and training for one such CMS, and while it’s not the most evil or least flexible of the bunch, for most people it’s still a blocky, clunky system where PPTs go to die. By its very nature, a CMS imposes limits on what you, either as an instructor or as a student, can do. It’s about managing content, managing grades, managing access. It’s NOT about creating an environment conducive to learning. (Don’t even get me started on the idea of a “learning management system.”) We wanted to give the participants in this program more.

What we came up with was, I think, a really awesome proof-of-concept for what an online learning community, whether standalone or in addition to in-person class meetings, could look like. It’s flexible: each individual can have their own space, separate from the main course or group space, and if a member has content hosted externally (Tumblr, Flickr, or anything with an RSS feed) that they want to incorporate, they can do so — not just on the sidebar, but in the main content area. It’s powerful: built on WordPress and Buddypress, there are thousands of plugins and themes to choose from if you have a specific need. After only two days of work, I’m really quite proud of it.

Even though the program decided this model wasn’t the direction they wanted to go, it was a blast to make, and sparked a lot of fresh new ideas for the three of us. It was so much fun, in fact, that we hope you’ll take a look at the site, even create an account if you want, and poke around. Drop us a line in the comments if you have suggestions or feedback of any kind — I’m particularly interested in ways that we might expand this into a fully-fledged CMS-killer, but for some this model could be interesting as a Ning replacement (see Lisa M. Lane’s recent attempts to do just that).

We look forward to hearing what you think!

Ryan has been proudly maintaining and contributing to Language Lab Unleashed since 2005, and is the current President of SWALLT. Since the summer of 2013 he's been causing trouble with his all-star colleagues in the UMW DTLT; when not wrangling websites Ryan can be found doing strange things with heavy objects.

1 Comment

  1. James Smith · September 11, 2010 Reply

    This is brilliant! I can’t believe I haven’t found this site before.

    “It’s technically true that you CAN get most or all of the items listed above via a course management system. But. ”

    This is exactly the problem we’ve been working on for the last two years. We don’t want more technology, we want things we can use with students.

    I love your prototype learning site, am going to look through the rest of your posts now. Please check out our site or get in contact if you want to discuss more, we’re always looking for more input and ideas!


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