• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Mandatory Moodle?

Should every professor on campus be required to use the college’s LMS system, whether they’re teaching online or not?

March 21, 2012

Should every professor on campus be required to use the college’s LMS system, whether they’re teaching online or not?

Lasell College in Massachusetts is trying that.  It’s requiring its entire faculty to use Moodle. (I have to admit scratching my head at the headline: “getting its money’s worth.” Moodle is free.) The story doesn’t actually give a reason, so the reader is left to guess.

Off the top of my head, I could come up with a few:

  • Disaster preparedness. When snow days or other natural disasters strike, you can minimize disruption to classes by having a robust online presence.  If students are capable of shifting to online mode when classes can’t meet physically, then you have improved the continuity of instruction.
  • Reducing printing and photocopying costs. 
  • Speeding the development of entirely-online curricula.
  • Ensuring/improving accessibility for students with disabilities.
  • Nudging curmudgeons to retire.

I can’t imagine getting away with something like that here.  

The boundaries of where administrative jurisdiction ends and individual faculty jurisdiction begins aren’t always clear or obvious in online classes. With traditional classes, certain rules are clear. The administration selects the time, days of the week, and location of the course, and the instructor does the content.  So if you have, say, a Math 101 class on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 in room 144, the content the professor chooses to fulfill the goals of the course fall under that professor’s academic freedom.  But if the professor just decides one day to switch the location and time to something more personally convenient, the administration has the right to put the kibosh on that. Students build schedules around expectations, and there’s a finite number of classrooms to go around.  The traffic cop function -- this class meets here and that class meets there -- properly belongs to administration.

With online classes, it isn’t that easy. We’ve had cases in which a professor who teaches in, say, Blackboard at another local college doesn’t want to learn Moodle for us; in those cases, we’ve taken the position that the LMS is analogous to the classroom. It’s where instruction happens. If you teach online for us, you use the LMS we use. That way we can be sure that we can provide technical support and ADA compliance, and students don’t have to learn different systems for each class.

But to my mind, there’s a difference between saying “all online classes must use Moodle” and saying “all classes must use Moodle.” The former strikes me as reasonable and sometimes even necessary, but the latter seems like a stretch. 


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