Sunday, September 6, 2009

Penn elearning retreats from the crowd-sourcing frontier

It appears that those pioneering souls at the University of Pennsylvania who did some amazing work with crowdsourcing the online learning experience last fall have circled the wagons, and are back to keeping savages like you and me at bay. If you haven't seen the experiment they pulled off a year ago, you should take a look. Here's the description from their course website back then:

"The Penn LPS Commons is a new social learning platform dedicated to supporting online learning at the College of Liberal and Professional Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Its design sets new benchmarks at the intersection of online learning and the social web, allowing participants from both inside and outside of the classroom to interact in engaged communities of inquiry."

Check it out... it's a very cool attempt to get a global dialogue going for the benefit of the enrolled participants. They picked a good subject, one with lots of energy around it. And they clearly spent time and energy combining a true LMS with a true social network. They then devised an instructional design whereby the input and interests and passions of anyone online could be harnessed for the benefit of the paid course-takers. Crowd-sourced learning.

And now here's the retreat, as evidenced in their FAQ for their fall 2009 course offering:

Q: What aspects of the course are only available to those enrolled (vs. the general public)?
A: All blogs, discussions, lectures, and live Q&A's will only be available to enrolled students.

Well, it was a noble effort, and I applaud it loud and long. Perhaps it was just a bit too far out there. Perhaps it trusted a little too much in its ability to draw an interested, intelligent crowd to play the game from home. Even if it didn't work in this instance, though, I think the idea is a powerful one and will return.

Global dialogs, as we know from Twitter (#iranelections, #nomaschavez), can be messy. Harnessing them for the intellectual and academic benefit of a course may be a bit like trying ride the wind. Either you don't have enough to fill a kite, or you're hammering plywood over the windows.

But learning to harness the wind is a worthy end. Eventually, we'll figure out how to sail the seven seas and fill the skies with airplanes.

Good backgrounder on crowdsourcing:

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