WordPress MU and eportfolio reporting requirements

I had the good luck this week to stumble into a very helpful blogswarm. And since it’s best to make use of their expertise while they are still checking back here, let’s cut to the chase.

Here is the new thought, re: eportfolios and other WP projects needing data aggregation.

Append an optional process at the end of WordPress MU setup that pre-populates the category table with canonical terms.

So, for instance, the table could be pre-filled with specific performance indicators appropriate to educational eportfolios, organized around a standardized phrase, such as “Demonstration of Classroom Management Skills (NC 2.1.3)”. You upload the artifact and you or someone bigger than you tags it.

Now here’s the neat part. Since we have faith these terms are the same across MU instances, reports are simply a matter of writing code that cycles through all the MU user tables and finds posts that are tagged with that term. Want a report of all users who have not met requirement NC 2.1.3? Easy.

Caveat: the people here with an intimate knowledge NCATE are still drawing up what the reporting requirements will look like. But then, there’s very little one can’t do with tagging and SQL. So I’m not worried yet.

So question…. does this make sense? Is anyone else using WP tagging in this way? Does anyone have NCATE reporting experience, and what can you tell me?

(Bill, I will eventually look into your neat hack in Drupal as well…]

Enterprise Learning Systems Considered Harmful to Learning

Not a new thought, but one I’m newly fired up about after talking to Jon Udell last night.

We don’t make enterprise purchases for students when it comes to spiral bound notebooks, pencils, or binders. So why do we move so quickly to consider e-learning questions “enterprise” questions? When looking at e-portfolio possibilities, why wouldn’t we just direct the students to sign on to a blog provider, perhaps even an ISP of their choice?

Students buy their own laptops and their own software for classes, they purchase required books and materials. There’s absolutely no reason from a student perspective that you couldn’t tell a student, here — go set up an account on Blogger and make yourself an eportfolio.

But there’s the rub. Enterprise e-learning is about classroom management and enterprise reporting. It is about the so-called measurement of learning. We force students to use enterprise systems, because like the email system we “give” them, it makes our lives easier and accomplishes goals that have nothing to do with the student.

What would e-learning look like if we started from the needs of the student, instead of the institution? What would it look like if the overriding question was “How can we use technology in a way that benefits the student?”

My guess is it’d look a lot like life. It would be a wonderful mess of different students and professors choosing different tools on an ad hoc basis. Their choices would evolve over time. And because the students worked with real tools (and possibly even on real problems) they’d graduate with bankable skills rather than detailed knowledge of how to use an LMS that has no analogue in the outside world.

I’m not saying it would be easy: it’s a hard sell to faculty, and there are certainly some institutional goals that such a bricolage would not meet.

But, if we started with the student, there would be no e-learning “system” in the sense of a single integrated application provided by a vendor. Instead of focussing on buying e-learning systems, we’d focus on building an e-learning culture.

If we started with the student.

Michael Gorman wins Gold Medal for Irony

The Sphere is abuzz with discussion of Michael Gorman’s rambling monologues about Web 2.0.

They are two profoundly confused pieces.

While Gorman’s posts will win no prizes for coherence of thought or depth of knowledge, they might just win a Gold Medal for Irony.

Why? Because in an article bemoaning the death of respect for subject-area authorities and scholarship, Gorman fails to reference a single thought leader in the field of social technology, choosing instead to fuel his B-grade Andy Rooney rant with cites from Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen, a book which actual social media authority Robert Scoble has called “a marketing strategy wrapped in the clothing of a book”. A book apparently so riddled with factual inaccuracies that Larry Lessig has suggested that it can only be read as a self-parody.

What a weird world of “authority” Gorman must inhabit. He could have read Jon Udell, Doc Searls, Ross Mayfield, Dave Winer — all of whom have years of experience and a wealth of expertise in discussing the promises and problems of social media.

Instead he chose to crib the work of Andrew Keen, a move similar to turning to Susan Powter for an enlightened critique of dietetics.

If the loss of such a world of “research” is what Gorman is pining over, well, good riddance.

My first e-learning experience (1981)

We had a Z80Â -based computer in our house in the early 80s. This is the model, the Ithaca Intersystems DPS-1:


To boot, you’d click up the two rightmost switches in sequence after turning the key.

I used it for simple programming in a language called MUMPS.

My first e-learning experience came unexpectedly. Accused by my 7th grade teacher at Our Lady of Jasna Gora of a crime I didn’t commit, I was sentenced to write the Preamble of the Constitution out 25 times as a punishment.

“Can it be typed?” I asked.

“I don’t see why not,” said the teacher.

“Can I do it on my computer?” I asked.

“You can do it on whatever you want,” he said.

It was 1981. He didn’t know any better.

I went home, turned the key and flicked the big orange switches. One MUMPS loop later, I leaned back in my chair, swaddled in the comforting screech of the dot matrix printer, pumping out my assignment.

E-learning was cool.

Seth Godin: Blow up your Home Page

The general 30,000 foot view from Seth Godin:

The problem with home page thinking is that it’s a crutch. There’s nothing wrong with an index, nothing wrong with a page for newbies, nothing wrong with a place that makes a first impression when you get the chance to control that encounter. But it’s not your ‘home’. It’s not what the surfer/user wants, and when it doesn’t match, they flee.

You don’t need one home page. You need a hundred or a thousand. And they’re all just as important.

On the practical side? Realize that the reason why no one is happy with your homepage is that you are sending everybody to the same page. Start deep-linking people in, whenever possible.

Send newbies to the index. Send the daily visitors to the news feed. Send the people to whom you sent your last marketing campaign to a page constructed particularly for them.

When someone says “I couldn’t find that from your homepage,” investigate the obvious question: how did they get stuck going to the homepage in the first place?

Systemantics Thought for the Day: Loose Systems Less Hostile to Human Life

From John Gall’s Systemantics:

Since most of modern life is lived in the interstices of large systems, it is of practical importance to note that:


and are therefore generally somewhat less hostile to human life forms than tighter systems.

As an example of a System attunned to the principles of Systems-design enuciated thus far, consider the system of the Family. The Family has been around for a long time. Our close primate relatives, the gorillas, form family units consisting of a husband and wife and one or more offspring. As Jane Goodall has shown, gorrillas take naps after meals (Every day is Sunday for large primates). The youngsters wake up too soon, get bored, and start monkeying around the nest. Father gorilla eventually wakes up, leans on one elbow, and fixes the youngster with a penetrating stare that speaks louder than words. The offending juvenile thereupon stops his irritating hyperactivity, at least for a few minutes.

Clearly, this is a functioning system. Its immense survival power is obvious. It has weathered vicissitudes compared to which the stresses of our own day are trivial. And what are the sources of its strength? In brief: extreme simplicity of structure, looseness in everday functioning, “inefficiency” in the efficiency-expert’s sense of the term, and a strong alignment with basic primate motivations.