I promised in a previous post that I would document my experience using Social Media Classroom for my Digital Libraries course, and here it is, almost Spring Break, and I haven’t revisited the topic. So here we go.
In fact, the primary reason I haven’t written much about SMC is that we’re actually not using it much. There have only been 10 posts to the blog, 6 of which have been made by me. There have been only 13 posts to the forums, 10 of which have been made by me. Of those 10 by me, 8 were to coordinate the work of the class, by which I mean, they’re basically logistical, and not contentful. I take full responsibility for the fact that SMC isn’t being used more: I could post more to it, I could put more emphasis on it for the course project, I could, I could… but I won’t. One of the reasons I wanted to use SMC was to see what emerged, and I’m unwilling to force it.
Interestingly, what has emerged is that the class has decided to use Basecamp for project management. That was suggested by a student: I asked him to make a pitch for it and demo it in class, and all the other students were ok with the idea, so it was adopted. The other students didn’t have time to do a full evaluation of Basecamp before deciding, so perhaps the decision wasn’t fully informed… but it’s only a 15 week commitment anyway. Use of Basecamp is pretty high, mostly for To Do lists.
Speaking of not putting more emphasis on SMC… here’s what I really want. I use Delicious actively, including for bookmarking readings for my classes. I also share items from Google Reader. I don’t want to have to post items in SMC or anywhere else: I want posting to happen for me automatically. I want a tool that can grab items tagged with a specific tag or tagset, and items that I share from gReader and tag appropriately, and, presumably using RSS, pull those items into my CMS. You can subscribe to RSS feeds in Sakai, and you can aggregate feeds in gReader, so maybe that’s the way to go. But what I really want in Sakai is for the feed to be on the course front page. Good grief, I’m never satisfied, am I?
Finally, let me report on one thing that Fred suggested earlier in the semester, when we were discussing SMC: he suggested that I and all of the students in the class should use avatars, or profile pictures, or whatever you want to call those things. He suggested that those make it easier for students to learn each others’ names, and give the class more of the feel of a classroom experience, even when the students are remote. Seemed like a good idea to me, so I suggested it to the class. Thus far, only one student has uploaded a profile picture to SMC — and actually, he had done so before I suggested it. This, I think, reflects the fact that we’re not using SMC much, so it probably just doesn’t seem worth the trouble. Also, I think this reflects the fact that the class is small — only 11 students, plus one auditor — so everyone knows everyone else’s name by now anyway, so the profile pic may not seem to add anything in terms of community-building in the class.
So, to wrap up this post… will I use SMC again next semester? At this point, it’s looking like probably not. It’s a good tool, but it’s one more platform for students to learn to use, and one more site for students to go to. And it’s not giving me enough extra value to outweigh those considerations. That said, I’ve been toying with the idea of building my own CMS from Drupal. Yes, that too would be one more platform and one more site, but it would be my platform and site. There are plugins for Drupal to add dropboxes, gradebooks, and other CMS-like functionality. So maybe that will be a summer project for me. Just what I need, another project.