Blogging, tagging, liking, sharing on Facebook, tweeting – social networking is second nature for today’s students. Over the last 10 years the web has steadily evolved, as have its educational applications.
At the beginning of the “noughties” the University of Lyon 1 developed Spiral, today known as Spiral Connect. Around the same time the Université catholique de Louvain created Claroline, today globally distributed and supported by an international consortium comprised of several international partners.
Now obsolete, Spiral Connect and Claroline have decided to pool their efforts and expertise to create a new generation platform, making it possible to meet a variety of uses in a variety of contexts. Since 2008 many competing platforms have attempted their conversion to a 2.0 approach, but have often only succeeded in producing « 2.0 look-alike » solutions. On the strength of this experience, Claroline Connect is poised to bring more transversality (between the different roles, resources, tools) than platforms whose architecture has remained arborescent, linear and compartmentalised.
LMS are TMS!
According to Marcel Lebrun, a professor at the Université catholique de Louvain, the LMS (Learning Management Systems) are in fact TMS: Teaching Management Systems. It is the activity of the teacher that is valued to a far greater extent than the activity of the learner.
More versatility and flexibility, more user-friendliness, more intuitiveness, more stability, decompartmentalisation of courses and other activity areas, creation of fully-fledged training ecosystems composed of various resources, collaborative activities, involvement of students who themselves become the players and creators of resources alongside the teachers, connection with administrative applications of user organisations, deployment of a global network of interconnected platforms, the embracing of lifelong learning, etc. These are some of the objectives of this new platform.
From generic ideas to revamped features :
(1) Moving beyond (without ignoring) the concept of « course » towards « skills development. » Current platforms are mainly built around « courses » created by teachers and users. Without shelving them entirely, we propose the concept of activity areas that would be more versatile in the current environment. A problem-based approach, for example, bypasses several « courses » and targets the development of skills – a fertile contextualisation of a body of knowledge and resources. A portfolio is an activity area that is oriented and managed by the students as part of the validation of a curriculum. These capacities are steered and built via a programme approach – the interactive combination of several teachers.
(2) Using external resources to better focus on the learning tool. Current educational reforms are geared towards developing autonomous and even self-directed learning (learning to learn) among students. The PLE (Personal Learning Environments) are going from strength to strength in the age of Massive Open Online Courses or MOOC (such as Coursera or EdX). We have therefore focused on the reservoirs of resources available through the TDU (Thematic Digital Universities) – even MOOC and digital editions of textbooks. Areas of activities, fully-fledged aggregators of knowledge, could thus be created by the students themselves as part of a clearly defined educational project.
(3) Working as a network to give new meaning to classroom courses. Collective learning, collaborative learning or, better still, co-elaborative learning is where it’s at! Networks of learners (and we are all lifelong learners) are being created, which can mingle with networks of practitioners from the socio-professional world. « Traditional » universities are giving new meaning to classroom courses (the « campus ») in the form of broad collaborations either regionally or internationally. The « Claroline Connect » platform will thus communicate (or be communicable) with other platforms within the framework of the sharing and building of established knowledge and training tools.
(4) Managing the collectives, the communities, the groups… The collective again. Students, users, researchers are registered individually or cumulatively on « courses, » in programmes, in teams, in groups, or they can work in pairs or even solo on a specific project. All these links are clearly difficult to manage and monitor within the user’s desktop, so this need must be met through prioritizing by offering hoppers (filters) and allowing the desktop to reconfigure itself according to the most pressing choices: the work that I am sharing with a certain other student, the project I am working on with a certain team, my subscriptions to certain services or to the portal of the institution…
(5) Sharing teaching tools. To conclude this brief overview, a teacher or a trainer who has built an interesting scenario, a particular tool (think of a « peer review » between students)… can abstract this tool by making it available as a model, a « template » for other teachers and trainers. The sharing of best practice is fundamental to the professional development of teachers – something that the new platform will make it possible to objectify.
(6) Mobile phones. Mobile devices, smartphones and tablets are increasingly used by our students to view resources, stay connected with their « groups » and share information. They have become the effective tools of lifelong learning… Claroline Connect must adapt to make use of these different screen sizes.
Two important features distinguish Claroline Connect from other LMS :
(1) Simplicity, intuitiveness across the board. While our aim is to contribute to the professional development of teachers and to that of the education system on a broader scale, we feel it is important not to hinge the choice of platform on a long list of features or modules. All too often it is such purely IT-related considerations that drive the selection. A platform offering all possible modules, thus making it possible to perform complex tasks at a pedagogical level will often make it needlessly complicated to perform a simple task.
(2) Genericity and specificity. While wishing and encouraging the development and sharing of more specific modules requested by the member institutions or users, we feel it is important that the platform, through its core, allows the construction of shareable teaching tools from intelligent basic bricks, the tools of the platform.