e-mail and virtual learning environments (why its a bad idea)

DM Review: The Intelligence in E-Mail: Are You Ready to Listen?. Quote: "It is becoming more clear that when one tries to make a CRM system do everything (ERP, data warehousing, e-mail management, billing, telephony, chat, etc.), one gets something that does nothing well. This realization is leading to unification of data, but specialization of channel."

Comment: We're about to embark on a fairly significant e-mail project - giving all classes a listserv - and managing the knowledge generated will be a trick.  I know the impulse will be not to keep archives and to lock them away if created.  Also to make the lists instructor-distribution only. [Serious Instructional Technology]

ยป A few years ago I was involved in a virtual school project.  Although I would not call it a success per se, it had many successes and we learned a lot.

My reason for dredging this up is that one of our bedrock principles was that email was part of the problem.  At the time there were growing voices suggesting email as the solution to all our woes.  A good example was student submission of coursework.  This struck us as particularly crazy given the problems people were already having managing their email (especially lecturers) and the lack of any solution for managing email.

Here is an example of where this can easily go wrong:

"You failed because you didn't do the coursework"

"But I submitted my coursework in the e-mail"

"No you didn't"

"I did it was attached to the e-mail I sent you"

"There was an attachment but it was empty."

"But the file was in there"

Who is in the right here?  Is this an honest student, victim of a mistake, or someone trying to pull a fast one.

The solution we ended up recommending was based upon Livelink a web-based knowledge (content) management system.  In particular we were interested in whether we could implement workflow to manage a number of the complex problems in this space (the answer was no we could not for reasons more complicated than I want to go into here).

However the approach was right.  It gave us:

  • Web based
  • Secure
  • Workspace based metaphor [in particular the personal workspace which we hoped would address the need to build a student profile]
  • Discussion forums with e-mail integration
  • News channels
  • Full-text searching of everything
  • Document management
  • Integrated workflow
  • Scalable to tens of thousands of users
  • Scriptable at the back end (if you were a very patient person)

These kinds of features were what we were looking for to address the concerns of building a virtual learning environment for real. 

Okay long pointless ramble over...

09/09/2002 18:35 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments: