Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Things They Carried: Preserving User-Generated Data in Learning Management Systems.

Like many librarians, I am the product of a distance-learning Masters of Library and Information Science program, which means that I am familiar with using learning management systems (LMS) like Blackboard and Moodle as media for delivering courses. Even in brick-and-mortar, face-to-face education, LMS are popular for a variety of reasons. They enable faculty to "flip" classrooms by posting lectures and notes online, serve as a forum for discussions and chats outside of scheduled class time, and are a platform to deliver quizzes and assignments, among other roles.

LMS generate a tremendous amount of data, the far majority of which does not get used again and is lost to history. While faculty can and do copy and export the skeletal structure of courses from semester to semester, the meat of what takes place in an LMS is often thrown away once a class ends. I'd like to change this.

Much of my work in a MLIS program is saved to Google Drive and/or a local hard-drive. But not all of it. I wish I had access to what I had written in discussion forums. And maybe you do, too. Even if you don't in practice, in the abstract it makes sense. Users created that data. Let them have it beyond that semester. It may come in handy later on. Or it may sit in a box like my college notes, but let the users decide. It's their information. They made it.

Though I am often a critic of MLIS programs, the discussion boards of our LMS were useful. They're gone now, which is a shame. It doesn't have to be that way. Moodle, a popular open-source LMS allows for the creation of "portfolios" for users. The sum total of a user's Moodle activity can be downloaded or exported. Here's how. Note that "Portfolios are disabled by default" in this LMS.

I do not know if this option exists in Blackboard, but entire discussion boards can be exported and saved to .zip files. Here's how.

Why MLIS programs? Because librarians, and by extension library science programs, are natural partners for this endeavor. We care about data, about information. We preserve it and make it accessible every day. Except here.

This isn't just talk. I'm working with our Director of Educational Technology to create user portfolios within Moodle that can be downloaded and exported upon graduation or transfer (or drop-out, but let's not talk about that. Yet.). I urge you to do the same. Thank you.


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