I posted too soon yesterday. Tucked away in the OUSA DD303 conference, neatly placed under a folder called useful stuff is a wealth of mind-maps and notes created since 2005 by previous students! I was particularly taken by a set of mind-maps created by Glynis Freeman, partly because they give some idea of the scope of the course and partly because despite my best efforts, I can’t create mind-maps myself (though I do find other people’s efforts useful).
I’ve downloaded the things that I think may be of use to me already, because of the impending move by the OU from FirstClass to Moodle, an open source virtual learning environment. The confusion that seems to reign in the OUSA Moodle Feedback forum is such that I’m not taking any risks in such potentially valuable content being successfully moved to whatever environment the OU and OUSA eventually decide to use to replace the FirstClass forums.
It’s arguable that the days of OUSA (but not the OU) needing to provide a closed forum environment for students is long gone, with the rise of independent study groups on Yahoo! and Facebook set up by interested participants, but I for one will be sad to see FirstClass and the myriad of strange (and often sparsely populated) OUSA forums finally go (in July 2010?).
It’s interesting to note that OUSA’s own priorities for forum migration (as expressed in a recent posting to the Moodle feedback forum) is OUSA business forums first, followed by the OUSA study support forums, followed by the social forums. While it’s perhaps understandable that the stduent organisation needs to talk to itself and support its democratic processes, this task could be simplified by rationalising the rarely used myriad of business and branch forums to – let’s be really radical here – one, supported by managed web content and blogs for everything else. The stuff that’s of real value to most students is in the OUSA study support forums – and these (as we found out on ED209) are largely redundant if the course team runs a great closed conference. As for the social forums, they’re definitely a nice to have rather than an essential. I really wouldn’t mind too much if, for example, the OUSA Computer Games, Eurovision, Reality TV and Muppetania forums were to be quitely retired.
Charting the course of Moodle implementations within the university, it seems to me as if the OU and OUSA are painfully discovering what software and IT professionals have known for a long time: even if the application is free (as in the case of Moodle), it doesn’t mean that it costs nothing to deploy, manage and use it. The investment made by the OU in employing programmers, designers and other IT staff to ensure Moodle meets the demanding requirements of the university must be pretty considerable already. There’s no way to know for sure outside of the OU team responsible for the programme, but I wonder if the actual (re-)development costs that the OU has had to invest in making Moodle meet their requirements have been more or less than remaining on FirstClass with some determined negotiation on licence fees and/or functional upgrades?
Judging by the reaction on the OUSA Moodle Feedback forum, there would certainly have been far less angst from the OU’s customers, the students. It’s not just angst, either, but potential lost revenue from course fees. Some OU students have been so disappointed with the capabilities seen elsewhere in other Moodle implementations (inside and outside of the OU) that a small minority have even said they will no longer study with the OU once Moodle becomes the standard. Personally, I’d never go that far as its the course content I’m primarily interested in, but it will certainly be interesting to see how participation in OU and OUSA forums changes (for better or worse) next year.