I left it alone. Everyone was using it. Everyone had the permissions needed to customize their space. So I left it alone.
I set some guidelines. I spoke to everyone about best practice. I even made exemplars and samples so people could have a visual representation of what best practice means.
Ultimately, I made a mistake. Too much freedom and not enough structure. Concepts of Freedom vs Structure needs to be designed and adhered to within any online learning environment or environment that provides shared resources. Without structure, there will be chaos, and this will often require a complete reboot of the design.
The questions are simple: which pieces do people have to live with, and which ones can they fully customize?
I thought about this, and created some guidelines to make certain when planning a design not to accidentally get carried away with flexibility and customization
Resources used by students across year groups, or across the curriculum, should be centralized and universally linked from all pages or courses
This means if I have a list of “things” that students use, and those students are
not all in the same course or cohort, then that list should be easily found regardless of where those students are in the online environment.
Build boxes or menus that follow users and never change position
Making hyperlinks is very easy, but they can be overwhelming in an online
environment to users who are in multiple courses, using multiple menus, etc.
In most content management and course management systems, boxes and menus can be created that follow all users from page to page. These resources are always on the same part of every page.
Teacher groups and subgroups need to follow a group plan for resources
Schools group teachers together in a variety of ways. Some by entire division, for example The Primary School Division. Others use departments, for example The Math Department. There are many that plan by grade level as well. In addition to these core groups, schools make sub-group combinations such as All Primary Math Teachers or All Secondary Year 9 English Teachers.
We often forget how complex these groupings can be. The online environment is supposed to be designed for students, teachers, and possibly parents to find resources easily. If these groups and subgroups do not agree on a standard for how they will design their content, then jumping from one course to the next could be very confusing.
Someone with oversight of the online environment must ensure that the groups are planned properly and follow a standard. One example of a group standard would be stating that every group agree required subscriptions for students be linked at the very top of every online course or page. Fairly, simple, but very useful and easy to communicate to students and parents.
Have a review cycle for subscriptions
Subscriptions in a big school are difficult. I will write a post on ways to manage subscriptions, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that a school (or your school) has the planning of subscription acquisition and renewal down to a science.
Now you need to ask yourself, how often are you checking on the actual usage statistics of these subscriptions? Who is using them? How often? In what subjects? Who is using them at home or off-plan just for additional self-guided learning?
These questions need to be asked and answered at least every other renewal cycle.
This is also a good time to see if new competition exists. Most new subscriptions require some trial period before adoption. I would advocate communicating the cycle to faculty, so that they have a time frame in which to introduce new subscription ideas.
Flexibility and Freedom to choose are important, but so are structure and standards. Like a neighborhood, without some zoning and agreements, one person’s choice could negatively impact another person’s property. Those involved in technology leadership are well suited to set standards that balance the environment for all user groups. This is not a popular job, and one that is never appreciated, but doing it well will result in a daily positive impact for the entire community.