Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hub and Spoke Model of Course Design

We have been exploring the idea of "hub and spoke" course designs where the learners are using ePortfolios and Web 2.0 tools and working in communities and contexts where their chosen problem is being addressed. For such a course, we have been using the term Hub and Spoke to describe how the institutionally-operated course space (hub) relates to the learners and the learner's electronic spaces. (see: Out of the Classroom and Into the Boardroom (PDF),
Out of the Classroom and Beyond, Case Study of Electronic Portfolios, and ePortfolio as the Core Learning Application.
Recently Blackboard has been adding "Web 2.0" features, so we had a discussion to delineate the reasons to use SharePoint rather than Blackboard as the hub in a hub and spoke course design.

Worldware is a double reason. First, students are learning skills in SharePoint that they can later in work contexts, where Blackboard skills are not useful outside the school context. Second, as our university adopts SharePoint for a variety of administrative purposes, there become a larger group of SharePoint experts who can provide support to both faculty and students using SharePoint as a learning platform.

Document Library and Tagging
SharePoint's document libraries are very flexible, allowing users to add metadata that suites their purposes. In CTLT's ePortfolio contest we have had several examples of this, perhaps of the most developed is in this winner's portfolio. (Its also worth noting that this contestant used email to send documents to the library (a SharePoint feature that integrated the "collect" phase of her portfolio work more completely with her other project work). We are now exploring how to mashup SharePoint document libraries with other tools to create timelines showing the evolution of ideas in the portfolio.

Authorization controls
While WSU has a mechanism for outsiders to gain an identity and login to university systems, as we have Blackboard configured, instructors can only authorize people into courses in the role of Teaching Assistant. Further, authorization to a Blackboard course gives access to the whole course, there is no fine-grained control to specific parts of the course. Finally, a SharePoint site can be configured for anonymous read, opening (portions of) the course to the world if needed.

"Pre-cooked" webparts and tools
SharePoint has a concept for exporting sites and elements of sites (libraries, web parts, surveys, etc) as .STP files and then re-importing these into other sites or adding them to templates for users to choose. This allows time-savings such as configuring a document library with specific columns, or an RSS reader with specific feeds pre-installed.

Adding more tools
Finally, SharePoint's architecture enables other linkages and mashups. It is a source and consumer of RSS, will support embedding of other Web 2.0 resources in its pages, and can capture email and originate email alerts. And with the SharePoint mySite, where the student is the owner of the SharePoint site over the span of their career, there is greater flexibility to support the hub and spoke models.

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