New online learning tool coming soon

I have lately been experimenting with a new “online social learning platform” called Sophia. It is still in private beta testing, but has an impending public launch date of March 7, 2011.

You can go to their site now and watch their introductory video, which is of course about their grand plans. I have a more selfish interest in the project. It’s a really simple platform for providing online supplemental content to students in my courses.

I am a teacher who writes. For years, I have written little follow-ups on activities and lectures for my students. I have written emails to students in response to questions. I write curriculum. Part of my reason for starting this blog was to have a place to write to my students and have that content be available to the larger world.

But I have not written very much using the Instructional Management System (IMS) adopted by my state college system (ours is Desire2Learn, or D2L). That’s because supporting instructor-developed course content is something this system does very poorly. Of course D2L is not alone in doing a crummy job of this, but it’s the one I have to struggle with.

Think of an IMS as a classroom. With D2L, it is as if the classroom had been designed with only a very small screen and an overhead projector-no chalkboard, no whiteboard, no multimedia projector.

And the transparencies are kept in individual envelopes, requiring an elaborate ritual to access a new one each time.

And any pre-made transparencies have to be reformatted before they can be used.

And on and on.

But then the Sophia staff presented their new tool at my college last fall. I saw the tool very selfishly. It would fill a need that I had for my students in my courses. Sophia was offering to use their gorgeous new whiteboards. Or chalkboards if I preferred. And I could have as many transparencies at a time as I wanted. And I could have that LCD projector to show some video if I wanted to do that.

And it would all be free for me, and free for my students, and I could keep my copyrights. And I could invite the world to my classroom if I wanted.

As an online learning system, Sophia makes it easy to develop a primer, tutorial, summary, etc. of a single topic at a time using multimedia. Text, audio, video and graphics can be quickly combined in a single page called a “packet”. Packets have simple, straightforward and permanent web addresses and can be easily linked. In contrast to D2L, these links are real links and take the user out to the linked page, whether it’s another Sophia packet or any other webpage (D2L processes all links through its server-and the process is less than 100% reliable).

And the graphic design is lovely. D2L is ugly and makes me feel like I am working in a Soviet-era Russian office building (see image below). Sophia is like a breath of fresh air. I feel unconstrained and comfortable-more like working in an open, clean, lofty coffee shop.

Where D2L and most other Instructional Management Systems are concerned with privacy and proprietary code, Sophia is concerned with openness and sharing. D2L creates separate, isolated jail cells. Sophia creates connections among people.

See below for a glimpse of the tool. Sign up for the private beta to browse around. Or just keep an eye open after March 7, when everyone can access Sophia content without registering and for free.

And if they do their job well, the next time you Google “inverse operations” or “Wump hats” or “Circles” (and I know you do-WordPress diagnostics tell me so), you just may end up reading my Sophia packets.

Screen shot of a D2L page for my College Algebra course

D2L. Ugly, ugly, ugly. Note the big, black bar with the tiny headings and multiple bad icons.

Screenshot of one of my Sophia packets

Sophia is much cleaner and prettier. The black feels like a background, rather than an intrusion.

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3 responses to “New online learning tool coming soon

  1. Pingback: Can you calculate your grades by hand? | Overthinking my teaching

  2. Pingback: Meet my new lover | Overthinking my teaching

  3. Pingback: Normandale prof: Give me Sophia, Inkling over NOOKstudy | On Campus

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