Question 1: Do you have experience with a course management system elsewhere, and would you be willing to meet with us to share that experience?
Question 2: Do you have specific needs or desires that aren't addressed above, but might be addressed by such a system?
Question 3: What are the main teaching-related activities which you currently use computers and the network for?
Question 4: What suggestions do you have about this questionnaire or this process, or our choice of a course management system?
  Two letters to the committee in response to the survey:

I really only wish to respond to the question "Do you have specific needs or desires that aren't addressed above, but might be addressed by such a system?"

This question, and the entire survey, appears to me to be a set-up.  The questions are leading and their tone works from the premise that such a system is long overdue at STU.  I hope I am misreading this.

I think such a system would work wonderfully for many of your classes, Russ--that's how you teach--but not for me, certainly not.  What do I need or desire?  Less fancy technology that limits choice, pre-determines outcomes, and gives students another excuse to sit on their asses in front of a television screen, one only slightly more interactive than the boob tube.

What I need are smaller classes, comfortable chairs, and desks/tables that students can sit around and take notes, spread out books, share ideas, etc.  I remember bringing this up in a forum a number of years ago and the response was "well, we see your point, but don't we have to do both, that is, don't we have to improve high and low tech. resources simultaneously?"  At the time I thought that was a reasonable response, so I shut up.  But the more I think about it, the less happy I am with that answer, an answer that, by its nature, devolves to providing the minima for low and high tech.  I'm reminded of something Moses Coady used to say:  "Spinach before Spinoza," was his favourite line.  What he meant was that attention to the basics is both fundament and firmament.  Only when the basics are adequately looked after, is it morally appropriate to proceed (I stick the "morally" in there because that was central to his point--resource allocation in any form is not only a bure!
aucratic consideration but a moral one).

So what has this to do with Course Management Systems?  Well, in the last two years I've taught classes in GM104, JD108, and ECG12, all of which were wanting in one way or another as spaces for learning.  This year I am teaching an honours seminar in JD108.  The classroom is a disaster.  It has one-armed bandits that offer students less than 1 square-foot of desk space.  And this is an honours course in which students have to spread out books, notes, and files while delivering their presentations.  (Last week a student had her friend hold her cup of coffee while she delivered, nodding every time she wanted a sip.)  If we went to an academic conference and had to present a paper on such a surface we would be livid.  The point here is not to say "well, Tremblay just ended up with the wrong classroom, there are others" (in fact, as Larry and I discovered, there are not), but to ask ourselves why we are pushing ahead with such positivistic glee around a fancy and costly Course M!
anagement system when we have conveniently forgotten previous surveys that called attention to our glaring deficiencies in low tech. areas such as classroom lighting, seating, projection capabilities, air quality, etc.  (I believe Sharon Murray was responsible for that study.  It would be worth revisiting to see if any action has been taken on its recommendations.)  What is the use of a grand digital network when our foundations are inadequate, when we can't regulate the air quality in our offices, or when our students sit jammed into classrooms trying to manipulate elbows, books, and Tim Horton's cups in order to find space to write?

Besides, many of our students already spend most of their free time in chat rooms, and a chat-room, in my opinion, does not simulate or prepare them in any way for the "world," whether it is teaching elementary school in Moncton or being a code-monkey for Alcatel.  By buying into a system that encourages students to spend more time on-line and less time with peers and professors, are we furthering the mission we set out for ourselves in the Goals of a Liberal Arts Education?  I think not.  Why, then, are we so eager to adopt the commercial, techno-imperial, largely de-limiting model of education as "outcomes," "service," "convenience," "speed," and "efficiency" at the real expense of what our institutional mission is:  liberal thinking (thinking "otherwise" and "other ways"); action, involvement, and participation (not anonymity behind a computer screen); and social and civic responsibility to the planet and each other.  We speed the process of forfeiting these goals when we buy into systems that let more students hide, skip class for what is all stored on the prof.'s website, ignore the library and its 2000 years of critical thought, and reduce dialogue to a crude and fragmented digital correspondence that erodes the language and limits intellectual exchange, all the while turning faculty from intellectual workers to answerers of student e-mail.

Who or what, then, is really driving this process?  The Maclean's survey?  MPHEC?  Lobbyists and administrators who are trying to make us appear more accountable, our liberal arts focus less medieval?

I know how much these systems cost to purchase and to maintain subsequent to buy-in.  With an outlay like that will faculty and students be free to opt out for sound pedagogical reasons?

I am not unaware of the resonance of a response like this.  I have been accused of having Luddite tendencies before.  But, carefully read, my comments are not that at all.  As I have said numerous times before, I would find it difficult to work without the information technology currently at my disposal.  I use my website, class lists (List-serves), and spreadsheets extensively.  But while those tools make some of my work easier, none make my teaching--what happens in the classroom--more effective.  The "teachable moment," mentorship, and making meaningful human connections are all non-technological.  Yes, I use the technology, but why do I need a Hummer when my Camry is more affordable, reliable, and environmentally responsible?

I think the money and our energies are much better spent in hiring a few more faculty and getting class size down--every study I've read, and all empirical evidence, shows a correlation between lower class size and enhanced learning.  I think the money and our energies are much better spent in renovating our current learning spaces so they are less like scriptoria and more conducive to conversational exchange.  I'm convinced we know these things, but I can't figure out why we forget them so often.
Our real effectiveness lies in finding innovative ways to get more personal, not less.  Our uniqueness lies not in being the same as everyone else--offering those techno-amenities that the drones in the BBA programme at UNB would celebrate--but in being different.  In working like humanists, not functionaries.

How do we proceed?  In helping our students slow down, not speed up.  In helping them to come out of themselves so that they may learn to speak with conviction, not hide within the circuitry of a computer.  Politically, I feel much better about helping students overcome their reluctance to speak, than I do about encouraging them to hit the "send" button.  Marilyn Manson (the shock rocker) and Marshall McLuhan delivered the same line, fifty years removed, on how to reach young people in an alienating world:  "You want kids to check back in?" each asked.  "TALK TO THEM."

I appreciate being asked to share my thoughts and needs regarding a Course Management System.  While there may be a benefit to having a course outline or related material ‘on-line’ it remains unclear to me why a system has to be purchased.  Many professors (not me) have their own websites which seem to accomplish similar things.  My concern -- perhaps this is from my lack of experience -- questions if these systems do anything substantially different than handing out course outlines or class handouts.  If not, why spend the money?  Would it be more efficient (less costly) to assist profs to set up their own websites?  

I attended one of the presentations (I forget which one) and left before it ended as I saw no value in what was offered as it appeared to be a hassle to set up (the presenter could not get it to work properly) and offered nothing substantially different than putting paper handouts on-line.

I also have some more academic concerns.  Do we lose something creative if every course outline has to fit a standard format?    Will class attendance (and I assume learning) suffer as we make it easier to access course material or will the nature of the class activities change substantially (perhaps for the better), as a result?  As access to information becomes easier through ‘on-line’ formats, is learning increased?  MOST IMPORTANTLY what type of learning is helped or hindered? For example, John Miller identifies three purposes to learning - transmission (information), transaction (understanding) and transformation (change).  I fear that on-line material, by its nature, promotes transmission to the severe detriment of transaction and transformation?  This is a huge issue and I think we would benefit from exploring this before we move into a system which, if left unchecked,  fosters a limited view of learning as it reduces learning to acquiring bits of information.  I assume members of the committee have considered this but it concerns me greatly.

On the other hand, what would help me is the following:
  1.  A spread sheet format for tracking course assignments and tabulating final grades.  When the final grades are determined they could be sent directly (without re-keying them into a different system) directly to the Registrar’s office.   I use Quattro now but must re-design it for every course and then must re-key the grades.
  2. Making course documents more easily accessible to students so they can check or obtain them (missed classes?) without the need to contact the prof.  However I must be able to easily edit as the course progresses.
  3. A website where there are direct links for ‘on-line’ material referred to or used in class.
  4. Class and sub-group distribution lists would be valuable and used increasingly as we become more familiar. Would this serve the same purpose as a class Bulletin Board?
  5. Students are becoming more familiar than I with recent technologies so the opportunity to present their videos or computerized presentations should be available.
Thanks for taking the time to read my concerns.