Walled gardens and open eco-systems: Mitch Benson from Canvas visits RMIT

Image: Daniel von Appen on Unsplash

When you are speaking to an audience at a University or TAFE and you bring up the “glacial pace of change in the academic sector”, you know you are in for a frank discussion. Overlay this with the speed that RMIT University adopted a new LMS – nine months and the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS) for those playing at home – and it’s almost deliberately provocative. Hold onto your keyboards.

With a focus on preparedness for study and work, Mitch presented some stats that I’d like to unpack and discuss;

they had research that teachers felt 96% of students were not prepared for study, and 92% of employers felt the graduates entering the workforce were not prepared for work.

This seemed quite skewed to the US and higher education, as I believe the vocational education sector has better work preparedness, but I also know that it can be better. As Mitch noted, the key is that their research encourages a discussion about why and how we do what we do, and prompts us to focus on how we can achieve better student and industry outcomes.

Another key point I took away, and one that is often missing in the move to online or blended learning environments, is lack of community. Having moved from simple content hubs and management systems to advanced learning management systems, Mitch proposed the future would be learning relationship management through social connectedness. His focus is to foster a sense of community and connectedness in our learning design and delivery, to which I completely agree. With all the new technology and tools available, it is easy to forget about the thing that makes us human and allows us to grow – social connections.

Being present in online discussion forums, providing tailored and timely feedback, and facilitating constructive student-to-student and/or student-to-industry networks are just some examples of how we can practice this. However, we must ensure our systems and tools continue to develop to support this. It is comforting to know that Canvas encourages the concept of open eco-systems versus the past ‘walled gardens’ mentality that has existed in the education industry for so long. We all still have a way to go before we have something genuine and consistent for our students.

Mitch Benson at RMIT
Mitch Benson at RMIT


A select few of Mitch’s other thoughts:

  • Data – People keep saying that we need more data… why? We are knowledge and action poor. We need data, but we also need to understand said data to drive innovation and creative decision making in development of better learning for our students.
  • Scaffolding – Mitch also compared the past ‘sink or swim’ mentality of higher education (the administration processes particularly) to a supported scaffolding approach. Call it scaffolding, cognitive load reduction, or even ‘chunking’ – building up a student’s knowledge gradually and allowing them to regularly practice and receive feedback is increasingly accepted as producing the best student learning outcomes. Whatever the term you choose, it advocates the journey as important, if not more so, than the end result. This is common practice for those in vocational education, yet ensuring we offer students opportunities to practice, fail and receive genuine feedback is something we can always improve on. To be successful at this, we need to embrace the LMS as less of a content dump, and more of a place where genuine and authentic learning can occur.