I’m giving a talk today, as I mentioned earlier this week, teasing out the differences between course management systems and social software. In preparing for the talk, I’ve started thinking about many different things, many of which won’t make it into the talk, of course. I’ve been thinking about why I like this web 2.0 stuff so much and why I, and many others, subscribe to a “small pieces, loosely joined” philosophy when it comes to educational technology. On the flip side of that, I’ve been trying to figure out why others subscribe to the enterprise software philosophy of something like a course management system. I like autonomy. I don’t like being told what to do, and I think many educators don’t much like being told what to do. Web 2.0 tools allow you to pick and choose what you want to use. Many of them are built to be interoperable, so that you can piece them together in one space if you want. For example, I connected Twitter and Remember the Milk, and get reminders about my to-do list via my Twitter account. I also tied RTM to my Google home page, where I have a summary of my email and my RSS feeds and what’s on TV tonight. If I were a student, I think I’d do the same thing. I’d love RSS feeds of my class schedule and assignments and those would be right next to my Facebook widget. Or conversely, I could fee my class schedule and assignments into Facebook. That’s the beauty of Web 2.0. You get to choose how to mix it up.
With most enterprise software, you can’t. (Here’s a great post about how clunky most enterprise software is.) You have to use their tools and if they suck, you can’t bring in your own. There’s no way I could make Blackboard my home page. I could include RSS feeds, but I can’t include email or other widgets. Maybe I’ll try to create what I have in iGoogle with Blackboard. I might accomplish it, but it will probably be difficult. And I can’t change the look of it. In something like iGoogle or with a blog or most other Web 2.0 software, I can make it look however I want. I can change the colors, rearrange the display, choose a different profile icon. None of that is really available in a CMS or most other enterprise software. I’m stuck with a small selection of colors and certain aspects are unable to be changed. In our CMS, it’s the header.
Basically, I not only want to personalize the look and feel of the software I use, but I want to use the set of tools that makes me most efficient. If it takes a million clicks to add an RSS feed, then I’m not going to use that tool for RSS feeds. I’m going to use something that takes one click. It may seem silly, but each click is wasted time. When you’re trying collect and read and digest lots of information, saving that little bit of time–over a million times a day–becomes very important. And, as I’ve always said, if I have to look at a computer screen all day, I want it to look nice. I don’t want it to suck the life force out of me with its industrial look.