A peek at Lumen’s Waymaker

Posted on Posted in OER, Open Ed

Just wrapped up a webinar hosted by Lumen Learning to introduce a project they have underway.  As David Wiley explained it, it’s an LMS plug-in that promises to help close the gap introduced by Bloom’s (1984) 2-sigma problem.  For Wiley, I think the main takeaway from Bloom here is that the average student is capable of amazing learning.

This is the founding hypothesis to Lumen’s approach to bolstering an LMS and incorporating OER. With ad hoc tutoring, that is, with the instructor and students linking up when the student needs help, clarification, explanation, an example, more practice–whatever–learning can be improved.  This is tricky to practice in face-to-face courses, let alone when things move online.  In my minimal experience teaching online courses, thus far the trickiest part is getting a feel for how students are doing and when they could use a little something extra.

Waymaker tries to get at this. Building off of extant OER, and holding to the 5R framework, it appears to be offering up customization courses that offer regular formative assessments (e.g. a one-question quiz after a short module) that build profiles for each student as they go. If a student hasn’t checked in, or is wrecking their formative assessments, an email (for instance) is triggered. Triggered. From a profile. Automatically.

One professor who is helping to build Waymaker while test driving it is Steve Greenlaw out of the University of Mary Washington (seriously, what is it with that place?).  He reported getting an email from a student profusely thanking him for reaching out, but Greenlaw didn’t know what they were talking about.  Turns out, Waymaker had sent a message for him.  Now whoa-ho-ho this admittedly raised my hackles.  This student had been duped.  They thought they were having an authentic interaction with the professor and they were absolutely not.  Turns out you can set up Waymaker to send a random email from a pool of four.  You can even select if you’d like some guidance in your email writing, from either a “coach” or “advisor” persona, the latter being a little tougher.

Alright, if I step back I can say, yeah, in teaching online it take a tremendous amount of effort to keep up with students, and I’ve never done it satisfactorily.  So I need to take a step back and try and see this with my hackles down, try and think it through from a student perspective too.  I might be able to buy in to the approach here if I amended the notifications to my students to let them know it was an auto generated message. But yeeeah it still feels pretty damn Orwellian to me. I continue to be put off by an LMS approach. But serious kudos to Lumen and Greenlaw for what they’re trying here.  Even from the brief introduction, I know I’d rather teach with this than straight up Blackboard.

Only four courses offered thus far in business and economics. I need to check into this further: the first Z-Degree from Tidewater Community College, that Lumen also worked on, was a business degree.  I’m starting to find answers.

The tensions between using data like this and a critical pedagogy are at the heart of a session I’m organizing with April Lawrence at Virginia Tech’s Conference on Higher Ed Pedagogy in February. Really looking forward to airing and hearing ideas about these topics there.