Since its emergence and up until now, OWI has been inextricably linked to and dependent upon technology. Learning Management Systems (LMSs), a type of Content Management System (CMS) “specifically used to design, deliver and build online learning content and environments for courses (McDaniel, Fanfarelli, & Lindgren, 2017, p. 19), have so far been the medium for the delivery of online writing instruction. Upon entry into higher education, LMS products rapidly gained popularity because they put teaching tools into convenient and secured systems, enabling instructors to manage and deliver course materials without having to put them on the open internet. Their advent resolved faculty’s frustration of having to create their own website, password protect it, and upload their course materials for teaching purposes. The early adoption of LMS products was also motivated by the competition for future online students (Ress, 2018), as some administrators sense that the e-learning market would become an important share of the overall education market, and that LMS products would play a crucial role in this transition to online education.
Over the years, a number of companies such as Blackboard Learn, Canvas, Moodle, Schoology, Edmodo, and Google Classroom have come to dominate the academic LMS market for higher education. These ‘traditional’ LMS products, as I will be referring to them in this webtext, are the primary teaching platforms for many online writing faculty (Harris & Greer, 2018). They were designed to serve as many use-cases as possible, and not built with any particular discipline in mind. While this universal, one-size-fits-all design ensures platform uniformity within and across institutions, it does not “always allow instructors to teach writing in a way that aligns with writing pedagogies and theories” (Hutchison, 2019, p. 4). Indeed, ‘traditional’ LMS products do not support the type of group work, feedback, and revision that is often desired for effective writing instruction (Pope, 2011; Hutchison, 2019; Friend et al., 2016). Reilly and William (2006) and Salisbury (2018) also reported instructors’ frustration with their inability to customize proprietary LMS products such as Blackboard to align with their pedagogical values. Beck, Growhowski, and Blair (2016) argue that the designs of traditional LMS products such as Blackboard and Canvas reinforce the system approach “ultimately lead[ing] to a confinement of virtual spaces at the expense of student learning” (paga.1). Friend et al., (2016) report that LMS design does not encourage innovative writing pedagogies, and DePew & Lettner-Rust, (2009) add that it does not “take advantage of pedagogical practices based on the new affordances digital interfaces offer” (p. 175). Harris and Greer (2018) note that “Blackboard and other standard LMS systems work against the 25-year body of research into what works in OWI and, at times, constrains the implementation of OWI Principles” (p. 48). Following Selfe and Selfe’s (1994) foundational work about inherent biases built into technological products, there is the body of research that cautions about the ideology, hegemony, and power structures reproduced in traditional LMS products (Hass, 1996; DePew & Lettner-Rust, 2009; Remley, 2013, Panthee, 2013).
With the emergence of instructional design models that are more social, experiential, adaptive, and gamified and with universities’ desire to expand their learning technology infrastructure to support “the design, development and operations required within contemporary learning environments” (Segrave & Holt, 2003), many OWI instructors have begun questioning the relevance of traditional LMS products as the center of their institution’s learning technology infrastructure. To address this matter, some instructors have changed their own requirements while keeping their ‘traditional’ LMS, some have proposed adding on other openly available technologies (e.g. Ericson, 2016), some have resorted to alternative LMS products, and others, including the author, have taken matters into their own hands by building their own LMS. This latter option may be more adequate for a context in which students have become regular users of diverse technological applications, and their expectations entering online courses are shaped by their use of these engaging, fun, streamlined, and intuitive applications. Although daunting, rare, and extremely labor-intensive at first, this option is increasingly becoming more tangible with the exponentially growing number of free and low-cost applications and plug-ins that instructors with no background in computer programming can use to build learning management and content delivery platforms for their online writing courses.
This webtext details my experience creating Paamsongre Courseware, an LMS for OWI. More specifically, it 1) goes over the building phase of this LMS, 2) depicts the features and design of the platform while explaining how an LMS can be tailored for writing instruction through the repurposing of traditional web-based applications and plug-ins, 3) and explains how this LMS aligns with some of the CCCC position statement of principles for OWI while highlighting the benefits and challenges that arise from this endeavor as well as offering guidelines about how to address these challenges.