I teach courses about managing with people, technology, and organizational practice, what I call in public (though not in the course bulletin): Plugged-In Management. This means the students expect us to practice what I'm preaching. Just like in your organization, this results in a complex set of tradeoffs. I continue to struggle over the best approach for our communication and collaboration. Over the last three quarters I've tried three different approaches. Now it's time to take the pulse of the current version. I'll briefly describe each of the last three methods and then ask that students (mine or any other lifelong learner) chime in.  


I described this approach and its problems in a prior post. We used:

  • Angel for quizzes, the grade book, and password protected file storage
  • Piazza for threaded discussion of focus questions and comments
  • A wiki for the class schedule and links to readings and resources
  • A website for the syllabus with its overview and grading scheme
The collaboration was there. The transparency was there. But the students found it hard to find the formal course information they needed.

[caption id="attachment_4923" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Piazza Discussion Interface"][/caption] 




Let no collaboration take more than two resources. If I were in a corporate setting and could pay for licenses or custom tools, I might say one.
After the Best of Breed approach, we tried Acceledge’s class management system, built on the Drupal open source platform. [Disclosure: I have since become an advisor to Acceledge]. Acceledge was co-founded by a student from the Best of Breed experience quarter, though Acceledge was founded before she took my course. We continued to use Piazza as it remains the best tool I’ve seen for discussions. Piazza is another local start-up, begun while the founder was completing her MBA at Stanford. Clearly the students know what they need and that the right tools haven’t been available. (See my post on student designed tools.) Acceledge provided a smooth interface with a calendaring system that the students appreciated as it kept the focus on what was due when (versus my prior approach that was more about the readings and topics - faculty perspective versus the users'). 




One tool to rule them all, One tool to find them, One tool to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

For organizational reasons, this quarter we're a 100% Angel (purchased by Blackboard since our license began) shop. Here's what the discussion tool looks like: [caption id="attachment_4948" align="alignleft" width="282" caption="Angel Discussion Interface"][/caption] Student responses to one another are easily down 50% per capita over the prior quarters where Piazza was used. If anything, I'm pushing harder on the idea that they help one another given the drop-off in discussion -- even to the extent of letting non time critical questions sit rather than answering them myself. The standing course rule of "no emails except for personal grade or health reasons" stands. I've made them the offer that if they, as a group, want to add-on Piazza, I'll make the switch. Is the grass greener on the other side? How bad does something have to be before change is worth it?