Guerilla Online Education

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I encountered this tidbit on the Microsoft Blog in the P-I this morning:

In a major milestone for the tech industry, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday voted to adopt Web-based Google Apps as the replacement for the city government’s aging e-mail and Internet services.

The tentative approval also marks a victory for Google over Microsoft, the leader in productivity software with Outlook, Exchange, Word and other applications. Each company spent tens of thousands of dollars in lobbying, though the Redmond-based software giant handily outspent its Silicon Valley rival.

In fact, the final decision was between Google and services provided by open-source leader Novell, said Gail Thomas-Flynn, Microsoft’s vice president of U.S. state and local government.

I’ve been advocating the adoption of free or low-cost web-based applications for distance learning scenarios since I started teaching online. Having experienced Blackboard, ANGEL & Wimba I feel like the bulk of the functionality there can be duplicated for pennies (comparatively) using free or low-cost online applications like the Google suite of tools, free discussion board platforms like phpBB, and video- and telecommunications packages like Skype or the AOL Instant Messenger/iChat.

I’m working in a graduate program populated by telecommuting visiting scholars & distance learning students. We’re preparing to rely on our in-house IT operation fairly heavily to leverage ANGEL & Wimba into our way of teaching. What if we conducted the bulk of our IT operations in the public workspace, with a minimal office footprint for records, live help, and organizational interface with the university? That convergences of teachers and learners develop spontaneously online is axiomatic (e.g. any number of advice, help, discussion bulletin boards). Could a community of educators set a target (create a curriculum), populate the pathway to its achievement with esteemed teachers, and conduct the course of study ‘in the clear,’ without the benefits of association with a university at all? As attracted as we all are to TLAs, can such a program establish its legitimacy without accreditation? Could the eminence of the assembled faculty deliver sufficient gravitas?

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