Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Moodle as Pensive Citadel

One of the more consistent observations I have made of education is this: that as we encourage our students to broaden their thinking, to cast a wide net of research and reflection, to make connections, to grasp the big picture, we also employ learning tools and frameworks which might seem overly constrictive. One example is the portfolio as an assessment tool which also incorporates personal growth and reflective insight into learning processes. Which sounds expansive, and yet portfolios must be defined and circumscribed: they, are after all, supposed to be a representative sample of best outcomes, evidence of most significant learning. So they come with selection criteria and word limits and the like.

Which reminds me of sonnets, of a couple in fact. Both Wordsworth and Keats used the sonnet form to comment on how its apparent limitations are also its greatest strength. The former, in his 1807 poem, Nuns fret not, catalogues a number of cases where creatures, human and otherwise, are "blithe and happy" to operate within confines of one sort or another. This includes nuns, not fretting "at their convent's narrow rooms," and "students with their pensive citadels." Wordsworth concludes

In truth the prison unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is;

and goes on to relate how comfortable he feels "within the sonnet's scanty plot of grounds" and recommends the form to others,

Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

Keats expresses the same thought in his On the sonnet (1819), but this time in terms of footwear:

Let us find, if we must be constrained,
Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of Poesy;

He adds a musical image, urging us to "inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress of every chord." We should have an "ear industrious and attention meet" and be "misers of sound and syllable" in order to produce a sonnet which is "sweet fettered."

The Moodle is similarly constrained and constraining. We have had to inspect it closely and weigh the potential value of each aspect. There are various limitations and we certainly have to be misers of audio and video files as we calculate their value versus the space required to accommodate them. Yet we manage to be blithe and happy in our pensive citadel; we are contriving, through careful attention and industrious ears and eyes, to interweave a complete course which will accommodate students' naked expectations.

Sweet fettered we are, but our solace is more than brief. The Moodle no prison is; and Sisters Renee, Mandy, Sarah and I, we fret not.

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