Thinking inside the box

So far this year I’ve heard a couple of instances where I’ve been told to ‘think outside the box’ and I thought … “but what if there’s nothing wrong with the box?”

For me, when someone says’ think outside the box’ it’s all about taking a different approach or different view of the same issue and being creative in thinking about what needs attention and what needs ‘solving’. This puts the emphasis on the ‘thinking’ part of the statement.

Thought – Perhaps I’m always thinking outside the box if I don’t see the value of thinking outside of the outside of the box?

But for some, the emphasis is on the ‘box’. If you think of the box holding the institutionally recognised and supported tools, does the box have the tools you want? For this post I’m going to take this route, thinking about the box (the VLE, the CMS, the LMS, the approved list of tools your institution supports, etc.). Sometimes we don’t need a new box or tool, but perhaps a new way of using or viewing it?

From my time supporting and training academic colleagues on platforms like Blackboard, Moodle, FutureLearn, OpenEdX, etc. I heard the same stories about “it can’t do what I want” or variations of this. Often, the VLE or platform is not at ‘fault’, the platform can perform the required task but it may look different or work slightly differently. But it can still be done, but it requires a creative approach to do it (if in doubt, please talk to your friendly learning technologist!).

I have seen so many creative and effective uses of the basic/standard VLE tools that I sometimes wonder if the search for a new tool is just because we want to be seen to innovate or to use the latest, shiny technology? I’m sure there has been an element of this in the past, and I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of it too (see Open Badges, Google Glasses, etc.) but these days I also see more critical views on the adoption and implementation of new tools. We, as a body or industry of learning professionals, are thinking deeper and more clearly about using new systems and tool, so we’re sure the changes or new tool actually adds value, that the students benefit from it as part of their wider learning journey and not just to add variety.

Let’s not forget, most institutions have a whole scope of supported and approved tools and systems to use – a short search of your own IT webpages should find this list. There is usually a great wealth of available tools there. If what you want isn’t there, have you considered that it may be excluded or omitted for a reason? The best thing is to ask IT about it, ask around your own learning technology community – you never know what experience and knowledge is available once you ask.

For me we, learning designers and learning technologists need to carefully and critically consider the tools we already have at our disposal. Sometimes they will be enough and can do what we need of them. Sometimes they can’t. Then, once we’re sure we need to look elsewhere, we can and should. We have to again carefully consider the tool and all aspects of it (not least is how and where the student data is handled and stored. Remember, it’s all about GDPR baby!). Will it actually offer any value to the student? Is it sustainable or scalable? How much monitoring or maintenance does it need?

Back to the box then. We do, of course, have the option of ignoring all mention of and all focus on any box. How radical and creative would that be?

In a very apt moment from The Matrix … “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth. There is no spoon.” Don’t try and think outside the box (or inside). Realise the truth, there is no box!

YouTube: The Matrix – There is no spoon

Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash