Your favourite “Loosely Coupled Teaching” example?

As part of my new ongoing efforts to collect and re-present ‘Best Practice’ examples of what I’ll call “loosely coupled teaching” I am really interested to hear from readers their single best example of a course (ideally one reachable on the public internet) taught using contemporary social software/web 2.0 tools outside a course management system. What have you seen that really made you sit up and say ‘Wow! it works!’ (And before anyone starts, I am asking for ‘course‘ examples in the context of formal higher education…I know, I know, but that is the audience and context I’m working in right now.) If you had one chance, less than 5 minutes, to convince a colleague to give up their CMS addiction and teach out in the open using general web tools, what is the best example you can point them at to convince them? – SWL

30 thoughts on “Your favourite “Loosely Coupled Teaching” example?”

  1. Instead of having students submit Word documents as their final papers (using the awful “dropbox” in our Desire2Learn course management system), they publish websites, online, starting in Week 2 of the semester, revising and adding to their project all semester, long and reading and commenting on each other’s work.

    The results are amazing – not just because it works as a semester-long project (step by step, with lots of revision, so even students who find writing difficult create good work), but because the ONLINE ARCHIVE of past projects is something that now guides and inspires the students far better than anything I could do on my own as a teacher.

    I do this in all three of my online courses now:
    Indian Epics:
    World Literature:

    Break out of the dropbox! It’s so much better ON THE WEB. After just a few semesters, there is a beautiful archive of work that will then allow students in future semesters to achieve even more.

    Tools: I use Mozilla Seamonkey (free for Windows, Mac) for the web publishing. We also blog using Bloglines as the blogging tool.


  2. Lanny, that is great; I especially like the link to create a new tab in Google pages with 6 widgets pre-installed. I think things like that and the ability to share Netvibes or Pageflakes ‘configurations’ are really important in this conversation, because they still preserve the freedom of choice but provide a useful starting point on their own (one which many may simply use as it is, which is fine). Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Laura, that’s exactly the kind of examples I am looking for, thanks for sharing this. Thanks also for sharing some of the motivation behind choosing this way, as that is an important part of the story too.

  4. Hi Scott, when I started doing it five years ago there were limited options for web publishing – now there are great options even easier than actual web editing software like Seamonkey, including options for people who don’t have their own webspace available. So even faculty who are not themselves adept at web publishing could do this using GooglepPages, just to take one example.

  5. Seamonkey – nice reference Laura! I didn’t know about that one but will definitely check it out further, especially because I am a longstanding Firefox/Mozilla fanboy.

  6. Hello Scott,

    I am writing to you from Germany.
    Though I am not a professional teacher ( at the moment I am a bicycle dealer ), a strong impulse drove me, to set up an educational communty website.
    The concept relies on the vanity of people and the spreading trend to broadcast oneself.

    At the moment, I am trying to get some opinions, on what professionals think about the idea.

    Please take a few minutes to explore, what is available up to now.

    My best regards

    Jens Buehrmann

  7. Jens, thanks for sharing this in what is obviously the early stages of your project. I think the idea of ‘swarm intelligence’ is interesting. I am not sure, though, that I am really understanding how your site works or how it is proposing to enable swarm intelligence. This is probably my shortcoming. Is the idea that people would upload their media files around certain topics? I think it is good if you are passionate about helping people learn and get access to educational resources. But I am not clear how the site you propose will motivate people to contribute there instead of in the many other places where they can place their video and aggregate it together into interesting educational experiences. Cheers, Scott Leslie

  8. I really do.
    I know how hard it is, to get the clue to SwarmworX on first sight.
    Could be a group on any of the Big Sites.
    On first sight, it’s nothing more than the attempt of an amateur to form a video group with educational content.
    So why do I think, it is different?

    The knack to SwarmworX, and why the project needs it’s ‘own’ environment is the constitutional side.
    On the long run, hopefully provided with enough funds, SwarmworX is intended to gain it’s own infrastructure of servers.
    Apart from this, the school-in-a-box concept will need enormous efforts and capital, to be put into hardware reality.
    The Software and content side should be, what SwarmworX represents in first level development phase.
    The big goal is to transfer first-world knowledge in education to those parts of the world, where people are not blessed with free access to education.
    Just imagine the possibilities of a media network.
    A Video or a presentation can easily be dubbed or subtitled. It’s a work you transfer once, store it to an open community, and it will become lasting.
    If there is an integrating, central facility for such educational media, produced by amateurs, professionals or e.g. student classes, there is a chance to develop the data-background for a world spanning network of HotLearningSpots offline.
    It is truly unrealistic to assume, that countries like e.g. India will evolve infrastructure fast enough, that the common Indian will also have benefits from all those IT-specialists, that do come from India, too.
    Just imagine a complete social education network like SwarmworX, simply mirrored on a big harddisk or flash drive ( blessings to .flv format), and running empowered by things like the Server2Go, anywhere in the world stationary, without broadband internet access.
    Plug a 300 $ desktop computer to a solar panel and some batteries, that’s all you need to set up a modern school in the desert.
    Keep these ‘schools’ updated, by delievering new content several times a year and you are more up-to-date than any teaching concept existing today.

    Keep the openness and keep it free.

  9. Jens, so I won’t claim that I really understand swarmworx any better, but you won’t find any argument here with many of your goals about freeing education and making it available, easily, to anyone. You may well already know, but there is an increasingly large movement of people working on similar goals – google “open educational resources’ as one place to start. And your comment reminded me of a number of really innovative ‘kiosk’ type solutions I saw at the recent Open Education conference in Utah, specifically the Digital Doorway project ( in Africa (but there were definitely others. Anyways, thanks for sharing these plans, cheers, Scott

  10. I don’t really have any examples Scott, but it’s what I’m trying to push for here at the Open University. I usually get my students to use real world apps e.g. in my course next year we will use Twitter and Wetpaint, and have used Harvard’s H20 Rotisserie, MS Messenger,etc. I’d be interested to see if you get any really good examples of people bypassing the LMS altogether. It’s not hard to do now and with no cost. Loosely coupled teaching could also apply to content – e.g. pulling in RSS feeds from a variety of sources. I wonder why I haven’t done it though? The LMS has a kind of momentum of its own – ‘gravity always wins’…

  11. Sarah Guth, an English teacher uses blogs and wikis.

    One of the wikis she used is “mine”:

    – Daniel

    Of course me and others in our unit also go out and try out web 2 things now and then. E.g. currently we have a class that combines Pageflakes, google writer and our own wiki. Pageflakes is used for planning and reflection. Each student has a page and they are linked through RSS feeds. But this is less of a feat since we are an edutech unit.

    Btw this semester I am trying to use the wiki only for one of my classes. Makes it a anchored forum. OOps I forgot, students also create web pages somewhere. Have to, since students learn web technology. The course is in french:
    Anyhow, the point is not that we use our wikis, but at least someone else did (without talking to me first actually). Then Sarah Guth used blogs to “drive” the class. So it’s loosely coupled.

  12. Scott, inspired by our conversations at last year’s WCET I’ve been toying with taking my online course out of Moodle for a semester and conglomerating the web apps that students may or may not already use, making a blog site for the home page, Zoho or Google Docs for the document sharing and peer review, Google Notes and Delicious for research components, etc. Problem is conglomerating these tools into a “loosely coupled” format, as you put it so well, may be well-suited for higher order learning, but not when students need fairly basic and structured information. My biggest fear is that for the introductory-level students that I teach the static and background noise of such an experience will inhibit their learning and application, which may under-prepare them for the next courses in the sequence.

    Ideas on how to do introductory-level courses with this methodology?

  13. I have been teaching a short online course on computer networks and education for past 3 years that has slowly developed to teaching about more Web 2.0 tools. In the process, I have slowly tried to move the course out of CMS and to try out a few loosely coupled Web 2.0 tools and to create a “social software-based learning environment”. I finally used an Edublog blog as the base and had the students create WordPress blogs of their own. The group project used PBwiki. I used PageFlakes as a tool to pull feeds of student sites into one location for my own benefit, but also in order to demo this technique as part of the course objectives. Students had exercises that introduced them to Flickr, RSS reader, and so we learned how to link to these contents in PageFlakes as well as use its built in tools for other purposes.

    I was really just applying everything I have learned about the use of these Web 2.0 tools from others in this area online. I may have got the technology to interconnect fairly well, but not sure how well my overall pedagogy worked (though the goal of this 2 unit summer course was largely just to expose students to some of these tools). I did in the end wonder if by using the blog to primarily host course module content, that I wasn’t just using a blog like a CMS.

  14. Daniel, sorry for the late reply, this got stuck in moderation while I was travelling. Awesome examples, thanks for sharing these. And even better thanks for sharing this example of (if I understood this right) someone else adopting an existing wiki, which seems to happen infrequently enough to be noteworthy.

    Cheers, Scott

  15. Jared, again my apologies for leaving this thread hanging while I was on the road. I am going to write a post about the sessions I did at WCET this year, as I think they address some of these questions, but the issues you raise, about how to provide scaffolding around these loosely coupled approaches, how to introduce new learners to them, how to use them for less higher-ordered topics all seem incredibly relevant. My basic take is that, for better or worse, the bar is set by the current CMS, so until we can do a few of the things done there we are going tohave a hard time getting this by either the administrators or even students. I am not talking about replicating the CMS, not at all. But (for instance) one good example I saw of how to ‘enable not require’ around a blogging-based course was Chris Lott’s Web authoring course – Whereas in some cases instructors provide a list of links to each student blogs or maybe an OPML file, Chris went a step further, using Blogbridge Feedlibrary to provide a web-based aggregated view of the feeds. This doesn’t preclude students using their own agregators or grabbing the OPML file, but it means students who aren’t immersed in this already can still largely benefit from the approach. More soon…

  16. I’m not teaching currently either, but I’ve found very useful. I have several accounts. Each with the capacity of 1Gb. I use one account openly with others. I use one of my less used email addresses and supply that to everyone. The interface is easy and I don’t have any browser/OS problems (Firefox on the Mac)

  17. I used with my students from first year at University ning (I have several but they are private:,,, wikispaces ( and blog (
    The best is Ning. I can rely on it both as a CMS and a community of learning and practice.

  18. I’m setting up a site for a course in the spring. It is based on Blogger, which has matured quite a bit as a tool. It now has tabbed pages, done in an effective way. This site illustrates:

    I’ve made a gmail account just for teaching, which is my preference. I use Chrome for interacting with the course site. Firefox is my default browser. For me, this makes for easier management.

    There are several tools from Google used on the site, but also delicious, kwout (which I really like as a citation tool), and for the student blogs, posterous.

    There is also a need to have private conversations with students around the grading of their work. So I still need an LMS for that. But I don’t need it for much anything else.

    I’ve been asking myself whether a typical instructor would willingly go through the setup of something like this. I’m having fun making it (all but wondering about the width of the blog, which on a smaller screen might require horizontal scrolling, a definite no-no). I don’t know the answer to that.

    I’m also wonder whether at this time some students will still want to print some of this out so they can hand mark up the content. My first reaction to that would be to suggest using a social bookmark tool instead. I may spend some class time on that. I’ve got no clue whether students use such tools themselves as a matter of course.

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