UMatter2Us is the name of the web-based course management system that I have been developing over the past several years.  The primary motivation behind this effort is the perceived deficiency of existing tools, e.g. Blackboard, for the effective creation of a learner-centered classroom environment.

The name of the system is a double entendre:

  • You Matter to Us
    This interpretation acknowledges the social constructivist pedagogy that underlies the system.  The system is designed to foster a learning community in which all members work to help others have rich, meaningful learning experiences.  In such an environment, every member of the community is important–you matter to us–we wouldn’t have as deep an experience without you.
  • University Matter, To Us
    Members of a learner-centered classroom see a college education not as a means to an end, but as an end in and of itself.  The system is designed to foster an intrinsic love of learning that will carry on throughout life.  It is designed to produce “enlightened citizens who live meaningful and productive lives” through self-aware, reflective study.  It’s how we see university matter, the stuff you study in college.
The basic principles upon with the system is built:
  • Social Constructivist Pedagogy
  • Mastery learning approach
  • Self-directed, flexible learning
  • All members of the learning community are learners, including the “professor”; all are equals
  • Mutual trust, respect and support
Key features of the system include:
  • Robust peer and self-evaluation tools designed to make all community members competent to recognize quality as a precursor to producing quality work
  • Multiple paths for achieving all learning goals allowing community members to select or create paths most appropriate to their own learning styles
  • “Community health indicators” that allow community members to monitor their own and each other’s learning trajectories. These indicators will alert community members when a peer is in need of attention or assistance.
  • Flexible messaging which takes advantage of multiple modes of communication, e.g. email, text messaging, chat, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, phone; allows members to send and receive messages in the manner that suits them best.

Development To Date

Two ISAT senior projects have been devoted to this project: Tommy Fadoul (2009) and Thomas Haney (2010).  The original plan was to build the system from scratch using the Ruby on Rails web application framework. While falling short of developing a working prototype of the system ready to be tested with actual classes, these two projects significantly developed the core requirements the system must meet.  Current plans are to start over, building the system on top of the open-source content-management system WordPress.  WordPress provides a solid, yet extensible, core that will allow the project to avoid reinventing standard web application features such as user management.  This effort will be continued by senior projects in the 2011-2012 school year.  Tests on one or more key features are planned for the Spring 2012 semester.

About the Logo

The ball in the logo is a hackeysack.  Hackeysack is a non-competitive sport with an open, supportive culture of inclusion.  Players stand in a circle facing each other and kick a hackeysack, or footbag, trying to keep it in the air without using their hands.  Apologizing to other members for dropping the hackeysack is frowned upon, since we all drop the ball sometimes.  Comparing one’s skill to others’ in a critical fashion is also frowned upon.  Skilled players are just as happy to play with total beginners as they are with other skilled players.  We all have to start somewhere and it is much more fun to play with others than it is to play alone, although footbagging is definitely something one can do by oneself.  The hack circle is, in other words, a metaphor for an ideal learning community.