Renewal Thoughts: The Metaphor of the Vestibule

I have been to many committee meetings and had numerous other conversations about the Toolbox Renewal initiative, and I am thoroughly enjoying those (especially being pushed to think about new ideas).

At one recent meeting, an instructor asked an important, and challenging question: Why do we even need a ‘Portal’ or LMS at all? Why can’t we each just pick what works for us, and your team helps us populate our tools with course enrollment information?

For me, the answer lies in trying to find a balance between flexibility and instructional context on the one hand, and institutional needs and student experience on the other.

From this conversation was born the metaphor of the “vestibule” as an alternative to a “portal”.

A portal implies a door – you walk through it to get to a new space. A vestibule, on the other hand, is a small room just beyond the front door, which in turn has one or more doors leading off to new spaces.

There is significant interest and common good in having students, instructors and staff pass through the vestibule on their way to whatever tools and environments are needed for a course. It allows the University to share important information with its community – for example, library support, mental health support, academic integrity information, copyright compliance information, course evaluation information, etc. – content which is extremely important, but not necessarily tied to a specific course.

Imagine if every instructor set up their own course website or LMS or only used an independent discussion board? How would they, and more importantly, their students see the other important content? Would each instructor commit to reproducing that content on their own sites? It would be an impossible task.

So instead, we deploy a ‘vestibule’ – that each of us passes through to get to the course experience and materials, giving all of us consistent access to important non-course-specific content. The vestibule does not, in and of itself, place any restrictions on an instructor using a context specific set of tools. But, in my opinion, it does create a balance between flexibility and instructional context on the one hand, and institutional needs and experience on the other. And that’s what the adoption of common criteria aims to achieve.

Let me know what you think of these ideas: http://toolboxrenewal.act.utoronto.ca/feedback-form/