Sometimes you need to build your own learning system

Hellenic Studies
André Gerolymatos (left) and Costa Dedegikas of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies developed and built a custom learning management system for Greek-language training.

By David Porter

For André Gerolymatos, a professor and director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies, the problem was straightforward — how do you build a system for Greek-language training that is engaging, productive and works on the mobile devices that today’s students consider everyday-carry equipment? In solving the problem, Gerolymatos and his colleagues in Hellenic Studies, illustrated the role of faculty and departments in spearheading innovation and flexibility at SFU.

“We were facing a serious challenge in offering Greek language in a university with a very small population of Greek speakers, in a city that has a very small Greek population to begin with,” says Gerolymatos.

To address the challenge, he worked with Costa Dedegikas, the centre’s technology manager and leader of a team of software engineers that recommended a modular approach to designing an online learning system that could host the language lessons. The design approach they took was future-oriented, allowing the learning system to be used with emerging technologies, with other languages, and in other kinds of courses.

After working with experts to obtain feedback on their Greek-language system, a funding partnership with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation enabled the team to take the learning system a step further, and this meant making a big decision, said Dedegikas:

“Go with an off-the-shelf learning management system (LMS) or build an innovative platform that pushed the boundaries of existing LMS environments.”

The Hellenic Studies team developed its own lab at SFU with a view to staying on the cutting edge and maintaining its modular approach to instruction. The team also included learner profiles and data analytics in the competency-based system, an environment that provides both students and instructors with a real-time picture of achievement.

Gerolymatos and Dedegikas have begun to work on improved technology through an SSHRC grant for a new mobile-enabled system that will contribute to language preservation and instruction for First Nations communities. The new system will also work for other courses and languages, and it is currently being used at SFU for mobile-enabled history courses that include archival video.

The critical design decision for the Hellenic Studies team was user engagement. Its systems had to work for the faculty and instructors who teach the courses, and they had to work for students and demonstrate that learning was happening. To ensure success, the team took an inclusive, iterative, design-based approach to implementing, testing and improving the system.

Gerolymatos and Dedegikas believe they have built an innovative niche technology that could also be used successfully by other departments at SFU and beyond.