Category: Management Systems

I wonder how Mixable Perdue can get…

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By , October 6, 2010 1:31 pm

I spotted this today in the hype of all the Facebook news (it’s getting a more intelligent group feature as opposed to lists). Mixable takes elements from existing web/cloud based systems and rolls them into something that seems very much to be a “public garden” style content/learning management system.

The bonus with this system is that “classes” or “courses” are persistent and don’t sink into the bureaucratic ether at the end of the term. The only strong tie it seems to have to Perdue right now is for podcasting, but since it uses iTunes U, it might be able to work with other institutions – assuming that Perdue releases it to the wild…

Maybe it’s the money – nee Thoughts on Collaborate III

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By , July 13, 2010 8:26 pm

@idarknight my reaction to BbWimbaLluminate was more financially based than anything. how can we justify burning money with free options?less than a minute ago via Tweetie for Mac

@dlnorman I was wanting to include that as some part of the post, but the money arguement is a sticky one, so I’ve left it to bubble for nowless than a minute ago via Seesmic Web

Just after I posted yesterday about the knee jerk reaction, and I started to get hits from a number of sources (thanks to an OLDaily link), the bubbling that I referred to started to get going, and after the lighter thoughts had left, I was left with something odd at the bottom of my brain… maybe that knee jerk reaction has more to do with the impression that many people in the education world have of never having enough funds. It certainly seems to be the case with public institutions, as I don’t know many private educational organizations that are complaining too loudly about the actions of BB. In fact, they might see it as a net gain as they can essentially outsource even more functions to a single trusted corporation. But public education seems different.

In the public education world, people are happy with “negative zero” budgets – happy that they have a job and trying to make due with budgets that never really grow at any rate fast enough to keep up with anything, much less get ahead (if they even come on a regular cycle). Public education leverages open source – as D’Arcy mentioned today – to save those pennies (spending time over money, increasing that intangible worth of the organization) and when they do spend money, it tends to get spent on those smaller solutions (like Elluminate once was) that are kindred and sensitive to the plight of the education sector. Education doesn’t have a lot of money, so don’t expect us to pay very much for things (it’s a sad lament and an even worse comment on our educational priorities).

But then when a smart company comes by and starts to assimilate all those little dollars into larger sums, public education seems to take notice all of the sudden. But here is the catch, a smart company sucking up all those little line items into a larger one (plus a handsome little buffer for the convenience of a single bill), doesn’t fit into public education’s world of changing budgets and it’s ethos of growing small ideas into larger solutions. One large bill means that if you can’t make the payment one year, you may or may not be able to provide service that year. A number of smaller bills means that you can pick and choose what you want to pay. Perhaps not the smartest way of doing things, but that seems to be the case for public education. Public education likes to be “cheap”. It seems to revel in it’s ability to make do in spite of what the world thinks is “real”.

So maybe that reaction to Collaborate was because of the money angle. The assimilation of all those line items and the individualization that comes from having those options evaporated when the “suits” decided that all those little items were to be assimilated. We’ll have to see what happens over the next few months and years to see if we were just doing a Chicken Little or if there was something real to be concerned about. But in the mean time, I think this does move education one step further into one of two camps – one open and one closed. Determined not by the haves and have nots, but by how individual one chooses/desires to be.

Knee Jerk Reactions

By , July 12, 2010 1:32 pm

I know I’m guilty of this myself, but I caught myself wondering while I was out for a run this morning… is the edtech-sphere disliking the BB Collaborate announcement because of some real concerns with regards to BB and how they do things to those systems that they acquire, or is it something more “religious”?

Part of me thinks that it might be more the later. The religion in Higher Ed at least seems to be one that sees “large corporate” as something that doesn’t really understand Education. We (edtech) will take the offerings from those corporations that are not directly within the Education market and use them for all their worth (MS Office anyone?), but when it comes to the Education market proper, it seems that we like the “little shops”. We like the local, the agile and the ones that really understand the ultra narrow niche that each of us find ourselves in. So maybe that is why, when an 800lb gorilla like Blackboard shows up and starts to climb the towers, we start to react the way we do. “How can that gorilla understand us?” we ask, “we aren’t the same as that other institution down the hall/road/river/planet, we can’t use the same tools”. I don’t know if this is right or not, but I think it is certainly something that I’ve thought myself on occasion.

The other part certainly seems there being kernels of truth in the former. BB, as a corporation will make choices that are designed to improve it’s own operations and deliver profit to the shareholders on an annual cycle. So this means that as the company grows, things that are not moving the the proper direction are going to get left behind. It also means that it gets harder to get to your “go to people” that were able to get answers from when the acquired company was smaller.

Is this a good thing? I don’t know, but I know that like any reflex, it is not likely going to get any better. After the reaction is set off, reminding us that there is a process there, these events do a couple things really well. They remind us that it might be time to think about what we really need when we are using system x or y and if we are willing to give whatever that is up, and they also remind us that it’s good to have options and that if you stay still for any given amount of time, you will get swallowed.

Oh BB… what won’t you buy (maybe Sakai?)

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By , July 8, 2010 8:09 am

Well, if you are not on Twitter, you can be forgiven (perhaps) for not seeing the flood of “OMG BB bought both Wimba and Elluminate!” tweets as Blackboard averse edtechers start to run for the hills as the franken system to be known as Blackboard Collaborate rises.


So for those who are not already sitting firmly in one camp or another, I will offer some ideas as to what I think of this deal. First, I think it was only a matter of time before one of the two synchronous solutions got sucked up by either Adobe or Cisco. Why those two? Well, it seemed to me that even though they both have solid solutions in Enterprise, they might want to pick up some cheap technology from one of these two education centric companies. Elluminate was starting to get long in the tooth in terms of looks (though, it did what it needed to do well and could do so on almost any screen and on any pipe). Wimba, though I had limited experience with it seemed to be wanting to do more than the virtual classroom through its suite of collaboration tools. BB, well to say that it has collaboration tools is to be well… (waiting for the BB lawyers to pop up) wearing special spectacles.

Feeling that something like this was imminent, am I surprised with the BB take over? Well yes in that I didn’t think that they would have beat anyone else to the punch (or maybe I was wrong in thinking that Adobe et al wanted to buy up some IP), but no in another way. That way being that BB is a ever increasing monolith in the edtech space and as competition from the likes of Moodle grow in the traditional asynchronous tool space, the synchronous space was one where many institutions were sitting quite happy, some perhaps even thinking of dropping the static component of their LMS in favour of the dynamic. This is what I think might have scared BB into action.

BB has announced over the past year that many of it’s acquired “projects” will EOL within the next few years (Vista Jan 2013, Campus Oct 2012), so institutions are looking at their options as to staying in the BB family or going elsewhere like Desire2Learn or Moodle. Very few of these organizations are considering similar moves within the same time frame with respect to their collaboration/synchronous systems. So BB might have really just been buying some time and money to recoup some losses on the LMS front. And even more interesting is that Collaborate will sit as a standalone product (though for how long?) that will continue to connect with other systems. It seems that the rumblings that were about with regards to BBNextGen being an OS for the LMS may indeed come to light…

Please remember that these are thoughts from the sideline and are about as informed as the next blogger out there who also sits on the sides and watches the ebb and flow of technology. I may be right, but I may be wrong, either way, I think we are in for another interesting round of BB apologetics. And, I do wonder how long it will be before BB buys into the Sakai Foundation and starts playing some cards in the Open Source world (’cause you know, they can host Moodle and the like already). Maybe they will go just nuts and buy up WordPress while they are at it… now where is that bigbluebutton I was looking for…

Collaboration vs Destination

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By , October 27, 2009 9:24 am

Dan Pontefract makes an interesting point in his post about the standalone LMS being dead:

But … to change the culture, you also need to drive an organization to believe that training does not only happen in an event (ILT and eLearning) and thus, by keeping the standalone LMS alive and kicking, you exacerbate the issue.Employees need to constantly connect, they need to constantly share, and they need to learn from one another. This cannot happen solely in an ILT class and it surely does not happen in an eLearning module.

Set up your ‘Facebook for the organization’ by embedding an LMS (or LMS like features) into your enterprise-wide collaboration platform. Coaches, mentors, online buddies need to coexist within the wiki’s, blogs, discussion forums, webcam meetings, online presence, etc. which needs to coexist within the list of formal classroom and eLearning offerings which needs to coexist with your documents, knowledge management, videos, podcasts, which needs to coexist with the profiles, skills, and recent activity-feed happenings of all employees.

Making learning something “special”, rather than something natural and transparent is at the heart of many issues instructors and “the academy” seems to be dealing with. People can spot (and hence avoid) “learning” activities from across the institution. Making learning occur as part of the normal process of interacting with people and data should be a model we try to roll out for learners in and past their teens.

The real power of the social network learning idea is that the learning objects and objectives are all tied to the situation that the learner finds themselves in. This doesn’t mean that one doesn’t need to think about including some manner of structure or “guide on the side” to ensure that interactions don’t start feeding on poor data and interactions. But when good materials go in, you’ll more than likely have good material come out on the other side.

The tool of our tools

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By , October 7, 2009 9:15 am

First Monday has an interesting article by Lisa Lane (Insidious pedagogy: How course management systems affect teaching, First Monday, Volume 14, Number 10 – 5 October 2009) that starts off with an interesting quote:

But lo! men have become the tools of their tools.
— Henry David Thoreau

Lane continues with a couple of other interesting observations:

Even after several years of working with the CMS, faculty requests for help focus on what the technology can do, rather than how their pedagogical goals can be achieved. They want speed and ease of use rather than more features (Ioannou and Hannifin 2008). Carmean and Haefner (2008) argue that any CMS can provide a deep learning experience and can be used for multimedia and in–depth communication with students. Educational technologists look at a CMS and see its many features, but faculty see an inflexible system that cannot be customized (Teles, 2002; West, et al., 2007) . Even experienced instructors continue to use Blackboard/WebCT primarily for grade administration, e–mail and presenting static content (Lane, 2007; Gastfriend, 2005; Morgan, 2003). This does not mean that online teaching cannot be improved through ongoing use of a CMS, but Morgan notes such improvement as a “side effect of the use of the software rather than a direct result of its use” — those willing to play around with the features tend to discover new directions for their teaching.Few instructors are consciously aware that CMS design is influencing their pedagogy. Most colleges survey faculty in some manner about their CMS, and feedback is overwhelmingly positive. This allows an institution to insist on the use of one CMS: if the pedagogy were being controlled by the system, surely faculty would be unhappy with it. But novice users do not have a framework for expectations. An instructor seeking an easy way to post Microsoft Word documents, enter grades, receive papers and assignments through a digital “dropbox”, and run a traditional threaded discussion board will tend to show great satisfaction in using Blackboard or WebCT (Tufts University, 2006). Those taxing the system more, and using the most complex features, show lower levels of satisfaction. The vast majority of complaints about CMSs come from innovative, heavy users of Web technologies, those accustomed to customizing applications to make their work more effective. They also come from behaviorists and constructivists who face significant limitations in many systems. Novices happily use the high–tech CMS as a glorified copy machine (Dutton, 2004; Walker and Johnson, 2008).

It looks to me that Lane has hit the nail on the head on one point and has perhaps missed on another. Instructors want speed and ease; how many times have ID or other support people out there heard “I just want it to work, I don’t have time to spend on it”? EdTechers who often have time to explore tools, but who often do not teach see nothing but possibilities and they try with all their hearts to get instructor to try new tools in an attempt to help the instructor expand their use of the system to something more than a glorified copy machine. Those who are wanting to do more than the CMS allows on the other hand are often not limited by the CMS in my experience. They are able to simply link to their more advanced setups from within the CMS while they use the CMS for the basic grade delivery and document storage functionality.

In my experience, instructors complain because they are time limited and not feature limited. They may use a simple HTML folder on a server to dump off their files because that is all they have ever been shown and that is all that they have time to learn to do (they learned that X years ago and it works well enough and there is no real advantage to changing). Others may use other systems or personal homepages for the same reason, as they learned to edit HTML or use some application to get what they need done. Granted, these complaints come mostly from older instructors, but younger instructors are often strongly influenced by their peers who, in their best intentions, steer them away from tools that might actually help save time. Outside instructor issues, there are also issues that relate to departmental politics, where departments may want/need to justify the existence of/investment in servers/support and “encourage” the use of non LMSs which are essentially “drop boxes” that are connected to the instructor’s login via the network. When these instructors see the “features” of an LMS boiled down and see that it is nothing more (outside of a secured space) than what they have right now, with the added headache of having to login to yet another system.

Lane concludes well:

One solution to the CMS pedagogy trap is to support novice online instructors differently than advanced instructors. With Web novices, pedagogy must be emphasized before features and tools. Starting with the CMS features creates a backward process. When faced with a CMS for the first time, faculty begin by experimenting with one or two tools that they already understand, then adapting the tools gradually as they gain more experience using them (West, et al., 2007). Most training encourages this approach, because it gets faculty using something in the system, even if they don’t understand the whole structure of the CMS. But creating a course piecemeal means that the pedagogical goals are left behind in the interest of mastering a few tools. That replaces the instructor’s main strength (their expertise in their discipline and their teaching) with their main weakness (technological literacy). Teaching faculty to consider their teaching approaches first, before they enter the CMS, could help prevent tool availability from limiting their pedagogy.

This is how I try to support my instructors to get going with the either the central CMS or with our new WPMU installation. My unit has developed a number of templates and resources that follow the “slowly turn on the tap one we know what you want to do” idea. Having instructors operate from a position of strength rather than disadvantage is certainly a best practice that should be encouraged and it’s nice to see that there is work out there that supports this. So as Thoreau suggests, if one operates from a disadvantage, then they become a tool of the tool… limited to thinking about what they know in their limited functional vocabulary of the system that they find themselves in.

Edit: For another take on this article (also positive), check out Inside Higher Ed.

Support the workflow

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By , April 30, 2009 1:48 pm

WARNING – this is a long dump to get ideas that are in my head out and to welcome any feedback that might come by.I’ve been thinking about how LMSs should be support. Rather than looking at the software, staff and systems to add more to fill the holes that are identified by a review. Perhaps it would make more sense to look at the work flow and see how it needs to be modified or supported. I believe that this will identify a number of people who are not directly involved with the LMS as being important to the proper functioning of the system. So rather than trying to catch the raging river at the end of it’s course using brute force methods or adding staff and services, it might make more sense to take a look at the head waters of the work flow and supporting change there to make it more manageable downstream.

Continue reading 'Support the workflow'»

LDB Redux

By , February 6, 2009 3:14 pm

It seems that my posts on the Lock Down Browser are very popular these days (mid terms must be coming), but it is interesting what has come out of some of the comments – a number of ways to defeat the system.

Most obviously, the easiest way is to have another machine or internet device handy. The middle of the road seems to be some manner of virtualization, even though that seems to be hit and miss (and would require significant permissions for students to install on campus machines) and on the most obscure end, there are assistive applications.

I know that students will often try to find the path of least effort to the highest grade for a given effort, hence the various ideas that have been posted about how to defeat the security of exams all over the ‘net. But as we move toward putting more assessments online, especially for that content that can be machine graded, what are we going to do about security? If it were up to me, I’d say nothing.

Looking at the flap around Rancourt, and spotting D’Arcy’s posting on the use of portfolios or other assessments (which I completely agree with), it seems that the more the Academy clings to the idea of grades, the more time we’ll all waste on the arms race surrounding how to get the grade.

To quote Rancourt:

“Grades poison the educational environment,” he insists. “We’re training students to be obedient, and to try to read our minds, rather than being a catalyst for learning.”

LDB seems to be a way that the Academy is using to try to maintain grades…

My Mahara

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By , July 15, 2008 9:03 am

One of the ideas that we have been trying to get going on campus is ePortfolios and over the past few years, there have been a number of systems that have been explored – mostly hosted and RYO, but they have all had issues. Even the BB Vista integrated version wasn’t doing as well. So now we are on to Mahara – a great little tool that will stand alone, as well as integrate into Moodle – conveniently (for me) supporting any LMS that a prof might want to us within the Faculty.

Mahara, while a bit tricky to install, is a breezy delight to use. I put together my portfolio (via RSS) in a matter of seconds and set the access in about a minute – it is open to the public for two weeks before it closes itself off. With this being so easy to use, I’m thinking that this might also be one of those baby steps between static website and an LMS.


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By , June 10, 2008 1:51 pm

Thanks to a colleague on campus for this heads up – BB has posted a teaser for Next Gen.

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