Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Conference Listing

From Stephen Downes and Clayton Wright comes a handy dandy listing of Educational Technology conferences for 2007.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Desire2Pod Cast 11: Duluth Travelogue

Start the audio file first, and then advance the slides when indicated.

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Photos courtesy of SunFlowery (Flickr, Creative Commons) and Dennis O'Hara of Northern Images dot com.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Desire2Pod Cast 10: Future CMS

I'll post one more snippet from the recording of the phone interview I gave to Jonathon Lunardi. The first post was here. This is the last question that he posed to me. We attempted to discuss what the CMS (IMS) of the future might look like. I don't think that it is a very thorough answer and primarily points out how hard it is to envision a future CMS when the future of education and e-Learning seems to be somewhat unclear.

I would love to get some comments on this post with other thoughts about how the CMS platforms may need to change in the coming years.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Blackboard Lanyards

Interesting snippet on the Internet Time Blog from Jay Cross on 11/30:

"BlackBoard is picking up the tab for an endless flow of wine and hors d’oeuvres for the speakers. The BlackBoard name and logo are all over the lanyards that hold our badges. BlackBoard’s European chief tells me people have totally misinterpreted the lawsuit arising from their patent. He says it doesn’t cover the LMS. It’s very specific. I suggested BlackBoard hire a Robert Scoble because the word in the blogosphere is that BlackBoard is unreasonably and unethically taking advantage of the broken U.S. patent system. Some participants refuse to wear the BlackBoard lanyard in protest."

Blackboard officials seem to have only one retort: "People don't understand us or our patent!!"

If "a" Scoble was "hired" to improve their blogoshphere P.R., that would clearly backfire just like the rest of this has exploded in their (BB) faces. Jay was probably just making a point that shouldn't be taken literally.

I wonder if we can get Blackboard to supply the lanyards (as well as the hors d'oerves and beverages) for the D2L User Conference (podcast) to be hosted by Lake Superior College and UWS in Duluth, MN during July 2007. Now that would be a hoot.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

D2L Fights Back

Lots of new information posted Dec. 1 on the Desire2Learn Patent Info blog.

Suffice it to say that they are seeking relief from the USPTO to re-examine the validity of the patent, and they have petitioned the Texas court for a stay of proceedings while the re-examination is being considered. Read their post for more information.

D2L had to pay $8,800 to ask the USPTO to examine itself to determine whether they are a bunch of idiots. Good luck with that.

There are at least 8 prior art claims made by D2L in this request, including the oldies but goodies, Topclass and ClassNet. Even more fun is their reference to WebCT as prior art. They list six publications about WebCT that illustrate prior art where each of the publications came more than a year before the Blackboard patent filing (pages 37 & 38 of the USPTO request, linked in the D2L Patent blog).

Friday, December 01, 2006

Blackboard versus Open Source

cNet News reports on the latest attack against Blackboard for suing Desire2Learn and also the error made by the USPTO in the granting of the patent.

"The Software Freedom Law Center said Thursday that it has asked the U.S. Patent Office to re-examine a patent awarded to education software company Blackboard. It claims that the patent is bogus and could undermine three open-source education software projects it represents--Sakai, Moodle and ATutor."

Blackboard's Matthew Small gives the standard rebuttal in the article. BTW, he spoke for a while on a webcast by the Ohio Learning Network TeachU series earlier this week and he didn't sound at all like the devil. Probably a decent enough guy just on the opposite side of the barbed-wire fence. More on that webcast later (maybe).

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Desire2Pod Cast 8: D2L and Blackboard

OOPS, this is actually number 9.
I recently received a request to be interviewed by Jonathon Lunardi about the Blackboard patent suit against Desire2Learn as well as other things related to e-Learning and learning management systems. Jonathon is the CEO of SINAPSE Consulting and the COO of SyncRoots and is generally interested in the e-Learning marketplace.

This podcast only contains two of the six questions and answers from the interview. To keep the podcast length a bit smaller, I've divided the interview into chunks. I'm not sure if I'll post the first two-question chunk because I'm not so sure that it's very interesting ... in my own opinion my answers were rather boring and long-winded.

What I'm posting below is the audio from questions 3 & 4 that Jonathon asked during our nearly hour-long interview.

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00:50 - Jonathon asks if D2L is the main competitor to Blackboard, are there others?
03:15 - Angel's competitive position
03:50 - eCollege and others
04:15 - Open source platforms
05:25 - WebCT schools speculation about renewals
06:10 - Jonathon asks what makes D2L more attractive than Blackboard
06:50 - Some of the reasons why MnSCU chose D2L
10:35 - Our risks in choosing D2L
11:40 - Licensing costs
12:30 - Jonathon's closing comments about Oklahoma (OU) choosing D2L

Sunday, November 26, 2006

McDonalds and Blackboard

Top Blog Boing Boing tells us that McDonalds is trying to patent the sandwich, or at least a series of idiotic devices for making sandwiches. It goes so far to describe the proper way to assemble a hamburger on the piece of paper that you are going to then wrap the burger in. No prior art there, I'm quite sure.

The best part is found on pages 32-33 where they describe the "Method of Making a Hamburger Sandwich with Cheese." They actually include a line art drawing of a piece of burger wrapping paper with a target in the middle of it where the burger should be assembled (reference to figures 41-49 on pages 16 & 17).

"A food worker stacks, in order, cheese 42, onions 64, and a sliced pickle 68 on a staging area 142 of a hamburger sandwich wrapper 140. The staging area may be marked by indica 14Z as shown in FIG. 41 to assist the person who assembles the sandwich." (blah, blah, blah) "For a breadless sandwich leaf lettuce may be substituted for the bread crown and heel. Thus, in this sense the term "bread" or "bread component" also includes leaf lettuce or similar materials..."

So now lettuce is the new bread. You really can't make this stuff up. Truth is stranger than fiction. Here's a PDF of the patent app.

Blackboard and Microsoft

While reviewing e-learning courses for an ITC awards competition, I laughed when I saw this announcement immediately after logging into a Blackboard site at one of the schools:

Mon, Sep 18, 2006 -- NOTICE: Must Use Firefox Browser

To all Blackboard users: since the recent upgrade to Blackboard 7.1, there have been many problems with HTML errors when viewing Blackboard content in Safari and/or Internet Explorer browsers. Please be sure to use the Firefox browser to view all content in Blackboard. Thank you.

Why is that funny? Well, I think it is funny because there is supposedly this big partnership or relationship between Blackboard and Microsoft, and yet their products seems to be incompatible. Maybe that's more sad than funny, but go ahead and pick your own emotion.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

E-Learning 2007

The conference schedule came out today for the ITC E-Learning 2007 annual conference to be held in Albuquerque on Feb. 17-20. ITC is the acronym for the Instructional Technology Council.

I attend a lot of conferences each year, but none have been more productive and informative for me than this one. It is a smaller conference than many, but includes many of the big hitters in e-Learning at both the 2-year and 4-year/grad school levels. The quality of presentations is usually unmatched by other conferences.

I am scheduled to give my Web 2.0 Whirlwind presentation at the first regular session time of 9:45 Sunday morning. This session deals with just about everything EXCEPT blogs and wikis. I try to demonstrate or point people to as many of the other tools as possible ... especially those that have a legitimate academic use.

Looking at the schedule, I am already looking forward to the following:

  • A pre-conference workshop on the Open Source CMS Solution of Moodle and Sakai.
  • Benchmarking for Quality in Distance Learning by Pamela Quinn (Dallas County CCD) and Richard Hezel (Businessman)
  • They usually have a fun debate at one of the luncheons, this year the topic is "Cheating is Rampant in Distance Education Courses." Ben Scheible (Truckee Meadows) and Brian Ormand (New Mexico State University) will debate opposite sides of that statement.
  • Tips, Tricks, and How-to's for Retaining Online Students - Patel and Moten of West Central Technical College.
  • Instructor Competencies: In Search of Expectations by Virgil Varvel (U. Illinois)
  • Integrating Video Game Features into an Online Discussion Forum by Yiyao Liao and Sandra Turner (Ohio U.)
  • Legal and Ethical Issues in Distance Education by Juanita Lamley (Oregon St. U.)
  • How to Cheat Online: Issues in Academic Honesty by John Krutsch (Utah Valley St.)
  • Starting Strong: Mandatory Orientation for New Online Students
I'll probably pass on the sessions by my Minnesota colleagues because I hope to catch them elsewhere, including iTeach and other places closer to home. Barbara Keinath of Metropolitan State will be presenting about her Site-Readiness Rubric and Landon Pirius and Anne Johnson of Inver Hills Community College will also be presenting.

If you're looking for just one e-Learning conference during the spring semester, I recommend this one highly.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

E-Learning Censorship

Although not exactly the same as yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater, how do we handle the restriction (or lack thereof) of free speech within the online classroom?

One of our instructors asked the question about whether he could/should delete a post by a student that takes a scientific discussion into a religious one, even though the instructor had asked (warned?) the students not to go down that road in this science class, but rather reserve that discussion for the religion or philosophy classes.

Our Student Code of Conduct addresses this issue but not from the perspective of a posting in a discussion forum but more along the lines of someone exercising their right to free speech in the hallways or in the traditional classroom. In my mind these are different online because of the permanent nature of the posting, whereas in the bricks-n-mortar world the words evaporate into thin air as soon as the free speech is concluded.

This was my explanation: "A layperson's explanation of the freedom of speech within the college community goes something like this:

  • We cannot take away a student's right to free speech, but we do have the right to impose restrictions on the "time, place, and manner" of such speech.
  • My suggestion is the following. Create a special discussion forum in your class for off-topic posts. (Many instructors already have this.)
  • Let the students know that posts made in that forum will not be graded.
  • You then can cut and paste any post from another discussion forum into this forum while indicating whose original post it was. You are directing the placement of those remarks without restricting the students' rights to make them.
  • In the next version of D2L I am pretty sure that you will be able to more simply move posts from one forum to another, which should make this an even better solution.
  • It's not perfect, but neither are the other alternatives that we have heard or thought of."
So, please take careful aim and fire away. What is missing here? What would be a better solution? I'm sure this has been dealt with many times over, but I'm not sure where to look for it.
Photo courtesy of celebdu through Creative Commons licensing.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Future CMS

(Better late than never. I meant to post this more than a week ago)

IMS ... LMS ... CMS? Whatever!
I attended a session at WCET titled "The Future CMS." The first presenter was Scott Leslie who works as the Manager of the BCcampus Learning Resources Centre and also researches course management systems as part of the WCET Edutools team.

Scott asked his Magic 8 Ball the following question: "Will BlackCT be the future of CMS?" The photo from twistedtigger shows the answer. Another question: "Will open source CMS continue to evolve and gain adopters?" 8 ball says "Signs point to Yes." Seriously, he used a magic 8 ball in his presentation. I figure that it's as good a guess as any.

During the presentation he spoke briefly about the developing concept of a learning management operating system (LMOS) and touched lightly upon some of the lesser known open source or open community projects being developed in this field. Unfortunately, he wasn't allocated much time in the three-way presentation, and I'm afraid much of his best stuff never quite made it to the screen and the discussion. He and I talked for about 15 minutes in the hall later that afternoon and had a much better discussion about what the future might hold and also about the ramifications of the Blackboard patent lawsuit.

He was followed by Jared Stein of Utah State University and John Krutsch of Utah Valley State College. They also had lots of good information (maybe I can post more later) but I was most taken by their efforts to deliver learning content to mobile devices (small screens) from the same server that is delivering content to normal-size screens. I was also intrigued by the description of SLoodle which is a mashup of Second Life and Moodle. I definitely want to learn more about that.

All three of them talked a bit about the desire to use Web 2.0 tools as important components of the learning environment. There seems to be quite a bit of controversy among educators about whether they are willing to give up some of their control and let things happen outside of the walled gardens of the IMS. Time will tell.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Desire2Pod Cast 8: D2L Blog Tool

Version 8 of D2L E-Learning Environment includes a new Blog Tool. Click on the graphic to go to the D2L Website, then scroll down to learn more about the blog tool or to open a larger screen shot of the tool.

In this 14 minute podcast I chat with Kenneth Chapman of D2L about the new tool. Questions about permissions, roles, privacy and the like are all addressed.

  • 2:00 Accessibility testing of blog tool
  • 2:40 Blog watch for blog reading
  • 3:50 publish RSS feeds
  • 4:30 managing permissions (private or public?)
  • 8:15 supported file types in posts
  • 10:30 appropriate use concerns
  • 12:00 what about wikis?
  • 13:00 my passing shot at Blackboard

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

E-Learner Authentication

On Friday at WCET, I attended a session where two presenters had radically different approaches for tackling the student authentication “problem” in distance education. It was exactly one year ago at the WCET conference in San Fran when Steven Crow of the Higher Learning Commission put a scare into the audience by saying that Congress was poised to include harsh distance education requirements into the Higher Ed Reauthorization Act. He was right at the time, but then Congress backed off (temporarily?) and passed a partial law dealing with the financial parts of the Act, but held off on the academic parts.

However, this age-old question for e-learning still lingers:“How do you know that it really is Billy Bob at the end of the fiber optics who is taking the exam?” I’ve never worried too much about this question, because I really don’t believe that it is that much of an issue. However, Congress and now the accrediting bodies seem to be zeroing in on this question, so I do think that we will soon be required to have some sort of plan in place to attempt to authenticate the distance learners in one or more ways.

Some of the basic authentication techniques include:

  • Who we are: fingerprint biometrics, iris scans, voice prints, DNA, etc.
  • What we have: Drivers License, Passport, Digital Tokens, etc.
  • Where we are: IP address, phone calls, video monitoring, etc.
  • What we know: personal data about our past
Troy University of Alabama (see press release)has entered into a partnership with Software Secure, Inc. to pilot test “THE DEVICE” (that's my name for it, not theirs). Each student will have a small input device that connectsvia USB. Here's an article about it.
  • The device includes a camera, microphone, and biometric reader (finger scan)
  • The device software evaluates input and compares to a pre-set threshold for sound and movement
  • Excessive movement or noise activates the camera and microphone
  • The device only records selected threshold activities (too much noise or too much movement provides a flag on that student)
The devices will be sold by Software Secure (Secure Exam) and students will order them through the bookstore for about $115 per student. Every student registering for an online course at Troy University will have to purchase THE DEVICE. You can also read a blog post here where they also have a download of some really ugly PPT slides describing this whole thing.

The other approach for identity verification was described by Mike Jortberg of Acxiom Data Solutions. This personal information approach is used extensively in Financial Services. The information is portable, is not limited by location or channel, and no hardware is required.

Acxiom has created a monstrous database using publicly available data. The data comes from over 70 database sources of public records such as marriages, first births, work retirements, residential moves, divorces, etc. Acxiom “touches” those data sources 3 billion times a day to constantly have the most up-to-date information. Does that seem excessive? Not if you consider that there are 155,000 changes per day in this data as people get married, divorced, etc. etc.

The idea here is that students would need to answer one or more personal questions at various “trigger events;” such as at registration, exams, paper submissions, or other significant online course events and work completion events. Examples of questions include the following: a) on which of these streets have you lived previously, b) what is the street number of your most previous address, and c) which of these is one of your previous employers? These are multiple choice questions to help guard against the type of brain freeze that prevents some people from remembering their own phone number when under pressure.

If we have to go down one of these roads, I guess I would prefer the second, gentler approach. But just barely. They're both creepy as hell if you ask me. The first one seems so invasive and so much like Big Brother. I know that second one will be easier for students to get around if they want to cheat, but let's face it ... if someone is committed to cheating, then even the sledgehammer approach of THE DEVICE probably won't stop them.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Desire2Pod Cast 7: Ten Things

This particular podcast probably doesn't apply to anyone not affiliated with MnSCU.

Congratulations to Minnesota Online for receiving the Tekne Award for 2006. An awards ceremony was held on October 26, 2006 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. MnOnline will also be receiving an award on November 10 at the International CAEL Conference in Boston.

These awards are indicative of the good work that has been done since the inception of Minnesota Online about five years ago. Obviously, receiving these awards begs the question of why I am proposing that we need to make several changes to MnOnline and to the governing council. I have the pleasure of serving as the Chair of the MnOnline Council for the current academic year, which puts me in a precarious situation of being critical about the (award-winning) organization that I also support and am helping to lead into the future.

At the recent CAO/Dean/CSSO meetings (includes basically all academic and student services administrators within MnSCU) I made a presentation titled “Ten Things I’d Change about MnOnline.” I have uploaded the slides into SlideShare and embedded the presentation below. I have also recorded some audio to go along with the slides. Click “play” on the audio file and then listen to the audio for prompts to advance to each subsequent slide. (about 14 minutes)

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Tennessee Chooses D2L

While attending the WCET annual conference in Portland today, I spotted a nametag indicating that the person was from the University of Memphis. So I head on over for a little chat. Turns out that it has been announced internally in the state that the Tennessee Board of Regents Online has chosen D2L to replace WebCT for the entire state system. It took 36 days to get confirmation on this one, but now you can add Tennessee to the long list of major consortiums that have chosen D2L after a thorough review of the various alternatives. Apparently, the Blackboard patent lawsuit is not curtailing D2L's ability to sign major clients.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Rose

What’s in a name? Well, I guess it can mean anything you damn well want it to as long as it's your name to play with. The reason I bring this up is because I am involved in two new initiatives with Desire2Learn and they have created a couple of new names that might need some clarification.

The first new thing is the 2007 D2L User Conference to be held in Duluth next July. The company has chosen the name “Fusion 2007” to be the identifier for the conference. I admit that I didn’t really get it at first, so I had to ask Simone at D2L what it meant. She gave a very good answer that centered on the idea of bringing together all the different users as well as all the different tools in the D2L Learning Environment. Basically, it is the idea of bringing together higher ed, K-12, and corporate users, from all over the globe to share ideas and learn together about the various tools created by D2L. Some basic definitions of the term deal with 1) an occurrence that involves the production of a union, or 2) the act of melting together (from Google definitions). So, come to Duluth for a little Fusion next summer.

The other new thing is something called “The Spoke.” The Spoke will be a new feature of the D2L Community Web site. The company plans to post some of my Desire2Pod podcasts inside the community site and brand them as “The Spoke.” I’m just glad they didn’t call it the Broken Spoke. This should see its debut somewhere around the end of November.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Desire2Pod Cast 6: D2L LOR

This is a 17-minute podcast about using the Desire2Learn Learning Object Repository (LOR). This DOES NOT look at the 1) definition of learning objects, 2) creation of learning, 3) the sharing of learning objects, or 4) the tagging of learning objects with meta data.

SO! What does it cover? Listen to the podcast to find out.

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Thanks to Kenneth Chapman of D2L for lending his expertise to this podcast.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Blackboard Stuff

A few recent posts about Blackboard.

One of the coolest things I seen in quite some time is Educause's call for Blackboard to drop the lawsuit against D2L. Brian L. Hawkins, the president of Educause, and the group’s Board of Directors said “We have never sent this type of a letter to one of our corporate members before.” Apparently that is because there has never been such an egregious abuse of patent law by one Educause partner against another. Another choice piece from the Educause letter: "EDUCAUSE engaged the services of a highly reputable, independent law firm to review the patent. The preliminary conclusion is that the patent was very broadly defined and was inappropriately approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office." (scroll to the bottom of the minutes to see attachment A)

Michael Feldstein posted his thoughts about the economic impact of the Blackboard suit. This is something that I have also been thinking about a lot lately. I agree with Michael that as a result of the lawsuit, "D2L will actually get an increase in business over what they could have otherwise expected." It's somewhat the adage that no news is bad news, and D2L has never had the name recognition that they are now enjoying. Besides, everyone seems to realize that BlackCT would go after their most formidable opponent rather than a non-player, so many are looking at Desire2Learn to see why Blackboard is so worried about them. I also agree with him that Blackboard is going to suffer from this action due to the enormous amount of ill will that they are generating even with their own customer base.

I'm not sure if this is a sign that D2L is about to announce that another big state consortium has chosen them in a competitive RFP process, but I won't be surprised if that is true.

Al Essa (MnSCU Deputy CIO) recorded a podcast at Educause. Part of it is about Blackboard, and all of it is thought provoking.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Desire2Pod Cast 5: Here it is

Here is a five minute audio clip that goes along with the post directly below this.

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Desire2Pod Cast 5: D2L User Conference

Extra, extra!! Read all about it (or listen)!

This morning, October 24, Desire2Learn is announcing that the 2007 D2L User Conference will be held in Duluth, Minnesota. Lake Superior College (LSC, that's my school) will be co-hosting the event with the University of Wisconsin Superior (UWS). I've created a short podcast telling all listeners why they want to come to the Duluth/Superior area for this conference on July 8-11, 2007.

NOTE: Odeo is broken right now, so I'll post the podcast as soon as they resolve their technical difficulties.

Click on the map below to open in a new window to explore the Waypoints. You can also use the Zoom in and out controls on the left side of the expanded map.

Links to info about the area:

The Minnesota Connection:

LSC website: www.lsc.edu

Visit Duluth: http://www.visitduluth.com

Northern Images Photo Galleries: http://www.northernimages.com/webgallery/

Duluth Canal Park and Harbor: http://www.superiortrails.com/duluth_lake-2.html

Duluth Canal Park: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canal_Park_(Duluth)

Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerial_Lift_Bridge

Minnesota North Shore Info: http://www.northshoreinfo.com/

Minnesota North Shore Visitor: http://www.northshorevisitor.com/

Grand Marais, MN: http://www.grandmarais.com/

Gunflint Trail Resorts: http://www.gunflint-trail.com/

Isle Royale National Park: http://www.isle.royale.national-park.com/

The Wisconsin Connection:
UWS website: http://www.uwsuper.edu/

Visit Superior - Douglas County: http://www.visitsuperior.com/

Bayfield WI site: http://www.bayfield.org/

Northern Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast: http://www.wbba.org/greatnorthwest.html

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Open Source at CIT 2006

Day One of the League of Innovation Conference on Information Technology in Charlotte is in the books. The best session I attended today was titled "The State of Open Source in Higher Education" by Rob Adel, CIO of the IMS Global Learning Consortium.

Here is a link to some PPT slides that are very similar to what was used today (Sunday), although he tailored the slides and comments to the community college audience that he was addressing.

Here are a few takeaways from his session:

  • 60% of higher ed institutions have some open source infrastructure software in use such as Linux, Apache, or MySQL.
  • 42% of institutions have implemented or chosen open source applications software such as Kuali Project, Sakai CMS, uPortal, Moodle CMS, or Open Office.
  • 56% of survey respondents who have implemented open source software said that they experienced a lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
  • Average priority for I.T. initiatives, not at top of list (slide 24) which indicates that I.T. staffs have bigger problems to deal with (security, etc.).
  • 30% feel that the push for open source is coming from outside of I.T. (admin and faculty), but 70% feel that the impetus is coming from inside the I.T. group of the college.
  • Main reasons for considering open source (slide 29):
    • Avoiding commercial vendor lock-in
    • Opportunities for customization
    • Unique needs for higher education not being addressed by vendors
  • The biggest roadblocks (slide 32) for colleges with adopting open source:
    • The people skills and resources needs to support it
    • Lack of commercial support
    • Perceived lack of product maturity (uPortal and SCT Luminis viewed as most mature applications)
Some of the questions they were interested in (see slide 9):
  • Issue #1: What level of penetration of open source applications constitutes success?
    • For infrastructure software: 60% definitely in use, 10% in consideration for use, 6% considered and rejected, and 24% not considered yet.
    • For applications software: 42% definitely in use, 16% in consideration for use, 8% considered and rejected, and 34% not considered yet.
  • Issue #2: Do open source initiatives have what it takes to succeed as application products in the higher education market?
  • Issue #3: What is the level of expectation regarding open source and is this good or bad?
One of the conclusions (slide 40): “It’s difficult to see how open source can rival the innovation of commercial products going forward given the focus on cost as the key value proposition (but it is possible).”

Another conclusion (slide 41): “A symbiotic relationship between open source and commercial applications seems very possible.”

Rob also made an offer for the community colleges in attendance to join the IMS Global Learning Consortium at a discounted rate of $500 per year for life (whose life?). I'm tempted to have my college join the consortium since I think this is the wave of the future and the only way to get access (at least timely access) to their excellent information is to be a member.

I'm also interested in learning more from Rob when he makes the following presentation on Tuesday: "Online Learning Best Practices, Trends, and Vendor Satisfaction."

Browsers Reviewed

Richard MacManus publishes a popular tech weblog focused on Next Generation Web Technology called the Read/Write Web.

Richard posted two useful entires this past week reviewing Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2.0.

These articles don’t help us ascertain potential problems to be encountered when using the new browsers with D2L, but they are very useful in learning about the new features of the browsers.

Friday, October 20, 2006

D2L and IE7

First, this message is sent out by our system office:
“As you may know, Microsoft has released IE7, and plans to release it as part of its automatic updates as early as November 1st. Since our current version of D2L, 7.4.3 MR1, does not support the use of Internet Explorer 7 (IE7), D2L has recommended that you DO NOT take the upgrade to IE7 at this time.”

Next, this email is received from a D2L user:
“At what point can we tell D2L to step up to the plate? IE7 is kinda like a 10 ton truck, it hasn't exactly snuck up on the IT community. Rolling out measures to prevent end users from installing IE 7 is as painful as the actual install.”

To which I reply as follows:
“... we need to remember that this has always been the case with the IMS packages, as well as many other academic software packages that we use. This is not unique to D2L in any way. Back in our WebCT days, the single biggest cause of user support issues related to browser incompatibility. People constantly were installing new browser versions that weren't supported by the IMS. D2L, Blackboard, WebCT, Angel, and all the others cannot be expected to have their products perfectly synchronized with a browser from Microsoft, Mozilla, Safari/Apple, or anyone else when even those own companies can't make their other products work with their new versions.”

“Browsers that are in beta are constantly being tweaked and changed. That's why they are called beta. Only when the "official" browser (definitely an oxymoron) is released can other companies rely on what the functionality will be, and even then probably only for a few weeks while the browser developers continue to constantly patch the bugs and other problems not uncovered in beta testing. To blame D2L for the browser issues is much like blaming the Post Office for not delivering my mother's birthday card which is still setting here on my desk.”

That wasn't really the end of the listserv communications, but it's the point where I lost interest. BTW, I don't disagree with his point that this will be painful. All of this cr@p can be painful. But to say that D2L isn't holding up their end of the bargain in the browser battle is both unhelpful and untrue.
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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Desire2Pod Cast 4: Faculty Training

This is a 27-minute interview with Susan Bentley, Instructional Technologist at LSC, who is also experienced as an online teacher and online student. We talk about some of the challenges and solutions for training faculty members who are just getting started in e-learning.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Desire2Pod Cast 3: Web Accessibility

This is the third podcast in this series. The focus this time is on web accessibility issues, although much of the discussion is general in nature and not just related to accessibility within D2L.

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  • Why worry about web accessibility?
  • D2L wish list for accessibility (approx. 6:45)
  • Tips for course designers (approx. 11:15)
  • MnSCU system accessibility concerns (approx. 21:30)
This is a 33-minute recording with James Falkofske of Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. Some of the resources referred to include:

W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)

Access e-learning website (Site used by LSC faculty and staff)

MnSCU Web Accessibility Guidelines

CSS Zen Garden

Firefox Extensions for Accessibility
(scroll down for list)

D2L Consortium: Importance of LMS Accessibility (10/04/06 article)

Once again I need to apologize for somewhat less than wonderful sound quality. This time I recorded a Skype call using Pretty May, which appears to do something funky with the incoming call occupying only the right-track (at a low volume) and the outgoing call occupying only the left-track. After much editing in Audacity (but not nearly enough), I finally have something not too painful to listen to (a bit of a hum when James is speaking), but I'm still going to have to find a better method for recording these telephone interviews. I'm posting this a little ahead of schedule since I leave for China in about 5 hours and then all bets are off.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

LSC Online Slideshow

Below is a compilation of selected slides from various presentations about LSC Online that I have made during the past year or so. None of the topic areas are covered in complete detail, but there is probably more there than most people would want to view.

One reason I am doing this is to test out the embed feature in a new service called SlideShare. It looks like a very good way of posting and sharing PowerPoint slides on the Web. It doesn't provide ways of creating slides such as Zoho Show, but this looks like a good choice for posting those already created slides. Even though I am trying to wean myself off of PowerPoint, it is hard to walk away from all the content that I have previously created in those presentations.

Embedding in a blog or other webpage is just one of the ways you can use SlideShare. You can also send a viewer to the SlideShare site and they can view your slideshow full screen. You can't try that yet, but it should be available for public consumption any day now. I'll post again when that is available. (Added note: Or possibly, you won't be able to view the slides unless you have an account (free), but I certainly hope that they aren't requiring that.)

Another cool feature is to link directly to one slide in the presentation rather than just the whole presentation. In the new tradition of the read/write web, people can leave comments on individual slides if you want to allow that.

They haven't yet built in audio narration, but that shouldn't be too far behind. This guy has figured out a very creative workaround for this. Just click on the audio player at the bottom of the screen before starting the slideshow, then advance the slide everytime you hear the tingley sound. It's pretty cool. It's in Spanish but that shouldn't bother you unless you live in Tennessee.

You also won't see slide animations that you might have built in PPT, so it's not a perfect replication of viewing your PPT slides where you have complete control over what happens when.

Before closing this post, I've done some hunting around for answers to some of the questions above and I'm coming up short. If they don't open their site to casual viewers (login required) then this horse will sink instead of swim. Would flickr have gone anywhere without being able to easily and freely see all the cool stuff?

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Odds and Ends

Planned podcasts (Desire2Pod) over the next few weeks include 1) New Faculty Training for Using D2L, 2) Using the Desire2Learn Learning Object Repository, 3) Web Accessibility for D2L Users.

This fall marked a large increase in the number of virtual/online schools in the K-12 educational space. Here is one list that looks at the state-level school, but there are many other single schools that don't have statewide support. They have seen surprising enrollments in Washington state. Since I hail from Wyoming, I've been following their efforts to start their first online school, the Wyoming Virtual School. Homeschoolers there are balking.

Regarding the Blackboard patent debacle against Desire2Learn, John Mayer of Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) interviews Professor Mary LaFrance who teaches at the Law School at the UNLV. One little quote I found illustrative when they were talking about the patent dependent claims and the independent claims: "The independent claims represent the patent holder's fondest hopes and dreams ...."

Paul Bacsich suggests "that individuals and professional associations in the e-learning world consider seriously the steps they might take to cope more adequately in a world where software patents are increasingly more prevalent."

The Educause Evolving Technologies Committee has released a very white bread "Overview of Open Source Learning Management Systems." (4 page pdf) Nothing earthshaking here, but a brief summary of Sakai and Moodle (no mention of the many others) and some thoughts about implementation challenges. Read it if you are having a difficult time sleeping.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Desire2Pod Cast 2: D2L Email Tool

This is the second podcast about Desire2Learn. I am starting a new podcast series called Desire2Pod. These podcasts will look at various things related to D2L, including the tools in the system, interviews with users of the system, and other news about D2L that have an impact on the community of stakeholders.

This is a 23-minute recording with Kenneth Chapman of D2L regarding the new email tool in version 8 of the Desire2Learn Learning Environment.

NOTE: please accept my apologies for the less than stellar audio quality. Due to the recording configuration I used, Kenneth sounds like he is speaking through a tin can and string. I was in a hotel room and didn't have all the equipment with me that I would have preferred. It actually sounded worse before I changed several parameters in Audacity before converting to mp3.

powered by ODEO

These recordings are being organized as a podcast series using Odeo.com.

You can subscribe to the RSS feed for these podcasts here: Subscribe to My Odeo Podcast

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Online Community

Day Two (Friday) of the Beyond Boundaries Conference in Grand Forks. Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt provided a keynote titled “Online Learning Communities Revisited.”

I missed the start of the session but I’ve seen them present several times so I’m not so sure that I missed anything new or fresh. They talked about developing a sense of community through five major elements: 1) Interaction/ Communication, 2) Reflection/ Transformative Learning, 3) Technology, 4) Social/ Constructivist Context, and 5) Presence.

So here’s the problem: educators talk about this issue quite a bit and believe that developing a sense of community for online learners is super important. Apparently they’re not listening to the students, because the students DON’T CARE!! If they are listening to the students, then they must be assuming that the STUDENTS ARE WRONG! They (the students) must be wrong, right? Because we can’t be wrong; we’re the teachers, we’re the smart ones, and therefore we know what’s best for them even if they don’t get it.

But what if we’re the ones who are wrong? What if developing a sense of online community really isn’t important. Maybe we should slow down and consider how many communities the typical online student already belongs to. Many of them are adult learners and already have interactive communities with 1) family members, 2) friends and neighbors, 3) co-workers (often at more than one job), 4) maybe church or something like that, 5) personal interests such as sports, or scrap booking, or PTA, or whatever. Most of us have more communities than we can possibly keep up with. Do we really need (or want) one more?

This is what I expect to hear as a resounding retort from other educators: “Educational community should be the most important one – students should get rid of some of the others!”
They will likely make “SOME” time for your online community building, but not much. Stop obsessing over it. And we probably won’t ever make them value it more highly, or as much as we do – so get over it!

In closing, I should provide some evidence about why I maintain that students don’t care (much) about online community. We gather student satisfaction data using the Noel-Levitz Priorities Survey for Online Learners (PSOL). The PSOL results from the past three years have indicated a great deal of indifference to questions about this. Question 7 on the PSOL says: “Student-to-student collaborations are valuable to me.” The national Importance Score from over 15,000 online students in 2005 was 5.09 and it was 5.16 in 2006 (trending upward?) on a 7-point scale. This is by far the lowest Importance score of the 26 items on the PSOL. The next-to-last item on the importance scale both years was question 24. “Tutoring services are readily available for online courses” where the score was 5.51 (2005) and 5.58 (2006). That importance difference (.42) between the lowest score and next lowest score is by far the largest difference of any of the 26 items … in other words, this is far less important to students than the other 25 items on the survey.

Additionally, at LSC we asked the following extra question in each of those years: “I feel a sense of community or belonging through the LSC Virtual Campus.” The importance score was 5.16 (2005) and 5.50 (2006). Again, his was lower than all other questions in importance (except for question 8 above). For comparison purposes, most of the survey items have an importance score of over 6.0. Basically, this data tells me that in the grand scheme of things, online students don’t place much weight on community and student-to-student interaction. But of course they’re wrong about that.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

D2L Trial and Clients

I've been talking with Stephan Meyer (left) from D2L today at the Beyond Boundaries conference in Grand Forks, ND. This conference has a modest vendor area and D2L has a modest booth there.

Stephan gave me a couple of tidbits to chew on today. First, D2L will be announcing a new client very soon, although the contract is not signed yet (knock on wood). This is a major statewide consortium and will be another very visible victory for D2L over their competitors (think Blackboard, BlackCT, or whatever else you want to call them). Probably the most important thing is that this client obviously was not put off by the black cloud of litigation that many people have opined would keep D2L from signing new clients. Apparently there are enough safeguards (indemnity, etc.) built into the contracts to help mitigate the perceived risk on the part of potential clients.

Second, Stephan told me that a court date with a jury trial has been set and will be announced very soon. I'm already making my flight reservations for Texas in the spring in order to become totally immersed in the litigation experience. JK, but I sure would like to.
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Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I received an email and subsequent phone call today from a securities analyst working for the investment arm of a major U.S. bank. Blackboard is one of the stocks that she covers for the bank and she had been reading my blog post (directly below, or go here) about the number of higher ed institutions that have selected D2L over Blackboard during the past few years. She wanted to chat a bit about Blackboard's prospects for the coming years from a securities perspective. She clearly realized that she was speaking to someone with more than the usual dose of anti-Blackboard sentiment, but she was interested in what I had to say all the same.

As she was analyzing their stock prospects, she seemed to be concentrating on the following factors:

  1. How difficult (costly) is it to change vendors?
  2. How long do most contracts run (how soon could schools consider making a switch)?
  3. What affect will the ongoing patent lawsuit have on D2L's ability to sign new clients?
  4. How does the higher ed market in general feel toward Blackboard as a company?
Her knowledge about Desire2Learn was limited but she had been looking for sources that would help her decide how significant a threat they are to BlackCT as we go forward and other general info about how the patent litigation would affect the stock price of the Evil Empire. Although I was probably more long-winded than this, the points below would be the gist of my remarks on the four questions above:
  1. In some respects, it is becoming easier all the time to change vendors especially to a company such as D2L that has developed a fairly decent course conversion utility. In other respects, it gets harder all the time as the sheer mass of online courses and content continues to grow somewhat like a mushroom cloud. Answering this question probably depends mostly on how big a player the school/system is in the e-learning market.
  2. In Minnesota, it was very important for us to be able to lock in licensing fees for a 5-10 year period to guard against the type of major price increases that many of us experienced with Blackboard and WebCT before switching to Desire2Learn. We have a five year contract with five one-year options to renew, effectively giving us a ten-year contract if we Desire2Stay. There are price increases built in, but they are reasonable and known in advance.
  3. This one is pretty hard to say at this time. After the patent suit was filed, D2L did sign at least one new major client (WHRO, Sept. 14) so they obviously were not put off by the risk involved in the patent litigation. My opinion is as follows: worst case scenario is that D2L loses and has to pay royalties to Blackboard in which case D2L probably has to raise their licensing fees. In that case, I would rather lock into a long-term contract before the suit is finished rather than after which would provide several years of buffer against price increases. NOTE: some will probably say that the worst case scenario is for D2L to lose the lawsuit and be forced out of business ... I'm not considering that because Blackboard has assured us that they are not seeking that outcome and I have decided to believe everything that this honorable company has to say.
  4. Regarding the perception of BBBB in the higher ed market, I really don't think that I have an accurate take on this. Clearly the vast majority of the vocal opinion mongers are outraged and disgusted by Blackboard's antics. However, the silent majority has not been heard from .... which is why they're called silent. The most important piece of information is how the top-level decision makers in higher ed are viewing this. Faculty and staff can scream all they want but if the people who hold the contract licensing purse strings are not put off by Blackboard, then you can expect this to be only a ripple in the wave pool that is BlackCT. I do believe that there will be several major BB clients who will choose not to renew when the time comes as they look at other vendors and open source as serious alternatives to the BB monopoly. I really believe (or at least I really WANT to believe) that higher ed takes a dim view of getting caught in the middle of corporate shenanigans by greedy suits. Of course I could be wrong.
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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Black Market

There has been a fair amount of speculation lately about why Blackboard has taken a strategy that has clearly been ill-received by the education community that it so dearly depends upon. Some have indicated that it is the mark of desperation ... but most don't buy that argument since they have somewhere between 70-80% of the CMS market currently locked up. Why would the dominant player in the market be concerned, especially when it is widely thought to be such a tough thing to change from one CMS to another?

Others have asked why they chose to attack D2L as opposed to eCollege, or Angel, or any of the others. It was amusing to read some posts where the authors didn't even consider D2L to be a contender in the market, some even admitting that they had never heard of D2L. Below is a partial list of the reasons why I think BlackCT is suing Desire2Learn (not necessarily in chronological order):

There is little doubt in my mind that every one of those items listed above just added to BlackCT's disgust with being passed over or discarded in favor of Desire2Learn. Some of those losses are with huge, major, high-profile clients and that translates into multi-millions of dollars in lost licensing fees.

Some of my favorite quotes from the links above:
  • "those who tested D2L said it was easier to go from Blackboard 5 to D2L than to Blackboard 6." (from OU)
  • "our Information Technology (IT) people had phoned D2L with a problem at 3:00 a.m., and it was resolved in 15 minutes." (from OU)
  • "The group strongly believes that the benefits of Desire2Learn are more than worth the discomfort of learning a new system." (MnSCU)
  • "Desire2Learn is the first enterprise CMS vendor to solve the Chuck Paradox and provides the most flexible solution to support collegiate and departmental innovation." (Iowa)
  • "Accumulated knowledge about WebCT is transferable to D2L. The change from one to the other is analogous to the change from a rotary phone to a push-button phone." (Arizona)
  • "Overall, it is clear that the core team finds neither Blackboard nor Angel acceptable CMS solutions for Ohio State, as they do not have the basic functionality required by Ohio State."
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Age Differences

In the previous post I suggested that we needed to compare the demographics of the LSC PSOL students with the students in the peer group to see if there were any significant differences which might make the results not perfectly comparable. My conclusion was that there are several demographic factors where the groups differ, but in total they appear to just about even out without a huge bias either in favor of or fighting against one group or the other. One of the factors of possible differences has to do with the larger percentage of younger online learners (46.2% vs. 34.2%) that we have at LSC. At the Noel-Levitz conference this summer I learned that their research has shown that the younger students generally show significantly lower satisfaction rates than the older students. It finally occurred to me that I do have the data to study for evidence of this phenomenon, at least for the LSC students.

The LSC data does show a huge difference between the two groups of learners. Those 24 years and younger are less satisfied than those 25 years and older on all but one of the 36 items ranked for both importance and satisfaction. The only item where younger students are more satisfied is item #5: "My program advisor helps me work toward career goals." Even then the difference was relatively small (5.21 vs. 5.10 on a 7-point scale) and this was the item where we had the overall lowest level of student satisfaction.

It was also interesting to note that they were not only universally less satisfied, but that they also ranked 35 of the 36 items as being less important than the older students did. Many of the differences in importance are rather large, such as shown in the embedded worksheet below. These 12 items had the largest difference in Importance score from the two student groupings. Scroll the spreadsheet to the right to see the rest of the embedded data.

Again, this really begs the question about how do we alter our services provided on the basis of this information? You let me know if you have any ideas and I'll let you know if I ever come up with one of my own.

Friday, September 15, 2006

PSOL Demographics

I posted recently about our 13-school peer comparison group for the PSOL and how this would be our best group for benchmarking since they are all two year schools. It is also necessary to look a little deeper to make sure that the respondents are similar so I compared the demographics of the two groups.

  • Ours were 81.6% female, theirs were 78.7% female. Females generally give more favorable satisfaction ratings on such surveys (unless they are being surveyed about their husbands).
  • Ours were 46.2% age 24 and under, theirs were 34.2% in that age range. Younger students tend to give lower satisfaction ratings than the older age groups.
  • 58.2% of ours indicated that they were primarily online students, compared to 59.7% of theirs. It has been my experience that those who identify themselves as mainly online tend to look more favorably upon their experience learning online than those who consider themselves to be primarily on-campus learners just taking an online course or two.
  • 61.2% of our students indicated that they are taking full-time class loads, compared to 47.1% of the peer group students. Part-time students tend to rate their satisfaction more highly than full-time students.
  • It was almost a draw for the percentage indicating that their educational goal was to complete an online degree program: 21.9% for us and 22.7% for them.
  • Even more of a draw for the percentage indicating that their educational goal was to complete an on-campus degree program: 34.7% for us and 35.0% for them.
  • For our students, 62.1% indicated that they had taken 0-3 previous online courses, while 75% of the peer group had that same level of previous experience. From a pure logic perspective (or maybe it is common sense), those with more experience with online courses tend to have higher satisfaction ratings, with the best measure of their satisfaction being their continued enrollment in more online courses.
Therefore, the question to be answered is whether our student group would tend to be more favorable than the peer student group. Here is my opinion:
  • Gender: slight bias in favor of high LSC satisfaction ratings, but not much.
  • Age: significant bias against high LSC satisfaction ratings.
  • Primarily online: no significant difference.
  • Part-time class loads: significant bias against high LSC satisfaction ratings.
  • Educational goal: no significant difference.
  • Previous online experience: significant bias in favor of high LSC satisfaction ratings.
The net result? I'd call it a draw, although really I think that there is a slight demographic bias against favorable satisfaction ratings for LSC compared to the peer group.

The fact is that the LSC student satisfaction ratings were significantly higher than the peer group ratings. I'm arguing here that those are real differences, not caused by survey respondent biases.
The first chart below shows how the LSC online students answered the questions about current plans/reasons for taking one or more online courses. The second chart is for the peer group of students.

Current Plans - LSC Students - http://zohosheet.com

Current Plans - Peer Group - http://zohosheet.com


Desire2Learn has filed a response to the Blackboard patent lawsuit. Full pdf here. It's pretty safe to say that D2L disagrees with all the important stuff in the lawsuit. Many of the paragraphs in the suit are answered as follows - "ANSWER: Desire2Learn denies the allegations in this paragraph."

As far of the affirmative part of their defense (meaning their attack mode), they say the following (selected pieces from a much longer list):

  • 1. Blackboard’s claims are barred, in full or in part, because the claims of the ’138 patent are invalid under 35 U.S.C. §§ 101, 102, 103, and/or 112.
  • 2. The ’138 patent is unenforceable because Blackboard failed to disclose all non-cumulative, material prior art of which Blackboard was aware to the Patent Office during the prosecution of the ’138 patent.
  • 5. Upon information and belief, Blackboard, including every individual having a duty of disclosure, disclosed no prior art to the Patent Office during the prosecution of ’138 patent.
  • 12. On information and belief, Blackboard’s failure to disclose the Undisclosed e-Learning Products to the Patent Office was intentional and done with deceptive intent.
  • 30. Blackboard was aware of the IMS Specification during the prosecution of the ’138 patent; the ’138 patent did not issue until January 17, 2006.
  • 31. On information and belief, Blackboard’s failure to disclose the IMS Specification to the Patent Office was intentional and done with deceptive intent.
  • 32. Blackboard thus violated the duty to disclose all information material to patentability required by 37 C.F.R. § 1.56 and the ’138 Patent is unenforceable.
D2L's Request for Relief (let's call that their Desire4Relief) includes:
  • A. Denying Blackboard any relief whatsoever on its claims and dismissing Blackboard’s Complaint with prejudice.
  • B. Declaring that the ’138 patent is invalid under 35 U.S.C. §§ 101, 102, 103, and/or 112.
  • C. Declaring that the ’138 patent is unenforceable due to inequitable conduct.
  • D. Awarding Desire2Learn its attorneys’ fees and costs of suit; and
  • E. Awarding Desire2Learn such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper.
I like the fact that they don't answer in a wimpy way. Basically they're saying that this suit is a load of crap and that Blackboard can stick it back from whence it came.
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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

New PSOL Results

Today I received some new data from Noel-Levitz regarding the PSOL (Priorities Survey for Online Learners) that we gave for the third year in a row during spring semester 2006. The data have always been useful but the report received today is the most useful for benchmarking that we have ever received.

Coming from a two-year public institution, our comparisons with the national results were interesting but not terribly useful for benchmarking purposes. Many of the schools included in the national results are very dissimilar from LSC. It includes graduate schools, for-profit schools, schools that are completely online (not blended as we are with both F2F and online), and overall just a hodge-podge of different schools that have used the survey during the past several years.

This spring we received better data because 16 of our sister institutions in MnOnline also gave the same survey at the same time. This was definitely better because it gave us comparison data with a group of schools from our own system. However, that still compares us with the state universities as well as some two-year schools who aren't as experienced as we are at providing online learning and services. Also, no one really wants to talk about the consortium data because the aggregated student satisfaction levels are really quite low.

So, today I received a report from Noel-Levitz (that we paid for) that compares the LSC results with a peer group of 13 two-year institutions from throughout the country. Approximately 3,900 student responses comprise the peer group and they come from a mixture of traditional community colleges as well as technical colleges, much like how LSC is a combined community and technical college.

On the 26 standard items on the PSOL, LSC students were more satisfied on 19 of the items and less satisfied on 7. Even more importantly, there were six of the 26 items where the difference in satisfaction levels were statistically significant. On all six of those items, the LSC score was much higher than the peer group score.

I will be crunching the numbers quite a bit more in the next couple of weeks while I prepare for a presentation at the League CIT in Charlotte, NC in October. I'll also post more info here as I continue to work on it. For now, I'll post a couple of charts that show some of the data comparing the LSC "Primarily Online" students with the similar group from the peer group institutions. The first chart shows the three most significant differences (.001 level) from that data set.

FY06 PSOL: LSC vs. Peer Group - http://www.zohosheet.com

The second chart shows the two items that were significant at the .01 level, again coming from the "Primarily Online" segment of the data pool.

FY06 Noel-Levitz PSOL: LSC vs. Peer Group - http://www.zohosheet.com

The third and final chart shows the four items that were significant at the .05 level. This data set of primarily online students had nine total differences that were significant, and all nine were positive differences for LSC.

FY06 Noel-Levitz PSOL: LSC vs. Peer Group - http://www.zohosheet.com

Charts made with ZohoSheet.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Open Source Integration

Very interesting project started about a month ago over at OpenAcademic.org in an effort to integrate four useful open source tools into an environment that would have lots of features for e-learning. The tools they are working with are Elgg, Drupal, Moodle, and Mediawiki. This integration should result in the following features being offered:

  • a public facing web presence
  • departmental intranets
  • club/extracurricular sites
  • online class sites
  • a personal workspace for all members of the school community; this workspace includes web-accessible file storage, social bookmarking, a blog, a podcasting platform, and a presentation/portfolio creator
  • a single user base -- no duplicate data entry, no need to synchronize users between multiple databases
Additionally, these technologies/approaches are supported:
  1. Podcasting
  2. Safe social networking
  3. Tagging
  4. Informal learning
  5. Learner centric
  6. ePortfolios
  7. Personal Learning Environments
  8. Blogging
  9. Wikis
They are still looking for development help in the form of developers, designers, educators and funding bodies. Check them out. This is an ambitious undertaking. This is pretty close to what I've been thinking needs to be done by the academic community to not be held hostage by the Blackboard patent goons and large corporate interests.
A tip of the hat to D'Arcy Norman from whom I first heard about this.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Missed Opportunity

At the time that MnSCU adopted Desire2Learn (D2L) as our IMS there was some conversation about developing a unique system-wide branding for the tool. This conversation never really went anywhere and soon everyone was busy with installation, conversion, training, and so on. I think that was a tremendous opportunity that we missed to build some brand identity for Minnesota Online and MnSCU.

Ohio State uses D2L but calls it Carmen. Excerpt from syllabus article: "To create identification with the new learning environment, TELR branded D2L at Ohio State “Carmen,” a reference to the OSU alma mater song, “Carmen, Ohio.” The TELR visual design team came up with an appealing graphic identity, revising it in response to feedback from students, faculty and staff. The Carmen icon is now instantly identifiable across campus, and anchors not just the CMS interface, but also our campus communications and advertising campaign. We believe this attention to brand has been a key component of fostering acceptance of the new system."

Similarly, the University of Wisconsin chose a brand of Learn@UW. This branding is used only at the Madison campus, not throughout the UW system. River Falls, Stout and Superior campuses have basically created their own versions of the "Learn@UW" name, but many UW campuses seem to not be embracing the branding opportunity at all.

My attempt at building some name recognition for our campus use of D2L has had mild success, but not what I had hoped. I wanted to co-brand our IMS as LSC Online and Minnesota Online. You can see the full banner image here that we use in D2L. My goal was to have people refer to the system as LSC Online and to also realize that we are part of the larger system of MnOnline. The problem is that so many faculty and staff began referring to the system as "D2L" rather than LSC Online that we never had a good chance at developing our own name recognition instead of that of the vendor. Clearly, this represents confusion for some people. Now we have a new logo at LSC that we need to find a way to integrate into our online offerings and LSC Online branding. Maybe this is another opportunity to develop some unique name awareness, but maybe it's just too late for that. It drives me nuts when we miss opportunities like this.

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Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (Attribution) license.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Educause on Blackboard Patent

A message from Brian Hawkins, President of EDUCAUSE
See full text pdf

"Like all of you, EDUCAUSE is concerned about the vitality of the supplier marketplace for tools and solutions that are essential to higher education. And, like you, EDUCAUSE is deeply concerned that laws and regulations recognize both the rights of intellectual property (IP) holders (our universities are significant producers of IP) and the incentives to invest in innovation. Our positions on advanced networking, CALEA, and Net Neutrality are just three examples where we have worked hard and well to promote and protect innovation in information technology."

"With respect to the issues of course management systems, we have been actively engaged in conducting necessary due diligence; that is, we are trying to understand the situation so that we can educate our members and, if appropriate, establish an advocacy position. We at EDUCAUSE have consciously avoided any public statement about a position per se, as we do not yet have the information base and legal research to make any statement. However, because of the strong interest in the community, we feel it is important to let you know what EDUCAUSE has been doing in this arena."

So what have they done? (read the pdf for details)

  • Discussed at their Board of Directors.
  • Retained legal counsel for advice about the patent.
  • Gathered viewpoints from the educational community.
  • Will provide a discussion panel at EDUCAUSE 2006 in Dallas.
  • Instructed policy staff to stay current with the proposed patent reform legislation.
  • Started developing an EDUCAUSE statement on educational patents. "This subject is, of course, very complex for all of us in higher education, as we are both patent holders and consumers of patented products. At the same time, we are creatures of the colleges and universities within which we work, whose very essence is about the creation and dissemination of intellectual property and respect for the creators of such property when clear evidence of their original innovation is present.
So what's the bottom line? Don't know yet. It will be interesting to see what they say directly about the Blackboard case since BB is definitely a major vendor/sponsor for Educause events. My guess is that they don't take a hard line against this type of activity and instead invoke some B.S. about free market economy and the competitive marketplace. What they should do is take this opportunity to become an advocate for higher education to start breaking their ties with commercial vendors and to utilize the internal expertise in a more collaborative manner for the good of all of academia. Maybe in my next lifetime.