Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Version 8 Reporting Tool

From what I could see, the D2L reporting tool in version 8 is far more powerful than in version 7. One nice thing is that it creates reports out of a data warehouse rather than the live production data (at least I think that is what he said). One advantage of that is that we can run complicated reports without compromising the performance of the production server where students are taking quizzes and faculty are creating content.

The number of reports available appears to be quite comprehensive. The tool also includes a great number of filters that can be employed to narrow the report to particular user groups, or other particular factors that allow you to focus your report on a particular group. For example, maybe you want to get a report on the number of failed logins. You can do that. Maybe you only want to know how many failed logins there were for student users. You can do that. Maybe you only want to know how many failed student logins occured on Sunday night between 8 and midnight. You can do that. etc. etc. etc.

You can change the report display type. Don't like a line chart or a pie chart, change it to an area chart. I walked away from this demo wiht the following thought: if we want to gather rich research data about our online learners, this tool will enable that.

Version 8 Blog Tool

My opinion about the built-in blog tool in D2L is the following - YAWN!

It doesn't really look like a blog, or at least not much. The blog entry creation interface isn't all that complicated, but to me it doesn't look anything like Blogger, Wordpress, or any of the other blog tools out there. Maybe it doesn't need to look like the others, but since there are 70 million bloggers out there (or pick your own number) and they are used to a certain look-and-feel, it seems counter-intuitive to make a tool that doesn't "behave" in a similar manner to what people are already using.

Also, the blog display to others is not at all "pretty." It kind of looks like a series of D2L News boxes one on top of the other. The example I saw was not attractive but maybe it can be customized to look better. I know that looks are not everything, but I was personally turned off by the look and feel of this tool. It won't make me leave my other blogging tools anytime soon.

In version 1 of this tool (they admit that it is only a start and will be a work-in-progress for a while) the blog can either be totally personal where only the creator can view it or it is totally open where the entire world can view it. Clearly the missing options here are (A) only people enrolled in a class can see it, (B) only invited people can see it, (C) only people enrolled in the college/university can see it, (D) only people enrolled in the system (MnSCU) can see it, and other variations on those themes.

I give them credit for trying, but my first impression is that this is a swing and a miss. Strike One.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Version 8 Competencies

The competencies tool in Desire2Learn is a very ambitious undertaking. It looks incredibly powerful, it appears to be well thought out, and it appears to have more functionality than we are ready for. However, that's fine with me since I prefer to have more power than I need rather than less.

It is somewhat difficult to describe this tool. Whatever you choose to say first about it is probably not the most important feature. Here is my concern about this tool: it has so many facets, so many possibilties, and operates at so many levels; that we are going to need a huge amount of training in order to utilize this tool beyond the most basic level.

This tool is all about assessing student learning, but it is not a quiz tool, or a grading tool, or anything like that. It is a tool that has the capabilities to do what we have to do in higher ed, but mostly are not doing --- assessment of student learning from when they enter our doors until they leave. The problem is that this type of assessment is a daunting task.

The competencies tool could be used to track student achievement of course outcomes in one semester, program outcomes and college-wide outcomes over several (or many) semesters, or even the achievement of a particular sets of tasks. Basically, it appears to be customizable to track achievement of anything that you want it to.

This tool is brand new, it appears to be very robust, and it can be a little scarey. I'm thinking that faculty and designers/techologists are going to need a great deal of training in order to get real value out of this tool. Let me be clear...IMO, the training will be necessary because it is a powerful and deep toolset, not because it has a complexity or user-unfriendliness that will require a great deal of training. Let me put it a different way, it appears to me that people will only use the top-level (easiest) features of this tool if they are left to learn this on their own. They will need to see the full range of possibilities in an effective demo if they are going to make full use of this tool.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Viewing D2L Version 8

At the Minnesota e-Learning Summit I spent about 40 minutes with Stephan Meyer of D2L taking a look at the inside of D2L version 8. I've blogged previously about his presentation at the Higher Learning Commission meeting where he talked about version 8 tools, but he didn't show a live demo at that meeting.

He showed me the following:
  1. Course export tool (yes, it really does exist)
  2. Competencies tool
  3. LiveRoom (much much more than a chat room)
  4. Learning Object Respository with advanced metadata
  5. Reporting tool (much further developed, allowing granular reporting)
  6. Blog tool (but no wiki)
  7. New copy component tool (much more powerful)
  8. Search tool integrated into most of the tools
  9. Redesigned (and improved) HTML editor (and works with Firefox!!)
  10. Improved survey tool (you can actually export your data - finally!!)
One of the biggest fears that users have about the new version is what will happen to the user interface. The answer is almost nothing. Almost all of the changes are in new tools, improved tools, and especially the underlying architecture that makes the program (in theory, and I hope, in reality) peform better. The user interface looks basically the same.

The LiveRoom tool looks very functional for those who want to employ a synchronous tool. Very much like a WebEx experience if you are familiar with that. It is java based. It allows you to bring in content from the course, from your computer (PPT, for example), from the web....mark it up, let students mark it up, it has an equation editor, allows you to archive the session, you can allow a student to run the show, or set one up only for a group of students to use as they like. For those of you in MnSCU, you need to know that this tool is not included in our core contract. If we are going to have access to it we are going to have to pay for it, so we'll see how that goes.

I'll post additional entries over the next few days with more information about some of the other tools.

Monday, May 15, 2006

LOR & SCO Naysayers

The love affair and pursuant honeymoon between educators and Learning Objects appears to be pretty much over. It's becoming more obvious to me that we haven't found much real value in this concept during the past several years. Here's what some very smart people are saying:

Random Walk in Learning:
(Albert Ip, 5/15/06) "I have been a strong advocate of learning technology standards such as SCORM, I am now starting to question whether these standards actually deliver any value to the learning community."

eLearn Magazine:
(Michael Feldstein) "I believe the term "learning object" has become harmful. It hides the same old, bad lecture model behind a sexy buzz phrase. If we're really serious about stimulating learning, then we should think in terms of something like a cognitive catalyst. Rather than just serving up digital content and assuming the students will absorb it, we should be creating artifacts that function like enzymes for the intellectual digestive system. We want to increase the likelihood of a chemical reaction between a piece of information and a human mind. To me, this is the essence of teaching."

CogDogBlog: (Alan Levine, 5/24/05) "All the piles of effort to define what us a “learning object” has gone back and forth across the academic papers and presentations, but in the end, I must bring up the ghost of Clara Peller to inquire, “Where’s the Beef?” Meaning, where is all the content that has been created form the re-use of all the things piled up inside the “repositories”? Where has a so-called object been “recontextualized” with a set of others into something new? I’ve been looking for a while and coming up empty."

Iterating Toward Openness: (David Wiley, 1/9/06) "There have been lots of articles around the blogosphere of late ringing the death bell for learning objects. It’s hard to tell if they’re right or not, because no one can agree about what a learning object is (although I enjoyed reading that a urinal apparently qualifies). And perhaps that very statement is all that needs to be made." (and a follow-up, 1/31/06)

D'Arcy Norman Dot Net: (1/9/06): "But, we completely lost sight of the simple fact that the reuse that is important. and actually much more difficult, is the pedagogical use of content and not a futile pursuit of technical interoperability." (and another 12/29/05)

Parkin's Lot:
(Godfrey Parkin, 6/26/05) "Perhaps the most important obstacle to the success of sharable content objects is the fact that learning is not primarily about content, or about courses. Those who glibly pronounce that “content is king” really irritate me, because it is patently untrue. While content is obviously essential, context and process are more important to learning."

So now what? My guess is we'll continue to throw millions of dollars down a rat hole by building more LORs and SCOs and wrapping them all in metadata, just to realize that no one really wants to use them all that badly. Of course, I could be wrong.

Friday, May 12, 2006


The Academic Services Workgroup of Minnesota Online is looking for input about managing and using the Learning Object Repository (LOR) within D2L. I would like to HEAR your comments using a new tool called Vaestro. Vaestro creates threaded discussion boards of voice recordings. It's easy to use. Check out the questions at the link below.

Leave me an Audio Comment
Leave me an Audio Comment.
- or at least check out what others are saying.

For those of you who are audio-challenged, you can reply to this blog post (leave a text comment here) with your thoughts about any of the following:
  1. Are faculty anxious to start using an LOR? Why would they care and why should they care?
  2. Which is a more important use of an LOR, the sharing of learning content or the proper storage and management of all the electronic files, or are they both super important or not at all?
  3. Whose job is it to create and manage the learning objects and the repository? Where should the responsibility lie for all of this?
  4. What role can/should librarians play in managing electronic learning content?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sales Pitch from Angel

I received this email today from Angel:

Burning the midnight oil worrying about the future of your Learning Management System? Vendor consolidation has left you with fewer options as unknowns increase. Take a moment to consider this: It's not too late to explore options. ANGEL is a collaborative LMS that doesn't require the resource investment of a pure open source deployment. ANGEL is different. Our approach is simple.

  • We Listen: Hundreds of ANGEL features suggested by our customer community.
  • We Respond:> 75% of service requests responded to and resolved in less than 24 hours.
  • We Exceed Expectations: Your success is a measure of our success.
Don't let fear of change stop you. Changing LMS vendors may seem overwhelming, but the vast majority of our customers have found that change is quite easy. We have a track record of simple, quick migration and powerful conversion tools to make it happen.   eom (emphases mine)

This brings up a few questions for me:
  1. Exactly what is a "collaborative LMS?" They are trying to sound somewhat open source-like, but not (and of course, they are not).
  2. Would any of these vendors ever say, "Hey, changing LMS is a bee-atch! But, do it anyway!" ?
  3. Exceeding expectations is easy if expectations are low ... none of these vendors have mature products, so why do we expect so much from them?
  4. As unknowns increase? I would be thrilled if the unknowns just hit a plateau.
When we selected D2L for systemwide implementation, Angel was the second choice of the committee. It would be interesting to compare Angel and D2L on the basis of how much they've progressed over the past 2.5 years since we reviewed them side-by-side. I don't really have an opinion about how that current comparison would turn out, but I'm interested. One thing I remember about Angel is that their sales force was much larger than their technical/coding workforce, but they did have a lot of nice features. I wonder how I got on their email list. This is the first one that I can remember.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

What it looks like

Screen shot of Moodle

One Week with Moodle

Last week I facilitated an online discussion series with about 15 educators from the U.S., Canada, and Taiwan. The forum was conducted using Moodle (open source IMS) as part of the UW-Madison Distance Education Certificate Program.

Here are a few observations about my one week experience with Moodle. One thing that I must use as a qualifier is that we were not using, nor did we have access to, all of the tools in Moodle. I also did not have access to the administrative side of Moodle so I can't be sure of what some of the other options/settings might be.

Moodle does not have a "fancy" interface at all. Very few graphics (again, maybe it can be customized with more graphics) and very much text based. D2L can be made very visually appealling (caveat: all that eye of the beholder stuff) while Moodle was clearly built to be clean, efficient, and accessible.

Moodle has a built-in wiki. I love wikis and use them all the time. The Moodle wiki is not as nice as most of the stand-alone wiki products that I have used (and I've used many of them), but it is functional. We didn't use the wiki to its best advantage in this application since we really weren't doing any kind of collaborative writing or publishing, but the participants got an idea of how a wiki can be edited by various people and used to display various kinds of webby things.

Moodle has a personal journal space which I did not use. However, it appears to be very similar to the Journal tool in D2L, just not as fancy-looking.

We didn't have the opportunity to use/view most of the other tools. No quizzes, no dropbox, no gradebook, etc. From what I was able to see, Moodle appears to on the fast track to being a viable IMS replacement for schools and systems using Blackboard/WebCT, D2L, Angel, etc. The progress they have made in the past 2-3 years is truly amazing. Now if I could just find the time to get a good look at Sakai (also open source).

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

D2L Quiz Tool

Just when things seemed to be going rather smoothly, these three messages are posted in the online faculty lounge during the last 24 hours about quiz problems in D2L:

1) Beware all, I have one exam in one of my classes where NONE of the scores showed up in the gradebook. However students took the exam, and the scores are visible in the quiz's grades, just did not port to the gradebook. I asked Susan B. what I might have done wrong and she can find nothing wrong or that I forgot (checkboxes, etc.), she said even the gurus of D2L and such can not explain this. Gremlins in the D2L software. Just keep an eye out in your courses, such as if a student says they took a quiz and a score is not in the gradebook-- their score might be listed in the individual quiz's scores.

I also have had T/F questions showing up with bizarre unreadable formatting on tests, yet in the quiz question database the questions look just fine.

2) I had myriad problems with quizzes last semester. What a pain after working so hard to get everything set up right . . . .

3) My most recent one was odd. I had a couple of matching questions set up in several quizzes, and all the matches were no longer set. Everything went back to 1. So I had to hand grade all the matching questions for 60 people. sigh.