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:

Visit Duluth:

Northern Images Photo Galleries:

Duluth Canal Park and Harbor:

Duluth Canal Park:

Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge:

Minnesota North Shore Info:

Minnesota North Shore Visitor:

Grand Marais, MN:

Gunflint Trail Resorts:

Isle Royale National Park:

The Wisconsin Connection:
UWS website:

Visit Superior - Douglas County:

Bayfield WI site:

Northern Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast:

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.

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These recordings are being organized as a podcast series using

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.