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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