Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Desire2Excel Awards

Today D2L announced the categories for the Desire2Excel Awards to be given at the Desire2Learn User Conference - Fusion 2007.

The Desire2EXCEL Awards have three new categories:

All nominations are due March 30th, 2007.

I will personally buy drinks for the award winners. Enter early and enter often.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Blackboard Re-examination

Very cool!! Today, the USPTO ordered a re-examination of the patent awarded to Blackboard for their not-novel Course Management System. Back in November, the Software Freedom Law Center filed a Request for Re-examination with the USPTO. According to the Law Center, "The Patent Office found that prior art cited in SFLC's request raises 'a substantial new question of patentability' regarding all 44 claims of Blackboard's patent." (That's a photo of the USPTO building, courtesy of patrickmmoore)

What does this mean? You never know for sure. The Law Center says that "A re-examination of this type usually takes one or two years to complete. Roughly 70% of re-examinations are successful in having a patent narrowed or completely revoked."

One particular phrase in the re-exam order is particularly telling: "A reasonable examiner would consider the above prior references important in making a decision as to the patentability of claims 1-44 of the Alcorn (Blackboard) patent." (page 4) There's the rub ... are there any reasonable examiners in the USPTO?

Desire2Learn has also filed a request for re-exam, but that might not prove important since the re-exam has already been ordered today. This is definitely not yet a dead issue, but it certainly looks like a step in the right direction. The BlackCt suits must be squirming a bit tonight but I bet the D2L folks will sleep a little more soundly.

My prediction? FWIW (which is nothing, absolutely nothing), I think that the re-exam absolutely will result in throwing out the patent. Blackboard received the patent because the USPTO examiners were asleep at the switch and didn't do their due diligence, and of course Blackboard didn't honestly talk about prior art. If a "reasonable examiner" actually gets involved this time ... it's over for Blackboard.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Editing HTML in D2L

James Falkofske strikes again.
James, of Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, is one of the most talented instructional designers and trainers in our system (check out his blog). He sent me an email this morning regarding a technique he researched for editing the HTML in uploaded files for D2L classes.
Using the HTML editor inside D2L doesn't always work well and it doesn't work at all for certain browsers. This causes problems for some of us who try to avoid Microsoft Internet Explorer as if it were plague-infested. Maybe it truly is, although YMMV.

James has been experimenting with the Mozilla SeaMonkey suite of browser tools, which includes a "Composer" web editor. SeaMonkey feels very much like the old Netscape browser which also had a Composer feature. In fact, Netscape Composer is how I first learned to make web pages, back in the day. (Flickr photo courtesy of kitten wtw, and here's another fun photo from someone else.)

James also created a very nice Captivate Flash video that shows the process that D2L users can utilize to directly edit files within the D2L server space. View the video here.

This is a very easy way to edit existing files within D2L. I've used it this morning on several different pages with good results. This doesn't solve the caching issues with D2L where it often takes 5 to 10 minutes for the new edits on a page to show up in the Content area. This is not a browser cache issue, and this will continue to happen regardless of whether someone uses the D2L editor or the SeaMonkey editor.

James adds the following:
NOTE: for this to work best, ALL files must be stored in the course's root folder.

BTW, don't you just love sea monkeys? I have some baby sea monkeys in my basement right now. The baby angelfish usually eat the little monkeys before they have a chance to learn how to walk the tightrope or ride the bikes, but other than that it's just what you would expect from the ads.

D2L Missed Opportunity

As the semester break comes to a close, I can't help but lament the missed opportunity to have switched to version 8 during the break. This is the only time of the year when all 32 schools have a common break time. Over 40% of the D2L clients had previously migrated to version 8 so there was a great deal of information available about using the new version. Many other D2L clients did upgrade versions over the semester break.

We are now looking at a migration after the end of spring semester, but at a time when many schools will already be into their summer sessions. I support the decision to upgrade at that time, but only because I didn't have the opportunity to support the possible decision to upgrade two weeks ago and also because I don't want to wait any longer than June for the upgrade. In other words, of the available options, the June upgrade is the better choice. Unfortunately, the best alternative was never given and so we have missed an opportunity.

BTW, the possibility of a winter 06-07 upgrade was heavily discussed by the D2L Ad Hoc Review Committee during the spring of 2006. Unfortunately, after that committee completed their charge, no action related to systemwide decision-making (i.e. with campus input) about D2L occurred until December 2006.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Blackboard Fires Again

More new from the D2L Patent-Info Blog. Want to read about fun terms like the following?

  • Accused Instrumentalities
  • Infringements Under the Doctrine of Equivalents
  • Pro Hac Vice Pending
If so, check out Blackboard's Preliminary Infringement Contentions against Desire2Learn.

Here's a snippet: "Accordingly, Blackboard contends that any asserted claim which the Accused Instrumentalities are not found to be embodied literally is nevertheless embodied by the Accused Instrumentalities under the doctrine of equivalents under an operative doctrine of equivalents test, e.g., function-way-result or insubstantial differences tests." Get it? Got it? Good!

For a more visual display of the alleged infringements, check out Exhibit A, all 91 pages of it. Looking at it I get the impression that it is Blackboard's way of showing that D2L has developed a far superior product, so dammit, it's up to the courts to punish them for doing so!

Reviewing D2L

A potential new user for D2L appears to be in the midst of comparing different IMS platforms at Allegheny. Thoughts and Experiments is the blog by James Fadden of Allegheny College. He and others at the College are comparing and contrasting four LMS/IMS packages as possible replacements for WebCT which they are currently using.

Not surprisingly (to me at least), they are reviewing:

  • Desire2Learn
  • Angel
  • Moodle
  • Sakai
You'll notice that Blackboard is not on their list. You can read his comments about each of the platforms by following the posts in his "LMS Migration" category of his blog. There are several entries so you need to use the Older Entries button when you reach the bottom of the page.

Here are a few of his comments that I agree with:
  • Communicating in Sakai: "Well I am moving along with Sakai and finding that at this point I am feeling more strongly about it than Moodle or Angel but not as intrigued with it as I am with D2L." That would be my ranking as well.

  • From Angel to Sakai: "I registered for an account at which was pretty easy and I had a course to play with." Yes, try this to easily learn about Sakai.

  • Angel Investigation: "Upon logging on I am very comfortable with the interface." Agreed, Angel has a very easy to navigate interface, almost bland.

  • Coming to Terms with Complexities of D2L: "At points I am at awe. At points I am ready to spit nails. I think this means that D2L is a step forward from the version of WebCT that we are using." It does take a little time to get used to it, but D2L is a MAJOR step forward from WebCT.

  • Notes from D2L Demo: "Interesting Facts: 1) D2L has never lost a production client. 2) D2L is scalable from 100 users to 100,000 users." In MnSCU we have something more like 200,000 user accounts on a single installation (with beefed up hardware and database).

  • Contacting Desire2Learn: "... this company goes to great lengths to develop a community of users in much the same way that the open source products use in their development process." I agree that the D2L community of users is a strength, and getting stronger all the time.

I think I'll contact James in the near future to see if he is interested in doing an interview for a Desire2Pod cast.

MnOnline Mid-Year Report

Here is my mid-year report on the progress made by the MnOnline Council.

Motivator - Progress

Being the "chair" (quotes intentional) means that all fingers should point to me for the fact that there is nothing going on. It appears that my time and attention could be better spent on other endeavors.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Presentation Feedback

Back in October I gave a presentation titled "Ten Things I'd Change about Minnesota Online" at the statewide MnSCU CAO/CSSO/Deans Meetings in October. It was attended by about 15 administrators from some of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Twelve people completed evaluations for the session and overall the ratings were very good. What strikes me most though are the open comments. It gives me hope that I am not the only person who has thoughts like these, but it also discourages me in that I see absolutely no evidence that anyone else has the gumption to do anything about ANY of these things.

I entered this year as Chair of the MnOnline Council with big hopes and even bigger ideas to help spearhead some changes to improve things. What I am finding is that this is not an important position within MnSCU, there is no real power to persuade people to change things, and we really do nothing more than get together every two months to chat. In the next post I'll give my mid-year report for the MnOnline Council.

Here are the comments from my presentation attendees in October:

  • Great discussion with hard questions.
  • Thought provoking
  • Great conversation and food for thought!
  • Great conversation – needs to continue
  • Wonderful sharing and information
  • Good questions. You are asking the right questions.
  • Thanks for getting these difficult issues out in the open. What to do next? I have “Q’s” about services – proctoring, accuplacer, etc.