Tuesday, May 27, 2008

D2L Provides Answer to My Challenge

About a month ago I tossed out a challenge to Desire2Learn and all other VLE developers to build some new functionality into the virtual learning environment. A couple of days ago I received this response from Matt Fisher, a Lead Product Designer at D2L. I will reproduce his response below in its entirety.



A few weeks ago you posted a “challenge to D2L [or other LMS] developers” which called for LMS vendors to provide software that focused on the creation of student content and would allow for students to collaborate in an online environment that had a web 2.0 feel.

The challenge that you have proposed is something that we (Desire2Learn) have just recently released – ePortfolio 1.0! An ePortfolio allows users to create and collect digital artifacts that can be shared with others for feedback and assessment. ePortfolio also has tight integration with the Learning Environment which allows users to leverage such tools as Dropbox, Quizzing, Grades and Competencies.

In your post you outlined various scenarios that you would like the Learning Environment to support. I’m confident that ePortfolio can satisfy each of these:

  • Web 2.0ifying the Learning Environment
    • ePortfolio uses many Web 2.0 concepts such as:
      • Dashboard – allows users to see recent activity within their portfolio at a glance.
      • RSS – a user can subscribe to RSS feeds on comments and assessments added to their objects or on invitations that they have received. This means that they don’t have to log into the system to see what they have missed.
      • Tagging – Any ePortfolio object can be tagged with keywords which allows users to easily sort/organize and retrieve objects based upon their tags.
  • Zoho Writer – allows users to create documents on the web and share/embed and collaborate on them
    • ePortfolio allows users to create artifacts on the web using the new 8.3 WYSIWYG editor. These documents that are authored in a user’s portfolio can be shared with other users for feedback or assessment using rubrics and can be edited based upon the feedback received. In the next release of ePortfolio (scheduled for Fall ’08) users will be able to collaborate (meaning edit the same document) on items within the portfolio while still receiving feedback through comments or rubric assessments. A user can also place one of these “living documents” into a presentation to showcase their work in a visually appealing fashion.
  • Students should not have to leave the Virtual Learning Environment to edit a document
    • All the documents are stored within the ePortfolio so they can be accessed for anywhere
  • Submit live documents within the Learning Environment to the dropbox
    • All ePortfolio documents can be submitted to the dropbox for assessment. This means that the document that was submitted will be copied to the dropbox folder for evaluation, allowing the user to continue to edit the copy in their portfolio if they wish without affecting the version submitted to the dropbox. A course instructor can give feedback on the submission which may mean applying a grade which would be displayed in the user’s gradebook.
  • Sharing – share with your instructor; share with your students
    • ePortfolio allows users to share with others in their organization. This means that a user could share with their peers, instructor, mentor or even an external users who don’t have an account in the system

At the end of your video you ask a couple of questions:

  • Why are students not allowed to use editing tools inside the virtual learning environment?
    • With ePortfolio they are! ePortfolio is completely user-centric which allows each user to control their own experience.
  • Why don’t we build this vs. having to embed tools like Zoho?
    • This is one of the main reasons we built an ePortfolio vs. partnering with an existing portfolio vendor because users wanted this type of functionality to be all under one roof.

If you have any questions about the above information or need any clarification please don’t hesitate to ask.

Thanks, Matt


Although I've learned quite a bit about ePortfolio through the two different podcasts (first and second) that I made about the product, I still haven't used it myself. I guess I need to sign up for one of their webinars.

We don't have access to it in my state system and I don't think there are any plans to pay for it in the future. My system (MnSCU) already has a portfolio product, called Minnesota efolio, that they heavily promote and are quite proud of. Here is my efolio which is in dire need of a makeover (and an update).

Basically, none of the features that I am talking about can be found in Minnesota's efolio. It tends to be 1) not very social (at all), b) not very flexible, 3) not integrated with anything that I know of, d) not link friendly (very complicated URLs), and I'll stop there so as to not make some people even more upset than they are at this point in the paragraph.

At this point I'm not able to pass judgment on what Matt has to say about the D2L ePortfolio. Maybe it will accomplish many of the things that I am hoping for, but I'm not sure about that. When I was a kid I thought that Sea Monkeys could really walk across a tightrope and that turned out to be horribly wrong. Therefore, I have learned to reserve judgment until I get to see how something works first-hand. (BTW, I realize that the previous statement is a bit of a lie - I don't reserve judgment on much of anything - but I am willing to change my mind when given new evidence to consider or other such additional input. But the Sea Monkey thing still makes me wary of slickly packaged goods.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Web 2.0 Inside D2L - Zoho Notebook

This video shows an embedded Zoho Notebook inside Desire2Learn. Zoho Notebook is a powerful and unique tool that allows you to combine just about any type of web content and place that content anywhere on the different pages of the notebook. Audio, video, webpages, embed code from various sites, file attachment, images, text, etc. etc. Very cool indeed.

Here is the link to my Blip.tv site in case the embed doesn't work.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Opposing the Higher Ed Act

... or at least one of the major provisions of the Higher Ed Act. As a board member of the Instructional Technology Council (ICT) I am supportive of an effort under way to oppose the distance education language that is included in the proposed bill. Here is the official text sent out by the ITC Board.

Legislative Alert: Contact your Congressman or Senator Today!

ITC would like you to be aware of a provision in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that could severely impact our distance education programs. The bill requires institutions “to have processes through which the institution establishes that the student who registers in a distance education course or program is the same student who participates in and completes the program and receives the academic credit.”

The language is vague, but we are concerned the Department of Education or other regulatory agencies could impose some onerous regulations to force colleges to comply with their interpretation of the bill once Congress has passed it – requirements that could be costly or prohibitive, such as forcing colleges to make all distance learning students take face-to-face proctored exams.

The Senate and House have each selected their conference committee members for the reauthorization which the Senate and House have passed (see below). In the next two weeks they will look at their respective versions to create a single bill that will go back to their respective chambers for final passage, and to the President for his signature.

If you are concerned, you must act quickly. Contact your congressman and/or senators and tell them:

1) You oppose this language in the bill

2) Ask them to help delete the language

3) If necessary, suggest they submit compromise language that makes this provision only apply to institutions where the distance education enrollment is more than 50 percent of the overall institutional enrollment

Call the Capitol switchboard at (202)224-3121 to be connected directly with your congressman or senator’s office. Here is a proposed e-mail you can send below. You can find the contact information for your congressman or senator at http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/:

To a Senator:
The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.#)__(name of)Senate Office Building

United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

To a Representative:
The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.#)__(name of)House Office Building

United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear ______________________________,

I oppose the language in Section 496 (20 U.S.C. 1099b) of the Higher Education Act re-authorization bill, specifically, (1) sub-section (a) (A) (4) (B) (ii) which states:

`(ii) the agency or association requires an institution that offers distance education to have processes through which the institution establishes that the student who registers in a distance education course or program is the same student who participates in and completes the program and receives the academic credit

I oppose this language for several reasons:

1) there is no evidence to suggest a problem exists. Campuses have accepted practices for admission, registration and attendance in place that apply to traditional face-to-face classes and to those that are delivered at a distance – distance education classes are just a different method of delivery and must adhere to the same campus standards and expectations.

2) distance education administrators are accountable to the institution’s regional accrediting agency and required to meet their standards, expectations, and provide an "equivalent" learning experience as a traditional class.

3) the costs for complying with any additional regulations that could result from this legislation could be substantial, and could force colleges to increase tuition and fees to fund compliance.

4) regulations that result from this legislation could undermine the benefits of distance education for - active duty military personnel at home and abroad, working students or single parents with young children or other family obligations that prevent them from taking classes during regular classroom hours, and/or rural residents who live or work too far from the college to travel to campus to make earning their college degree an option.

I ask that you support efforts to remove this language from the current bill, or, at the very least, to support compromise language that would limit these provisions to institutions that have distance education enrollments which are more than 50 percent of their total enrollment so the vast majority of legitimate, accredited colleges are not affected by this legislation.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.


********************* eom

The text above was written by Fred Lokken who is another ITC board member and the incoming Chair of the ITC Board. I agree with his points completely. Please have your voice heard by the legislators who are trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

Monday, May 12, 2008

e-Learning Mythbusters Video 04 - Conclusion

This is part 4 of 4. In this 13-minute segment I get the audience reaction to six potential myths about online learning. I briefly share my views/opinions about each of these items after the voting is concluded.

e-Learning Mythbusters - Part 4 - The Final Segment
Part 4 of 4 from my Online Learning Mythbusters keynote at ITC conference

Follow this link to view the part 4 natively (and full-screen) in Zentation.

The six statements that might be myths include:
  • 13) A VLE is an important component of e-learning.
  • 14) Second Life will be the second coming for teaching and learning.
  • 15) Through web analytics reporting, we are learning a tremendous amount of useful information about the behavior and activities of our online students.
  • 16) Through the use of rubrics and standards for related to the quality of online courses (i.e. Quality Matters), we are sufficiently addressing the questions about the quality of online learning.
  • 17) The cost to the institution and the price (tuition) to the student should be lower for e-learning than traditional bricks-and-mortar education.
  • 18) Online learning is plagued by a huge number of fictitious students.

Here is the Zentation link to all four of the presentation segments. You can also click on the category link in the sidebar of this blog to view previous posts about Mythbusters.

In case you're wondering, the reason that this final segment took so long is that the PPT slides at Zentation weren't rendering properly as the previous three segments did. It seems odd since they were all parts of the same PPT slide presentation in the first place. Once I determined the cause of the problem (custom animations related to the charts) I was able to re-sync and make this work.

Friday, May 09, 2008

A Flaw in the Blackboard Damages Logic

There's one thing has bugged me about the damages assessed during the Blackboard vs. Desire2Learn trial. Well, clearly there's a lot more than just one thing - but this post is going to focus on just one thing. The damages were set based on lost revenues to Blackboard from D2L winning clients in the U.S. I have no doubt that the lost customers include my employer, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU).

A little history first. I was the chair of the MnSCU IMS of the Future Task Force that was charged with recommending the IMS (I prefer the acronym VLE) that MnSCU should standardize on and support for all 32 institutions and 50-some campuses. That task force reviewed all the submissions to the RFP, recommended the four finalists, evaluated the four finalists during their dog-and-pony shows, and then made the final recommendations to the MnSCU CIO. It was an exhaustive process, but it went really well and the group had as much consensus as I've ever seen in such a large group where very different opinions were present at the beginning of the journey.

The four finalists included D2L, Angel, UCompass Educator, and Web CT. Blackboard was not chosen as one of the four finalists and therefore had no shot whatsoever at being selected as the MnSCU VLE (BTW, they were very unhappy about not being a finalist and tried to bulldog their way into the process - sound familiar?). This was still a couple of years before WebCT was bought up by Blackboard.

The task force made the clear choice of D2L being at the top of the heap. It wasn't even close. However, the group did say that both Angel and Educator were acceptable choices if agreement couldn't be reached with D2L. WebCT was deemed to be an unacceptable choice (which many found surprising since it was already being used by more than 20 schools in the system).

Therefore, I'm more than just a little bit baffled as to why the damages to Blackboard include MnSCU's choice of D2L in the calculation. There was no way that we were going to go with Blackboard. We would have either gone with Angel or Educator. Blackboard lost our business way before we even knew how much we preferred D2L.

Clearly there are many things in this whole patent debacle that makes you tilt your head and say "huh?", but this one really seems to be out of line with common sense and very unfair. It makes me wonder how many of the other "lost clients" never would have picked Blackboard even if D2L was out of the picture. Several, I'm betting.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Stay Extended for D2L

The D2L Patent Info Blog reports tonight (May 6, 2008 7:47 PM) that Judge Clark has granted an extension until June 11 of the stay of the injunction against D2L in the Blackboard case. This buys a little more time for D2L clients (such as my employer MnSCU) to install version 8.3 which includes D2L's work-around technology regarding the bogus patent.

MnSCU is planning to upgrade to this new version just a few days before June 11. The remaining wild card in the equation (at least short term) is whether there is any legal activity before June 11 regarding whether the work-around is in fact non-infringing. Rumor has it that Matthew Small has indicated that Blackboard's position is that the work-around still infringes on their patent - but then again you can't possibly expect them to say anything different.

In other legal news, the judge denied three of D2L's requests: 1) for a Judgment as a Matter of Law (JMOL), 2) for a new trial on the issue of invalidity of the patent, and 3) a request for a JMOL on noninfringement. None of this is likely surprising to anyone. All this means is that the judge is standing behind the decisions made in his courtroom during the jury trial.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Web 2.0 Inside D2L - PBwiki

Some of the advantages of embedding a wiki inside D2L include the opportunity to deliver content to students inside the VLE and others outside the VLE simultaneously, the ability of managing a series of web pages with a minimum of page creation (coding) knowledge, the ability to allow students to engage in the content creation process by editing the wiki, the ability to have something that allows access long after the password-protected course has been shut off at the end of the term.

Some of the advantages of using PBwiki as your wiki choice include a) it is free to use, b) an advertising-free version is available for educational uses, c) it provides for dozens of different content plug-ins (thousands if you include Google Gadgets) making it easy to add various types of content on any page, and d) the company provides solid support to its users. Check out their blog called The Daily Peanut which is a great place to keep up with new developments.

PBwiki was my number one in my review of the Top Web Tools of 2007 over at Far From a Shining Star.

Here is the link to the video in blip.tv