Friday, July 25, 2008

10 Minutes of FUSION from Memphis

I threw together the following video rather quickly, so it doesn't have the highest production value. Photos from FUSION08D2L as well as some video clips of speakers and musical groups from Beale Street and Graceland. No sound except during the videos.

Still rather bummed that I decided to leave my camera in the hotel room (I had thrice walked away from it during this trip) rather than tote it along for the final night on Beale Street with John Baker, Shonagh, McLeod, Matt, and lots of other D2Lers; plus Terri, Dany, Dawn, and several others including Stephen Downes. Suffice it to say that I really wish I could have included shots of most of this crew singing karaoke and dancing (and yes, that includes Stephen who the karaoke jockey introduced as David Crosby). It was over the top.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Don't be Freaked by Chronicle Article

Andrea Foster's recent Chronicle article titled "New Systems Keep a Close Eye on Online Students at Home" is intended to get attention, but not intended to accurately tell you what is going to happen regarding the Higher Ed Act language about distance learning. After reading it more carefully, I can see now that there is nothing new being reported in this article. All of this doom and gloom about distance student authentication has been talked about for over a year now. I've used the Troy University Big Brother device several times in presentations and here in the blog to point out how completely absurd all of this is.

This post from Nov. 2006 basically provides much of the same info that is in the Chronicle article. A second post in July 2007 looks at the first blush of the language that was written into the higher ed act. A few days ago I posted the clarifying language that is currently attached to the bill. Right after that Foster's article was posted at the Chronicle website and all hell broke loose on several technology listservs and the like.

Settle down people. Foster is basically correct in what she says, but notice that she doesn't say that Congress is going to require these devices - BECAUSE THEY AREN'T. She says that the language "could lead distance-education institutions to require spy cameras in their students' homes." True enough, it could, but it won't. Notice that she has no quotes from anyone who is working on the bill. I'm sure she doesn't even know that there is clarifying language that basically says distance students need to be authenticated with a username and password every time they log in to do coursework.

In my opinion, the only thing the Chronicle article does is shows plainly how ridiculous some of these measures are. 360 degree cameras in everyone's home? In the immortal words of George H.W. Bush, "NOT gonna hapen, NOT gonna happen."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Jason Ohler - Keynote FUSION08D2L

I'll use CoveritLive for Jason's closing keynote in Memphis for the Desire2Learn User Conference - FUSION 2008 (FUSION08D2L)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Blackbeard Loses - Maybe

I just like using that title - Blackboard Loses! I might use it at the beginning of every post, even if the post has nothing to do with Blackboard. Just finished reading an informative article in Campus Technology today that paints a picture of the contempt hearing that is colorably different from what most people are thinking. David Nagel talked with Matthew Small on Monday night after news spread about the contempt charges being thrown out by the Texas judge. Small, the chief legal dude for the evil empire, tells Nagel the following - (excerpted from CT article)

Small recounted that the judge in the case in reviewing the contempt motion seemed to have agreed with that, saying that version 8.3 is not, in fact, colorably different from version 8.2.2; nevertheless, the judge did not issue sanctions against Desire2Learn, leaving it up to Blackboard to meet the burden of proof that the new version does infringe.

Does this mean a new trial? That isn't quite clear either. But Blackboard is definitely not dropping the matter.

"It's still our position this is not a valid workaround," Small told us. He said Blackboard will be taking the next steps in the matter when those steps become clear. The final order from the court has not yet been issued to either party. What that order says will determine what happens next in the case.

Apparently we can expect the evil empire to continue to make friends and influence people in the education world. Will they get their just desserts? As we say in Minnesota - you betcha!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Blackbeard Wins!! Oops, I mean they lose!

Very brief message at the D2L Patent Blog.

Court Denies Blackboard's Motion for Contempt

"We just received word from Texas. The Court denied Blackboard's Motion for Contempt. We anticipate we will receive the Court's written Order in a few days and will post it when we receive it. "

Stay tuned for more. Party tonight at Graceland.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Clarifying Language Can Be So Clarifying

There has been a tremendous amount of angst (much of it generated by me) about the distance education language that is expected to be included in the Higher Education Act whenever that finally gets approved (probably by September). I'm at the ITC Board Meeting in Reno this week along with a colleague who has an inside track to information about the work being done on the clarifying language that will be attached to the bill. The ITC, and Fred Lokken in particular, has been instrumental in bringing attention to the many concerns related to the authentication of distance learner language that is currently included in the bill. Most of those arguments center around concerns about cost and availability of the technologies to accomplish this task. Much of that angst was based on speculation about what it means to authenticate who the distance learner is.

The latest language in the bill goes something like this: "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."

That is the language that has had everyone tied up in knots about whether that means test proctoring for everything, the big brother 360 degree camera device such as used at Troy University, the data analytics stuff that is growing in usage, or some other authentication method. According to Fred (and this comes straight from the office of his senator who is an author of the bill), that at this time the level of authentication that they are seeking is along the lines of username and password.

The clarifying language (currently) for that section of the bill reads as follows:
",,,,the bill requires accrediting agencies and associations to ensure that institutions offering distance education programs have processes by which they establish that the student who registers is the same student who participates in and completes the program. The Committee expects institutions that offer distance education today to have security mechanisms in place, such as identification numbers or other pass code information required to be used each time the student participates in class time or coursework on-line. In time, as technology develops, the Committee anticipates that additional identification technologies will become more sophisticated, less expensive and more mainstream."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

D2L Confident about Contempt Hearing

The next battle in the D2L-Blackbeard war begins on Monday in Texas. Blackbeard will once again try to leverage their home court advantage against their combatant from north of the border. I've read a great deal of the proceedings from the earlier skirmishes, and I believe that the judge has a definite bias against Desire2Learn and in favor of Blackbeard. Last week I had a conversation with John Baker, CEO of Desire2Learn, in which he told me that the D2L team is extremely confident that they will prevail and be found to not be in contempt regarding their patent work-around version 8.3. I wish I could share in John's optimism, but I've not seen, heard, or read anything that makes me believe they will get a fair hearing in East Texas. Furthermore, there are several people who I've talked to who believe that D2L has been way too optimistic throughout this whole affair. Not that there's anything wrong with optimism (I wouldn’t know, but I've heard that), but that maybe their optimism has kept them from making the superhuman effort that is (was) probably needed from the very beginning. That's not my opinion, that's just what I've heard from others.

Baker told me that the D2L team was very thorough in their analysis of the court record, and every item that was determined to be a patent infringement in their previous versions was modified or re-coded. There are no longer pre-determined roles. Instead the users have the capability of creating any and all roles that they choose, but none are created in advance for them. This is, I believe, the key factor for the infringement. Based on a careful reading of the patent and the court proceedings, this should be the necessary work-around to the (bogus) patent. However, there were several items that I saw in the court documents (see the D2L patent info blog) that lead me to believe that Blackbeard has sufficiently confused the issue to make the judge (and the no longer engaged jury) believe that the patent covers more than what Blackbeard originally said it did. In other words, I definitely have the impression that the judge is understanding the idea behind having multiple roles for a user, but that he is overlooking the part about the predetermined multiple roles, and is of the mind that D2L infringes as long as there is the capability (feature) that allows users to have multiple roles. I certainly hope that I'm wrong about that - but I'll believe it when I see it.

The other thing that John Baker told me was that he thinks the UPSTO will issue a final action on the re-exam fairly soon. Based upon the history of the USPTO in inter partes cases, I once again find myself with a very different opinion. I expect it to drag on for a few more years, especially since I expect the losing side (no matter who it is) to appeal the final action and thus keep this nightmare running for a couple of years past the issuance of the final action.

If D2L gets a favorable ruling in the contempt hearing – they are basically out of the woods regarding the Bb patent, pending any appeal opportunities that the evil empire might have at their disposal. If D2L version 8.3 is determined to be non-infringing, then they will be able to put this debacle behind them, although they have pledged to continue the fight at the USPTO even if they are no longer determined to be infringing. One more thing comes to mind related to the patent re-exam. A representative from eCollege came to visit me last week. They are trying to prepare for a possible future RFP possibility if MnSCU decides to go down that road when the current D2L contract expires or is no longer renewed. At the end of the conversation, I asked him why eCollege would be a safe bet for us and what protects them from the predatory practices of Blackbeard and their patent. His answer was that eCollege believes that they have some prior art that would be relevant and protect them from patent infringement. Excuse me?!? Prior art that is not being brought to bear on the current patent re-exam? I don't actually believe that they have prior art that they are withholding from the process - but it sure seems like an odd statement to make.

As I've written earlier, it will be very interesting to be attending the D2L User Conference in Memphis at the same time that the contempt hearing is occurring in Texas. The hearing should be concluded before the end of the conference, but I'm not sure whether we can expect to hear the outcome of that hearing prior to the end of the conference. Best of luck to D2L and all those who are dependent upon a favorable ruling for Desire2Learn next week. I know, I know, luck will have nothing to do with it. Best wishes then, if you prefer that.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Distance Learner Authentication

Who are you? Who, who, who who? I really want to know.

"Distance learning promises anytime, anywhere learning. But that convenience for students comes with a potential risk for educators – finding a way to make sure the registered student is really the person doing the work." That is the party line from Acxiom, one of the market leaders in using personal information from their massive database to authenticate learners. I've been invited to attend a discussion about this service at the upcoming D2L User Conference in Memphis. I'm undecided whether I'll attend at this point, but I just might do so given the U.S. government's meddling into the whole authentication "issue." I'm not convinced that there is a real issue here, just a perceived one. Although if Congress finishes their work-in-progress that makes it into an issue, then it is an issue, at least for those of us in the U.S.

There is an interesting tidbit on their page titled: Identity Verification to Support Academic Integrity. In talking about their own security and how they are protective of student data, they say that "due to the decentralized nature of IT departments, higher education leads all industries in numbers data breach events." I guess I'd like to see their data that verifies that claim. Maybe it's true, but I don't know that to be a fact, and I'm not inclined to just believe them because they say so.

CC photo by scragz

D2L FUSION - Coming Soon

The annual Desire2Learn User Conference - FUSION 08, starts Sunday night, July 20 with a reception at the Pink Palace in Memphis. The photo at right is John Baker addressing the crowd in 2007 at the opening reception at the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, Minnesota.

Sessions get started Monday morning with an opening keynote address by George Siemens. For those who might like a preview of the keynotes, I posted podcasts last month with conference lead-off Siemens and closing keynote Jason Ohler.

For bloggers, photographers, or anyone else using any sort of social software tools, please use the following tag: FUSION08D2L (no difference between upper and lowercase). By tagging your content from the conference it makes it so much easier for all of us to find it.

For example, if you Google for the tag for last year (FUSION07D2L), you find the following artifacts:

  • A Flickr photo group with 238 photos from 5 people
  • About a dozen blog posts from several different people
  • A couple of bookmarks from
I'm hoping that this year will result in much more content that is easy to find from FUSION08D2L.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

ITC Quick Survey - Switching from Blackboard

The Instructional Technology Council is reviving their member service of quick polls. Today they posted the results from the latest poll dealing with schools that are switching or have switched from one VLE to another, and also some questions related to the popularity of hybrid/blended courses.

44 member schools replied to the survey. Of those respondents, 25 schools, or 55%, have either switched platforms within the past year (11) or are planning to within the next year (14).

Poll question: If you have migrated or are planning to migrate, please list the course management systems your institution could have used, or had a license to use, at your college - before the move. (You can select more than one)

Those 25 schools responded with a total of 47 VLE that they were using or were licensed to use, or an average of nearly 2 platforms per school. Of particular interest to me was that 33 of those 47 responses indicated that they were migrating away from one (or more) of the Blackboard platforms (including old WebCT).

Below I'll indicate what the respondents said in the aggregate about which platforms they are migrating away from and which they are migrating to:

  • Blackboard (all forms): 33 going away, 14 coming aboard
  • Moodle: 7 going, 6 coming
  • Sakai: 3 going, 0 coming
  • Angel: 2 going, 7 coming
  • Desire2Learn: 1 going, 5 coming
  • Educator: 1 going, 0 coming
  • Undecided: 7 schools indicated that they haven't finalized their new adoption
My favorite open comment is the following: "We are forced to adopt Moodle since Blackboard Campus edition price had taken a huge leap to for 2009-2010 license. We barely moved to Blackboard CE6 from WebCT in Summer 2008." No, I don't know which school that is.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Poll Everywhere - Trying it Out

I've been wanting to try out Poll Everywhere, so let's do a little experiment to see how this works. Here is the embedded poll. After each vote is cast, you'll be able to see an update on this page. It took about seven seconds for my response to appear after I submitted my vote via text message on my cell.

You can also send people to a webpage where they can vote with their computers, but I'm interested to see how many votes we can accumulate only by using cell phones. Each cell phone can only be used once to vote, so people can't stuff the ballot box with multiple votes. The free version is limited to 30 responses for each poll, although you can have as many different polls as you like. Paying a monthly fee will allow you to collect more reponses per poll.

According to their website: "It's the easiest way to gather live responses in any venue: conferences, presentations, classrooms, radio, tv, print — anywhere." We'll be the judge of that.

Let's see how long it takes to gather 30 responses, at which time I'll close the poll. To submit your answer to the poll question (How many different e-mail accounts do you check regularly?), just send a text message to the phone number 41411. If you have a hard time seeing anything on the embedded window above, click the full screen link to have a better look.

The only thing you put in the text message is the following

cast 5789 (or whichever number is correct for you)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Lake Superior Connect - New Video

The LSC Public Information office and a local artist recently developed the following 60-second promotional video about Lake Superior Connect, the e-Campus at Lake Superior College. We will be using these spots to try to raise awareness of our new name and of the leadership role that we have played in bringing e-learning to Minnesotans.

We also have two separate 30-second spots using the same content for TV ads and other online placements.