Saturday, June 28, 2008

Home from Tennessee - Ready to Go Back

I returned Saturday night from the Tennessee Board of Regents e-Learning Summer Institute on Web 2.0 and now I'll be heading back to Memphis in 3 weeks for the Desire2Learn User Conference - FUSION 2008. I had a great time in Memphis and met some really great people, many of whom will also be at the D2L conference. On my last night I went to Corky's BBQ and definitely Put Some South in My Mouth. After returning home I was catching up on some email and RSS feeds when a couple of things caught my eye about the D2L conference:

  • According to the D2L Patent Info Blog, the judge will be hearing Blackboard's Motion for Contempt against D2L's proposed workaround (version 8.3) on Monday July 21 and Tuesday July 22 which are the first two days of the conference. This is pretty amazing timing. I'm sure that it's pure coincidence, but some of those Blackbeard conspiracy theorists out there (you know who you are) are probably thinking that Bb somehow influenced the judge to schedule it on these dates. This should add a fair amount of drama to the conference proceedings.
  • On a completely different tangent, I was pleased to see that all three of my breakout sessions have reached full enrollment for the conference. D2L is one of the few conferences that have you actually register for the sessions that you are going to attend and then limit the attendance at a session rather than letting people just pack into a room in any way possible.
  • Although I presented at the TBR Summer Institute on much of the same stuff, I'm going to re-work several pieces of the material to add some new examples and to organize the Web 2.0 content into the three sessions as listed below:
Date - Monday, July 21st from 11:30am to 12:30pm
Title - Present: Web 2.0 Tools Inside Desire2Learn
Description - Slide presentations can be augmented and made unique with an array of Web 2.0 applications. This presentation will demonstrate the use of these applications inside Desire2Learn. Slide presentations, screencasts, live video streaming, and others will be shown. (Also, photo slide shows will be included)

Date - Tuesday, July 22nd from 1:15pm to 2:15pm
Title - Collaborate: Web 2.0 Tools Inside Desire2Learn
Description - Social networking and collaboration are enabled by many new free Web applications useful in education. This presentation will demonstrate the use of these applications inside Desire2Learn. Social bookmarking, Wikis, Web Office tools, and others will be demonstrated.

Date - Monday, July 21st from 2:45pm to 3:45pm
Title - Be Creative: Web 2.0 Tools Inside Desire2Learn
Description - Student creativity can be enhanced by many new free Web 2.0 applications. This presentation will demonstrate the use of these applications inside Desire2Learn. Digital photo projects, cartoons and comic strips, music videos and other tools will be shown.

I'm a little confused about which of these are hands-on and which aren't. Either way though I provide all participants with a guest account to access the D2L course materials so they can continue to review the content for a couple of months after the conference. Maybe they'll let me use the D2L Community site to do that rather than the LSC site. I'll have to ask (maybe I just did).

Friday, June 27, 2008

Desire2Pod Cast 21 - D2L Version 8.3

This podcast episode is an interview with Jeannette Brewer of Desire2Learn. Jeannette told me about many of the new features of Desire2Learn version 8.3. The word Blackboard (or even Blackbeard) didn't come up once (until now). The title is a "Birds-Eye View of Version 8.3." We discuss several things including 1) the look of the new My Courses widget, 2) some of the other homepage management features, 3) new widgets, 4) how can 8.3 help me to manage my Schedule better? and 5) What are some of the lesser known features of 8.3?

Jeannette Brewer is the developer of Desire2Learn’s ePortfolio training programs. Prior to joining Desire2Learn two years ago, Jeannette completed her MSc at the University of York in the UK. She travels to clients across North America and the UK to help them set up their sites and train their staff.


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One thing that we didn't get around to in the (20 min.) interview was the HTML editor, which has seen a few changes.. It is now embedded, and it is W3C compliant with all functions available by either screenreader or keyboard. You can now resize the editor window by dragging the corner, you can now edit equations, access the attributes of pictures, and there’s a much better spell check.For the CSS geeks out there – the header is no longer removed, so you can edit your Dreamweaver content without screwing up the CSS.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

D2L and Blackboard - Expect the Long Haul

Today I made a brief post at OLDaily (brief, because that's the way OLDaily rolls) about a relatively new research report about Inter Partes Reexaminations by the USPTO. This will be a bit longer post about more of the info contained in the report from the Institute for Progress. Patent attorney Michael C. Smith sent me a link to this information, but it took me a month to pay attention due to all kinds of lousy reasons.

Here are a few quotes from the report:

  • "Despite a mandate for "special dispatch", the time required to complete an inter partes re-examination is much longer than commonly believed."
  • "Reexamination, particularly inter partes reexamination is not simply used as an alternative to litigation, but an integral part of litigation strategy – more than half (52%) of patents in inter partes reexams are known to be in litigation during their reexamination"
  • "Without appeal, the average pendency period for inter partes re-exam is 43.5 months, much longer than the 28.5 months reported by the USPTO"
  • "Although no inter partes re-exam has ever been completed after being appealed, the average pendency for appealed inter partes reexams is 78.4 months."
They mention the problems associated with the concurrent litigation in the courts and the reexamination process at the USPTO. Some judges withhold rulings until the USPTO is finished (not Judge Clark in the D2L-BB case), while others proceed without concern for the reexamination (that would be Clark). Of course this puts the judges in a tough spot, "How reliable are initial office actions as a predictor of final results in a reexamination? How long will the process take? How often are the patent examiner’s finding upheld on appeal?" The authors attempt to answer the question about how long (and the answer is REALLY LONG), but the others are left unanswered at this time.

All told, this really looks ugly. Unless this case turns out to be different from the norm, we can expect the reexamination to last for quite some time longer (as in years). Judge Clark will continue to rule on the court case regardless of what is happening (not much apparently, think of paint drying) at the USPTO related to the reexam, and Clark is clearly in Blackboard's camp which puts him in very select company, at least among those who know anything about the IMS/VLE development in the early days.

Via the Intellectual Asset Management blog where there is also a follow-up post.

D2L and Blackboard - Getting Uglier

Wow. It's kind of hard to come up with anything else to say about the letter D2L sent out today and also posted on their Patent Info Blog. Needless to say, D2L isn't taking Blackboard's press assault last week laying down. In particular, they refute several of the public and private comments made by Blackboard's Chief Legal Officer Matthew Small about Blackboard's Motion for Contempt against D2L.

D2L's legal response will be filed next week. In the meantime they respond on their blog to some of the comments made last week. As I tend to say about this stuff, it will probably get more interesting before it gets more dull.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Embedding Music Playlists in VLE

If part of your educational game plan is to provide music listening choices to your students, you have an increasing variety of choices for how to accomplish that. You can direct them to any of these sites or you can embed selected playlists into a blog post (as shown here) or inside your VLE or any other webpage where you have authoring control.

My favorite for some time now has been imeem.com. Below is a reprint of part of my post when I made imeem my #5 free web tool for 2007.

imeem is now my (free) music provider of choice. I still like Pandora which was on my 2006 list, but imeem has gone a long way toward making it legal for me to listen to almost any full-length track that I want to, in the order that I want to, as often as I want to. You can create playlists using any music that you can find on the site, such as the one embedded below with a selection of holiday music. Here is the link to this playlist at imeem.



The fact that you can embed a playlist like that on any webpage also makes it extremely useful. I like the fact that I can put it on any blog I choose, but I can also put it on any other webpage where I have writing permissions, such as on a page inside a VLE (virtual learning environment such as D2L or Blackboard) for an online class.

Notice that not all the songs in that playlist are full-length. When I am logged in to my imeem account and using the playlist at their site, they are all full-length. By embedding the playlist, some songs are shortened to 30 seconds depending upon licensing agreements between imeem and the music company in question. Songs on imeem will be only a 30-second preview if the artist or record label has not signed an agreement with imeem giving approval for full-length streaming. Their interpretation of copyright fair use principles indicates that a 30-second preview is acceptable. When you search for a song on imeem you'll see right away whether it is a preview or full-length.

For songs that you already have on your computer, you can upload them to your imeem account and listen to them full-length, regardless of whether imeem otherwise has permission for that song.

You can use your imeem account to store and play audio and videos, and also to store and display photos. It can easily be used for podcasting, as explained here in their FAQ section. Although I haven't done it, it would be easy to embed the player inside your VLE, then each time a new podcast is uploaded it will appear in the player for students or other subscribers to listen to. For video files, imeem supports many different file types, but recommends .MPEG, .MOV, .FLV, and .AVI for optimum results. The suggested video size is 400x300, but other sizes will work as well. For music files, imeem supports mp3s only, with a recommended sampling rate of 44.1 kHz. At this time there are no maximum file size limitations for uploading video or other file types.

imeem certainly has it's critics since some people don't like anything that is ad-supported. But come on, they're doing all the heavy lifting by dealing directly with the a-hole record companies, they're helping make it legal to access your music from any Internet connection, and they're enabling you to legally share the music of other account holders. In my book, that's a pretty good deal. Did I mention that it's free?

Another choice: Songza

Songza is a little bit like iMeem, although doesn't yet seem to have as much functionality built into it. First thing I noticed is that Songza is built on the Skreemr music search engine. Apparently one way that they are solving their copyright issues is by providing mostly live versions of songs, and some of which are clearly not the "official" version such as from a live album. Still, I was able to find many songs that I liked and able to build a playlist of songs to be saved for my next visit, such as this version of Black Betty.






iMeem has a better interface, has more songs available, allows you to save more than one playlist, and allows you to embed a playlist as opposed to a single song as shown above from Songza. As of this writing, I very definitely still prefer iMeem, but I'll be keeping my eye on Songza.

Another choice: seeqpod

Seeqpod.com is another fast-growing music site. Here is a playlist that I threw together rather quickly, but it somewhat mirrors a train of thought and discovery that I followed. I searched for a .38 Special song that I like, and from that I let the Discover button lead me to lots of other music that also fits my musical taste buds. .38 Special led me to Molly Hatchet, which led to Creedence and then Skynyrd and then James Gang and Rick Derringer and on and on. It was actually a lot of fun.


SeeqPod - Playable Search

As you can see, the playlists are embeddable in blogs and other webpages (such as your VLE). One thing I like about these services is that they are simply playing songs that otherwise exist out there on the net somewhere or another. In other words, you're not the one uploading and serving up the song - someone else is doing that for you.

Something else that is sort of fun about this is that there are a bunch of videos (mostly from YouTube) that you can find when you search. Most of these videos are home grown live concert footage made by fans. Variable quality to be sure, but there are definitely some nuggets in there.

Oldie but Goody: Pandora

Based on the Music Genome Project, Pandora allows you to customize your own music channels so that you can listen to your favorite songs or artists, and other tunes similar to those. From the website: "Together we set out to capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level. We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or "genes" into a very large Music Genome. Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical musical identity of a song - everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony. It's not about what a band looks like, or what genre they supposedly belong to, or about who buys their records - it's about what each individual song sounds like. Over the past 6 years, we've carefully listened to the songs of over 10,000 different artists - ranging from popular to obscure - and analyzed the musical qualities of each song one attribute at a time. This work continues each and every day as we endeavor to include all the great new stuff coming out of studios, clubs and garages around the world.""Over 400 different musical aspects are considered when selecting the next song. Examples of these are rhythm syncopation, key tonality, vocal harmonies and displayed instrumental proficiency." (from Wikipedia)

In the screenshot you can see that for my Natalie Merchant channel, it first played My Skin from her Ophelia recording, then played a song by Sarah McLachlan, then one by Jessica Stone, then the Guilded Cage, and then another song by Natalie Merchant, This House is on Fire.

This is great to have open in a browser while you're working for a little background music. You can even train it to provide more of the music that you like and less of those that you don't like. Overall, it is very cool. No download, all web-based, access your channels from any Internet connection, and totally free.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blackboard "Really Cares"

That title just seemed like such a nicer way of saying that BLACKBOARD SUCKS! But then again, there's nothing newsworthy about that. It's pretty hard to find anyone that doesn't think that Blackboard is really a terrible corporate citizen - except of course for those Turnitin-haters like me who think Bb is the second-worst higher ed vendor in existence.

The D2L blog reports that Blackboard filed a Motion for Contempt in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. They (D2L) say that they learned about it first from a reporter. Is that anything like when a baseball manager hears that he's been fired from his job by watching SportsCenter? I'm thinking it's pretty similar.

As Michael points out, Blackbeard apparently coordinated their filing announcement so that they would get maximum online press coverage with articles appearing in at least three online news sources at basically the same time.

According to the Chronicle article: "Diane M. Lank, Desire2Learn's general counsel and director of legal affairs, said in an interview on Tuesday that the company remains confident that the new version does not infringe Blackboard's patent. "We took great pains to study their expert's testimony and so forth and make sure that we were far away from how they thought that we were infringing," she said."

Matthew Small of Blackboard (interesting comment about him at IHE,) says that D2L is "totally flouting the court order" by making only cosmetic changes to their new version. The judge in Texas clearly thinks that Blackboard is in the right on all of this crappola, so I expect this to get worse for D2L before it gets better.

Desire2Pod Cast 20 - Jason Ohler

Jason Ohler from the University of Alaska will be the closing keynote speaker at the 2008 Desire2Learn User Conference next month in Memphis, Tennessee. Jason and I talked for about 20 minutes on the telephone yesterday about the work he does with new media, new literacies, and digital storytelling. This podcast episode also includes a few hints about his conference keynote which is titled: Web 2.1 and the World of the Multimedia Collage.

(NOTE: I removed the generic audio player that was in this post now that Odeo has fixed their problems. Edited June 21, and July 20, 2008)

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The first 19 episodes of this podcast series have been published using Odeo.com, however I am having increased difficulties with the site and finally had to post this episode at the Internet Archrive (archive.org) which is why the player above looks different from the rest of the series. Maybe Odeo will start to work properly again, but I am beginning to lose faith. After uploading the file three different times and not having it processed properly, the exact same file was rendered quickly and easily by the Internet Archive.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Desire2Pod Cast 19 - George Siemens

It's been a while since the last installment in the Desire2Pod series, but it's time to start getting geared up for the 2008 Desire2Learn User Conference this summer in Memphis. Last year I started the practice of interviewing the keynote speakers for a brief preview of their upcoming presentation at the conference. This year I am continuing that very short tradition.


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This is a 20-minute teaser about the upcoming keynote address by George Siemens. His Keynote topic is: "Connectives and Collectives: Learning Alone, Together." George is a proponent of a learning theory called Connectivism. At that same site you will find one of his blogs as well as other useful information such as this wiki.

Another blog of his, elearnspace, is one of the required readings in my educational blog roll. George is a very frequent speaker at educational technology events, but he certainly has not reached the point of over saturation. One reason I say that is that this is the first time I will be attending a conference where George is the keynote. Compare that with some of the speakers that I have seen 4-6 times over the past couple of years. Suffice it to say that I am very much looking forward to learning (again) from George.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Web 2.0 inside D2L - Netvibes as Home Page

This video shows how you can use an alternate home page in the newest version (8.3) of Desire2Learn. I chose to use a Netvibes start page in place of the normal home page in D2L. With Netvibes you have the ability to create custom pages (via different tabs) that allows you to drive content to students. In order to make this appear to students you would need to use the public page, not the private page. Here's my public Netvibes page NOT embedded in D2L.

Here is the link to my Blip.tv site in case the embed doesn't work. The audio is a bit choppy in spots. Sorry about that, but close enough for me.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Virtual High School Newbies

I had the good fortune of addressing a group of high school teachers yesterday morning as a kick-off for their venture into e-Learning. They came from various high schools in a section of the state where there are declining high school enrollments and ever-increasing encroachment from online high schools in the state and beyond. This is really a visionary journey that they are embarking on as they are not trying to create a charter school, or a private school, but rather create e-learning opportunities for the students in their district while still operating as the existing high schools in the district.

In this first set of slides I'll show the information that I gathered from them at the beginning of the presentation. I wanted to know a little bit more about them, about their hopes and fears, and about their expectations for what their experiences will be with online learning. My presentation came at the beginning of a two-day professional development opportunity where they were going to get a crash course in online teaching and learning. (Click the green Play triangle to hear the narration)



Here are a few of the most interesting (to me) take-aways from this group:
  • 39% say they are excited about this new adventure, but 61% say they are either tentative or terrified.
  • 41% say that they expect the online students to be isolated from their peers, but only 10% say that they expect the online teachers to be isolated from their peers.
  • 41% say that they expect the online students to learn less than other students.
  • 48% say that they expect online students to spend less time on task than other students.
  • 66% expect to work harder than they ever have before.
Soon I'll be posting another set of slides that looks at ten of the lessons learned during our first eleven years of online learning. That was the second part of the presentation.