Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another Switch from Blackboard to Desire2Learn

As many of you know, I am always interested in the comings and goings of the LMS wars. Who's leaving Blackboard and what are they going to? I rarely have to ask the opposite question - who's migrating to Blackboard from a non-Blackboard platform - because it almost NEVER happens.

The latest one to catch my eye was the University of Surrey in the UK. Here's their press release about choosing D2L. Nowhere in the release do they mention what platform they've been on - but it doesn't take much effort to find this on their current website:

So, yes, this is another school switching from Blackbeard to Desire2Learn.

I find portions of their press release to be revealing about their previous experience with BlackCT Vista.

"A new hi-tech system is being introduced at the University of Surrey to enable students to learn on computers and mobile devices via a more personalised platform."

"The new Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), replacing and vastly improving the current system with the latest technology, will mean thousands of students can learn through a flexible and innovative computer system that provides them with more choice."

"It’s called the ‘Desire2Learn® Learning Environment’ and is a result of a six year partnership between the University and the information technology firm Desire2Learn UK Ltd., a member of the Desire2Learn family of companies. It will be set up from this month (October 2011) and is due to go-live in August 2012 for the 2012/2013 academic year."

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Laura Gibbs: Fall Startup News for Faculty Using D2L

Someone I connect with online and consider to be an essential player in my personal learning network is Laura Gibbs, faculty at the University of Oklahoma. Laura and I are mainly connected through Google Plus as well as a Yammer network. Both of those are fairly new additions to the various learning networks that I attempt to engage in. Laura teaches completely online and is one of the least satisfied D2L users that I know.

Most of Laura's issues with the D2L Learning environment appear to me to be things that would also be an issue (IMO) with almost all LMS platforms; primarily related to the closed nature of traditional LMS and lack of true Web 2.0-ish tools. From my reading of her posts, she is also dissatisfied with the lack of a vibrant community of D2L users for sharing and learning.

Laura has been engaged in the past few days in making her courses ready for the start of the new semester. I asked her permission to cross-post some of her G+ posts here in an effort to reach a different audience. she agreed, so here they are. (Laura's words will be bulleted.)

Here's an example of her unhappiness. After I posted a link on G+ to my recent blog post about the D2L Student Success System, Laura replied with this:
  • "why do I learn about this from you and not from D2L? Why is there STILL no viable D2L online community for sharing ideas and strategies? And by viable community, I mean a community with discussions, notifications, sharing of files and media, etc.... gosh, kind of like Google+...!"
Laura definitely gives credit when credit is due. In this recent post, she shares the following:
  • Well, I have to say KUDOS to the guys at Desire2Learn... normally I budget appx. 8 hours per course to adjust all my course object dates every semester (ugh, it is the task I dread the most of getting ready for school), since in the past I have had to do that manually... but this semester, thanks to the magic power of OFFSET DATE I was able to reduce that 8 hour task to about 45 minutes!!!
  • For those of you at the University of Oklahoma, in case you want to take advantage of this EXCELLENT new feature at Desire2Learn:
  • For Weeks 1-7 of the Fall semester we are 217 days ahead of Spring 2011.
    For Week 8 - use caution! That was Spring Break of Spring 2011.
    For Weeks 9-12 of the Fall semester we are 210 days ahead of Spring 2011.
    For Week 13 - use caution! That is when Thanksgiving falls in Fall 2011.
    For Weeks 14-15 of the Fall semester we are 217 days ahead of Spring 2011.

  • I was able to automatically offset my dates for 13 weeks of the semester, leaving me just two weeks (Week 8 and Week 13), where I had to fiddle a little bit, using a mixture of automated and manual date changes.
  • THANK YOU, Desire2Learn! I have been waiting for this literally for years, and it will save me a solid two days of course preparation time that I can devote to something far more worthwhile than manually adjusting dates in the system. I am VERY grateful.
  • You will find this genius new feature in the Edit Course - Manage Dates menu, as shown in the screenshot below.

In another post she also highlights another new addition to the D2L LE, rearranging gradebook items:
  • Another nice new feature at Desire2Learn - it used to be that while the Gradebook items could be rearranged with numbers, for the Quizzes you had to bang a little arrow over and over again to move something. I've had to bang that little arrow as many as 100 times or more to move something up or down!
  • I would pick a favorite song and listen to it, banging in time with the music to make it (somewhat) less tedious. Now they have changed that to a numbered system.
  • Okay, that's good! But here's a question: in the Gradebook view, I get to have things nested: items appear in categories so I can rearrange items AND I can rearrange categories. Why doesn't it work the same way in the Quiz area? That would be even better - in addition to being a more consistent interface.

One more from Laura. I'm not sure if this issue is related to settings in place just at OU, or if everyone will have similar issues, regardless of settings. I'll update this post if I get clarification on this:
  • Okay, I have had two good Desire2Learn experiences (see previous posts about offset dates and homepage widgets) as I get ready for Fall, and now one seriously BAD thing... I just found out that the "notifications" feature that is new in D2L for us this Fall is GLOBAL - there can only be one notification standard for all students for all courses at our entire university.
  • Eegad: students cannot choose to have the notifications visible or not, and even instructors cannot choose for their own courses. That really sucks for me.
  • When a student logs on at D2L, for my course they will see the notification below: almost 200 unattempted quizzes. Well, that is true, but it is totally irrelevant and misleading information: my courses are set up so that students CHOOSE from a huge range of options for what they will do the complete the course.
  • Nobody is expected to take all 200 quizzes (which are not even quizzes, for that matter - they are "work declarations" for the most part) - so even as students get near the end of the course, they will still see this message about all the unattempted quizzes, giving them a totally wrong and discouraging message - because those quizzes are not really quizzes, and the students are not supposed to be attempting them all anyway.

  • This really bugs me: it is just CARELESS DISREGARD for users on the part of D2L that they did not set this up so that students or, at least, instructors, could enable or disable that notification.
  • Just when I start thinking D2L might have learned something from the customizability that is a hallmark of web2.0, I discover something like this. Ugh. My students are going to see a wrong and misleading "notification" every single time they log into my class... and there is not a darn thing I can do about it.
So there you have it. If you want to learn more from Laura, you can add her to one of your circles in Google Plus.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The FUSION Buzz - All About Analytics

While "attending" the D2L Users Conference, FUSION, in Denver this month, there was no other topic mentioned as much as the Action Analytics project that is currently under development. During the Product Launch presentation, John Baker and Jeremy Auger brought Brian C up on the stage to run through a little demo.

I was expecting to see the continued build out of a project that was started at MnSCU a couple of years ago, and that's exactly what I saw. I had the pleasure of working on this project with Al Essa and a few other folks while both Al and I were employed within MnSCU. Several things have changed since then: Al now works for D2L, I now work for nobody, and MnSCU killed the development project of what was easily the most innovative thing that has been done there in many years.

What we called Action Analytics at MnSCU, is called the Student Success System at D2L. However, before I go on, let me make it clear that although there are many similarities between the two projects, the D2L project did not continue the work started at MnSCU; they created a similar, but different, analytics prototype.

The demo was shown on a touch-screen (probably an iPad) tablet. The visuals begin below with what you might think of as a "seating chart" for an online classroom. For each student you get a visual reference to the progress that they are making in the class - currently shown as the small icon in the lower right corner of each student photo. Of course, the visuals will likely continue to evolve as the projects proceeds.

To learn more about a particular student, you will simply click (or touch) the photo to drill down to more information. Or, as the photo below illustrates, you can filter the class enrollees to see which of them are at-risk, or doing great, or whatever.

In this case, Bobby D isn't doing very well in the class. The next view will provide information about the how well prepared the student is for college-level work, how well prepared he is for this particular class, and similar things such as how much the student has engaged with various course tools or other requirements.

The tool will also be used (if desired) to help predict the likelihood of student success based on comparisons with other students in the class or with previous students in similar sections. Much of this predictive use of the data is still being researched (generally speaking, by everyone doing this type of analytics work) and the final functionality or utility of these predictions is not certain.

Once a student has been identified as being at-risk of non-completion, failure, or other negative consequences; various possible remedies/interventions/reactions are possible that can be initiated by the instructor or advisor, or whoever else is using such a tool.

There are still many things to be worked out before this SSS is ready for prime time, but the D2L team appears to be making tremendous progress down this road.

Now would be a very good time for colleges and universities to start thinking about what policies and procedures they need to put in place in order to effectively use this type of tool. Who will have access to it, what actions can they initiate with or without approval of someone else, should students be allowed to opt-out of such a system - and about a hundred other questions that will come up. I know someone who could help with that project.

I am proud of the work that we did at MnSCU on a similar project, and I am excited to see the prime-time version of this tool when D2L is ready to release it. Different timelines for release have been bandied about, anywhere from 3 -12 months (Oct. 2011 to July 2012).

I've looked at several other data analytics projects that use data from an LMS. In my opinion, this is by far the best I've seen. Yep, by far.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Blackboard Client Exodus

Last week I sort of attended the D2L Users Conference (D2L11), also called FUSION, in Denver, Colorado. I love Denver and the surrounding area, but since I grew up in Cheyenne I've never been too impressed by the whole "Mile High City" stuff. Cheyenne is over 6000 feet in elevation, which I believe is higher than one measly mile.

I was a presenter at the Unconference (emceed by Kyle Mackie) that preceded the main conference, and I closed the evening with a little ditty titled "If I had a Beer..." This unconventional presentation was half-serious and half not-so-much. The basic premise was that a nickle is not really worth very much, so the whole "If I had a nickle for every time I've heard that" thing just doesn't seem to add up for me. However, if I had a beer for each of those times - then I'd really have something of value.

For example - the bit started with the following.

  • If I had a beer...
  • for every stinking time I've
  • clicked a link on the INTERNET
  • only to find that it was a link to a WORD document,
  • then I'd have a whole boatload of beers.
That was followed by a short rant about how stupid it is to put non-web documents on the WORLD WIDE WEB when it's just as easy and much better to put up a web-friendly document instead. There were about 10 of these little snippets of things that either make me crazy or make me go "huh?"

The final little snippet of the evening was a little shot at Blackboard, the recently acquired former-juggernaut in higher education. It went a little something like this, although there were graphics included: (BTW, these were not intended to rhyme, nor did they do so)
  • If I had a beer...
  • for each of the Blackboard clients,
  • that is currently looking elsewhere,
  • then I'd never go thirsty
  • with at least 300 beers in my fridge.
Later that evening, someone highly placed in the LMS industry told me that my number seemed a bit too low. Their research has indicated as many as 700 Bb clients are currently considering a switch to a different LMS.

Seems to me that 300 is a really big number when it comes to potentially lost clients. Clearly 700 is an incredible number. It's also true that Blackbeard won't lose all of the captives (err, clients) - but it begs the question of what percentage of these clients are they likely to lose? If the past few years are any indication, my guess is that they will lose over 50% of the customers who evaluate BlackAngel's offerings in comparison to the competition.

The pic shown below is a view of part of the enthralled audience at the Unconference.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Is Blackbeard Sinking?

The current (5/18/2011) Wikipedia entry for Blackbeard (aka Edward Teach) is most excellent. It states:

"A shrewd and calculating leader, (Blackbeard) Teach avoided the use of force, relying instead on his fearsome image to elicit the response he desired from those he robbed. Contrary to the modern-day picture of the traditional tyrannical pirate, he commanded his vessels with the permission of their crews and there are no known accounts of his ever having harmed or murdered those he held captive."

With just a few slips of the fingers on the keyboard, it could easily be:

"A shrewd and calculating vendor, (Blackboard) Learn avoided the use of force, relying instead on its fearsome image to elicit the response they desired from those they robbed. Contrary to the modern-day picture of the traditional tyrannical pirate, they commanded their clients with the permission of their crews and there are no known accounts of ever having harmed or murdered those they held captive."

The funny part is that their captives keep escaping from the Blackboard stockade. Even though they're locked in for a while, sooner or later there is a small hole in the wall where the captives can get a glimpse of freedom - and then the vast majority of them flee as if their lives depended upon it. At least that's the way it appears to me.

Of course I can't prove anything (and chances are, neither can they), but I'm of the opinion that the recent Blackboard "news" about potential suitors interested in buying them out is nothing more than a fabrication. It certainly was a profitable fabrication (okay, possible fabrication) since the stock price got the intended bounce after the "news" got published, discussed, and digested.

You do have to ask yourself who would be interested in buying this pirate ship. It certainly seems to be sinking. At least the lead ship of the fleet (the LMS) is taking on water at an alarming rate. The other ships in the arsenal might be staying high and dry - including Transact (card transactions) and Connect (emergency notification), and maybe they are attracting potential suitors.

So what's up with the Bb LMS? Well, many of the old WebCT customers parted company when they had the chance to do so. Here are just a few recent examples:

1) Howard CC is taking their 29,000 students from BlackCT to Instructure.
2) Flinders University is moving their 19,000 students from BlackCT Vista to Moodle,
3) Auburn U is moving 25,000 students from Vista to either D2L or Instructure,
4) CU-Boulder's 31,000 students will leave BlackCT for D2L
5) Univ of Greenwich is moving 26,000 students from BlackCT to Moodle
6) University of Florida is moving 55,000 students from BlackCT to Sakai

Likewise, many of the Angel customers are unhitching their dinghy from the Blackboard ship. For example:

1) Providence College will be moving their 4,600 students from BlackAngel to either Moodle or Sakai.
2) Univ of Oklahoma School of Nursing (1,600) is moving from BlackAngel to D2L.
3) Marylhurst Univ. (11,000) switched from BlackAngel to Moodle.
4) Univ. of Waterloo (30,000) is moving from BlackAngel to D2L.
5) SUNY Plattsburgh (6,000+) is moving from BlackAngel to Moodle.

These are some very short lists gleaned from a much longer list of schools that have already decided to leave from one of the various flavors of Blackboard or are currently contemplating a move. I will continue to analyze the validity of, and continue to post more information from the list sent to me that indicates over 300 schools and consortia that have either decided to leave Blackboard or are currently evaluating a switch from Blackboard.

Just one more note about this list - all of the data is from 2010 and after. This doesn't include all the schools that dumped Bb prior to 2010 (of which there are many).

Just one more note about this list - No, I can't send you the list. It's not mine to share in its entirety.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Chatting with John Baker about the future of D2L

Last week I had the opportunity to chat with John Baker, CEO of D2L for 30 minutes or so. I was telling him how I am frequently contacted by various people about two main questions:

1) my experiences over the past 7.5+ years as a D2L client (now ended, unless an unemployed person can still be a "client").

2) my opinions about the future of D2L, especially from an investment perspective. In particular, these questions tend to fall into two main categories:
=> a) do I think D2L is going to sell out to the highest bidder (this Q has been around for all of those 7.5+ yrs.), and
=> b) is D2L preparing to issue an IPO (initial public offering of stock) and go public?

John and I talked at length about these things. I told him that the speculation about an IPO seemed to be especially hot right now. He told me that this is not something that they have even talked about, and that he has no interest in even looking at that possibility at this time.

For a company like D2L, going public would serve to crush their corporate culture, IMO. They currently only have themselves to answer to, and that seems to work quite well for them. Stockholders, meeting Wall Street expectations, constant pressure on revenue growth and earning growth - who needs it, right?

Either selling out or going public would certainly serve the purpose of cashing in on their position in the LMS market, but that's about all it would do. If the D2L decision makers were interested in either of these options, they would most likely have already done so or at least be on the verge of doing so. But I'm very certain that they are quite happy in their own skins right now. I believe him when he tells me that they are not considering either one of those options.

Speaking about Wall Street expectations, has anyone checked lately to see the size of the short interest in Blackboard? The short interest represents the number (and %) of shares that have been sold short - which means that the investor doesn't actually own the stock, but they are expecting/hoping/gambling that the price of the shares will do down. Since Feb. 2010, the # of shares sold short has increased rather steadily from 7.67 million to the current level of 13.48 million, which represents 45% of the float in Blackboard. Ouch. You've gotta wonder what that feels like to have so many people betting against you.

Just for reference, Microsoft is looking at short interest of just over 1%, as is CISCO. Even Yahoo only has a short interest of 4.8% of float, and they can't get out of their own way in screwing up everything they touch. One more point of reference. As I write this, Blackboard is in the top 5 for the largest short positions on the NASDAQ (as % of float).

How is that related to D2L? Probably in several ways, but in particular I'll just say that D2L doesn't have to worry about this kind of stuff while they remain a private company. I personally believe that this is one reason why D2L has remained focused on education and educators. They don't have to deal with all the Wall Street distractions. They should keep it that way.

(CC attribution image by rightee)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

LMS for Sale - But Probably Not D2L

An LMS company with a code name of LPO Co. is for sale, according to the Wavepoint website. I'm pretty sure that it's not the London Philharmonic Orchestra LMS, and I'm also pretty sure that it isn't Desire2Learn.

There are always rumors (okay, often, not always) about whether D2L owners are going to take the money and run. At first blush, I think it's pretty easy to see why some people might jump to the conclusion that D2L is the unnamed company on this website, based on some of the sales info related to the mystery company, such as:

  • "a private North American based technology firm" (notice they don't say a U.S. company, so Canada comes to mind, and D2L is privately held).
  • "a leading provider of Learning Management System (LMS) technology with prestigious clients" (D2L is generally considered to be the #2 LMS company (at least size-wise) and all of their user base considers themselves to be prestigious, of course).
  • " Since 2001, LPO Co. has had on average an annual growth rate of 40%" (that sounds like a lot of growth, which D2L has had, and sounds like about the right year for that growth to have started).
  • "expand their markets internationally with offices now established in 3 other countries" (yep, D2L has offices in Canada, the U.S., and Australia)
  • "one of the fastest growing companies in North America in the learning management sector" (that statement probably applies to D2L)
  • "has developed an award winning learning management system" (yes, but everybody can win an award these days, doesn't make you special).
  • "Proven scalable and robust solutions – deployed in some of the largest global networks" (well, D2L is deployed in some of the largest higher ed installations - not sure if that means the same thing).
  • "Adherence to AICC, SCORM and IMS standards" (although just about anybody can say that sort of thing, apparently)
I'm guessing that many people look at some of those statements and immediately think of D2L. I'm also guessing that they're wrong about that. Here's why I don't think D2L is disguised as LPO Co.
  • Just on general principles. I don't think D2L would be shopping itself in this manner. Doesn't make sense and probably not a good strategy to attract the right buyer.
  • Just playing the odds - as Wavepoint says, the LMS market is "made up of more than 60 different providers." Chances are good that it is someone else (but who?).
  • "has developed partnerships with a number of internationally recognized technology and HR companies that act as resellers." To my knowledge, nobody is a reseller of D2L.
  • "Approximately 4 million registered users of its learning management system." This one should be pretty easy to verify, but I think they have a much larger user base than 4 million. There are 400,000+ user accounts just within Minnesota.
  • All of us in higher ed tend to think about the LMS market of consisting of the 6-8 companies who tend to have the market cornered in higher ed. This listing sounds like one of those corporate training LMS solutions - there are many out there, but most of us don't know much about them.
Rather than add to this list right now (heading into a meeting) - how about a little crowd-sourcing in the comments for this post? Why do you believe or not believe that LPO equals D2L?

Photo (CC-by) Marcin Wichary