Were you shocked? Worried? Pleased? Indifferent? I?d like to welcome you to this two week seminar on the ?merger? between WebCT and Blackboard and invite you to share your reactions.
For the past few weeks, just about everyone involved in educational technology has been discussing the news from WebCT and Blackboard. Those are the proprietary learning management systems which seem to have conquered the world, and anyone who is not familiar with them, may want to visit the company websites for an overview.
If you have been following the discussions, you?ll know that some of the opinions reflect an institutional response; others have presented an industry perspective. As we begin this seminar, I?d like to propose that we focus for a short while on individual reactions.
My reasoning is that, often, after we read the views of the ?experts? on an issue, we conclude that our personal responses aren?t important, and we set them aside, instead of expressing them. In this forum, I?d like invite you to recall your very first thoughts on hearing the announcements. I hope some common themes will emerge from your individual reflections, and then we can use those themes to help us draw out the implications for our practice, now and in the future.
For me, the news came on Oct. 12th in an email to WebCT users from Carole Vallone, WebCT CEO. The subject of the message was Important Communication from WebCT and Blackboard. Frankly, I get one of these ?important? messages from WebCT several times a week and I almost didn?t read it. When I did, I was simply amazed. I had been at the WebCT conference in San Francisco in the summer and there wasn?t even a hint that changes of this kind were in the works. When I checked the WebCT website, I was redirected to the Blackboard website for a press release.
My first thoughts were of all the years I had spent building my expertise in WebCT, to add value to my own teaching and, later, to support other teachers. Did Carole?s announcement make that all worthless? Did any one else react the same way?
I can understand your feelings about having learned WebCT. While working on my degree in journalism about a decade ago I was required to take a graphics course where we learned PageMaker. When I got my first job at a paper I was disapointed to learn that I suddenly had to learn QuarkXPress, which had become a standard without our university noticing.
As for my reaction to the merger, I have had some mixed feelings. Will they take the best of both programs? Will open source triumph? What about First Class?
Most of my experience is with WebCT although I did use First Class for discussion boards about five years ago. I have no experience with BlackBoard. This board is my only experience with Moodle.
One concern that I have is in relation to the users. How many professors or K-12 teachers have just gotten comfortable with whichever courseware they are using (WebCT or BlackBoard) and may have to experience a significant change (even to an open source version)? What about students?
I think it's too early to know what the results of this merger will be. We'll have to wait and see and hope that they ask some ID people for advice before making any radical changes.
I'm keen to use something new as I've not been impressed with WebCT, which is getting older and older and doesn't seem to change with the times at all.
I am a little concerned, as Heather is, about people just getting comfortable with one platform and being forced to learn another.
On the other hand, this is not the stage in the development of learning management systems when we can honestly say that all the innovation is over and we can converge on a solution. In the mean time, there will inevitably be a lot of flux and we can either sit it out or we can get used to an experience that involves a lot of change in the user experience.
I am somewhat familiar with moodle, and have installed a demo version on my own server, but seeing it here makes me think that sfu will support it and I am interested in having it for my own course - in place of webCT. Can I do that?
I see no reason to stop you, especially you have Moodle installed on your own server. SFU right now has no formal policy to support Moodle. However, we just started the development of a pilot course in Moodle at Surrey campus. This is part of the BCcampus's Moodle trial project SFU surrey is participating. With the gradual retirement of the home-grown CMS it's currently using, SFU surrey campus is at the cross-road where to head next. WebCT is an obvious choice, since it's supported university wide; however, faculty members want to explore alternatives. Moodle is one option.
I know individual people are using Moodle at SFU. It is the typical grass-root approach that has made Moodle so successful among its users. If there are enough people using Moodle at SFU, who knows, maybe the university will support it one day. In any case, if you are a user, you will get a lot of support from the Moodle community.
I was quite astounded to hear about the merger of WebCT and BlackBoard. A number of years ago, not that long after the first takeover, when WebCT was bought out by ULT (Universal Learning Technologies in 1999), Henk Schotel (a Dr. C expert), posted an April 1st joke to the WebCT discussion list that WebCT had merged with BlackBoard. That memory was what first came to my mind, and I said to myself 'this is not April 1st'. In fact, shortly after the announcement on the WebCT discussion list, Henk posted a note that the merger was not his responsibility this time.
My initial reaction was a bit of dismay. I have become quite wed to WebCT and would be reluctant to see it become a shadow of its former self, even in name (ULT gave up their name for WebCT). However, when WebCT was initially taken over by ULT in 1999 I was also dismayed and was worried about that take over.
Maybe a bit of my background is in order. I teach philosophy at Thompson Rivers University and have been using WebCT since 1997 (Version 1) as a beta tester with Murray Goldberg (founder of WebCT) through UBC. I now use WebCT Ver 4.1 in all of my courses, both face-to-face and a couple of online ones. Some of my modules are very simple, others are quite elaborate. I have experimented creating modules with both BlackBoard and Moodle. My simple course modules would work in either BlackBoard or Moodle, so for those I would be indifferent which platform my institution supported. However, my complex modules at this point in time would require a lot of reworking to work in either BlackBoard or Moodle, and would not totally work in either. I am currently working through a tutorial on WebCT Ver 6 and I like a number of its features quite a bit.
In short, I am not adverse to change, but I am only interested in change if it is going to provide me with a better platform for my courses. My belief now is that only time will tell whether the synergies generated by the merge will accomplish that. I think that the first take over in 1999 turned out to provide a better WebCT product, even though it definitely changed the culture surrounding WebCT (in a negative way ? the company became more commercial and less of a joint community working toward a common goal).
I think that for a lot of small institutions, commercial LMS/CMS has become prohibitively expensive and they will go the Open Source, such as Moodle, route. Or, they will form a collaboration with other institutions, on the model of something like BCcampus. Other institutions that have the resources and that are developing a comprehensive delivery system for all courses using some LMS integrated with enterprise systems (institutional software managing grades/personal information, etc.) will have a more difficult decision to make. I think that it is highly unlikely that they will switch to Open Source at this time. In large part because they simply do not have the resources to maintain their current service model and retrain all their faculty and students in using a new system. Open University in the UK is switching over to Moodle and they are committing $US5 million to the conversion. From the analyses that I have read, if you want a complete integrated system, Open Source is no cheaper than commercial packages.
My 2cents, I have to get back to marking now.
This is possibly true, although one of the benefits is that instead of bundling up your payments, putting them in little envelopes, and sending them to (peoplesoft, microsoft, blackboard) head office you are investing in people who are local to your community. I like that idea.
I know that the money SFU has spent on peoplesoft would buy a LOT of programmer time. Perhaps not enough to build a system from scratch, but as a stake in a collaborative system - and a contribution to a global community - it might be enough.
In the case of Open U's investment in moodle, they will benefit but so will colleges and universities all over the world. And then each of those places can make a small contribution - at the level they can afford - and improve it further or adapt it to local situation. This makes so much sense to me.
It really is the academic model of "standing on the shoulders of giants." Isaac Newton would have had a hard time standing on those shoulders if he had to pay licence fees for all his ideas.
(Incidently, have you seen Merton's marvelous derivation of the "standing on shoulders" quote? It goes WAY back before Newton... and in so doing illustrates Newton's point exactly - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0226520862/102-3845699-1372923?v=glance&n=283155&v=glance).
I have to say that I agree with Richard's response. It probably won't be cheaper, but the money you spend on an open source system is generally an investment that goes back to the community. People will be able to share that knowledge. Besides, for an open source system, there would be no annual license fee. That money can be spent to develop a better tool, for example, and share your innovation with other members in the community, and vice versa.
As a couple of you have focused in on my claim that "From the analyses that I have read, if you want a complete integrated system, Open Source is no cheaper than commercial packages," I will comment further.
In BC no one institution has the economic clout, that OU does in the UK, to muster $US5 million to even attempt an Open Source, integrated solution. One might assert that we can reap the benefits of their labour. However, the OU model of course delivery is quite different than 90% of the models used in BC. Consequently, even if we could tap into their development, because they should contribute their code development back to the OS community, it is very doubtful it would be of significant use to us.
In the future, post-secondary institutional systems (CMS/LMS/Colleague/Banner, etc.) need to be totally integrated at the institutional level, not only for efficiency of service to the student (they will demand it) but because of decreased costs. Instutions who do not have these structures will suffer signficant financial penalities. Consequently, to reject the commercial solutions means that there would have to be a consortium of most of the post secondary institutions in BC to develop an Open Source, integrated solution. From previous experience in this province, I doubt that will happen. (And probably for good reason, as such a monolith would be a centralized Goliath.) Consequently, I do not see Open Source being a viable solution for medium to large institutions in BC. These institutions are large enough to require a completely integrated system but they are not large enough to be able to build it themselves with Open Source.
Let's take a look first at efficiency of service. Students want to have access to their courses online, and all that entails, from course outlines, to assignments, to course notes, to marks, to e-mail, to contact with their instructor, to contact with their friends. Most LMS packages can provide most of these functions to a certain degree; however, not too many can completely integrate them with the registrar's office, the finance department, student services, etc [what has come to be known as the enterprise end of things]. This level of integration means that when a person sees their mark in their WebCT/Moodle/BlackBoard course that is the same mark the registrar sees; realtime integration of marks. As well, students want to have one portal to sign into, they don't want numerous user ID's and passwords; they don't want to have to sign into their LMS package and then immediately sign into their institutional enterprise system to see if the mark is the same. The more integrated the systems the happier the student will be. As competition for students increases, being able to market a positive online experience is going to be a major selling point for post-secondary institutions. For example, MIT is working on a project to enable students to track their friends online by GPS via portable devices such as laptops, PDA's, etc. Students are going to expect this type of integration, and an institution that can offer it is going to be more attractive than one that cannot.
But in terms of costs, LMS can significantly reduce the cost of a course, especially large courses to an institution. At TRU our workloads (FTE utilization rates) are being compared to Universities with 300 to 600 lecture theatres. The costs of delivering courses at those universities is significantly lower than at institutions with maximum classes of 40 to 90 students. Consequently, in order to compete with the larger institutions in terms of utilization rates, smaller institutions are going to need to make use of LMS to increase their utilization rates. My guess is that the last FTE goals set by the ministry here in BC were set based upon anticipated improvements in utilization rates due to technological advances.
We are no longer at an early stage in the development of online education; governments want to see some payback for the investment over the past 10 years. Unless institutions can get access to major private endowments to support their idea of small classes with/without technological support, such as is the case in some of the Ivy League Colleges and Universities in the States, one is going to have to meet these new demands and efficiencies. And the justification from the bureaucrats will be that as large universities are doing this and maintaing their standards (and they are doing that) so should you. Large universities are achieving it with major LMS courses.
In terms of cost, to integrate an Opens Source LMS totally with one's enterprise system is going to cost significantly in terms of labour. I have been following a similar discussion on the BB-WebCT-Merge discussion list and the general consensus is that Open Source is not going to save any money. What it does give is control over one's software, but the general consensus is that it definitely will not save money if you want a completely integrated system.
The main import of your message seems to be that advanced services that may have nothing to do with education proper and very large on-line classes will be necessary for competitive and budgetary reasons. Under those conditions proprietary systems may well be the best choice. Is that wrong?
If I have understood, then surely this points toward an unhappy future in which the quality of higher education is significantly degraded. In most people's experience human interaction online in asynchronous forums is quite time consuming even with small classes. So large class will have to forego what we usually think of as an essential contribution teachers have always made to the learning experience, namely, human interaction between students and teachers. Doesn't this take us down the road to "digital diploma mills" in David Noble's harsh expression?
"I wonder if the degree of integration you recommend has been achieved by Moodle. I've heard it has some of these features but I don't know much about this aspect of the software."
From the discussion on the BB-WebCT-Merger List (to subscribe go to http://home.oln.org/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=bb-webct-merge&A=1 ). It appears that there are institutions that are delivering a significant number of courses (over a 1000) to a significant number of students (over 20,000) with Moodle. From the discussion list it does not appear to be many but there do seem to be some. As well, it sounds like some institutions have worked out/are working on the integration of Moodle with the Enterprise software of the institution. However, it is definitely emphasized that the institutions who are doing this have significant IT support in terms of programmers and hardware specialists. These institutions are pleased that they control their software and their future, but it doesn't come cheaply to have that degree of autonomy.
"The main import of your message seems to be that advanced services that may have nothing to do with education proper..."
It is not easy to determine what is part of education proper. When I first started teaching, computers were not considered part of education proper. Today, if you are planning a post-secondary education you better have access to a computer to be able to be successful in almost any course. So are computers now part of education proper. I teach formal logic. Twenty years ago all logic courses required a teaching assistant in order to administer the number of assignments required to master the material. Today, the logic computer programs are so good that one can teach twice the number of students with no TA.
"... and very large on-line classes will be necessary for competitive and budgetary reasons. Under those conditions proprietary systems may well be the best choice. Is that wrong?"
For smaller institutions that do not have the resources to put into IT personel it probably is true. Right now smaller institutions may be better off to go the route of commercial packages if they want a completely integrated system. Here it depends upon how integrated you want it and each institution must do their own analysis to figure that out. Open source isn't a universal panacea that is going to work for everyone. Nevertheless, the better the online experience and the greater the integration the greater chance one will have to compete for the post-secondary student, whether it is with open source or commercial.
"...surely this points toward an unhappy future in which the quality of higher education is significantly degraded. In most people's experience human interaction online in asynchronous forums is quite time consuming even with small classes. So large class will have to forego what we usually think of as an essential contribution teachers have always made to the learning experience, namely, human interaction between students and teachers."
Actually I look at it differently. Large universities have always delivered certain courses in large class format; frequently introductory courses of one type or another, though large class format does not suit itself to all introductory courses. When I was an undergrad in the 60's at the University of Western Ontario I took physics, chemistry and biology in large class format, 300 to 500 students per theatre. And in chemistry, there were a total of 3 theatres. The research done on these classes does not indicate that the learning experience is degraded because of the large size. These large classes are frequently used by disciplines to offset upper division courses that have small sizes. Thus, the larger classes enabling efficient utilization rates for the disicpline, even though they do have some small class sizes.
As well, LMS courseware is significantly enhancing these large courses. I was at a conference this summer where a vice-president from Perdue University discussed how they were using WebCT Vista to track students, especially in large classes though not only large classes. Through the tracking feature of WebCT they were developing strategies for intervening on students who were not displaying the level of participation normally required to be successful in the course. They were using the tracking feature of Vista to attempt to improve retention rates. In these large courses before LMS software this information would never have been determined until way too late. There also can be far greater interaction both with the prof and with fellow students if the functions of the LMS package are setup and incorporated appropriately. So, LMS software is improving the educational experience in large classes.
I guess the basic point is that one size does not fit all. Open Source may work for some institutions but for others commercial packages may be a better solution. And, open source does not come free.
Here, I just like to say a few words about the last point you made - "open source does not come free." If by "free" we mean free beer or free lunch, you are absolutely right ? open source does not come free. I believe hardly anyone would argue with you on that. But if by "free" we mean freedom, then open source does provide that. As you rightly pointed out yourself - "What it [Open Source] does give is control over one's software ..." Control over one's software, is this a kind of freedom? How much is it worth? What is this freedom capable of offering us?
What ?control over one's software? really means is what Tim O'Reilly [*] (Are you cousins, Dan? ;) calls "the architecture of participation" by which he means "the nature of systems that are designed for user contribution." It lowers "barriers to entry by newcomers." It "allows for a real free market of ideas, in which anyone can put forward a proposed solution to a problem; it becomes adopted, if at all, by acclamation and the organic spread of its usefulness."
User contribution, easier entry by new comers, free market of ideas, organic spread of usefulness... How much are all of these worth? How do we measure them in dollar terms? Where does this architecture of participation lead us? Will it give us enough generative power to allow us to create what we want but don't have now? Will this capability continue to benefit us afterwards?
[*] Tim O'Reilly In a Nutshell: Collected writings of the founder of O'Reilly Media, Inc. See also -
http://tim.oreilly.com/articles/paradigmshift_0504.html and http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/3017
I was one of 'shocked' faculty who have become very comfortable with WebCT-Vista. When my university switched platforms, faculty received online training, posted tutorials, and phone support. Students, however, were just provided a web tutorial. It took two quarters before the negative comments ended. I know that was a significant investment (expense).
My greatest concern will be what the product(s) will look like in the next few years. Will Blackboard and WebCT begin to transition slowly so the revisions are barely noticeable? Will there suddenly be a new merged product for everyone to learn? Will 'legacy' versions of both platforms be supported, and if so, for how long?
Dennis W. Mills, PhD
Core Faculty, Instructional Design for Online Learning, Capella University
For the existing WebCT users, both Heather and Dan raised their concerns. These are very representative feelings and logical reactions. This is why right after the announcement was made, I, and am sure many other WebCT users, received a message from WebCT assuring me that I would continue receiving the level of service I always had and my use of WebCT would not be effect. I believe it, but for how long? First, we should be clear that it was not a merger; it was BB acquired WebCT. Let's face it, no company in BB's position will maintain two code bases forever. Why would it fight with itself? Eventually, BB and WebCT will become one and only one product. How is it going to handle the transition - evolution or revolution? I suppose we'll learn eventually. SFU as a current WebCT user has made the decision to upgrade to CE 6. I don't know how long we'll be using CE 6 before we have to face yet another major change.
What does it mean for CMS users in general? Many concern that without the competition this will kill innovation and eventually harm the end users and higher ed. Also institutions who are customers of BB and WebCT will be further locked in. It will make any change (i.e. moving away from them) in the future ever harder.
Personally, I'm not too worried about innovation. After all, we still have a very vibrant open source community. It's been providing most of the innovations anyway and it'll continue doing so. It'll force BB to keep competing, although some think that BB probably considers neither Sakai (http://sakaiproject.org) nor Moodle a threat, with Sakai being elitist and overly ambitious; and Moodle, perhaps too amateurish, or beneath competition. Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell.
As for the vender lock in concern, I see it is a real issue. The longer you stay with a closed system, the harder it is to move away from it. It is not just because you've invested a lot money and time on it but also because the content/data are formatted in a particular way and it would be a hell of job to strip them out and then port into a different system. That's why standards and standard-compliant are so important. I'm not sure to what extent BB and WebCT data are standard-compliant. Now they are two in one, they'd have less incentive to go by standards but more motivation to keep their customers locked in.
From Godfrey Parkin at http://parkinslot.blogspot.com/2005/10/blackboard-webct-swan-song-for-lms.html
What we are seeing is simply further implosion of the dedicated e-learning technology industry. The more oligopolistic this market becomes, the more generic it becomes, and the less able it is to sustain the pretense of any meaningful differential advantage. As open source systems undermine it from below (particularly in the academic arena) and ERP systems make it redundant from above (particularly in the corporate arena), the less relevant this relatively small software market segment becomes.
Hence the increasing investor wariness. Soon to be followed by more enthusiastic uptake of what I have been advocating for ten years now ? educators, trainers, and especially learners will start to focus less on the means and more on the end, invoking whatever technologies happen to be mainstream to facilitate whatever learning experience is most appropriate to them. IT departments will find it easier to wrest away from training departments the decisions about enabling technologies, and learning information flows will move out of their relatively proprietary niche and finally become fully integrated with the rest of the corporate nervous system.
The openness and dynamism of the web will finally be allowed to permeate the thinking of the learning establishment, and Model-T e-learning will succumb to a flood of performance-driven innovation.
When the announcement was received, it gave me great pause because my university had just weathered the transition to WebCT Vista from CE and were, in fact, hosting 3 of our regional campuses on our enterprise level hardware! Simply, we had just invested significant dollars and personnel to bring up VISTA. In addition, we are one of those institutions with integration into BANNER, Luminous, Series 25..... If one system has a hiccup, you must burp all. For the most part, all systems work in concert and together create a masterpiece of access. We need the calm and ability to explore instructional design and development more fully without forcing faculty to learn a new CMS tool again so soon. We need some stability to enrich the learning environment. WebCT has been a responsive vendor that has listened to the concerns of our DBAs & faculty. We appreciate that responsiveness and hope that it will be carried through to the next generation......
What's exciting about this story is how quickly things evolved. Athabasca saw both that Moodle and ELGG addressed their needs. So bingo, they made them work together. No waiting around! Now many many many other people will benefit from this innovation.
SFU currently uses WebCT 4.1, and eventually the university will upgrade to a different WebCT platform or another platform altogether. Now that Blackboard and WebCT are merging, if we continue with the WebCT platform, we'll eventually just upgrade to a combined system. In short, it's not the change that scares me - that's unavoidable, and once you learn one LMS, it's easier to learn a new one. It's like using public transit in a different city - the routes are different, and some rules are changed, but generally, if I follow the maps, I'll get close to where I want to go.
I agree that WebCT is restrictive, and yet so is FirstClass. This is my only experience with Moodle so far, I've never worked in Blackboard and I have only heard reviews of Sakai, so it's hard to me to understand the different between these different platforms.
I just want the different systems to play together better. I'd like a system in which you can integrate multiple plug-ins, and truly make course shell your own.
But my position is different as working at a district office in a distributed system (where 7 colleges use Bb, 2 use WebCT, and one uses something different), I have no daily involvement with our course management systems as they ave become main stream technologies supported at our colleges. Our office did back in the late 1990s, when some of the colleges were making their first CMS choices-- not based as much on what was best for teaching or what faculty asked for, but mainly what some of the tech leader or a handful of innovative faculty picked to experiment with. In fact, as 2 colleges independently chose separate licensed versions of WebCT, we began bringing together reps from our system to look at the field, with what happened the other 7 college banding their resources together to go with Blackboard.
For the most part, every one of our college is using the first one they tried, and once they grow into an everyday need, the reluctance to change goes up astronomically.
Frankly, I see way too much emphasis and focus on the tool and technology; I could teach, and have taught in both environments, and I am confident I could do so in Moodle, or a brown paper bag if that is what was available.
Frankly what I do not like about any of the CMSes is that they are structuraly organized around the wrong atomic unit- the "course". A student's work disappears when the course does, and work in one course silo has no connection to work elsewhere. The main organizing unit ought to be the student, and the only reason it is not is because it is more complex for coders to program. The Moodle+ELGG work at Athabasca is an interesting experiment, and yet, just a start.
I also worry about the degree of lock-in we end up with the bit monolithic packages. Web technology is moving much more into a distributed collection of smaller technologies that are joined as needed, yet we tend to keep our desires into this behometh like enterprise systems which are slow to change, are mostly completely closed spaces. I am trying as much as anyone to track new technologies and see as many things in a week that I might have seen evolve in a year 5 years ago. No wonder people are numbed and paralyzed with fear of technology, as we tend to desire stability and version 10.0 of software-- how do we move people towards a ready-state for technology change? You cannot slow it down, you cannot hide form it.
I am rather doubtful in 5 years we wll be talking about BlackCT or WebBoardCT or whatever married name they come up with. It will be moving fast and furious and have trouble seeing them move switfly enough. But I could just as well be wrong, and may have some future quote thrown in my face like the old ones about "no one ever needing more than 640k of RAM"
You said, ?Frankly what I do not like about any of the CMSes is that they are structuraly organized around the wrong atomic unit- the "course". A student's work disappears when the course does, and work in one course silo has no connection to work elsewhere. The main organizing unit ought to be the student??
I can?t agree with you more on this. In the first Moodle Newletter I read in Moodle 1.6, it?s going to have a My Moodle page for all users that contains a course listing with latest activity for each course. But I?m not sure whether the data are persistent over semesters. The Moodle+ELGG work at Athabasca is intriguing. For those of you who want to learn more about it. Here is the paper by Terry Anderson.
?I also worry about the degree of lock-in we end up with the bit monolithic packages. Web technology is moving much more into a distributed collection of smaller technologies that are joined as needed, yet we tend to keep our desires into this behometh like enterprise systems which are slow to change, are mostly completely closed spaces.?
Stephen Dowes talks about the ?e-Learning 2.0? after the term Web 2.0. The e-Learning 2.0 describe the stage we are now in ed tech and online learning where users join and remix light-weighted tools and materials to create the environment they want to live in. I also learned the term ?educational inflected architecture? recently which I forget who coined it. It describes the kind of system that allows such kind of remixing and the join of ?a distributed collection of smaller technologies as needed? ? the way you call it.
?I am rather doubtful in 5 years we wll be talking about BlackCT or WebBoardCT or whatever married name they come up with. It will be moving fast and furious and have trouble seeing them move switfly enough. But I could just as well be wrong, ??
I have the same feeling, but we both could be wrong. Be it 5, 10, or 15 years, I hope they won?t leave their hundreds of thousands users stuck behind. And here is where successful open source software has a definite advantage ? there are always multiple sources of providers, and you always have the code to work on.
Now in some cases, like Moodle, information that helps to build identity is accessible outside of the course (through the profile, and activity report can be site-wide). Also, the messaging system is global.
One of the best examples I've seen of communication design in a CMS was Virtual-U (no longer available at vlei.com it seems). It was developed at SFU before or around the same time as WebCT in the early 90's. The discussions all took place and were managed outside of the course content, assignment & gradebook area. Discussions were the focus of the course. They could remain available to students after the course ended, and the layout made it obvious to instructors and other users that invited guests, site wide forums, cross-course dialogue, etc. were all possible. One area that Virtual-U was lacking was course content creation and management, which, as we know, is what many people want!
As Alan and Cindy have wondered, what will be talking about in 5 years? It will be exciting to find out, especially if we keep dialogues like this alive, and continue to benefit from excellent commentary on this topic through blogs. (I already don't know what I did before having access to great blogs, and I haven't yet had the time to get on board myself -- "fast and furious" is right!)
The merger news continues to spark discussions everywhere, and has certainly become a catalyst for rethinking the way we do things. So many institutions are reviewing their choices for learning management systems, but the focus is still mostly on one system versus another. Do we need to completely bust out of this way of thinking?
That's it. Why do we have to choose one over the other? As Dan also mentioned repeatedly one size does not fit all. It is not only that one LMS does not fit all institution, but also one LMS does not fit for all teaching and learning needs even within an institution. These all sound very obvious, but still somehow we get stuck in the mentality that we can only choose one system and one system only. The thing is that the teachers and students wouldn't allow to be forced forever if you choose for them. They will find their own way sooner or later to get around the problems (both technology and management related problems) and get to their solutions. Instead of fighting against it, an institution is wiser to find ways to facilitate and help them. After all, they are the people the institution supposes to serve? However, of course, there is cost associated with anything we choose to do or don't do. An institution can't support everything and anything anyone requests. A reasonable approach is perhaps to always keep its mind open. If it can't jump in right away and give full support, at least listen to its professors and students, watch what they do, and find out what others are doing outside the institution. And perhaps there will be a time when the reason to give the needed support is obvious.
Take SFU for an example. We have WebCT supported university wide. The Chemistry Dept used an open source learning content management and assessment system called LON-CAPA first in a single course in fall 2001. By 2005, the enrollments in LON-CAPA have grown to such an extent that our central Academic Computing Services unit started to house and maintain the servers and provide implementation support for it. I say, good for SFU!
So what's the lesson learned here? Never under estimate your professors and students. Think along with them. The LON-CAPA story could happen to SFU again. And it could happen to any other institution too.
We had a meeting of our LMS review group this week. The LMS group is made up of instructor/designers, instructional designers, administrators, computer techs, etc. We are currently supporting in live production WebCT Ver 4.1, and we have just put up a Moodle server and are investigating putting it into live production on a test basis, with the purpose of evaluating it live. We are evaluating WebCT ver 6 on a test server.
The discussion of mutliple platforms was raised and one of the options that we will consider in our interim report next spring will be supporting on a regular basis, for live production, more than one LMS platform. I personally think that is the way to go if it is at all feasible. I can see using Moodle for some of my purposes, but from the limited experience I have had with Moodle so far, it would not serve all my purposes (this may change as I get more experience on Moodle). However, as soon as it was suggested that we put our Moodle server into live production, the person who manages our server security spoke against doing so. He did not want to open Moodle to the world because it is developed in PHP and we had problems in the past six months with another system running PHP (it was hacked). He was really concerned that if we put our student database into Moodle and it got hacked then all the personal information for students is compromised. Anyway, no one on the committee knew for certain whether there was any major concerns with Moodle security. A few of us were aware that some large institutions are using Moodle in live production, so we assume that the security problems around Moodle/PHP have been resolved; nevertheless, no one could answer the specific questions about security are server master raised, and he raised some really good questions. Consequently, we now have one person who is spending the next week researching the security of Moodle.
I guess this does point to an interesting practical issue. Many of the individuals on this LMS review committee are highly trained computer experts (we merged with BC Open University last year and the computer experts running their online courseware are now part of our institution), who have setup numerous servers and dealt with a wide range of OS/Servers/Languages. However, this question of Moodle security could not be answered by anyone on this group. So, somone is going to have to spend a day or two or three to do research on Moodle security, to satisfy our server security manager that Moodle is save to run live. The point, setting up alternate systems does take resources. But, if one has the resources then more than one platform is definitely good .
So far, Sue wins the prize for the most understated reaction to the WebCT/Bbd announcement, with her admission that the news gave her ?great pause?! Compare that with Dennis and Amy?s shock, and Richard?s apparent glee that the two companies have created a dinosaur that will surely not survive against the agile Open Source platforms. And surely we must ask Alan, who finds the whole thing a yawn, where exactly he will plug in the mouse if he?s teaching out of a brown paper bag instead of using an LMS
When I opened this thread, I did so with a little hesitation, because I wondered whether it was useful to ask you to record your reactions. But having read the comments, I?ve become more curious about our attachment to particular technologies, and why changes in them evoke such strong emotional responses. Even Alan didn?t just yawn, he had a ? big gaping, groaning, drawn out yawn.? What is it about technology that touches us all?
I?m also wondering whether our reactions to this change have any effect on our willingness to adapt to whatever Blackboard is going to throw at us. If you were shocked at the news, have you stepped back to consider your next steps? If the news didn?t phase you, are you more willing to motor on and master the next innovation? Is there such a thing as ?innovation fatigue?, and if so, will it interfere with our work?
I'll take a stab at prediction here, and guess we WILL be discussing this again in 5 years as the institutionally driven, 'top-down', 'push', approach to teaching and learning with tech continues to bully its way into the classroom, and exist alongside the learner driven, 'bottom-up', 'pull', approach. The learner, or 'user' as I refer to them in my field, will have to deal with managing their own learning experiences across these disparate environments, and will come up with their own solutions for doing so. As they have always done. So the critial question as a designer and collaborator of these kinds of online environments is, what kinds of tools and technologies can we provide that will support them in that goal?
They are a bright bunch these students (in terms of technology use), and I find they tend to tear through any learning environment (from CMS to blogs), learning the in & outs, ups & downs, pros & cons very quickly, as a consequence of the course expectations. In casual conversations, you will still hear more complaints about the instructor themselves, (how much homework they give, how fairly they graded the last test or various interpersonal issues), than you do about what sort of LMS they have to use, or online support they are getting. They will do what they have to do to get a mark and get out and will continue to stay far ahead of the technology curve as it is applied in edtech.
To conclude..., power to user! I hope I have made some coherent thoughts in this post, writing these replies can be time consuming, and I often feel I could keep going, but you gotta stop somewhere!
You have said it very well indeed. The learner/user/client is doing what they need to do...working around and adapting, we need to follow their lead.
As for program and instructional design, I wonder what it would look like if we engaged the students/users/clients in collaborative programming and instructional design with us? What would they choose and how would they use the technologies to best learn, develop and grow as citizens of our future? What can we learn from them?
So who's driving the change? - grin.
However! That's not only the case. Some students are very resistant, and many faculty are technologically far more advanced that myself. This is why I feel that WebCT, or other large and slow platforms have a place. It takes that long for some users to get onboard, and they need a platform that changes as slowly as possible, and gives them a solid structure.
Who is building the open-source stuff, and who are the coders and developers building it for? I suspect that it's not for the instructor who just wants to display the PowerPoints recently displayed in class or deliver the midterm grades online. It's for those who want to expand, fly, and change. Modifying and tinkering are great - but do we run the risk of scaring off the late adopters? How can an LMS support both users described in this post? Should it even try?
Still no spell check?!
So it may be time to reminisce about Pink Floyd (We don't need no education... We don't need no thought control) and why the challenges of designing online learning experiences are an uphill battle against prevailing educational norms.
Jason also said: "They are a bright bunch these students (in terms of technology use)". True in many cases. But I'd like to make the point that although young students, in particular, are very fluent in their use of technology, but that doesn't mean to say that they are skilled in using an LMS, no matter how well designed and presented.
One problem is that today's students (like yesterday's students, and students for the past 150 years) are products of the Industrial Age model of factory schooling. The lessons they learn from K-12 schooling are that rewards are given to those who follow the rules, don't question the teacher and never suggest a different curriculum or an alternative approach to learning. Those who break the rules, don't do what is expected or question the establishment are often pushed off the conveyor belt and end up in the "rejected" pile.
Barb hints at the need for collaborative models, and many of us dream of co-constructed learning environments, instead of the long institutional hallways where teachers teach what they must behind closed doors. Anyone remember Lloyd Dennis's Living and Learning Report of 1968, and the experiments in schools that tore down walls and created open spaces for teaching and learning? Far too revolutionary, and ended all too soon.
Anyway, in case anyone has missed my point in this ramble into my distant past, students do not know how to learn in an LMS environment. They wait to be told what to do, they submit assignments when asked, they contribute to discussions only because there's a grade. Sad.
My next thought was of Prometheus - a VLE developed by George Washington University and bought by Blackboard a few years ago. Promises were initially made about ongoing support for Prometheus but the product no longer exists. (Whether elements of Prometheus can be found in Bb i don't know but I doubt).
I'm not saying this is what I expect to happen - WebCT is a different case in terms of customer base etc. But Promethues was my first thought... you'll find a couple of comments regarding GWU & Prometheus at the bottom of this article on the 'merger'.