Category Archives: Course Management

Tufts University, University of South Alabama, Notre Dame and Sakai–a middle way?

Representatives of our three schools, along with Nate Angell of rSmart, began conferencing a few weeks ago in order to discuss their mutual desire to provide multiple methods integrating SunGard Banner and Sakai.

As many of you know, to date there are two methods to provision ones LMS or CLE.

A. Administratively create course site shells each semester for all, or a majority, of your course offerings. When Instructors login, their course and its enrollments are already in place and managed by the SIS integration.

B. Allow (change the verb here depending on your perspective…) Instructors to create their own course sites and to choose which groups of students (rosters) are given access.

Tufts, Notre Dame and U of South Alabama are currently constructing what their requirements look like for a middle way, a third method in which:

–  all course site shells are created and instructors given access

– instructors wanting the flexibility to re-arrange which groups of students (rosters) can access their course are free to create a new course shell and to add various rosters to it (still maintaining enrollment synchronization with Banner).

  1. Multiple sections can then interact in a single course site.
  2. The rosters from the pre-built crosslisted course sites could also be re-combined if instructors are teaching multiple sections of those.
  3. Final grades can be submitted from Sakai back to Banner no matter whether the instructor is using a pre-built course site or one they created and added rosters to themselves.

The requirements process is in its early stages. Is your institution interested? Please comment.


Deliverables to include in your LMS transition project

I just sent these tweets in succession then I realized I will lose these, and so will those who may be following with an LMS transition in 6 months or a year. (You’re welcome Janel!). Here they are consolidated into a true posting:

1. LMS_Deliverable2

2. LMS_Deliverable3

3. LMS_Deliverable4

4. LMS_Deliverable1


Let me elaborate a bit.

#1 Without the ability to copy a production environment, its configuration and all its courses (database) to a non-production environment, you will never be able to thoroughly test configuration changes, new tools you might add, or system performance under peak loads without impacting your faculty and students.

#2 Please don’t think you can make due without at least a one non-production TEST instance. This is not the place to cut your budget. While end users typically don’t know about this ‘hidden’ environment, your decision not to have one and not to support testing before something is okayed to be a part of your faculty/student tool mix, THAT decision will impact your institution.

#3 In our process just this week we received as a deliverable a word doc capturing all of our discussions around the best way to configure our LMS for Notre Dame. When I received the document I immediately recognized its format as being completely unmanageable as documentation of a ‘known state’ of a system in use. The settings you start with WILL change over time and you need to have a configuration document that is in a format that can be easily reviewed, changed, built-to, and tested-to. You will find as you change your settings, that some of them are dependent on each other, a spreadsheet will allow you to indicate which sets of configuration settings work together and which ones are problematic.

How Universities Choose Their LMS: A Review of the Literature (but if you don’t know, I can’t tell you)

Tongue-in-Cheek Opening: In this post I will offer observations on various LMS evaluations of which I am aware. This awareness and knowledge comes from personal contacts and from published LMS reports (“the literature”). Unfortunately I have not much good to say. I would like to say I’ve caught someone doing something right. If I have, I will speak up. But mostly I haven’t been able to catch any institution in the act.

Since I can’t promise I will be exceptionally kind although I do have a high value on kindness, I will refer to neither my friends nor the Universities themselves by name. If you choose to comment but know you know of whom I speak, please also refrain from mentioning names. Shall we begin?

(I have a browser open with  the online versions of LMS evaluation reports from 4 institutions whose reports have been released in the last 2 years. In addition to those 4 publicly available reports, I have contacts involved with 3 other evaluations.).

Flaw # 1 Lack of Strategic Alignment

I am not aware of a single institution whose process has included asking the question, “Why do we need an LMS?” “How do we resource the management of an LMS such that strategic goals of the University are met?” (save money, save time, go paperless, build an online program, enable faculty with a bigger toolset, etc. Even “meet student expectations based on their High school experiences with teaching and learning technology” would be something to state explicitly!). Flaw: Assumptions are not subject to reality checks.”

Flaw #2 Focus on Functionality that is all but equivalent these days

An RFP process generally focuses on comparing functionality between systems. I don’t know how long it’s been now that the marketplace is mature enough that they all pretty much DO the same thing, it’s how they do it that now matters. The workflow required of the faculty, the ability of the tool to integrate with the gradebook, the flexibility of the gradebook. Flaw: RFP process too shallow.

Flaw #3 Subjectivity and Exclusion

The voices and recommendations of those most tasked with the support of the institution’s LMS are usually not included in the evaluation process. When the evaluation process is is led by Academics, it is usually very theoretical in its approach. (I do like identifying “guiding principles,” but don’t stop there!). While surveys and focus groups are often used of faculty and student groups, their goal is to discover subjective impressions in the aggregate. Often whether to weight the student or faculty impressions more highly is not determined in advance.

On the other hand, evaluations that are conducted by personnel in the central IT division or heavily weighted by them, also do not normally include evaluating use cases or what might be called “workflows.” It’s odd, but I haven’t seen either the Instructors who actually do the work, nor the IT shop who supports those workflows really care very much about being rigorous in whether or not the “how” of what you have to do, makes sense to those doing it. Although they all support the same tools (quizzes, file content, assignment uploads, discussions and grading it all), the way you do it, and the way you have to think about what you do, varies widely.

Flaw #4 “A Review of the Literature”

While reviewing other institutions’ LMS Evaluation reports is a good start, there is nothing like digging in there and doing your own due diligence. If nothing else, it teaches you a whole lot about your own institution and what makes it distinctive from others.

Some questions to ask yourself (Google Forms Survey).

Buying Blackboard : Speculation Continues

It was in Twitterland that I heard the April 19th announcement that Blackboard was contracting with Barclays Capital to respond to non-binding offers to buy. And that’s all that Blackboard press release said and all it said it would ever said. But it did say offers plural. At the end of this listing will be sources so far who’ve engaged in this entertaining speculation.

My own speculations are informed by

  • the April 14th, just prior, release from Blackboard, to whit, McGraw-Hill and Blackboard Launch Combined Course Solution Worldwide.
  • a phone interview with OpenView Venture Partners who recently invested in Instructure.
  • the fact that 700 current Blackboard clients must change their LMS to stay current, and not necessarily stay with Blackboard. (Casey mentions this too).
  • oodles of reading. Check out those articles below.

Unlike Green and Kim, I think the bidders are not investment firms but companies who either are capitalized well enough to sustain a long term evolution into the educational space and have already indicated a desire to do so  (Microsoft or Google, as Kim suggests) or companies who are already firmly entrenched in the higher education market (SunGard or even Oracle) and may already have versions of their own of the Blackboard product types (analytics, notification, point-of-sale, content management).

Kenneth C. Green (aka Casey Green), InsideHigher Ed Blog U:

Josh Kim, InsideHigherEd, Blog U:

Eric Savitz, Forbes:

Jerry Bishop, The Higher Ed CIO,

William J Raduchel, Resignation Letter, Board of Directors, Blackboard. Feb. 14, 2011

Michael Feldstein, e-Literate, latest as of this date  (but read priors as well)

Phil Hill, Delta Initiative, and

Notes on Penn State Learning Design Podcast #4: Throw out the LMS?

They title it “Baby and the Bathwater,” Jeff Swain and Brian Young.


Full podcast available from ITunes :EdTech episode #4_ Baby & the bath water

These snippets of their conversation stuck out to me.

“If we implement it as we did in the past, if we support it as we did in the past, we will end up with what we had in the past.”  (Brian’s voice I think)


The LMS’s of today pretty much all have the same functionality. In what way are they flawed? What is it about an LMS as a tool that still needs to change… is it

– the workflow required of an Instructor to accomplish a pedagogical goal?

– the fact that it’s a closed system which doesn’t allow for students to interact with other students studying the same same?

– flexibility to make some parts open and others closed to the students taking it that term (in that particular section, or all sections taught by same Instructor? Or all sections across several Instructors?)

They love blogs (sounds like for teaching, research, and reflection method).

How does an LMS related to the ground swell of Program Assessment? LMS repositories aren’t built for providing artifacts and data for assessing the program… But why not?

What about from the student point of view? Why don’t we map out their entire program so that over time they can see how each course supports the program’s goals, how far they’ve come? How far yet to go?


100% of the issues with any of the LMSs are due to lack of planning on the Instructor’s part.” (around 26 minutes) – Brian Young

babies_water 4

I get by with a little help from my friends


I’ve now been in the learning management space for 12 years. I still love it. And I love that the professional networks I began back then, over time, and any number of conferences, become people I value as friends. I know which ones I can trust and which ones spout baloney after a couple of beers. Bob Boufford, I can trust. Couldn’t believe where he is today and how timely that is for some of my current questions about importing BbVista quizzes to Sakai!

BobBoufford_withRespondusNow (click on image)

Make new friends and keep the old, they say. My recent queries out to the universe through Twitter have emphasized just that. I met new friends from the University of Florida at Notre Dame’s Learning Technology Consortium confab and someone I’ve never met but whom I’m guessing is related to those folks, answered.

SakaiCAS_WebDAV_answer(click on image)

I asked whether anyone knew how to configure Sakai with CAS such that a desktop client like WebDAV could authenticate too. Old friends surprised me as well. Check out what THEY’RE doing:

KronerOnCAS_Blackboard(click on image)

Blackboard Learn 9 – FREE

It’s called CourseSites. John Fontaine calls it “a reimagining” of what once was. The value-add for faculty, in my opinion, AND potentially for your institution are the Course Structures and Course Themes.

Course Structures allow the Instructor, alone without supportive designers, and without expertise in developing online experiences, to read about and choose from 1 of 30 pre-built “structures” for the organization of his or her course.

Course Themes provide the eye candy, the bells and whistles that hopefully more fully engage the student.

Coming from a background in an institution that has few faculty resources for venturing into electronic spaces, Course Structures and Course Themes make ALOT of sense.

So try it out. Build and run your course. FREE.