Category Archives: Web/Tech

Summit Timed Announcements–Monday’s News

Just to recap for those of us sitting at home while colleagues text, tweet, mail, and blog Monday’s happenings from Las Vegas …

It’s not at all odd if you think about it that most of those announcements come from a SunGard partner, oops, a Datatel+SGHE, oops again! – I mean an Ellucian partner , the LMS provider, Blackboard.

SunGard –drats! I did it again, I mean,  Ellucian , after all, has partnerships with LMS providers around the IMS Global Consortium standard, LIS 2.0 , which is behind the Banner Event Publisher or BEP (affectionally pronounced beep ) and it’s new eLearning tool (a flexUI built upon Oracle streams). So yes, Blackboard and others often time marketing announcements around the annual Summit conference.

Monday’s announcements from Blackboard include a new division, new acquisitions, a new employee of the month, and that ANGEL, contrary to the previous WebCT LMS acquisition, will not in fact be decommissioned and blended in with the favored in-house LMS – Blackboard Learn.

I guess the timing is good. Although you’re probably noting a certain tinge of cynicism as I write. It’s not cynism about Blackboard or Ellucian as much as a weariness, a true bone-crunching weariness, with the churn created by the velocity of market change we’ve been experiencing for what? a year or two now?

I’m trying to have a good attitude. Change up all at once and get it over with, right? Wake up one morning and find a complete plot twist. Blackboard is wearing the white hat. Ellucian rolls off the tongue much easier than Datatel+SGHE or Illusion or Delusion – and hopefully I’m not succumbing to either of those…. Sakai community founder Dr. Chuck (Severance) now to work for Blackboard, newly boosted as GoodGuys, and still sporting his indelible, recently augmented, tattoo with Sakai at the center of the known universe . Oh, I get it now!

If you don’t get it too, start here:

PS. Obviously the Star Trek metaphor for Blackboard as the Borg, or the “BlackBorg” doesn’t work anymore. Giulia Forsythe (@giuliaforsythe) put the news in Star Wars language  on Twitter, “In other news, The Empire buys The Jedi Academy; will help support training in The Force.”


The ‘industry’ of Higher Education: it’s use of social media

Within 24 hours of my last post,  “Blackboard, SunGard, and rSmart: A Client’s Take on Support, Oh My” , I was reminded by several things that not everyone is comfortable with the bi-directional nature of the web.

We’ve started calling it “social media.” Like many of you, I follow and participate in many forums in which we brainstorm and retell stories and engage as practitioners in ways to use social media technology for the advancement of education, ie, in the delivery of the ‘product’ of our ‘industry.’

If you’re reading this blog over at , where it’s recently started to be syndicated, you’re involved already in social media. You use it professionally on behalf of our industry. And on behalf of your institution and your career development as well. Simultaneously even.

My own experience is making me take a closer look at how our professions, the way we do business, are being transformed, or should be transformed, by social media . My reflection began with the link a sys admin friend directed me to: The ClueTrain Manifesto. Published the first time in 1999, it reads, “A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter-and getting smarter faster than most companies.”

So we see the commercial sector taking to blogs, Twitter, wikis, Facebook, LinkedIn and all that, faster than a hound-chased duck to water. We ourselves have grabbed on to the fact that we can complain on Twitter and AT&T begins following us, RedRobin sends us a coupon, and countless others give us free stuff for ‘liking’ their Facebook page.

The Manifesto (1999 remember…) said, “These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.”

It’s likely your institution has a strategy for talking to your constituents in this space. (Last year USA Today published such a list of the top 20 colleges with the institution I serve at ranking #1).

It’s for certain that your vendors have such strategies.  (If you’re a vendor, I’d love to hear from you about yours).

As an individual who serves in a role as Faculty, Staff or Administrator at a higher ed institution, do you have strategies for your professional use of social media?

Follow Up: New York Times Dec. 2011 post about the principal author of The ClueTrain Manifesto, David Weinberger

Why the Startup Weekend at Notre Dame’s Innovation Park Excites Me

54 hours. Friday April 13th at 6pm until Sunday April 15th at 3pm. Go home to sleep when/if they kick us out or you just can’t think another thought.

What we hope to accomplish: Lay the groundwork to start one or more new businesses in South Bend. Period.

What participants get paid: Nada. In fact, tickets to the event are $99.

Who will be the participants?

People like me. Really. People who care about our community and want to give back of our talents and creativity. People who can envision their satisfaction when driving by that new area business and being able to say, “I helped do that. I had a hand in designing their business model.” (Or coding their product, or designing their user experience or marketing their business).

People not like me. Some younger. Those testing their wings as entrepreneurs during their college careers at IU South Bend, Notre Dame, IU Purdue, and Bethel, all local area colleges. (Students only $50). Some older. Community Leaders. Businessmen who’ve done it already. Captains of Industry, if you will.

If you catch what I mean, click and register. See you there!

Blackboard, SunGard and rSmart : A Client’s Take on Support, Oh My.

“Support” in the context of this posting is that service for which a client contracts that includes a way to report issues to a vendor such that the vendor is expected to respond with a resolution. That’s just basic, right?

Unfortunately with technology vendors the evaluation of which vendor to choose for ones initial purchase is so complex that it can not and does not include an evaluation of the structures and process the vendor has in place to provide that support. This leads to wide disparity among technology vendors as to how they resource support and what they think support does for their bottom line.

I know these three companies fairly well from personal experience. Here’s this year’s report card from me:

  • Blackboard    A
  • rSmart             B+
  • SunGard         D

In every single encounter the following is what the support structure must deliver.  Here are my ratings for these three vendors on a 1-5 scale; 1 being exemplary and 5 indicating you’d be looking for another vendor if it were your cellphone service:

Parameter Bb rSmart SunGard
Timeliness 1 1 5
Expectation Management 1 4 4
Trustworthiness 1 1 3
Accuracy 2 3 4
Knowledge 2 3 5
Meaningfulness 2 3 4
Totals 9 15 25

So vendors, I’ll say it straight out: Your clients expect to be able to contact you quickly, receive immediate word that you’re working on their issue, and have a meaningful resolution in a timeframe commensurate to their urgency.

We want what you tell us to be truthful and timely and we don’t want promises to guestimate to a greater degree of accuracy than you’re able to deliver. If you say the service pack which includes my issue resolution will be available “soon” – tell us if that means 3rd quarter or next year and get it to us by then. If you say, “April” – you’ll lose points for Accuracy, Trustworthiness and Meaningfulness if you then deliver in May. And God forbid that what you deliver should end up being nothing like what you told us it would be!

“Meaningful” – let’s talk about that specifically. No one wants repeated “We’re working on it,” messages. Even if you personalize those messages, they aren’t meaningful. 

“Knowledge” – SunGard has a lot of knowledge, but I can’t locate it myself in their huge knowledgebase site – so what good is that?

“Expectation Management” – I’m not sure I have any help for you vendors on this one. On the one hand, I appreciate multiple ways of communicating with you. On the other hand, if none of the people who say they’re going to escalate my problem actually do, or attempt it, but don’t understand my problem well enough to communicate it, I’m still looking for someone who can. I should also remind you saying “no,” is sometimes the right answer. But if you say that to a new client there could be a deeper issue. The fact that they asked the question in the first place probably means you didn’t manage their expectations well when you sold them whatever they bought from you in the first place.

When I started this post I thought I had a bias toward smaller companies. It’s true that larger companies with complex products often have unwieldy support structures that make self-service almost always impossible, however, larger companies that keep it personal and pay attention to quality follow-up can still effectively meet my needs.

At least when they’re not in the middle of a merger.

Pros and Cons of hosting Sakai outside of your institution

The University of Notre Dame is moving from a proprietary LMS we host in our own Data Center to an open source system, Sakai, hosted with rSmart. Two big changes we’re lumping together. Ask yourself …

What advantages do you expect to gain when switching from a proprietary system to an open source system?

Does outsourcing the system’s management mitigate against those advantages?

What we’ve found so far (6 months):

Some Fixes/enhancements: can still be deployed faster than with a proprietary system, but not as fast as we expected … rSmart, or other provider, will still have tested version combinations and be reluctant to share risk with you of deploying a tool version in a lesser tested Sakai version
Staffing. You can redeploy your app admin to direct faculty support and do away with sys admin, DBA, etc. You didn’t have Developers before & by hosting, any development (customizations even) you wanted to contribute now will be problematic unless you still build an in-house development/test instance.
TCO: You may find the costs between licensing/hosting yourself and not-licensing hosting elsewhere to be very similar. You are re-arranging your human resources, which could bring advantages to your faculty despite the similar cost of ownership.
SIS integration: Always more difficult when your ‘home data’ has to be shared with someone off-site. Particularly bad at the moment as the industry transitions from former methods of SIS- LMS integration to the new LIS 2.0 standard.
Part of fixes/enhancements, that of User Acceptance Testing, involves back and forth communication, and management of Help Desk ticketing between you and your host vendor. You have a dependency on the ability to use a test or 2nd instance with your live data, but this synchronization between live and test is no longer handled by you – but by your vendor.

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.

Metaphors for Sakai Community

As a participant observer at the Sakai Foundation conference in Los Angeles in June, I noted the conference itself…

  • Was held at a world class hotel (The Bonaventure)
  • Was a ‘budget’ affair for which neither the hotel nor a 3rd party AV vendor was contracted other than basic “comes with” conference venue room sound, wifi, and room lights (the podium was dark, sort of a ‘witness protection’ feel to the speakers)
  • Efforts to stream sessions were ad hoc
  • Presenters used free tools  (I saw Ustream,, and etherpad).
  • Presenters tended to overspeak their geek to audiences that appeared to me to often be less weighted toward fellow developers and technology folk and just as likely to be faculty and administrators
  • Session topics were often misleading, I ended up in several which turned out to be nothing like their titles
  • Everyone I spoke to was very informal, very jovial, and glad to be there
  • It was hard to spot the ‘leaders’ – not by apparel, swag, name badges, showmanship, or technology. Very egalitarian.
  • I’d say roughly 85% of the participants were carrying iPads.
  • There were no big name keynote speakers, no one to stamp “green” or “bold” or “innovative” on Sakai by virtue of their cool presence.

How did it feel?

The Sakai community is like a farmer’s co-op. Everybody tils the soil, grows the vegetables, sets up a booth, pays the rent and votes about next year. Edamame sells better than broccoli.

The Sakai community is like a Mennonite barn raising. When one calls for help, the rest may grouse about the time lost, the inconvenient season, the proposed style, the materials and tools chosen… but still they show up, roll up their sleeves and pitch in anyway. (I don’t think they get fed well for their participation, and it will take longer to finish but the job does get done!)

The Sakai community is like histoplasmosis or DED (Dutch elm disease)  … unwitting people carry the ethos around from place to place and it spreads organically like bat guano droppings on ones boots or that firewood carried in ones minivan halfway cross the state. There’s probably an air born version as well. It’s contagious.