Tag Archives: edtech

Blackboard Open Enrollment Announcement

In another move following Blackboard’s March 26th announcement (aggregated responses on e-Literate site), yesterday Blackboard announced that Instructors using their CourseSitescan make their courses available for enrollment by anyone, effectively supporting an open courseware model. It means individuals can set up open teaching initiatives, community outreach and volunteer training, as well as collaborative research programs.

Of course, Sakai Project Sites also support these activities, but Sakai servers are not usually set up outside institutions.

Instructure Canvas is another company that also supports these activities, with their “Free for Teachers” version. I don’t know whether it supports open enrollment. Yet. But it will.

It’s a strange reversal for those of us observing this space. The past few years were those in which options seemed to become more and more limited. Without much of a pause, the pendulum now swings to more and more choices. Still, other than whether social media and mobile are supported, the choices don’t have many functional differentiators.

Instead, a main platform differentiator appears to be in the models for provisioning, reuse and interoperability of content. Our appetites are continually expanding for high quality content. Publishers, it’s your turn.

For further reading: “When it Comes to Content, Say “Yes” to Wrappers But “No” to Containers



Observations on Entrepreneurialism, Startups and Education

Normally I write about higher ed and educational technology of some sort. This post is about the startup weekend I attended at Innovation Park, Notre Dame’s entrepreneurial incubator. Bear with me there *is* a connection.

The competition’s finalists all presented evidence of their proposition’s value addition to the marketplace. This included the ideas which, as solutions, were “solutions” to pretty trivial problems in the grand scheme of things. One of the finalists, for example, will be launching a smartphone app which creates a connection between you and the clubs you attend – effectively moving you to the head of long lines and helping you and your friends decide which club to meet up at that evening.

Startup Weekend” is a competition. The organizers are out of Portland and have over a thousand such events under their belts. The teams that form around each idea are teams of volunteers (who’ve paid to participate). I think we can all agree pulling a startup idea out of the oven depends on the characteristics, individual and jointly, of the team surrounding the idea. The same was true of winning the competition – but awkwardly enough, not every team knew this.

My view at the table? I participated on the team that formed around the pitch given by a special ed language arts teacher from Ohio. Faced with the K-12 adoption of the Common Core Standards and the need to provide his less able students with enough drill practice to succeed, at least by the standard measurements, his vision was for a software product he and his peers could use that would map practice activities to the standards to progress reports that teachers and administrators could use. Yep, sounds like where I could make a contribution. More than that, sounded like a winner. As a FIRST Lego League robotics coach, I’m regularly exposed to the hype over STEM subjects, and sure enough, there are companies with the goal of building such a software for the Math standards. For Language Arts? Not so much.  I was excited at how this business proposal was a convergence of many areas in which I have experience, not least of these my degree in Applied Linguistics, experience teaching EFL, and as volunteer tech implementor for my kids’ K-8 school. Very cool.

Startup Weekend included local leaders. They spoke about: Social consciousness. Give-back to the community. What we can do for community development.

Here are the dots I’m connecting –


  • It’s fairly obvious higher ed will not survive unless we change. We’ve been doing so incrementally: startup weekends, entrepreneurial programs, engineering emphases, interdisciplinary programs, undergrad research angles. Changing traditional brick and mortar schools into something more fluid and flexible is hard.  In many ways we don’t even want to do it. We have our traditions. Time-honored. Founded in #### before the Mayflower. Alumni who send their kids to the school because of the tradition which was so important to them.
  • But find out how your alumi have made their money and perhaps you see that they have become what your institution needs to become.
  • Less formal. More collaborative. Students – Faculty – Administrators – Businesses building something together for now for the institution and for the student to take with them at graduation. Apprenticeships over Internships?
  • Less rigid and traditional. More reconstructive.
  • Let’s model in our own business practice the practices we must teach to the next generation.

Making this easy: LMS Evaluations

My brain just did a flashback as my fingers poised over the keyboard ready to begin this post. The song, “War is a Science,” from Pippin has started to syncopate through my skull:

the rule that every gen-er-al
kno-ws by he-art:
it’s smarter to be lucky
than it’s lucky to be smart!


I value ‘smart’ (O how I value smart!) but  in my experience we overthink LMS evaluations.

It’s not about a Request for Proposal process. It’s not about a comparison of features. It’s not about the best software package out there. It’s not even primarily a decision of open source vs proprietary, although this exercise may help you characterize your institution’s culture as one or the other and that will get you started down the right track …

LMS Evaluations are like any other decision you have to make for your institution. It’s about trusting that the software you choose matches the way your institution does things.

It’s a cultural decision. Wasn’t always. But these days the market is mature enough that all these packages (Canvas, Sakai, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Moodle) can do pretty much the same thing. It’s the way they do them that you care about. It’s the way your institution plans to use and support the software that will make the implementation project a smashing success or an unadopted disaster.

This is what you need to plan for and do:

1). Select the group of people at your institution that you trust to make this decision for you. Is it an already existing faculty committee? Maybe its composed of appointees to be representative of each college or department, with central IT or the Library thrown in because they have to run it?

2). Create and follow whatever rigor or metrics these people will need to document and communicate their decision for maximum buy-in.

That’s it.

No kidding. Institutions often publish their final LMS Eval reports. Read them. The variety they represent is as wide as the cultures of the institutions that created them. They’re not all smart. But the successes are the lucky ones who chose software that matches their institutions’ culture.

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

No Wonder Video is Not For the Faint of Heart!

(…Or maybe just not for users who are PC-based, as I’m sure some of my readers would point out to me).

This story starts out with an online course I’m taking in Advanced Technologies for Distance Education (this course description page is due for revision so it may not be up when you click on it). My assignment this week was to explore video for teaching – read about it, find some I like and why, and make some. As someone firmly planted in-between supporting the backend of an LMS and supporting the faculty who use it, this is excellent professional development for me and a good assignment.

I also happen to be an assistant coach for a First Lego League Robotics team (which is an excellent program supporting STEM curriculum in the middle schools, despite the fact that it’s also fun). So I decided to kill two birds with one stone by doing a promo video for this season’s team as my video project for class.

So, again I deviated a little bit from the requirements of the assignment, but I did so to make the assignment work for my real life.

First, I used devices I currently own (and I’m the only one in America without a dedicated camcorder).

  1. PC running Windows 7
  2. HTC Evo (8+ megapixels and HD  resolution, 1280×720 pixels.

Secondly, I chose a project I needed to do anyway, and that was a video interview with a 5th grader. The phone camcorder was appealing to me in this setting for another reason as well- I figured all kids these days would have had a mobile phone pointed at them and had their picture taken; my interviewee would thus be just as comfortable with it as Mom or Dad pointing their phone at them and saying “Wow, Honey, that’s Great!”

The recording session went well, took virtually no time at all for a nice piece of 1:30 second video. My subject even knew where to look! The hardest part was finding a background on the bright sunny day. Indoors and my subject had green hued skin, outdoors and she faded into the shadow… until I found the glass door. Excellent.


Then began the process of setting up my computer to edit the film, add some intro music and a title. For our class we were to use Windows Movie Maker 2. But on that page you’ll see that users of Windows 7 are encouraged to click another link and download and install Windows LIVE Movie Maker instead. Since I use Windows Live Writer for blogging anyway, I figured this was a good thing…

Turns out Windows Live Movie Maker 2011 doesn’t like the mobile format, .3gpp . But even before that I had to wrestle my PC’s internal speakers to forget about the USB headset/mic I usually have plugged in. Live Movie Maker wanted to route sound through the headset’s MICROPHONE!

Then I realized I had codec problems when the intro music I appended played but the original audio didn’t. I do NOT know this stuff. I mean saying “codec problems” may sound techie and all that, but what I know about what a codec is and why we need them and how they are used is… well, here’s all I know:

A codec is a set of algorothms used by a computer program to translate one video or audio format to another so that the resultant file can be viewed, heard, edited and saved for use with some other program or device.

That’s it. That’s all I know. Windows Live Movie Maker 2011 and Windows Media Player 12 both were displaying my video but not playing the audio.

But because my operating system is Windows 7 and my Media Player 12 and Live Movie Maker 2011 were fresh downloads (untried really) , and they are both Microsoft, I made the assumption that if I fixed the problem in Media Player, they would share the codecs needed to make the translation from the mobile .3gpp to whatever they like.


In the process I discovered (after downloading and finding it didn’t work) that the Windows Media Player add-on called “Media Codec pack” has been superceded by the new Expression Encoder 4 , and that DID solve my problem of hearing .3gpp files – BUT ONLY while viewing them in Windows Media Player, NOT in using Live Movie Maker to edit the file. Oh, and Expression Encoder 4 has a prerequisite I also had to download, the newer Microsoft .NET framework 4.

So, where was I? Ah… the light was beginning to dawn. I needed to get a program expressly to convert the .3gpp mobile phone codec (format) to something else before Live Movie Maker 2011 could work with it at all.

This is when I turned to a freebie I had used several years ago on another PC, probably the last time I dabbled in video, which is distributed by DVDVideoSoft.

So now to the usefulness (or not) of video

That is the question, isn’t it? Is this stuff good? Is it needful? Does it aid memory? Stimulate learning? Engage folk? When to use it? I’ll hit these topics in my next posting.