Blackboard’s New Message: “We Can’t Stop You From Leaving, So We’ll Buy Where Ever You Go. Resistance is Futile.”

So a lot has been said about the Blackboard move into open source. After reading several posts, I still have to consider this move a bad one overall. At least for those of us that want better diversity and choice in the Ed Tech market. Let’s face it, no matter where you go, you can’t escape the touch of Blackboard.

They buy competitors that they can – Angel, WebCT, etc, etc. If they can’t buy a company, they force changes through lawsuits and patents (Desire2Learn). Open source used to be the “safe zone” from Blackboard, but now they are working to inject their ideas and footprint into the two largest open source projects.

Most of the new start-ups we have seen in recent years still seem to be trying too hard to not be Blackboard, or to be Blackboard with an easier to understand interface (i.e. the “educational version” of Facebook). But all of these companies still bear the big, hard to miss effects of Blackboard on their product. There are a few good ideas in Blackboard (mostly assimilated from other product purchases), and avoiding those ideas “just to be different” causes more problems than it fixes.

And I just don’t get what is going on with Instructure. I am trying to like them, but can’t ignore the fact that they are saying some things that don’t match up with reality. “People don’t like it [Moodle]?” Then why is it so popular? Why does it score so high in customer satisfaction? Why does every single person I have ever talked to at conferences about Moodle rave about it? Or how about this one: “We rarely see Moodle or Sakai make it to the short list of any education institution.” I agree with Sakai – but Moodle? I get why some people don’t like Moodle, but everywhere I go I always see it on the short list. Usually a short list of two – Moodle and Blackboard. I just don’t get these wildly hyperbolic statements. Or how about this: “Moodle and Blackboard came from the same decade, which was a long time ago.” Huh? The Internet is older than both, so would that mean it is time to give up on online learning altogether? I’m just hoping these are comments taken out of context.

Blackboard has shown that they can’t stop people from leaving their product, so they are going to buy wherever the former customers go. If you can’t beat them, buy them, right? This will push more people to go the DIY route outside of all LMS providers. Why choose a competitor that might just be bought? Why go open-source when some of the ideas you didn’t like in Blackboard might get added to the project in a few years? Or the company that you use for hosting just gets bought?

So now many universities are going to start looking anew to the DIY, artist-formerly-known-as-EduPunk, cobbled together approach of the open education movement, or MOOCheads, or whatever name the cutting edge people decide to call themselves. At some point, there needs to be a cool name attached to this movement, since Jim Groom went through that ugly divorce with EduPunk and all.

But, come on EduPunk… can’t you just open your eyes and see that you were wooed away by the promise of book deals and big money and became a corporate sell-out? You were such a cool name and idea… we need you back at this crazy time in history to be a rally point for those of us that want something different.

My personal prediction is that this latest move will push more universities to just abandon the LMS altogether. Let’s face it, if you don’t like Blackboard, that seems to be your only option now.

But maybe that Jim Groom is now Mr. Money Bags, he can just fund a new system that will give organizations wanting to go DIY a good starting place.

Yet Another Sign That the LMS is Dying – Blackboard “Embraces” Open Source

I’m a huge SciFi fan, but I have to admit there some Star Trek series I never got into. Star Trek Voyager was one of them. I did catch one episode that was pretty cool – it involved the Borg running into a species that was too much for them to handle. One scene in particular that I remember was a Borg soldier trying to assimilate an organic compound on the wall – with very little success. It just couldn’t understand that this goo on the wall just wasn’t assimilate-able and just keep sticking its interface in and out, never noticing that it wasn’t working at all.

To me, this is a pretty fitting description of what would happen if Blackboard ever tried to take over Moodle. They would just be this big corporation trying to assimilate something they don’t really understand.

But that would never happen, because you can’t buy an open-source project. Right? Oh, wait….

I guess they can (and did) buy a hosting provider for Moodle services. And now according to the press release, they are going to use this connection to start invjecting their tentacles… er… “ideas” into the Moodle project. Oh, and the Sakai project while they are at it.

(That sound you now hear in the collective sound of a million EduGeeks pounding their heads on their desks)

Blackboard even met with Martin Dougiamas of Moodle to get a start “in outlining areas where Blackboard can best contribute to the Moodle project as we set out on a journey.”

Don’t get me wrong – I owe a lot to Blackboard. I probably wouldn’t have my day job if I didn’t have to spend so much time explaining to people how to figure out the confusing thing that Blackboard refers to as an “interface”. In most cases, I usually end up doing most of the technical side myself, as it is just too complex for the average educational user to have time for. If an instructor has to choose between helping students learn and spending huge amounts of time learning how to get a test in Blackboard, I think they should go for the time with the student.

And now they want to send these interface and structure ideas back into Moodle?

So, is the LMS really dying… or being slowly chocked to death by The Borg? You be the judge.

Google, Pearson, and Misunderstandings of Moodle

The recent announcement of the partnership between Pearson and Google is certainly an interesting one. Many people have been calling for Google to get into the LMS business for years and years (although, I believe most were hoping that Google would actually design one and not just add someone else’s ideas to their Apps for Education). New ideas are always good, but we’ll have to wait to see if this new partnership actually goes anywhere.  Google, unfortunately, has a track record of being involved in great projects that go nowhere.

I still haven’t gotten to look inside of OpenClass, but I hope it is cool as the slick video they made to promote it (even though the video really shows nothing more than a bunch of buzzwords). Funny that they think the LMS is dead… even though the numbers are showing that more and more courses are going into walled gardens every year. Love ’em or hate ’em, LMS’s aren’t going any where for a long time. They haven’t even started declining yet.

I don’t like it either, but I can’t deny reality. Not all the time, at least.

The interesting thing I keep seeing posted over and over again is how Moodle ends up being a drain on resources – you need more people to keep it running and upgraded and all that. To me, it is weird to claim this because all the IT people I have ever talked to about Moodle rave about how easy it is to keep going. At least when compared to other systems that track things like enrollment or issues like that. What I hear most often is that if you have a modern enough IT department, the people you already have in place will be able to easily keep Moodle running.

The problems tend to come when you have to modernize your systems. In other words, that 10 year old student enrollment system is not going to work with a modern LMS. So don’t try to pin the costs of modernizing your systems on Moodle.

I also find it interesting when people talk about having to fix your own bugs in Moodle. Unlike… what competing system? In Blackboard, we discover bugs every month, and then we can’t even fix them. At least in Moodle, you have the option of fixing them. In Blackboard, you send a ticket off into Bb Tech World and hope the fix shows up in the next release. Which is usually doesn’t. So how is the ability to fix your own bugs bad when compared to this?

No program of any kind is going to be perfect, but at least try to get those downsides right :)

So, the question is: will OpenClass be the iPhone moment for the PLN? Even if I end up hating it, I still hope it is. We need something big that takes us in another direction.

I actually have three sister-in-laws that work for Pearson, so I should see if they can get me an inside scoop. I doubt it – so much of this seems to be kept under wraps and I bet most employees were kept in the dark until right before the announcement. But I did sign up to be in the know when they open it up to the public – so hopefully that will happen soon.

Another New Blackboard Competitor Arrives: Coursekit

Katrina turned me on to a new Course Management System called CourseKit.  The kicker about this one is that it was conceived and designed by three students with full time course loads because they weren’t happy with Blackboard.

First of all, I have to say that if students are having problems with Blackboard, to the point that they want to create their own alternative… that should say something. The point that it is three full time students creating this should make the rest of us stop and ask ourselves why we haven’t done the same.

So far, I like what I see from Coursekit.  They wanted it to be simple and fun, and they got simple and fun. It was designed to resemble Facebook and you can easily post links, images, and comments on the course wall.

The flip-side is that it is still another one-size-fits-all option.  If you want something different, you can post a link to it, of course (but you can also do that in Blackboard).  It still feels like it is a walled garden, even if the walls are getting lower.  But it is also still pretty new, so that may change.

There is a basic fundamental difference between this and the social learning environment (SLE) that we have been writing and presenting about.  In Coursekit, you still basically use the tools and interface provided to you in the box.  In an SLE, both the instructor and students choose to use whatever tools are out there and then tells the SLE where they are. The SLE would aggregate those and then combine them in one place to be exported to the interface that the students or instructor chooses (and everyone could have a different one).

But, that idea is still probably a few years from being accepted by even the bleeding edge folks (I say that knowing that most EGJ readers are probably miles ahead of even the bleeding edge types out there).  So, given the choice between complex and clunky and simple and fun, I would take simple and fun any day.

(sidenote: I do know that Moodle 2.0 has taken great strides in integrating with external sites rather than just linking to them.  It just has so many changes and I am so busy that it is taking me forever to wrap my head around it all.  Expect some posts about Moodle2.0 at some point in the future).

Is Moodle Going Down the Path of Open Social Learning?

Embedded below is an interesting interview with Martin Dougiamas, founder of Moodle.  The interview was originally posted on Michael Feldstein’s e-Literate site (who also conducted the interview and asked some great questions).  The entire thing in interesting, but there are two key points that interest people that are interested in the New Vision for the LMS stuff we have been blogging about here:

  • Moodle 2.0 will have a feature that lets you pull in existing blog entries from your own blog that are tagged with a specific tag.  Dougiamas mentions this around the 31:45, and this captures one of the features that we think will be key in the future of online learning.
  • Dougiamas also talks about the future of Learning Management Systems and Moodle starting at the 32 minute mark.  He mentions that there will most likely be a new version of Moodle (“Moodle X” he calls it) that will be a totally new program (not just Moodle 3.0) built from the ground up, centered around the student.  A lot of this sounds exactly like what we have been talking about here, so I am really glad to see a major player in the online learning market talking like this.  The only question I have: how do I get in on the conversation he is having with people about this?

Here is the video itself:

Interview with Martin Dougiamas from Michael Feldstein on Vimeo.

Been Too Long Since We’ve Had a Good BlackBoard Jab

Courtesy of Metamedia and Pete – the Adventures of Bollywood Blackboard-wala:

Ep. 1 Paying The Annual Licensing Fee

Ep. 2 Dealing with Customers Looking at the Open Source Alternative

Ep. 3 Dealing with the Patent Invalidation Ruling

Ep. 4 Confronting the Open Source Challenge

Ep. 5 Live from Blackboardwala World 2008

Ep. 6 Dealing with Customers Looking at the Open Source Alternative, Again

Ep. 7 Improving Customer Support

Ep. 8 The Patent Pledge Explained

Ep. 9 The Future of Blackboardwala

Ready for This? Moodle 1.9 Was Just Released

Are you ready for it? I have to say that I was not ready, basically because I had put off some programming stuff based on the notion that I needed to “wait until Moodle 1.9 was released to move forward.” Doh! But, other than little personal kick in the pants (that I needed), all I can say: about time! It’s good that they did wait to release this version (it’s been nearly a year since 1.8). They went through the longest Beta testing in Moodle history and even had a bug-a-thon to get the glitches out. So that should lead to a pretty slick, nice new version of their product.

I say “should” because Moodle is so popular that I can’t download the new version off of their overloaded download servers!

But here are the new features that Moodle highlighted in their release announcement (all of which sound pretty sweet):

  • The Moodle gradebook is all new – designed from the ground up to support expansion and integration with other systems.
  • For all you pedagogo-philes out there, they added integrated support for outcomes. What this means is that learning goals can be tied to individual courses and activities and can be graded.
  • Moodle code has been review and tweaked to obtain a “huge” increase in performance. This will apparently be most noticeable on large sites.
  • One word: tagging! They made tagging core to the programming. Users, blogs, courses, and even external sites can now be easily linked together through simple tags. They mention sites like Flickr and YouTube, so I can’t wait to test drive this one.

I also have to note that test banks can be shared across a Moodle installation (nice) and they have created a single-sign on e-Portfolio integration with the Mahara open-source e-Portfolio program (sweet). You can read a full list of release notes on the Moodle site.

Moodle 1.8 is Unleased on the Unsuspecting World

They said it would be out by March, and they just made it by March 31st – Moodle 1.8. And with this release, Moodle continues to put the hurt on the other Learning Management Systems out there. Here are some of the features in the new version of Moodle:

  • Strict XHTML 1.0 compliance. Not Transitional – Strict! Wow….
  • Moodle Network. This is still being developed, but promises to be awesome. From the Moodle site:“We can now set up peer Moodle installations allowing users to roam from one site to another, using comprehensive SSO and transparent remote enrollments. Administrators at the originating Moodle install can see logs of remote activity. You can also run your Moodle in “Hub” mode where any Moodle install can connect and users roam across.”

    That is just awesome, even though I’m not sure I even fully understand what all it can do.

  • Improved Roles. Role definition is a great tool is Moodle, because you can create and define roles anyway you want now. For example, I created a “Blog Commenter” role on this site that allows a person to comment on the blog and nothing else. Kind of nice. Of course, Moodle already has a good set of predefined roles, including separate levels for Instructional Designer, Teacher, and Non-Editing Teacher. But this is nice all the way around.

I was also poking around in Moodle, and found that it has a built in course request system. That would be huge where I work – We have to use a clunky and separate system to allow instructors to request a new course.

Learning Management Systems Go 3-D With Sloodle

The EduGeeks (all two of us for now) were discussing the Blog Tags sidebar last night. Katrina had noticed that the tags were all the same size. I looked in to it and found that each tag will grow in size depending on the number of times they are used. The more popular ones will be larger. So, my prediction is that the “Second Life” tag will be huge before too long. We all seem to be really excited about Second Life. All two of us, that is.

One fairly new project that I am really excited about takes the popular open-source learning management system Moodle and mixes it with the interactive social environment of Second Life. This program is called Sloodle (naturally). The goal of this project is to have a seamless integration between the two programs.

There are many ideas that they have for this. One is to connect the text chat function in Second Life to the database of Moodle so that the chats are archived for those that can’t make it. A side benefit of this is that people who can’t run Second Life on their machines can participate in the chat through the old fashioned method – in their browser. That’s so 2006….

There are several ideas being thrown around. One is a quiz block that you sit on in SL and answer questions for your Moodle exam. One that we may end up using here at the journal allows an avatar in Second Life to post an entry to their blog in Moodle (Moodle is the program that this site is running on). Jeremy Kemp recently posted a video on YouTube that demonstrates this function. Pretty interesting stuff: