Course Management Systems are Dead!

Heh. Blackboard Vista is headed for a brick wall? Who knew?

7. Course Management Systems are Dead! Long Live Course Management Systems! Proprietary course management systems are heading for a brick wall. The combination of economic pressures combined with saturated markets and the maturing stage of the life cycle of these once innovative platforms means that 2009 may well be the year of change or a year of serious planning for change. Relatively inexpensive and feature-comparable open source alternatives combined with some now learned experience in the process of transition from closed to open systems for the inventory of repeating courses makes real change in this once bedrock of education technology a growing possibility. As product managers and management view these trend lines, I think we might see incumbent players make a valiant effort to re-invent themselves before the market drops out from underneath them. Look for the number of major campuses moving (or making serious threats to move) from closed systems to open ones to climb in the year ahead. The Year Ahead in Higher Ed Technology

It is true the big player in proprietary CMS / LMS / VLE software has lagged in innovation for quite a while. Remember though Blackboard bought WebCT and kept around the other product while hemorrhaging former WebCT employees. That alone kept them extremely busy not to lose every customer they bought. The next version, Blackboard 9 should be available soon. That is the litmus test for their future success.

Bb9 is a newer version of Academic Suite, aka Classic. There is no direct upgrade path from CE / Vista to Bb9. There is a Co-Production upgrade path where one can run both versions side-by-side with a portal interface to access either version without having to login again. Content still has to be extracted from the old and placed in the new. (Since we are running Vista 3 and Vista 8 side-by-side now, this doedsn’t give me warm fuzzies.) This was the upgrade path some WebCT and Blackboard clients took getting from Vista 3 to 4 only to find Vista 4 was junkware. Similarly, those leaving CE4 for CE6 were frustrated by the move. So, I would predict:

  1. Those on Classic 8 now will go to Blackboard 9 ASAP.
  2. Smaller colleges on CE 8 who through turnover no longer have the people burned by the CE4->CE6 migration will probably move to Blackboard 9 this summer prior to Fall.
  3. Smaller colleges on CE 8 who still remember will migrate after AP1 (maybe a year after Bb9 release).
  4. Larger colleges on CE or Vista 8 will move some time between AP1 and AP2.
  5. Consortia groups like GeorgiaVIEW, Utah State System, or Connecticut State University System will wait and see.

That last group doesn’t take change easily. They have the nimbleness of a Supertanker cargo ship.

I am still waiting for the tweets about Moodle and Sakai, the open source alternatives, to change from in general “X sucks, but at least its not Blackboard.” to “X is the best there is.” If “at least its not Blackboard” is the only thing going for the software, then people will stay where they are to see where things go. There needs to be compelling reasons to change.

Unfortunately the cries of the students and the faculty in the minority are not enough. Most people are happy enough. They can accomplish the important things. They get frustrated that IT took the system down, data center power issues, network issues, or a performance issue. None of which go away by picking FOSS.

Christmas Blog Post 2008

Last night I read Uncle Bill’s Christmas letter. He mailed it, but he apparently doesn’t have my postal address so I got the electronic version. Woohoo! His letter recaps the year for his family. Do any of you have such a tradition? Or a family member who does? Oddly my blog doesn’t provide much basis as it is devoid of personal information.

So here goes….

Family

Mom went off to Houston in January to consult with one of the best doctors in the country about a health issue. How things fell into place to allow her to get better amazed me daily. I got to grandparent sit for a week where I madeĀ Nannie tell stories so I could post them on Youtube. šŸ˜€

William marriedĀ Nicole,Ā his high school sweetheart. I finally have a sister. It rained on us briefly, so if you are into superstitions, that means either: 1) kids, 2) money, or 3) good luck.

I met Dad’s girlfriend, Sally, this year. She is definitely very nice. I’m happy with the match.

Friends

My only New Year’s Resolution for 2008 was to read 25 books this year. I completed that goal back in October. I’m thinking for 2008 to do a similar resolution. This time I’ll count up the number of pages and set a goal to read 20% more pages.

Some fellow Flickr users started an Athens Flickr Meetup. I’m hoping this is something to continue in 2009 as the weather improves. (Though who knew Georgia would be 20 degrees Farenheit above normal in December?)

RingsAdrianne and Britt asked me to be the photographer for their wedding. I spent hoursĀ looking at professional photographer portfolios for ideas about what I should capture. You see, while I do have a camera, I had never really taken photos at a wedding. Heck, few people invite me to weddings, so I was a little unclear what happens. In the end, I think it all turned out pretty well. Adrianne is happy. So I am happy. Working in computers became a profession because it was a hobby. Maybe photography will end up the same in the end?Ā Posted 840 photos to Flickr this year. Started freelovephotography.com to show off my photography.

Las Vegas in July? Dumb. Star Trek: The Experience made my geeky heart soar.
NCC-1701-DNCC-1701-D @ ST: TXP

Thankful

  1. Family, especially gaining a new member in a few weeks
  2. My dart team members and their significant others
  3. Friends
  4. Having a job, especially my team at work
  5. No health issues this year
  6. My cameras and accessories
  7. Car
  8. Google Reader
  9. Flickr video

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Flickr Group Admin

Got this odd message from Flickr…

The last administrator of [group name]Ā has left the group and you have been made into an administrator. This is because you are the longest serving member of the group. Well done šŸ™‚

This is an interesting way of ensuring someone is an administrator of a group. Unfortunately, I have enough groups to administrate (which I don’t do well). So, I just left that one and passed the buck on to another unfortunate soul.

Nothing We Can Do?

A statement by a faculty member to the effect of, “There isn’t anything our IT people can do to resolve this problem. The web application is overloaded,” puts the people running the application on the defensive. The problem turned out to be resolved with changes to the local browser environment (remove all the installs of Java and replace with a single known good version). In other words, it wasn’t only because the web application was overloaded and could have been resolved by their IT people consulting the knowledge base intended to provide the information to resolve exactly this kind of stuff.

The last situation we want to have is an overloaded server before we even hit the heavy usage period.

Less Is More

Mashable has an interesting article about why Twitter persists despite frequent performance issues: “Less is more. Simplicity is power.” By providing little more than an API, upon which numerous others have built tools, it doesn’t so directly compete with other services.

I wonder if perhaps this is the right approach for a learning system? One size no longer fits all. Blackboard Vista is chock full of dozenss of tools and hundreds of settings. This made their products a behemoth to administrate. A lighter system where only the tools people wish to use could help.

On the flip side, a project like GeorgiaVIEW serves thousands of faculty members. All the tools in Blackboard Vista are not enough to satisfy all of the faculty. They want us to integrate with dozens of third party tools, namely the one which will make their class work. An easy API to write against would ultimately mean we would have more tools than we struggle to administrate today.

I guess this is my rejection of the Personal Learning Environment. As great as it is for students and the faculty, the IT who have to support them will fail to support them.

Causal Stupidity

Everything Bad Is Good for You
Image via Wikipedia

I remember as a kid, my parents restricting television and video game use because they would both make me stupid and violent. They worked too hard, so I had plenty unsupervised time to violate the rules. Plus no force would make me do homework.

The past half decade has seen a resurgence of blame on making kids dumber: the Internet. If I were a kid today, then certainly my parents would be trying to limit my time on it. Comics and radio were also accused of making kids dumb during my parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

What I don’t understand is… If we are becoming so dumb from the current media sources, then how is it possible we can invent new technology to make us even dumber? Perhaps Mark Bauerlein and Lee Drutman should read Everything Bad Is Good For You? (a review) Mike Wesch has an engaging video regarding how kids use these technologies called A Vision of Students Today.

These “dumb” kids know something as despite their involvement with media as they still significantly outperform their parents on IQ tests to the degree the grandparents would qualify for the “special class” taking the same tests. These gains are centered in our ability to create better expansive and interconnecting cognitive maps. I suggest What is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect for more about this.

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Firefox 3

The generic globe logo used when Firefox is compiled without the official branding
Image via Wikipedia

Apparently the official launch of Firefox 3 is tomorrow. So we get to look forward to 4+ months of students and faculty members asking why Blackboard Vista doesn’t recognize Fx 3 as supported. Every week’s call with Blackboard will have the conversation:

Us: Is it supported yet?
Bb: Not yet. We are working on it.
Us: When will it be supported?
Bb: We can’t tell you yet, but we will let you know when it is.

I bet Mozilla starts pushing it through auto-updates either tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. So it will be everywhere soon enough. Ugh.

Personally, I look forward to the upgrade as it will hopefully resolve a major issue for me: Firefox 2 regularly consumes in excess of 250 MB of RAM and becomes sluggish.

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Upgrade, Upgrade, Upgrade

Be more secure! Upgrade today.

Want better functionality? Upgrade today.

Save a developer! Upgrade today.

The save a developer thing is the impetus for this post.

The upgrade today mantra annoys me.

  1. Software rarely spends enough time in alpha and beta cycles to to identify all the issues.
  2. People have been so burned by using software in alpha and beta cycles, they are hesitant to try upgrades and help determine the issues.
  3. This lack of attention to the problems ensure, versions 1.0, 2.0, n.0 typically have a ton of unknown problems or are even less secure at times.

Unfortunately, the vendor who makes the application platform we run, Blackboard, has a philosophy to look at new web browsers while they are in beta but not actually work towards fixes for the new browsers until after the products are released. With most releases of Java or supported web browsers (Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox), Blackboard heard the complaints by the early adopters and released within a couple months an update which resolved the reported issues.

The students and faculty members fail to understand the issue. I think I do. Blackboard (like WebCT prior) understands there are differences between beta and final. Some of us argue these differences are usually minor. However, this is all asking someone to predict the future which we know is haphazard at best.

Long alpha and beta cycles allow more users to get involved, give those back to the developers, have them fixed before the version release. Burning users with buggy software ensures their lack of faith.

Exclusion Groups

This is America! Equality! Liberty! Democracy!

Arizona has a bill S.B. 1108 to legislate the forbidding of student groups who are against the principles of America. Specifically democracy, capitalism, pluralism, and religious tolerance must be upheld by all.

A founding principle of the United States was dissent. Disagreeing with King George III, British Parliament, and mercantile oppression led to the colonies banding together and seceding. In Georgia, “The South will rise again” refers to states disagreeing with moves in Washington DC and electing to form their own country rather than continue to be oppressed.

The First Amendment to the US Constitution establishes the right to free speech. Student groups in K-12 and higher education allow students to talk in private, refine the message into a few coherent ideas, and then present that message in public. Restricting such groups to topics government deems acceptable sounds contrary to American values to me.

This bill came to my attention because of an amendment to the bill which would prohibit student groups based around race. The member of the committee wants schools to return to “melting pot” approaches for the student experience. Every student group I’ve seen based on race has a focus of helping minority students better adapt to operate within the culture of America. So banning the groups bans people doing the “melting pot” approach work.

“This bill basically says, ‘You’re here. Adopt American values,’ ” said Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican. “If you want a different culture, then fine, go back to that culture.” Plan targets anti-Western lessons

Is the culture reflecting the values of the Founding Fathers? If so, then it may get a significant boom in population….