The concept of a technology adoption curve was first described in a study of the willingness of farmers to try new agricultural methods, but it applies quite well to technology in general. I like to try new things, but won't promote any new technology just because it's cool. It has to fill an unmet need and be easy enough to use that most people can manage it. Therefore I generally try to stay just on the right hand side of the "chasm." However, that's not always the case. Although I have followed their development with great interest, I only recently got a smartphone. With 56% of Americans now owning smartphones (I'm sure that number skews young), that plants me squarely in the majority, and illustrates that while one might be an innovator with one technology, that doesn't mean one isn't more cautious in some other technical regard. That's ok. Until recently, I had no need to own a smartphone and, now that I own one, I'd still characterise "need" as a stretch ;-)
Are you a technology innovator, do you "go with the flow", or do you take a "wait and see" approach?
Back in March, I wrote about the hype cycle. Although I didn't think about it at the time, can you see how the chasm in the upper graph is connected to the trough in the hype cycle? Overlay these two graphs and the connection is clear. While a technology can show great promise and generate excitement among early enthusiasts, it may never catch on with the general public. Often this is because of some limitation in what it can do or in how easy it is to use that the enthusiasts don't mind but which the general public would not tolerate. That's the chasm. If the chasm isn't crossed, then the technology never reaches that eventual productivity plateau but instead just dies out or remains a hobby for a small group of technophiles. Linux is a great example of a promising technology that hasn't crossed the chasm. Enthusiasts are the key to the spread of new technologies however. Seth Godin makes this point well when he talks about marketing to the people who care. So let's think about where we are, because it's useful to know ourselves. If I say the word "Blackboard" or "iPad" or "clicker" or "3-D printer" or "Arduino" or "smartphone" or "Twitter" or "Facebook," where do you fall on the curve? Now think about your colleagues and where they are relative to you. Are you always in the same part of the curve or do you jump around? Have you learned something about yourself through this little exercise? If you decide not to adopt some new technology that everyone is talking about, does that make you a laggard? Not necessarily. It could be that the technology in question is heavily hyped right now but will not last. There is an implied slur in calling people "laggard" that I don't like. Not every new technology is a good thing, nor will it last. If it's not, or if it doesn't--something we'll only know in retrospect--then you were right not to jump on the bandwagon. Nobody talks much about Second Life anymore and, if you missed it, you didn't miss much. If you never bought a Palm or Windows Mobile PDA, good for you! You saved a bunch of money on a near worthless device. And what if you're an innovator? Do you stick with a technology once everyone is using it? Or does that take all the fun out of it? If you were on Facebook when nobody had heard of it, are you still there today? There's a saying that "good pioneers make bad settlers." Pioneers don't like crowds, and they are always moving to the new frontier. I'm not one, but I appreciate them. They work hard and explore a lot of places that don't lead anywhere useful. But when they make a real discovery, the rest of us get to enjoy it without all the effort ;-)
The "hype cycle." Overlay this graph on the tech adoption curve above.
The dreaded password change notice.
Ah, the lowly password. A simple tool from a bygone computer era. But if you've gotten a message like this one lately, I think you will agree with me that passwords are no longer either simple to manage or effective at keeping us secure. Passwords are much like our congested freeways; they don't work very well anymore but the entire infrastructure is built around them so, while they drive us crazy, we have no alternative. The first problem is multiple services. With a steadily growing number of web-based services, each with its own password expiration cycle and username and password creation rules, it has become increasingly difficult to remember all of your passwords and which username and password go with which service. Thankfully, many services let you use your e-mail address as your username, and most offer a "Forgot your password?" link. It's also helpful that my workplace, at least, has a "single sign-on" for all services. The downside of that, though, is that if my work password is compromised, the hacker can change everything from the grades in the class I'm teaching to the beneficiaries of my life insurance plan and the bank routing number of my paycheck's direct deposit! The second problem is multiple devices. The password wallet or virtual keychain was a good solution for managing the multiple usernames and passwords saved on your computer. Just remember one username and password and the tool does the rest. But once you have multiple devices, you're out of luck. So if I have 10 services that require passwords (not an outrageous number when you consider multiple e-mail accounts, IM and video conferencing services, a photo sharing service, e-Bay, PayPal, social services, online banking, web hosting service, cloud storage service, etc.) and 5 devices (again, not all that unreasonable when you consider personal computer, work computer, tablet, laptop, smartphone, etc.), then that's 50 passwords to change on a regular basis. If you have multiple OSes (MacOS and Windows, for example) installed on your device, then that device counts as two. But we're still not done. The third problem is multiple applications on each device. Even if we just consider my single work password, there are many applications on each device that need to use it, and need to be updated when it changes. For example, there's my e-mail program, my VPN connection, my IM program, my web browser, my web page editor, my FTP application, and the fact that I often run more than one of these programs. For example, I use three web browsers commonly, and two e-mail applications, three IM programs, etc. So, to sum up, if I use 10 services on 5 devices, each which connects to these services from 10 applications, that's, very conservatively speaking, 500 places where I need to change passwords on a regular basis! Not every app stores a password for every service, but you get the idea. Here's an oversimplified map of my online world. I bet yours looks similar. Start drawing lines from service through device to application, and you'll see how messy password management can get!
Password management is no longer simple, nor does it keep us very secure.
True, I may have it a bit worse than most, but I can tell you that this is out of control and that I'm better at managing this chaos than most people. It is no wonder, then, that many of us use the same not-very-strong-password, or a minor variant of it, on multiple services, and that we engage in other unsafe behaviors such as writing passwords down on a sticky note attached to our monitor, or incrementing our old password with the next number in line when it's time to change it. With the proliferation of cloud-based accounts and services, it's only a matter of time before one of them is breached. It seems that not a month goes by without some service provider announcing that its user base has been compromised. It is no wonder, then, that when one of our accounts gets hacked, sometimes through no fault of our own, it doesn't take long for a hacker to gain access to our other accounts, often by using our email system to reset our passwords in other systems. The fourth problem is that all of the flaws above lead services to use extreme countermeasures such as forcing you to create a password so strong that you have no hope of remembering it, or locking your account after too many failed access attempts, or making you prove that you're human with one of those "captcha" tools. Often it's not a hacker or a bot but just me, trying to remember which username and which password go with this account, hoping I guess right before I get locked out. Sometimes it's a device with an old password trying to update itself automatically that locks me out. Sometimes I fail to correctly answer my own challenge questions because the system is too picky about the answer. For the "street I lived on when I was in second grade," did I spell out "Street" or did I abbreviate with "St." (with or without the ".") or did I leave out "Street" altogether? I don't know what the solution is. Maybe a cloud based keychain that generates ridiculously strong passwords you never have to remember, or that uses some difficult to impersonate biometric like fingerprint or retina scan? All I know is that I'm in desperate need of something to fix this mess, and that a lot of other people are stuck in the same sinking boat. I will lose hours of productivity dealing with this upcoming password change, and it will be days or weeks before most of the apps on most of the devices I use regularly are updated. There has got to be a better way!
Update: I have heard very good things about 1Password, a web-based password keychain, and since I have started using Apple's iCloud Keychain, which syncs across all my devices, a strong password is supplied for each web account, and yet I don't have to remember it. So far, 6 months in, it's working great!
The Hype Cycle: Map your favorite educational technology.
How many times have you heard that some emerging technology is going to solve all of education's woes? In my experience, a technical innovation may allow the job to be done faster, cheaper, or better than before, but rarely, if ever, all three. If you're lucky, you get to pick two! If you're thinking about implementing some new technology that everyone is talking about, It's important to step back and consider its position on the "hype cycle" graph. Google Glass, for example, is just past the trigger point, and visibility is still increasing. MOOCs are at the peak of inflated expectations right now. But does anyone remember Second Life? Once heralded as "the next big thing," it has slid into the trough of disillusionment. Take Second Life out of your resumé, people. It's not doing you any favors. Speech recognition, long ridiculed, is finally climbing out of the trough and up the slope towards a more realistic "plateau of productivity." While still not practical for most uses, it fills a niche for users with repetitive stress injuries that make using the mouse and keyboard painful. Used as intended, with a realistic appreciation for what it can and can't do, technology can be highly effective. But misapplied, technology can make a real mess of things. As the old saying goes, "To err is human. To really screw up, you need a computer." One of the debates that rages in my office relates to what to teach people about a new technology. We want them to get excited about new technologies, as we are, and to be adventurous in their teaching. Often however, people with inflated expectations come to us only wanting to know how some new technology will make their job easier, and they get frustrated when we ask them why they want to use it (what problem are they trying to solve?) or try to explain that there are limitations. They don't want to hear that it won't re-energize their lectures or that it might require just as much effort as what they are doing now. Let's look at a few examples of useful technologies misapplied, and you'll see what I mean.
|Instructor shows a full-length movie to class in order to take a day off from lecture, catch up on grading, etc.||Instructor shows a series of relevant video clips, each followed up with insightful questions and guided discussion to engage the class in critical thinking.|
(two ways to wreck a presentation)
1. PowerPoint presentation is viewed in absence of the presenter, but the bullet points are vague or meaningless without the emphasis and interpretation of the speaker. (Did they think the presenter had nothing of value to add?)
2. Speaker, facing away from the audience, reads paragraphs of text from each projected PowerPoint slide, adding nothing of relevance. (Did they think the audience can't read?)
|Presenter uses prompts on the slides to make key points to the audience, to jog the memory, and to engage the audience in a lively and only loosely scripted discussion.|
SafeAssign or TurnItIn
|Instructor uses tool to fail students for unintentional plagiarism.||Instructor uses tool to show students how to properly reference the source materials they cite.|
|Rather than make the teaching more engaging, instructor uses clickers to enforce mandatory attendance policy.||Instructor uses tool to assess comprehension, engage students, and deepen their understanding with challenging questions and analysis of why they think what they do.|
Your assignment: Expand my table with more examples. Begin with the LMS, Facebook, eBooks, MOOCs, and iPads. All great tools. But are they being used as they should?
Yes, it's true. We all make mistakes. And sometimes, even when we don't do anything wrong, bad stuff still happens. It might not be fair, but that's life. When a setback inevitably occurs, how do we respond? Do we cover it up, downplay its significance, get defensive, make excuses, or try to shift blame? Do we make an emotional public mea culpa, roll out the damage control spin machine, and then get back to business as usual? Or do we make sure that our clients know something went wrong, apologize to the injured parties, remediate if possible, fix the problem, promise to learn from the incident, and genuinely try to do better in future? That's the true test of character, isn't it? Our Learning Management System is a critical piece of the Information Infrastructure at the University. Over the years, we've had some outages and performance issues; several that were more serious and longer in duration than we'd like. Sometimes, it's been our fault; something we overlooked or should have anticipated. Sometimes it's been an unexpected hardware failure, a guy with a backhoe, or lightning strike. And sometimes it's been a flaw in the LMS itself, or in the hosting service. Here is an interesting collection of recent readings on LMS security incidents and responses. If this was a test, I'd say, "Match the response below to the behavior described above."
09.27.2011: Blackboard Learn and Security
10.06.2011: Analysis of Blackboard Response to Recent Disclosure of Security Vulnerabilities
11.10.2011: Instructure and Security Testing
01.24.2012: Some Secrets Hurt
08.21.2012: A Bad Day for Canvas
08.26.2012: 4 Things We Learned About Instructure from Canvas' Bad Day
02.01.2013: You have every right to be angry
02.04.2013: Bad Week on Desire2Learn
LMS Marketshare Over Time
The LMS Market Share battle remains interesting. Since dominant player Blackboard's acquisition of WebCT in 2006, Angel in 2009, Elluminate and Wimba in 2010, it appears that the company's share of the market continues to shrink. Proof once more that acquiring a competitor is easier than holding onto its customers. That, more than anything else, may explain why the company went from public (BBBB on the Nasdaq) back to private hands in 2011 and just announced the departure of long time polarizing CEO Michael Chasen in 2012, who brazenly attempted to patent the LMS in 2006, sued Desire2Learn and verbally threatened open source alternatives Moodle and Sakai. While Sakai appears to have stagnated due to fragmenting of the developer community, Moodle, D2L and upstart Canvas are all growing at Blackboard's expense.
Higher Ed Goes Digital
Big changes are coming to the hallowed halls of higher education. As the cost of a four year degree continues to rise because of, well, you might be surprised. And because state funding for education continues to decline, the consumer is left paying an increasing share of the bill. Administrators, who feel pinched to keep doing more with less and to keep a lid on costs, are pushing for increased class sizes, for more classes taught by part-time instructors, for more online classes, and for the adoption of technologies that automate instruction or reduce the teaching effort per instructor, allowing each one to do more. If we step back and look at the big picture, where is all this headed? As a result of these coming changes, the tenure track faculty member who teaches for a living is, by my reading of the situation, an endangered species, and the state funded primarily undergraduate university isn't much better off. Don't believe me? Ask any department chair at any public undergraduate institution what's happening when a tenured professor (one who's primary responsibility is teaching, not research) retires. While enrollment is growing like crazy (because "college is for everyone"), experienced full-time faculty are being replaced, if at all, by much cheaper and often less qualified part-time instructors. It's happening because technology has been identified as a method for regularizing and further automating undergraduate instruction. Undergraduate university teaching is the delivery of specialized, but fairly standard, information to a large market of adults, for a high price. (K-12 is safe for the moment because teachers not only impart knowledge but also serve as workday babysitters for their young charges.) Sure, experts are still necessary to develop the standardized lessons and content for higher education but, once that's done, it can all be deployed on a massive scale and managed by less qualified people. (Well, that's the argument I hear from upper administration anyway. Whether a less qualified instructor can as effectively grasp and deliver that content is another question, but it's a tradeoff administrators seems able to live with.)
Since the market is large and the price is high, there will be lots of competition for students. With instruction going online, students will no longer be placebound, and course capacities will no longer be dictated by the size of the classroom. In the very near future, students will be able to get an online degree in most subjects from anywhere they choose. Some universities are even racing to grant degrees in personalized learning programs where students can shorten their course of study by "testing out" of classes in which they have "life experience!" (I hope the testing is rigorous and occurs in a proctored environment with ID checks!) When future students are choosing where to go for their online degree, why would they choose your institution? If you don't have a good answer, you'll be in trouble. This change will be highly disruptive. Ask yourself this. What happened to the local video rental stores like Blockbuster when Netflix came along? What happened to the local music shops after iTunes? What happened to the local newspapers after Craigslist became the place for classified ads? What happened to all the independent used bookstores and even the big chain bookstores like Barnes and Noble now that Amazon sells more digital books than paper ones? All of these digital information delivery services replaced their analog counterparts in a very short period of time. With high quality content and lessons coming from the big publishers, written by pedagogical and subject area experts and tailored for the web by skilled graphic designers, the courses developed independently by most professors don't compare favorably. Brick and mortar universities teaching traditionally will be like the small quirky independent bookshops competing against Amazon's vastly greater selection of cheaper content. Most of them will fold. What will happen to all those beautiful campuses and the college towns that depended on them? When the undergrad degree goes digital, there will be only a few winners and they will win big. There will also be many losers, as venerable local institutions see in-person enrollment decline and poorly implemented online programs fail to attract and/or retain students. Universities that conduct research and have graduate programs will be less affected, and the private ivy league institutions will continue to do fine by offering an expensive top-notch traditional education to a niche market, but the community colleges and primarily undergraduate institutions competing on price and who can't differentiate themselves will mostly go the way of the Blockbuster Video stores.
Which organization that you haven't heard of yet will be the Amazon or the iTunes of higher education? Will it be a big publisher like Pearson, or a for-profit online institution like University of Phoenix or Capella? Will it be a currently free option like Coursera, EdX, or Udacity or the Khan Academy? Will it be a highly regarded traditional institution like Stanford or MIT? Or will it be a small regional university like NAU, already accredited and experienced in online delivery to its rural population, that gets it right? It's too early to tell. But there are ways to prosper in this new era. Courses from the for-profits are still generally pretty bad, and the selection from the free services is limited, so there's a window of opportunity for some new leaders to emerge. And while Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are currently getting a lot of attention, they require a level of self-motivation and organization rarely found in our undergraduates. Build better service, with better instructors, more courses of study, better than standard "canned" content, and more personal touch into our online programs and we can beat the competition, create more value for the dollar, grow enrollment, and enhance our reputation as a quality online degree granting institution. That will take time and hard work, and it will take a new kind of instructor who knows technology and pedagogy as well as the subject area. And it won't be any cheaper, to the chagrin of those who think that waving some technology pixie dust over the problem will make it all better. But change is coming and academia, steeped in tradition and rife with bureaucracy, is not very good at change, so it's going to be a shock. Are you preparing for the giant wave of change that's about to crash on traditional higher education? Because you can just sit there and get crushed by it, or you can start paddling for your life and ride it into the future!
On March 26, 2012, Blackboard's CEO, Michael Chasen, and Ray Henderson, former CEO of Angel and now CTO of Blackboard, announced an apparent shift in Blackboard's strategy. The announcement says that Blackboard now embraces open source products such as Moodle and Sakai, and curiously, there's an "oh, by the way" at the end; almost an afterthought, about the future of Angel, a recent acquisition. It's a very strange development on the surface, that took many people by surprise. Inside Higher Ed calls it a pivot in strategy but, as a long time Blackboard watcher, I don't think that's quite right. It will help if you know some of the backstory. Blackboard has a long history of acquiring other companies. If you're a Star Trek fan, it's hard not to see them as the Borg of the LMS world. From Prometheus through WebCT, Wimba, Elluminate and Angel, Blackboard has been busily buying up companies that compete in its sphere of influence. They have also produced products designed to put some of their former partners out of a job, such as the Safe Assign component that duplicated (incompletely, but well enough) the service TurnItIn provides. They famously sued Desire2Learn, an LMS competitor, and threatened the open source community not to tread on their outrageously broad patents or else face the unnamed consequences. The long-term damage Chasen did to Blackboard's reputation with these moves is still reverberating through the higher ed community. So Blackboard has a somewhat deserved reputation as a bully and an opponent of open source LMS tools. Why then, would they do such an apparent about-face and offer to extend the life of Angel and to "embrace" (their word) their open source competitors? Have they seen the error of their ways?
Extending the life of Angel is the easy part to explain. When a company acquires another company's product, as Blackboard ought to know well, it can take a while to assimilate the product and/or its users. It takes a lot more than just rebranding the product and bringing over a few executives from the absorbed company for show. Blackboard is still suffering indigestion from its absorption of WebCT. NAU was a WebCT school, and we came up using their Standard Edition, Campus Edition, and Vista products, but the import of our HTML-rich Vista courses into Blackboard's LMS, a process they told us would be far smoother than moving to anyone else's product, turned out to be a bit of a disaster. Vista is end-of-lifed in 2013 and all of the former Vista schools we've spoken to who are now on Bb Learn are suffering with broken courses that require extensive repairs. So it's not so much that Blackboard doesn't want its more recently absorbed Angel customers moving into the Bb Learn fold. It's that they've got their hands full with the former Vista clients and are scrambling to fix Bb Learn to make it work better. Giving the Angel people a little more rope looks like a favor but they seem to be fairly happy where they are and, really, the LMS group within Blackboard probably doesn't have time to deal with another set of dissatisfied Blackboard conscripts while they're busy trying to figure out how to globally repair imported Vista courses.
Now, on to the open source side of the question. While Blackboard has been gobbling up LMS competitors over the past ten years, their market share has not grown proportionally. Acquring companies, it turns out, is easier than holding onto the customers of the those former companies. Also, as fast as they can absorb a competitor, a new alternative pops up. Over those past ten years, Blackboard has also been moving in another direction. They have been building "platforms" above the LMS that create more complete solutions for their K-12 and higher ed customers. But as Blackboard has not been successful at creating an LMS monopoly, the market for their vertically integrated platforms has also shrunk. Therefore, their effort to embrace the open source world is an attempt at damage control for their bully reputation, while simultaneously trying to reach a broader market for their other products. Even many schools that use Blackboard's Learn LMS don't purchase their Analytics, Outcomes, Collaborate, Transact, and other tools, so attempting to broaden the market for these products makes sense. I don't think it's going to work, however, because there are only two major categories of open source users: penny pinchers who don't like Blackboard's price, and purists who don't like Blackboard's heavy handed anti-competitive tactics.
So what does this all mean for us? As Blackboard stretches to try to sell all the non-Learn LMS users on the rest of its many platforms, their own LMS will get fewer resources and less attention. They seem to think that they have already sold their LMS to everyone who wants it. No more blood to squeeze from that stone. Time to move on and leverage the other holdings. That's really too bad because, while the LMS has promise (in many ways I prefer it to Vista), it's still got a lot of problems that wouldn't be too hard to fix. Blackboard could take a page from Apple's playbook. They could work towards creating the best LMS and the most seamless integration to their other tools, and let the users flock to their solution. But instead, they seem to have decided that they've got other stuff to sell to other LMS users, so Learn goes to the back burner. Redoubling their efforts to beat, rather than eat, the competition would be a real strategy pivot. This just looks like more of the same to me.
Despite the April Fool's Day datestamp, this is no joke. There's something very important that you need to remember about Google and Facebook. You are not their customer. You are their product. Think about that a bit. Why are these services free? Clearly they cost money to operate. What is the revenue model? More on this topic soon...but in the meantime...Google's been worked on "augmented reality" glasses. Here's what using them will look like :p
Dear purveyors of eContent. There's something you really need to know. Our LMS is called Blackboard, but you seem to think it's called Springboard. We are not interested in putting a link in our LMS that bounces the users out of our well supported, familiar system to your unsupported, unfamiliar system. We are not interested in having our students take assessments in your system that don't put data back into Blackboard's gradebook. Our faculty don't want to learn a new user interface for every product they adopt. We made a conscious decision to adopt one LMS across the whole campus. If you have eContent to sell us, we want it in our LMS, not yours. Thanks!
A world of eContent at your fingertips.
When I went to college, back in the 1980s, each of my new hardcover textbooks weighed over 5 pounds and cost over $100.00. Cheaper used and softcover texts weren't yet readily available. Since that time, increasing numbers of students have been selling their textbooks back to the bookstore or other re-sellers in order to get a wad of cash to fund a keg-party or the next semester's textbook purchases. The increased availability of used textbooks has driven publishers, they argue, to raise the prices of their new texts and, at least to my skeptical eye, to make numerous small changes to each edition and release these new editions at ever shorter intervals to try to reduce the usefulness of old editions. So, for decades, students and publishers have been locked in an "arms race" that hasn't been particularly good for either side. That's about to change.
Enter Amazon.com, the model for a disruptive new relationship between students and textbook publishers. Amazon is the world's largest bookseller and they now sell more eBooks than paper books. They deliver their eBooks via the Kindle, but also through the free Kindle reader app for Android phones, iPhones, and iPads because Amazon only cares that you buy their content; not what you read it on. I bet not too many college students own Kindles, but they sure like their smartphones! I recently asked a fairly typical group of over 100 university students how many of them owned "smartphones." Almost every hand in the audience went up, so most students already have a mobile device capable of reading eTextbooks. I also asked them how many were currently using electronic textbooks. Not a single hand went up. In the business world, this is what people call an "opportunity."
The big academic publishers in K-12 and higher-ed, including Wiley, Pearson, Cengage, Benjamin Cummings, Houghton Mifflin, MacMillan and all the rest, are ready to get into the game. They've been watching Amazon long enough now to see that it's a winning strategy. According to the publishers, and I don't doubt their numbers, about one third of textbooks purchased annually are used, not new. Each of those re-sales is lost profit for the publishers. But because of something called DRM, or "digital rights management," students won't be able to re-sell their eTexts. While there are plenty of ways in which eBooks might be superior to paper books, the big one for the publishers is DRM. With eBooks, the used textbook market is dead. It's also possible that the publishers will profit from not having to print and distribute physical books, but at least some of those profits will be offset by the need to publish online editions, and maintain servers and a larger IT infrastructure. Publishers will tell you that students are going to love eTexts for the mobility, reduced weight, the ability to get corrections, updated content, and for the multimedia elements that make the eBook a richer learning experience. While both paper and electronic editions exist side by side, you can even expect the eText to be cheaper to drive customers into the new market. So students will like eContent, and publishers will profit from it. But convincing faculty, most of whom don't particularly like technology or change, that eTextbooks are worth the effort will be a challenge.
Faculty control the textbook adoption process, and they remain somewhat skeptical that moving to eTexts is a good idea. Publishers could try to pressure them by eliminating the paper edition, but that might drive an instructor to select a competitor's product. They could use student demand, by making the eText cheaper than, and different from, the paper edition. They might even try to convince faculty with incentives like a free iPad, or by encouraging faculty to "build your own book" by assembling chapters of pre-built content. In the days of the printed text, especially in the K-12 market where California and Texas heavily influence content decisions, the publisher sometimes faced the challenge of trying to satisfy diverse customers with the same content. Now the "controversial" chapter on Evolution or Global Warming or the Big Bang or Birth Control Methods can be easily deleted or replaced, because the customer is always right! In higher ed, the ability to easily mix and match digital content may also appeal to instructors who want to customize or who teach interdisciplinary courses. Apple hopes faculty will start writing their own eBooks for iPad using their free tools. I don't think the faculty will go willingly into this brave new world, but it's probably going to happen whether they like it or not.
Are we putting the technology cart before the instructional horse?
Recently, I was asked to develop a presentation for a group of faculty on the Teaching Uses of Social Software, and I was happy to oblige. I decided to approach the problem by giving them a broad overview of various kinds of social software, hoping that the sampler would stimulate some discussion of possible ways they could encorporate these tools into their teaching. But during the course of the presentation and following discussion, it became clear that the instructors had not really considered why they wanted to use social software except that "all the kids are doing it" and perhaps because they thought it might make them look "hip" and "with it" (or whatever terms the kids use for "hip" and "with it" these days). I attempted to reframe the discussion by asking them to identify some instructional "needs" and offering to suggest to them some possible technology "solutions" but it was pretty clear they weren't getting it. I thought maybe some examples would make that abstract question more concrete. "Say you want instantaneous feedback from students in the classroom. If so, you could use clickers or some other polling tool such as PollEverywhere.com." Blank stares. "Ok, well do you ever have problems getting students to discuss a controversial topic in class? If so, perhaps you could use Blackboard's discussions tool to create an anonymous discussion. Students may be more likely to speak up if they know they can participate anonymously." More stares. "Well, how about group work? Does anyone assign projects to groups of students? If so, you might consider a collaborative tool like GoogleDocs, or maybe a wiki, which allows students to simultaneously work on the same document. You can also view the document at various snapshots in time to see how it developed, and to see which students contributed what." At this point, one of the faculty interrupted. "Larry, what I think we need is for you to show how to teach using Facebook." By this point, I realized that by "teach" they meant "lecture" but, being a persistent sort of person (my wife says "stubborn"), I thought, ok, I can work with that. "Oh, I see. So you're interested in a sort of "get to know you" activity where people tell a little about themselves?" Looks of genuine confusion. "No, Larry, we just think it might be good to teach in Facebook because that's where the students are." I paused for a moment, trying to think of something I hadn't tried yet. "And maybe you could also show us how to teach from a smartphone?" But, by that point, we had run out of time. The moderator thanked me for the interesting presentation but, regrettably, we would have to follow up later on how to teach from smartphones. I haven't heard back.
The State of Kentucky, in a move that is sure to be emulated, is changing the way it funds public universities. Instead of providing funding based on the number of students enrolled, they will now fund based only on the number who graduate. The intentions are clear and good. Higher education is being asked to graduate more students and will only be rewarded for those who do. But universities are already working hard to keep students enrolled, and using intervention methods to turn failing students around. Faculty, for the most part, are already working hard to bridge the gap with students who are less prepared than they should be for university level work. And the new policy only gets at the quantity of graduates, ignoring the quality side of the equation. So if all the low hanging fruit has already been picked, where do schools turn? The problem is that they/we have several ways to achieve the goal of higher graduation rates, and the path of least resistance is not the one the legislature is hoping for. Can anyone predict some very likely unintended consequences? 1) Grade inflation for those in the system. 2) Stricter admission standards for those yet to enter. 3) Quicker dismissal of failing students. The legislature has identified an important issue (we don't want to give universities money for students who don't succeed), but is not applying the pressure or resources to fix the real problem. Of the three paths of least resistance, the first one, grade inflation, is clearly bad but the second and third might have an upside. If universities don't admit students who are likely to fail, and quickly kick out students who are not serious about doing the work, they use their limited state funds on the students who want to be there and who have the potential to succeed. Students unprepared for university level work would need to seek remedial coursework in order to pass admission requirements. This is a good thing. And the university degree would become a better indicator of ability. Also good. So if the legislature wants this new funding approach to work, they also need to penalize universities for grade inflation, let them admit fewer students, and kick out more students if they are unmotivated, unprepared, or both!
Recently NAU was approached by an organization called "Quality Matters" and invited to become a member. While they are a non-profit, that does not mean they are free. Annual membership dues are required, and the implication is pretty clear. If you say you're not interested, you must not care about quality, right? People pay to be trained as reviewers. People also pay to have their courses reviewed, and they pay to receive the QM seal of approval. Based on the success of this operation, QM could easily spin off some other ventures such as, "Motherhood and Apple Pie Matter," or "Patriotism Matters." Their heart is, to be fair, in the right place. The purpose of this organization is to identify things that make for a quality online course, and use a faculty peer review process to evaluate and certify these courses. This movement wouldn't even exist if there weren't some valid questions about the quality of online courses nationally, and if schools weren't feeling a little defensive about their online programs. I do, however, have some issues with their approach. My first issue is that the focus is on courses delivered online. Their scope does not include courses taught in a traditional manner, and I think we can all agree that some of those must be equally bad or worse! While I'd like to level the playing field and look at all courses, it's maybe a bit unfair to criticize QM for what they don't review. So let's look at what they do review. We will leave aside for now whether NAU should cede its authority over the evaluation of course quality to a body outside the university, and over which we have no control, because the question of who's watching the watchers could be the subject of an entirely different discussion. My biggest remaining issue with the "QM Program" is that online courses can be, arguably, broken down into three major components, and QM deals with only one. A better name for Quality Matters might be "Let's Focus on One of Three Things that Matters!" In case you're inclined to disagree with me, here are my three components of quality in an online course: 1) Course Design: this is the way the course is structured, how it displays to the user in the online environment, and the instructional methods used, including the identification and measurement of learning outcomes. 2) Course Content: this includes the selection of appropriate materials and the accuracy and depth of those materials, 3) Course Delivery: this includes all of the interactions between instructor and student, and among students. The QM program deals only with Course Design. I'm not saying that design doesn't matter. I'm pretty convinced that it does. Without good design, it's going to be difficult to get out of the starting blocks. But I think I'd like more than one of the three reviewers of my online course to be a "subject matter expert" and I don't think it makes much sense to slap a seal of approval on a course unless the content and delivery have also been reviewed thoroughly. I have seen the disastrous results that occur when you give great materials to a poor instructor. I have also seen the tragic consequences when you combine a dynamic and motivating instructor with materials that are inappropriate for the students, either because the materials are not challenging enough, are out of date or otherwise inaccurate, or are too challenging because the students do not have the necessary background preparation. What I'd really like to see is a peer review program that looks at all of the aspects of course quality described above, and owned by our own faculty rather than an outside organization. But I think I see the writing on the wall. If we don't start policing ourselves, it may not be too long before someone else is doing it for us.
True story. I have a faculty colleage who had a formal complaint filed against him by one of his students for "discriminating against me on the basis of my intelligence." (The "discrimination" was giving the student a lower grade than some of his classmates, based on the student's relatively poor performance on various assessments.) When the professor agreed that this was true, the student became even more convinced that he had a case! I think this raises an interesting point because the professor in question was using an "old" way of thinking, while the student was using a more modern construction.
When I was in college back in the '80s, I'm not sure there was such a thing as dropping a class. At least, if there was, I never did, and I never knew anyone who did, so it was neither common practice nor a well advertised option. It just never occured to me that one could do that. The concept of re-taking a class a second or third time to replace the original bad grade was also completely foreign. When I got the occasional grade that I was unhappy with, I owned it, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was there on my transcript for all to see, like a tenacious piece of gum on the bottom of my shoe. Today, most students would just throw away the shoes and buy a new pair. In my job at the university, we care about student success and we want everyone to get a good grade. We go to greater lengths every year to accomplish this goal, giving students more choice, more flexibility, and we intervene more than ever before to work with students who are struggling. All of this is good, I think. But we rarely think about why this is the goal. Not trying to be cynical here, but let's just step back for a minute and ask ourselves: "Isn't the point of grading students, in large part, to identify (optimistically) which ones have learned or, (pragmatically) which ones have successfully completed the assignments, or (cynically) which ones have successfully jumped through the hoops?"
Question: Is our goal to get everyone over the bar, no matter what it takes, or just to provide everyone an equal opportunity to get over the bar and then report the results? The bar I refer to here, of course, is "learning" even if measuring that intangible substance requires cruder instruments like tests and other assessments. If everyone gets unlimited chances to get an A (assuming here that letter grade correlates with learning achieved, so you can substitute A with "learned a lot" and F with "didn't learn a thing") by the process of do-overs, remedial work, tutoring sessions, interventions, etc, then aren't we artificially levelling the playing field? Aren't we de-valuing the A earned with hard work and without extra credit? Would you rather be seen by the doctor who got an A in Biology the first time through without any outside help, or the one who was failing the course and dropped it, took it again and got a D, found an easier instructor and took the course a third time, got a B- and, with a bunch of intervention, tutoring, and extra credit, got the B- rounded up to an A, which replaced the D on the transcript? I suppose that student has perseverance at least! Of course, there's an old joke: What do you call the medical student who graduated at the absolute bottom of his class? Doctor! Hah :-)
Why has it come to this, and how has it come to this, and is this where we want to be, and, if not, how do we get someplace else? I think part of the reason we have arrived at this point is that so many more kids are going to college. College really is the new high school. Michael Wesch, who I admire and mostly agree with, says "College is for everyone." True. Certainly part of the problem, though, is that if everyone is being admitted, more students are arriving unprepared. More students are here not because they want to be, but because they feel compelled to be so that they will be competitive for a job at the other end. This also explains the impatience of many of our students, who don't really love to learn or want to broaden their minds. They "just want a job, ok, and could you please show me the fastest way out of here?" I'm sympathetic. Who wants to spend $40,000 (minimum) for a bachelor's degree that still can't guarantee them a job? And certainly part of the problem is that universities love all the extra money that's coming in, but feel a twinge of guilt when those students who aren't prepared don't succeed. Legislators and administrators, who hear from the howling parents who pay the bills of these mediocre students, put pressure on faculty to do better. By "better," they mean graduate more students faster with better grades and with less funding. If we rule out the easy way (just lowering standards), and take the challenge to "do better" seriously, what's left?
Solutions: 1) Placement. Students should not be admitted to the university if they are not capable of succeeding and students should not be allowed into courses for which they have a high probability of failure. We can pretty accurately predict success with placement tests and we need to do this more. 2) Remediation. If students arrive without the skills but it is possible to teach them those skills, they need bridging courses to get them there. 3) Academic probation and dismissal. Students who are not succeeding, and who are not likely to turn it around, should not be strung along. 4) Monitoring. Technology can be used to monitor student progress so that intervention occurs quickly before students spiral downward. We do all of these things now. We just need to do them more, and better. But the following are not generally addressed at all. 5) Instruction. Most faculty arrive with good content area knowledge but limited teaching experience or knowhow. This can be addressed, but it would take a mind shift for the university to accept that this is a problem. 6) Compensation. Little attention is paid to the quality of instruction. Typically, only instructors with high D/F/W (drop, fail, withdraw) rates get any attention from administration, and this negative attention can easily be avoided by lowering standards and giving lots of As. But standardized tests, with all their flaws, can measure incoming and outgoing students and be used to reward instructors who show the gains. Will this lead to "teaching to the test?" Possibly. But if the test is good, that's not the worst problem to have. 7) Peer review. Research faculty know all about peer review. It's how they get articles published in good journals. But in the classroom, instruction is siloed. Nobody watches anyone else teach or gives them any tips on how to do it better. Sure, there's muttering in the hallways about which instructors are too easy, or just plain bad, but nothing gets done about it. This could be fixed if there was the will to do it, but again, it would require a major shift in faculty culture. 8) Reporting. Something I've never heard mentioned anywhere is that universities really ought to report not just on the grade a student receives, but how long it took the student to get there, and by what path. We have this data. We could put some of the rigor back into transcripts that are packed with As by reporting the information employers want to know: How much external time and effort was expended to get this student over the bar? 9) Tracks. I know it's sacrilege but, while college is for everyone, the liberal studies degree is not. Universities need to rethink degree granting with an eye towards certificates and diplomas that lead directly to a career path. Want to be a salesman, a dental hygeinist or an x-ray technician, or a database programmer, a forest ranger or a cop? Sure, a bachelors would be helpful, but it's probably not something you "need." Want to be an astrophysicist, a historian, or a philosopher? Ok, get the bachelors. But here's something else we should tell incoming freshmen and rarely do. If you get the bachelors, you probably don't need to come back to school when you change careers, as most of us do these days. With the certificates, you probably do.
Secure Exam Remote Proctor: Expensive, Impractical and Creepy!
There is growing concern about the identity of online test takers. Is the person who logs in and completes an assignment really who he/she says? Why couldn't, say, a talented college athlete who is, um, a little academically challenged get some unauthorized help with his web assignments so he can stay on the football team? Who would be the wiser? Of course cheating is nothing new. People were buying term papers long before the Internet, but the explosive growth of web-based distance learning programs changes things. And with that growth, people are demanding that colleges address the issue. Some advocate for a technical solution to this problem, and an industry has sprung up to provide these security products. I suspect that the vendors of these products are also quietly lobbying to make this issue a controversy so that they can step in with a profitable solution. One of the first proposed solutions was the locked down web browser. This prevents the student from using the computer for anything but the test that he/she is taking. Critics were quick to point out that this can be defeated by simply using a second computer or smartphone to google answers. And nothing stops the test taker from having a textbook or a knowledgeable friend sitting nearby. Makers of these security products quickly clarified that such tools are really meant for proctored situations, where the student is being observed, so that no unauthorized aids to test taking can be employed. However, proctoring is expensive and requires students to come to a central location, which defeats the purpose of offering distance learning classes. Anticipating this complaint, the next generation of products prompted students, at random intervals during testing, for biometrics like fingerprint scans or answers to challenge questions. But still, without a proctor, these prompts only prove that the test taker is nearby, not that he/she isn't getting help. The latest trend is to monitor the students using microphones and cameras with fisheye lenses that record the test takers and stand in for a human on-site proctor. This gets technical and expensive, not to mention the privacy concerns, and someone still has to review the recordings to verify compliance. Doesn't all of this sound very similar to the methods of the Transportation Security Administration? We can throw lots of money at technical solutions, invading privacy and creating great inconvenience along the way, and still feel pretty insecure. Perhaps we need to think more like the Israeli alternative to the TSA. They rely on psychological profiling more than full body scans. To put it simply, they ask passengers questions. If a passenger tries to board a plane for an international vacation carrying no luggage, they ask the passenger to explain. A similar common sense approach could be used in online learning. "So, Mary, I'm intrigued by what you describe as "the hegemony of orthodoxy" and I'd like to set up a Skype call where we can discuss it further." Other techniques that discourage cheating are pedagogical rather than technical. Reducing the stakes (point value) of individual assignments is shown to be effective at discouraging cheating. Asking a student to defend a position in a dynamic discussion rather than write a biography of a famous person also makes it harder to use someone else's work. The perceptiveness and adaptability of the teacher, rather than the complexity of the technology, remains the answer to the age old problem of cheating on a test.
Google seems to be doing so many disconnected things these days, but I just had a great idea. What if there was a way to tie it all together? I would love to see Google enter the Learning Management Systems (LMS) market and, when I start to think about it, it's not so crazy. They already have almost all the pieces in place and Blackboard sure could use some competition. iGoogle is the portal/login page, Google Docs is the collaborative workspace, GMail and GoogleTalk become the communication system for messaging and chat. Sites is for course content, and Wave is for, well, whatever the heck Wave is supposed to do. Blogger is for journaling and discussions. They've even got the social side covered with Buzz and maybe that would give it the network effects jolt it needs to dislodge Facebook from the throne? About the only piece they don't already have is a roster/gradebook that allows the instructor to view all rows but the students to view only their own row of scores. The roster would determine all of the component access privileges. That's not much work for a company with as much money and talent as Google has. The whole thing is free, hosted, and lives in the cloud. Make it compatible only with Android mobile devices for, um, technical reasons, and lock out iPhone. Steve Jobs would have a fit. So how about it Google? All the pieces are in place. You just need to connect them. Will you answer the call? Oh, and Larry and Sergey, if you're reading this, I'll happily accept a commission for the idea. It's where School meets Google. Call it Schoogle. Ok, maybe we can come up with a better name.Update: Ok, three years later, they finally did it, but it's still pretty unfinished. You get a recipe and a list of ingredients, but you still have to bake it yourself: http://code.google.com/p/course-builder/
NAU has upgraded its wifi system. The new one works very much like the ones you've encountered in airports and hotels. That's the first problem. It's a university, not a hotel. Regular users of the wireless have to agree to terms EVERY TIME they connect. If your smartphone goes to sleep to conserve power or you close your laptop to move from one location to another, when you wake the device up you need to reconnect and agree all over again. That's just silly for a system designed primarily for regular users (not one time guests). While this is annoying for laptop users, it's a downright nuisance for people with wi-fi capable smartphones and tablets. But there is a BETTER WAY. The MAC (media access control) address of every wired computer on campus is registered. If regular users of the wireless could register their devices too, then the agreements could be logged once and filed away. Sure, the agree screen should pop up for unregistered guests (parents, vendors, etc.) or when the policy changes. But for the regular users, most of the time, this shouldn't be necessary.
The second problem is security. If you try to access a web service other than a browser, you never see the agree screen so you can't connect. Even in a browser, the agreement screen doesn't always appear, and that has negative consequences downstream. If your home page is set to an NAU website, you won't be prompted to agree because the NAU domain is a "trusted site." But unless you agree, you can't join the VPN (and you're not told why; it just fails to connect) so your session is insecure and you are transmitting passwords and credit card numbers unencrypted. And even if you do agree, many people don't take that final step and join the VPN because they don't have to; the wireless works even if you don't join the VPN! Sure, there's a warning on the agreement screen, but it's buried in a page of legalese and who reads that stuff anyway? So, aside from a handful of tech people who know better, most of our wireless clients are surfing the web without encryption. Don't believe me? Ask your colleagues if they connect to the VPN while using the wireless, or if they even know what the VPN is! This makes the majority of our clients easy pickin's for any geek with a packet sniffing program and a few idle minutes in a public space! Is this bad? Think of it this way. It's the digital equivalent of walking down the street naked in the middle of winter. Normally the security-centric IT folks would be all over an issue like this, but they're not. They know about this problem, but they don't choose to fix it. Is it because there is a way to be secure and it's buyer beware? Or because they have a reactive (see problem 3 below) strategy? I don't know. But there are two proactive ways to fix this problem: technical (don't allow insecure connections) or educational (teach people about how and why to encrypt their wireless sessions).
On to the third problem. People are increasingly showing up on campus with tablets and smartphones. These devices are almost always the property of the user, not the university. But the university insists that, for the privilege of checking my work email on my personal device, a password lock with a 15 minute timeout must be installed, and that the password must be strong (hard to remember) and non-repeating. Worst of all, the university wants to be held harmless for remotely wiping my entire device without my express permission if my password is entered incorrectly too many times. This is security overreach at its worst. Restrictive policies such as these are typically written by big corporations with trade secrets to protect and who provide company-owned mobile devices to their employees for work purposes. That situation doesn't apply here. The university ought to be thrilled that faculty and staff would want to check their work e-mail on a device that cost the university nothing, and which is carried around with them during every waking moment. There is a BETTER WAY. Our policy should not discourage the use of personal mobile devices by faculty, staff and students. We need a much more flexible and less restrictive policy for personally owned devices which contain mostly non-NAU data, or users will not connect them to the services we want them to use.
Workarounds: Rather than configure IRIS in my e-mail client, I use Outlook Web Access through my mobile device's browser which, on the downside, requires a login every time but at least doesn't require me to agree to a remote wipe of my personal device. Students use Google's GMail system, which doesn't require the remote wipe. And everyone should remember to use the VPN. As for the frequent Agree prompts...don't we all agree this is just a silly waste of time?
Update: 07/11/2013 The system has changed again. The newest wireless has a more secure "NAU" network which requires a one time login with your NAU username and password, and a less secure "Public" one for guests which works much as described above. This is a big improvement. The NAU network still doesn't require you to use a VPN for greater security, but at least it only bugs you once for a login. And the public network works as it should, prompting guests to agree to terms each time they connect. We're slowly getting there!
Amidst the flurry of bad press over SB1070 and the resulting boycott of Arizona, you may have missed something interesting on page two. NAU made the Chronicle last week, and Slashdot just picked up the story. It has been spun as a privacy and digital rights story, but it's really something much bigger. It seems there's a plan in the works here at NAU to use student ID cards with embedded RFID (radio frequency identification) chips to record class attendance. We've been using clickers to do this for years. So why are university administrators increasingly interested in mandatory attendance? The answer is complex, but it has a lot to do with a societal shift that is having ripple effects in academia. Michael Wesch says it this way: "College is for learning, and learning is for everyone. So college is for everyone." It wasn't always this way.
A college education used to be something one aspired to, but it certainly wasn't a necessity. For many students today, going to college no longer feels like a choice. The bachelor's degree is the modern-day equivalent of the 1950 high school diploma. Students increasingly resent the liberal studies courses that teach "critical thinking" but don't give them the tangible workplace skills they think they need. Given the number of times a modern worker changes careers, critical thinking, the ability to write, and other versatile competencies are more important than ever, but we haven't done a good job selling that argument. Many students now see college simply as an expensive and time consuming obstacle that must be overcome on the path to a good paying job. Knowledge for its own sake is no longer the primary motivator. As Ronald Reagan once said, echoing the growing public sentiment, "Why should we subsidize intellectual curiousity?" So while the public is less interested in a classical education, demand for diplomas is at an all time high. But universities are slow to change, and haven't really adjusted how or what is taught. As a result, universities are admitting more students who are unprepared for that classical education, and less interested in getting one, than ever before. Can you see now why mandatory attendance is becoming an issue?
To keep unmotivated and/or unprepared students in the system and on the path towards a degree, administrators want to reduce the D/F/W (drop, fail and withdraw) rates, attempting to give students more opportunities to succeed and keep the tuition dollars flowing in. Faculty push back, and are sometimes admonished, for refusing to lower their standards, blaming K-12 for sending them unprepared students, refusing to teach remedial material, and resisting efforts to change the way they teach. Conflict between college professors and administrators is very noticeably on the rise. Administrators want reduced D/F/W rates, but they need to be careful that they aren't inadvertantly pressuring instructors to lower standards rather than make their courses more compelling. And faculty need to realize that while they should not lower their standards, they do need to change the way they teach to make their courses more compelling, practical and relevant. If they don't, they will be forced to deal with a lot more dissatisfied students who will, naturally, disrupt the classes they don't think are giving them what they paid for.
Think back to your own education. What was the biggest difference between high school and college? Students acted out or tuned out in high school classes because they were required to be there and didn't, for any number of reasons, want to be. Classroom management, a life and death skill for K-12 teachers, was for the most part unnecessary for higher ed instructors. In college, students who didn't want to be there quickly stopped showing up and, until recently, colleges have been mostly ok with that. The old attitude was that "college isn't for everyone" and "it's your money." We are teaching young adults to take responsibility for their choices, the argument goes. University is a place for free thinking and if a student chooses not to attend class, who are we to tell him/her otherwise? But college has become so outrageously expensive that universities are feeling more obliged to ensure that students and their parents "get their money's worth." Retention is the new mantra, and mandatory attendance is seen as one way to enforce it.
What will be the effects of mandatory attendance on college classes? On the surface, it seems like a good idea. Numerous studies show a strong positive correlation between attendance and student success. Students need to know that attendance matters and that we're serious about it. But if we dig a bit deeper, there are several problems. In most studies, student success is only strongly correlated with voluntary attendance. If you make attendance mandatory, the effect is considerably, but not entirely, diminished. Also, we don't achieve our goal if the students can easily defeat the mandatory attendance system; all a student has to do is give his ID card to a buddy who attends class. So will mandatory attendance actually improve student success? Yes, for a few students on the fence, attending class more often will make the difference between a pass and a fail, and some of our students do need a push in the right direction. But what worries me more about mandatory attendance is a negative unintended consequence. University instructors unaccustomed to unruly and disrespectful students are in for shock. They will be spending more effort on classroom management and it will negatively affect their ability to teach. Effort expended on making the courses more relevant, interesting, and engaging without lowering standards is a far better return on investment. If a course is compelling, students will gladly attend and value the lessons you deliver. Isn't that better than forcing them to sit through a dull lecture?
A Case Against Compulsory Class Attendance Policies in Higher Education
Skipping class in college and exam performance: Evidence from a regression discontinuity classroom experiment
Does Mandatory Attendance Improve Student Performance?
Do students go to class? Should they?
Should class attendance be mandatory?
Why change? NAU will be making the change to a new learning management system (LMS) in the near future. Our current tool, Vista, has been in service for about five years, which is a pretty good run in the fast changing world of technology. The first question we always get is, "Why?!" Nobody likes change. We all know the current tool and change is costly, time consuming, and disruptive. Vista is working well, and we have more people using it each semester, so why change? The main problem is that WebCT, the company that created Vista, got bought by competitor Blackboard (Bb) several years ago. We were just getting done with the previous transition, from WebCT Campus Edition to WebCT Vista, when the purchase was announced to the public. You might have heard the collective groan that echoed out of e-Learning on that fateful day! Blackboard has kept Vista going for a while, giving its Vista customers time to transition to the new product, called Learn. Eventually though, Vista will be "end-of-lifed" (beginning of Fall 2013) and we will be required, by the terms of the license, to stop using it.
Our projected transition timeline.
Why now? 2013 still sounds pretty far off, right? In fact, we must be off Vista well ahead of that 2013 date because of a variety of university business rules and transition related issues (see our transition timeline). We have not yet decided on our next LMS and that process will take another six months. We will need to run both systems in parallel while we migrate content from the old to the new. That will take at least two semesters and probably more. We also need to allow time for incompletes and grade appeals to play out after the completion of the final Vista courses, and that can take a year or more. What this all means is that if we start right about now, we'll only just be able to shut Vista down by Fall, 2013.
LMS marketshare over time.
Which one? There are plenty of good LMSes out there, and they all work in pretty much the same way. Blackboard is now by far the biggest company, they are our current vendor, and they make a good product. But Blackboard has a history of suing and acquiring (see LMS marketshare figure) its competitors. A big commercial vendor that could stand up to Bb would be an option, but going with a small commercial alternative to Bb is risky. That's what happened last time and we don't want to make that mistake twice. There are also open source products, such as Moodle, which would free us from a commerical license and which are relatively safe from Blackboard. So that's how we arrive at our two most likely choices: Blackboard, the biggest commercial product, and Moodle, the strongest open source alternative. So how do we decide?
Decision Factors: There are many factors, and weighing the importance of each is difficult. How good is the user interface? How intuitive is the product? How well do these systems integrate with our other campus tools like PeopleSoft, the NAU Portal, and third-party commercial add-ins like TaskStream. What about compatibility with pre-built content modules from various textbook publishers? How easily will our courses move from Vista to the new system? What about cost? Blackboard has an annual license fee but Moodle is free. But Bb Learn comes with SafeAssign, whereas we might need to purchase TurnItIn if we go with Moodle, and that just about erases the savings. And while Blackboard provides tech support, with Moodle we'd be on our own. Of course in addition to fees, which could rise, a commercial license restricts us in ways that an open source product does not. Both have all the tools we're used to, such as discussion boards, a gradebook, an assignment dropbox, and a testing module, but how well do they work? How easy is it to create and modify content? How well does each system work with the smartphones students are increasingly using for web browsing? We often get asked, "Well, which one is best?" and that's actually a difficult question to answer because it depends on which tools you use most and how you use them. We are developing some presentations that contrast Vista with both new systems, and will be holding faculty focus groups during Summer and early Fall, where you get to try the same tasks in each system and give us your feedback. If you're feeling adventurous, you could even volunteer to participate in the upcoming Fall 2010 pilots of Moodle and Learn at NAU.
The Bottom Line: This transition will be bigger than the last one; we have more than four times as many users now as when we moved to Vista. But there's good news too. We learned a great deal during the previous transition, and much of that knowledge will help us going forward. Anyone who knows Vista will find either of these new systems familiar and there's plenty of time to make the move. e-Learning will be there to help, both with training, tech support, and content migration. And in the coming years, free Web 2.0 tools will continue to augment or supplant the base LMS. We will support whatever system gets picked. We hope that you will get involved in the decision making process and tell us what you want, so we can relay that to the PACAC, where the final decision will be made. If you already have ideas, take my informal poll...see the right sidebar.
Cory Doctorow, sci-fi author and tech blogger, recently wrote a manifesto that argues nobody should buy an Apple iPad, but the reasons have very little to do with the product. Read it for yourself, but here is what I think he was really saying. And, by the way, I think he is completely off base. Except, possibly, for the last point which is sad but true.
- Everything in digital form (software, books, music, movies, etc.) should be free so it's ok for you to "acquire" a copy without paying. You aren't depriving anyone of a living because you never would have paid to own it! And it's not stealing because making a copy for yourself doesn't deprive the owner of his copy.
- If you paid for it, you should be able to give it away for free to all your friends and it's really unfair of evil companies like Apple with their DRM to make it hard for you to "share."
- You are a tinkerer and it is a travesty of justice for Apple to make their hardware so hard to take apart. Of course if you break it while trying to pry it open, you should still be entitled to a full refund because a) they should have made it easier to open and b) those corporate fat cat bastards reamed you on the purchase price and they owe you, man!
- Because you are such a hardware/software virtuoso hacker, you shouldn't be discouraged from improving on the iPad by a) jailbreaking it using a recipe you found (but do not understand) on some website, or b) by taking it apart and soldering bits onto it here and there, such as a handle maybe. How dare Apple release this amazing product and then declare themselves in exclusive control of its destiny? How dare they not fold your brilliant mods into their next distro?
- Your personal boycott will start a revolution and cause the iPad to be a flop, because everybody in the world is just like you. Also you won't buy an iPad because you're (very temporarily) just a little strapped for cash right now because your credit cards are maxed out and you are, um, between jobs and living in your parents' basement.
- Apple can't tell you what to do. Neither can your mom and dad. You are a free thinking grown-up and you can stay up as late as you want. People who tell you what to do just make you mad.
- Technology goes obsolete and it will end up in a landfill.
I am still really, really impressed by GMail, GoogleEarth, Google Maps, Google Docs and of course the unbeatable Google search engine, but the company seems to be veering in a Microsoftian direction, being unethical, anti-competitive, trying to get a finger in every pie, and not always doing a very good job of it. Does Google really need to make a browser when there are so many already? An OS? A smartphone? A mobile platform? The latest thing from Google that we're all supposed to get excited about is Google Buzz. I'm still scratching my head about the purpose of Google Wave. But I digress. Anyway, Buzz is supposed to be a Facebook Killer. If anyone could do that it's Google, but even with a superior product it would take years to dislodge Facebook just as it took years for Facebook to overtake MySpace. See, there's this thing called the Network Effect that the established players have in their favor. So Google took a really, ok, I'll say it, "evil" shortcut and used their free GMail accounts to create an instant user base. And they did it without asking the users' permission. You are now friends with the people you communicate most with in GMail and it's all public. So, in essence, Google has "outed" you. Bad move. Most tech people I know who checked out Buzz turned it off within 24 hours, and now the privacy people are all over Google's case. Sorry to be a buzzkill, but I think this is just another of Google's recent duds. Of course, they can afford it. All of Google's experiments are funded by their very profitable one-trick-revenue pony...targeted ads in search results.
2.18.2011 Recent Google Fails...Google TV...Pogue calls it a huge step...in the wrong direction. Ouch. Oh, and Wave has been shut down. 'Bout time.
Despite the H1N1 scare and several ill-timed snow closures this winter, the administration still seems not to fully appreciate our telecommute and web-enhanced learning options. In the event of a snow day, epidemic, power outage, water main break, flood, or anything else that closes part or all of the physical campus, there may be no need to fully shut down university operations. If employees are able to work (and if the university would derive benefit from them doing so) then the policy should be modified to allow them to telecommute or use other technologies like our Vista online learning system to keep our operations running. During a campus closure, students in face-to-face classes could check Vista or look for email communications from their instructors regarding pending assignments or alternative assignments. An instructor of a face-to-face class could tell students to continue to work in Vista and view a podcast, take a quiz, etc. Things don't need to grind to a halt just because we can't be on campus.
I've been one of several support people for classroom response systems, aka "clickers" here at NAU since we started using them in large enrollment classes several years ago. Many studies show that they can be effective at keeping a large lecture hall full of students engaged if a few conditions are satisfied. 1) The instructor must be competent with the technology. 2) The students must believe that the clickers help them to succeed. 3) The technology must work. And there's another issue. Let's dig a bit deeper and address the root of the problem. Could the lecture format and large class size be part of the problem? If so, then we are using clickers to treat the symptoms (trying to keep students engaged when the class is not otherwise engaging) rather than curing the disease (making the class more engaging). Studies of successful students show that voluntary attendance is positively and strongly correlated with grade. However, I am aware of no study that shows the same result when attendance is mandatory. Using clickers to enforce attendance is unlikely to have any positive effect. Simply put, throwing a technical solution at a symptom will not cure the disease.
Instructure: The best little LMS I'm afraid to buy!
On Slashdot, one of my favorite "news for nerds" websites, they use the term FUD. As in, "If a dominant company can't win by building the best product, they can destroy the competition by instilling fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of their clients to keep them in line." There's a great little startup in the Learning Management Systems business called Instructure. It is far superior to anything else I've seen. But we won't be moving from Vista to Instructure, because of what happened to Prometheus, WebCT, Angel, and D2L. The only safe moves are open source or the biggest commercial vendor. There's just too much at stake to move to the little guy and six months later to see him get swallowed whole, or sued and shut down, forcing another painful transition. We've been down that road. That's what happened to WebCT. But if Google or Apple were to buy Instructure? Now that's a game changer.
7.8.2010 Update: Blackboard just bought up two more innovative companies, Elluminate and Wimba, in one day!
2.18.2011 Last week Instructure went open source...now the best LMS is also the free-est!
The Chief Information Technology Officer here at NAU, in the Spring 2009 newsletter, wrote, "I sense everyone can agree the new Microsoft Exchange system using Outlook is a vast improvement over our legacy email and Oracle calendar systems." I must ask, do we have any actual numbers to back up that "sense"? Microsoft's Exchange based e-mail system is a modest improvement over the decrepit legacy system it replaced but, come on, it's e-mail, not rocket science! And the new IRIS calendar, which I need to use every day, is a mess. Although I hear lots of people gripe about IRIS, particularly the calendar, it's even worse if you use a Mac or a Linux machine, because Microsoft deliberately provides an inferior experience on non-MS operating systems. Too bad we couldn't have moved the whole university to an open, stable, easy to use, and OS agnostic system like GMail. You know, the system the students got. Then we could all share calendars, it would work across platform, and my student workers wouldn't need special accounts on IRIS in order to interact with staff. I don't have much confidence left in Microsoft "solutions" or the people who endorse them.
If you're looking for attention, there are really only two easy ways to get it, and one hard way. The hard way is to be the best. But if you're not Stanford or M.I.T. what do you do? The easy ways are to be the first or the last at something. And of those, being last (Are you listening, Arizona?) usually won't get you the kind of attention you want. So what sort of things could you do? It has to be a bit radical in order to get noticed. Adopting a new technology and getting lots of publicity for it can backfire, so choose carefully and then fully commit. A few schools are publishing all of their course content online for free. This is relatively safe, because they don't give you a degree unless you pay. Several schools give away iPods to all incoming freshmen. Others have instituted laptop programs which give each student a new computer. I'm waiting for some prestigious school to say no to Microsoft licensing and I think that's coming soon, given the quality of open source alternatives like Ubuntu Linux and Open Office. One fad that's on the rise is banning a technology like WiFi or Facebook from the classroom or campus, which should appeal to the Luddites. But whatever it is you try, you will need to stick with it for a while. Keep records, give it a chance, expect some bumps along the way, and adjust as necessary. If your efforts are successful, you will be able to bask in the glow of all that publicity! Of course, whether or not this attention seeking behavior does anything to improve learning is another matter entirely. Right now, I'm only talking about marketing. After all, being awesome is more fun if someone notices.
Blackboard app for iPhone
In addition to designing for accessibility, such as including text transcripts for videos and alt-tags for images, we should also be designing our web courses to take full advantage of the emerging smartphone platform. Our students, who are early adopters of devices like the iPhone, iPod Touch, Blackberry, Palm Pre, Android and Zune HD, want to use these devices to access web course content. At a minumum, this means designing lean HTML pages with CSS rather than uploading Word and PowerPoint documents. If HTML is too hard, then PDF is second best. Flash and Java are also to be avoided, at least for now, but pages done with AJAX are working. I recently discovered that there's an iPhone/iPod Touch app that lets you interact with Blackboard's next generation Learn product, and a possible successor to our Bb Vista learning management system. Any LMS replacement we consider should provide a good smartphone interface.
As long as we're into paying for software, the answer is "Yes, we should." NAU supports Macintosh computers as well as Windows PCs, but while Windows OS upgrades are free to the PC end users, Mac using departments and individuals must pay for their own OS upgrades. Apple has a very reasonable deal on educational licensing. Why aren't we using it? Central IT says it's not their responsibility to provide free OS software for Mac users even though they list the Mac as a supported platform at NAU. When I addressed the fairness issue, I was informed that Mac users, it seems, have chosen this platform and therefore must accept the "disadvantages" that come along with it. Disadvantages like getting attitude from certain IT "professionals." So changing a bad policy is apparently not an option? Mac users should just suck it up? But if the entire campus shouldn't have to subsidize the Mac users, why do we all, especially the Mac users, have to subsidize the Windows users? Why do the Mac users, who get no benefit from the Windows OS license or the anti-virus software license, have to subsidize the cost of keeping the Windows PCs secure? I was asked whether the university should, by my argument, be required to support the Linux OS as well. My answer is "Absolutely, if that's what people want to use." Especially since Ubuntu and Open Office are free of licensing charges and just as secure as a Mac. Think outside the Microsoft box, people! It is an increasingly bad deal.
Update: As of Aug. 17, 2010 or thereabouts, the MacOS, iLife and iWork suites are now available at no cost to the end users of NAU owned equipment. That's a pretty big step forward!
The following graph, while a little short on numbers, paints a pretty good picture of the Learning Management System landscape from its inception in the late 1990s to present day. The article is a good read. Note that most of these systems were originally developed by universities and later spun off into commercial entities or open source tools. To me, one of the most interesting points on the graph is Bb's history of swallowing up and shutting down competitors from Prometheus, to WebCT, to Angel. More difficult to illustrate on the graph are Bb's legal tactics to further extend that dominance by patenting basic LMS concepts, suing Desire2Learn, and intimidating the open source Moodle and Sakai communities with promises to probably not sue them. What is very clear, however, is that Blackboard's market share is not the sum of its acquisitions. They have been more successful at reducing choices than at holding onto clients, and I expect that defections will continue. Unfortunately, the open source efforts have not been as successful as initially hoped and they do not, at present, offer a competitive product. Universities are faced with a tough choice: go with an inferior but more open product, or with a superior but monopolistic entity. What I'd be most nervous about is choosing a small commercial product that might get swallowed up in the near future, forcing a second painful migration sooner than necessary.
Change over time in market share of the big LMSes.
According to recent campus surveys at the University of Virginia and University of California Davis, Mac use among students has tripled since 2006, is now between 20 and 25 percent, and is still growing steadily. So is it still acceptible to tell the Mac users to just use Windows or they can't participate in central IT services? Are Mac users being discriminated against? Not specifically. Things are equally bad for Linux users and in some cases for Windows users who don't also use Internet Explorer or the other MS products. It's more that Microsoft has a well-deserved reputation for using its monopoly power in one market to extend its leverage over other markets. Windows, Office, Internet Explorer, Windows Media, Silverlight, ActiveX, ASP, Live Meeting, and Exchange all work best with each other, and often work poorly or not at all with other platforms, browsers, plug-ins or applications. But the choice is ours. Why would we knowingly and needlessly adopt products that disenfranchise 1/4 or more of our students?
Growth in Mac OS Share at the University of Virginia over the past 10 years.
5.21.2009 After the pathos of the Mohave Experiment, where they tried to trick people into using Vista, and the incomprehensible Seinfeld ads, it was as if Microsoft had hit rock bottom. But Windows 7 looks promising and the new ads are better, because they attack the Mac where it's legitimately weakest; on price. Although the ads are staged (the shoppers are actors, not real people) and they mix in a lot of half-truths and carefully pick the price points for maximum advantage, it appears that they are having an effect. Or maybe it's just the economy? Sales of $300 Netbooks are booming, but desktop PCs and more expensive laptops are not moving. Except for those made by Apple, which is weathering the recession far better than other tech companies. This approach might also backfire. If you tell people PCs are cheap and Macs are expensive, people might draw the conclusion that you get what you pay for. And when you go to the store, you will also find that the cheap PCs are not the good brands, and they come with a crippled version of Vista for home users and a lot of annoying trial software that you will want to uninstall. If you price out a reputable brand PC with decent performance and a good anti-virus application, you're back in the Mac price range. Microsoft would have you believe that Macs are the BMWs of the computer world. But studies of total cost of ownership (TCO) show that while Macs don't cost any more than a good quality PC, they last longer and are more reliable. That makes Macs the Hondas of the computer world. So if you want cheap, do Linux. You can't beat free software on cheap hardware. If you want quality, get a Mac. So where does that leave Windows? In the middle. Neither cheap nor good. Kind of like General Motors.
People in the open source movement like to make the distinction between free (as in speech, liberty) and free (as in beer, gratis). Still, many people don't get it. Let me make it very clear. There is no free beer. If you adopt an open source software alternative to a commercial product, there may be significant hidden costs. You no longer have a warranty or a help desk to call for support when something goes wrong. If you discover a bug, or if you need the software to do something that it doesn't do, you need to fix it yourself or convince the community to do so. If the community decides to move the code in a direction you don't like, you must choose between going along for the ride or getting orphaned. If you make any customizations to the code to make it work better for you, the community will need to be convinced to accept your modifications and fold them into the codebase or again, you are orphaned. You will probably need to hire more people locally to support the product. With complex server based software applications, you would need to integrate the software on your own or pay expensive consultants for help. As any manager knows, people (salaries and benefits) are the most expensive part of the operation. An IT professional costs upwards of $60,000 per year in Flagstaff (and that's a bargain compared to most places), and add to that another 30% or more for benefits. It doesn't take long for the higher maintenance "free" product to catch up to the cost of the fully supported commercial product. So what you have to weigh against the cost of free software is the cost of supporting and maintaining it, usually measured in additional staffing. Open source might free you from a commercial software license, but it isn't free of cost. And you aren't even free of the open source community unless you choose to branch out on your own. That's not to say that open source is necessarily bad. We just need to go into it with our eyes open. And if someone trys to tell you that adopting an open source product to replace a commercial one will save you money, ask them to show you the cost analysis before you think about how to spend those savings. Chances are, they are just wishing for free beer.
Monopolies in computing, and the conformity that results, make life easy in the short term but they are ultimately bad for everyone. If we're all using the same hardware and software, training and support are so much simpler, and there are fewer compatibility problems. When a new version of a software suite comes out, "just move everyone at once" is the mantra of IT. So why is uniformity a problem? Allowing choice creates competition, which reduces the price and generates innovation. Often, we're pressured to buy a second product from the same vendor solely because it works with the first product. At that point, we're locked in and have to keep paying up or suffer the consequences. Monopolies create monocultures. Both in biology and computing, infections spread more rapidly and are more devastating in "clonal" populations where, once the exploit is found, everyone is vulnerable. A major software "upgrade" will slow down older machines, hastening their obsolescence, and reduce productivity while people re-learn the tool. In most cases, people are happy with the current version and justifiably resist the change. And if everyone is doing everything exactly the same way, there may be less creativity and less innovation. We need to take the long view and let people use the tools they want and keep the software they're happy with. It's ok to resist change that is not compelling. We don't need to spend that money. We need to demand from the software vendors that users of older versions of their software can open the new version's files, and that people on Macs, Linux and Windows can all share documents seamlessly. If they don't comply, switch to a vendor that will. We'll all be better off when we stop moving in lockstep.
Here at e-Learning, we work in a lovely historic old building with single pane windows (for those of us lucky enough to have a window), an HVAC system that makes it either too hot or too cold all the time, asbestos in the walls, floors and ceilings, and a really outdated data network. That wouldn't matter so much except computing is what we do, so the Internet is kind of important. So we've got superfast gigabit ethernet to the switches in the network closet just down the hall and nothing but sub-cat-3 (untwisted pair) to the desktop. It's like the superhighway runs right over our heads but there's no on-ramp. Can't penetrate the walls because of the asbestos, so what should we do? Here's a resource page for testing network speed. It's ironic that my home network is faster than the one at work.
Update: Problem solved in an unorthodox manner. Ask me for details. We now have 100,000 kbps throughout the department, up from 10,000 kbps. Ten times faster is a rather noticeable improvement.
How do we represent numeric data to make it more comprehensible? Over one third of the human brain is dedicated to processing visual information. So whether it's what name to give your baby, looking at Napoleon's March into Russia, who endorsed who in the presidential election, what words are related to the word you type, or when to buy a new car, taking those raw numbers and representing them visually makes all the difference. Here's a great new example. Check out NewsDots to see how the stories in the news are interrelated. Here's a new one: Watch Darwin's "Origin of Species" evolve over its six editions at the Preservation of Favoured Traces website. Very cool.
Mossberg puts his finger on it, and his foot in it.
Walt Mossberg, well-renowned technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal, recently labelled large IT shops such as those found at university campuses "the most regressive and poisonous force in technology today." Wow! Them's fightin' words. Is there something to this, or is Walt just trying to boost circulation? At our own campus, Central IT is very centralized, has an enormous budget and, I'm sorry to say, is increasingly slipping in its ability to deliver the reliable core services that our users take for granted. A recent Educause study found that security has taken the top spot for the last three years in IT priorities, and has been in the top five for the last 10 years. Central IT has been spending all of its time trying to shore up the foundation, but they never get to the good stuff. That's the reason the fed-up end-users are doing an end-run around those flaky central services in favor of the distributed, free and open, stable and secure alternatives offered by Google and Yahoo and a vast collection of Web 2.0 companies you've probably never heard of, where the uptime is 99.9%. As some colleagues from ASU rather bluntly put it, "It's time for free range learning. The central IT teat has dried up."
Bill Gates has retired. But does it matter? Can Ballmer turn the ship around? Vista has been a PR disaster so momentous they are changing the product name and spinning like crazy, and the latest version of Office is a bloated buggy mess all wrapped in ribbons. Nobody in my office wanted to "upgrade" but we started getting sent files we couldn't open from people who had the new version, and so begins the forced migration. Everyone who moves to the new version of Office is like a zombie who infects 10 more people. Open Office is making modest gains at Microsoft's expense, and Google Docs has reminded Microsoft that innovation in an office suite is still possible; they have created a collaborative experience far beyond "Track Changes." But Microsoft's twin cash cows are in trouble. Now Microsoft has discontinued selling eight year old Windows XP. The logic seems to be that if the world won't willingly adopt Vista, we'll force the matter. Will Apple or Linux benefit? What about OpenOffice? Sure, they're doing fine, but probably not much. Microsoft is the new IBM. It may be a slow-motion supertanker headed for the rocks, but it will remain profitable for years to come. Cringely has a good article on the subject.
9.18.08 Ads about nothing: Have you seen those new Microsoft ads with Jerry Seinfeld? They should have expected that a guy who's comedy is about nothing would make ads about nothing. Did I hear right that they spent $30 million on that ad campaign? I'd want my money back. Sure, the ads are mildly amusing, but only because it's so ridiculous to imagine one of the world's wealthiest people bargain hunting at the discount shoe store. What does this tell me about Microsoft, Windows Vista, or the PC platform? Ummm...I have no idea. Well neither, apparently, does anyone else. The ads have now been abruptly pulled and Microsoft says, "We meant to do that."
10.27.08: The Cloud: Microsoft seems to have decided that if the world isn't interested in Vista, they must not want an OS of the standard sort at all. This throwing-out-the-baby-with-the-bathwater approach has led them to The Cloud. But Apple seems to be doing pretty well with MacOS X and Ubuntu and other Linux variants are wildly popular. In fact, even Windows 7 looks very promising. Maybe someday, when everything is networked everywhere, the cloud concept will make sense. But if and when it does, you can bet that Google will be there first. Perhaps Microsoft's strategy is to get to version 3 by the time a cloud OS becomes viable, so they will have a product that's ready to market?
10.14.09 Update: Google the terms "Danger and Sidekick" or read this to learn about Microsoft's latest debacle with cloud computing.
I recently learned that our university is encouraging employees to turn off lights, turn down thermostats, and to attend conferences virtually instead of in person, ostensibly to reduce our global carbon footprint and be more green. I guess it's hard to tell whether that's noble because it both helps the environment and saves the university money. It reminds me of the hotels that plead with you to be green to help the environment by not changing your sheets and washing your towels each day, but then feeding you breakfast with disposable styrofoam plates. The green they are most interested in saving is apparently their money. Are we as quick to do things that are good for the planet but cost the university money, like recycling? We have an award winning green building on campus, which is great, but why aren't all our new buildings green? What about things that force us to change our time honored management practices, like telecommuting? Here's the truth about telecommuting. If managers set clear deliverables and check progress regularly, then it's the quality and quantity of work and not the number of hours spent warming a seat that gets measured. Bottom line? If you have responsible employees and effective managers, telecommuting works great. But it's kind of lonely. And if you have flaky employees, there's no guarantee they're being productive even if they warm their seats at work for eight hours a day.
As a consultant for the Beyond team at Blackboard, I assisted in a small way in the development of the new Scholar product. Try out this cool new social networking social bookmarking tool that integrates with Bb Vista. Not to be confused with the other Scholar by Google, which is also cool, but another thing entirely.
College campuses are surprisingly numerous in the metro D.C. area. I interviewed staff and took lots of notes and photos on how other schools spend their money on classrooms and technology. I'm pleased to announce that my Learning Spaces article was recently published in Educause Quarterly. You can also read the more comprehensive web version of the report or browse the photos on Flickr.
So now we've got iTunesNAU working great, but a funny thing happened. Teaching was not revolutionized. Hmm. I wonder why not? Podcasting has its place, don't get me wrong. But podcasting takes a method of instruction (lecture) we all agree doesn't work very well and makes it less interactive. So if I told you that you could choose between going to a dull lecture at 8:00 am Tues/Thurs or watch/listen to a recording of the dull lecture on your own time, which is better? Exactly. The one that has an off switch.
It was announced with pride by an IT manager in a meeting I recently attended that "we throttle bandwidth on ResNet." Ironically, just yesterday I listened to educational technology expert Phil Long of MIT describe how students there are encouraged by the administration to use the bandwidth and the big screens in lecture halls at night for hosting Halo tournaments! Maybe instead of throwing obstacles in their path here at NAU, we should be asking those heavy users on our residential network how we can serve them better?