Category Archives: Uncategorized

Oracle starts to dig itself out of the Java mess

A recent conference call with Java’s head of security, Milton Smith, said the right things. As an organization it seems like Oracle finally realizes just what a problem they’ve got for themselves and that the road to cleaning up the mess is more than a single patch. Oracle is taking steps like automatically removing older versions of Java when you update to the latest, as reported in The Register. If one has a broken application, one of the most important steps is to get your customers down to fewer different versions. It is a painful process because there will often be short term customer attrition during that phase. Yet history has shown that this consolidation leads to better overall products and increased innovation.

$2 Billion for OER Grants but not so open

Exciting news in the world of education this week as Department of Education announced a $2 billion dollar grant program over the next 4 years to fund the development of online educational formats. Except there is just one catch. Materials would have to be made available in the horribly outdated and flakey SCORM package format. This is like mandating that materials be published in 8-track tape format. More on the industry reaction including Rob Abel from IMS here. Personally I’m annoyed that the government is mandating a packaging format to this level of detail. I’d be much happier if they said materials must comply with HTML5 and support the needs of accessible learners. If we must have some packaging format to wrap these resources up in beyond HTML5 we could use Common Cartridge which does a great job at staying out of the way of the materials, while handling the most common use cases for education materials (quizes can be imported to a native quiz engine, discussion board topics can be seeded, remote links can be provisioned by LTI, etc).

A Blackboard Standards Update

To follow up on Ray Henderson’s blog post earlier today

I’ve been at the IMS Quarterly Meeting in Lone Star College in the Woodlands, Texas this week. My Blackboard colleagues and I have been showing off our progress on IMS Standards. We are finishing testing of two technologies in our Blackboard Learn product: IMS Common Cartridge and Basic LTI. We’ve taken our integration of Common Cartridge and Basic LTI into the Bb Learn core and included support for BLTI links inside a Common Cartridge Package. I’m also pleased that we will include both Import and Export of Common Cartridge within the core platform. This will do a lot for learning object repositories and sharing.

The Blackboard approach to Basic LTI actually extends Building Blocks technology in a powerful new way. We’ve made it possible to define a BLTI link within the bb-manifest.xml file which means that Basic LTI links can be used within a number of workflows in the application. As far as I know we are the only vendor to allow these more complex link placement options. We also make it possible for administrators to define trusted tool providers and enable course builders to create links to these providers as easily as one would put in a URL. Finally since we’ve integrated Common Cartridge and Basic LTI a CC package that included BasicLTI links can be used to define placement of tools within the flow of course materials. For example one could build a module which ended with a link to a simulation after providing some local training activities.

Blackboard is also making progress on Shibboleth. We’ve joined the InCommon Federation and hope to setup Blackboard as an identity provider. We are working with a handful of customers to work through a few key use cases involving SAML user provisioning and synchronization and sharing courses between institutions.

I’m not going to go into too much detail on our new SCORM partnership, but I think we’ll see that our player improves dramatically as we move to the RUSTICI player.

Finally I know that system admins and managers want to see better integration between the Blackboard Learn and other campus systems. The administrative systems need to work better. I’ve been on the LIS working group now for several years within IMS and so I’m happy to report a couple of items. First the working group has finally finished key elements of the core profile. We’ve worked to refine and simplify the API so that it will meet the needs of integrating administrative and vle systems in both real time and batch scenarios. This newly simplified profile was the last hurdle preventing us from completing our implementation. We’ve been working closely with SunGard in the last few months and I’m optimistic we will have something to show at the next IMS meeting in January. Now we’re still a bit of a way from shipping LIS. The workgroup still has some issues to work out in the Outcomes (grade exchange) profile and with authentication. The timeline for the LIS workgroup is that the workgroup will be doing testing of all profiles but outcomes by the end of January, and then plan to publish and finalize the grade exchange and hopefully be done with the specification by Learning Impact. I’m cautiously optimistic that we will meet these timelines. There is a lot of work left though within the workgroup. In addition to authentication and grade exchange there is a set of fairly complex certification tests which we(the workgroup and IMS) will need to complete, test and review. Still it seems like as an industry 2011 will be the year that IMS LIS is finally ready.

Educause 2010 Conference

I’m blogging from Day 1 of the Educause Annual Conference. Things won’t really get going until later on this afternoon. This is the first time in many years that it looks like I’m going to get a chance to attend some sessions; rather than do the booth and various meetings. I’m really looking forward to catching up with many people and hopefully I’ll see you there.

The Wave in Edu

I’ve been at the beach on vacation riding actual waves and trying to take some needed rest. Still I note that Google Wave, last years game changer for e-Learning and the LMS, has come to an end.

A few quick thoughts. First I remain convinced that online collaboration is still far from optimal and that software developers are going to have to continue to innovate and create new ways to foster collaboration online. Portable computing devices connected to networks that capture position, video and other sensory data will create incredible new opportunities for collaboration. Furthermore when one considers the stream of tweets, emails, Facebook posts, RSS and other information streams flowing through your devices at any moment in the always connected universe, I think that the organizational and interface solutions available today are not sufficient. The stream management problem is a big unsolved problem in information management and communications. So I applaud Google for trying to solve this problem, even if their solution failed. Microsoft was in a similar situation when their researchers recognized that the desktop computer GUI was not meeting the needs of a vast group of users in the early 1990s. They sought to go beyond the Mac and Windows User Interfaces, to something better. A group of visionaries did extensive research and developed Bob as the solution. Unfortunately while they’d picked an important problem, they didn’t have the right solution. There was also a lot of thinking that maybe some kind of tablet based interface would be the right solution and we saw another experiment fail. 15 years later Apple found success where others failed with a tablet driven by a new multi-touch UI that solved many of the problems long known to the industry. I highlight this story because it should be noted by everyone that the failure of Wave doesn’t meant that the problem Wave tried to solve in reshaping streams of online communications was not a problem. Instead we should applaud Google being willing to experiment and encourage others to jump in.

A second thought is that this highlights yet again the problem of adapting these technologies for use in dot-edu. Suppose you taught a class using Google wave. What happens after it shuts down? The online transcript of the course sessions will vanish into the ether and will presumably be unrecoverable. This may present a problem down the line if a student challenges a grade, or a program’s accreditation comes up for review. Not to mention that the conversations is lost. Not to mention that the gadgets and activities connected through the Wave may not be able to be replayed.

Lively, Ning, Geocities, and others vanished or radically changed business models in the last few years. We have to take care to remember specific needs for record preservation and continuity in educational institutions.

At the same time I think it is important that you keep playing with these technologies and trying to use them for teaching and learning. A balance must be found between the need to encourage experimentation while at the same time considering the values of integrity and inclusion within institutions. Research and experimentation are just as important and we need to find a way to try these new tools in a way that doesn’t separate us from these other goals. If the tool works, then consider how you may better adapt it to meet the needs of the institution and all students. My biased recommendation is to look at Blackboard Building Blocks&tm; and standards like Basic and Full LTI to look for ways to bridge these many technologies together to align with the values of diversity, inclusion, integrity, research and experimentation.

DevCon 2010 Preview

This Sunday (July 10) we will kick things off with the OSCELOT Open Source Day. This will be a fun day of code jamming and collaborating. I’m bringing my laptop and my IDE.
Monday and Tuesday we will have the official Blackboard sponsored program. Anna Kamenetz will be our keynote speaker, followed by my own annual DevCon keynote in the afternoon. We’re going to be joined by a special guest, Ray Henderson. I think Ray’s willingness to co-present at the DevCon keynote signifies that he personally takes openness of our platform very seriously. I’ve asked him to make some public comments and commitments regarding further opening of the Blackboard Learn(&tm;) platform and standards. As part of this commitment we will have a significant block of time at the conference dedicated to IMS standards. IMS staff will be presenting information with Blackboard customers and partners demonstrating how these standards can be used in Blackboard.

After our comments we will have some tremendous sessions including a performance engineering workshop lead by Steve Feldman, and other tracks focused on System Administration, Getting Started with Building Blocks, Database Reporting and Tools. We’ve also setup collaborative areas in the hallway where we will have Blackboard Experts standing by ready to provide expert advice and insights on building and extending Blackboard.

If you are missing DevCon and Open Source Day this year, then I hope you’ll follow along on twitter and blogs with various information. I will do my best to try to get some blog posts up during the week with my own reflections. If you are covering DevCon via your blog or social media post a comment below and let me know where I can follow your conversation.

Getting Started

This blog is about my personal interests, some of which will intersect with education and technology.  This space is unfiltered and not sponsored, affiliated or endorsed by my employer, friends, family, etc.  I hope there will be some enjoyable and informative content in the future, but right now  just setting things up.