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Date: Friday, 25 Mar 2011 15:34
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Date: Monday, 21 Mar 2011 19:18
Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "Higher Education, Anya Kamenetz, edunomi..."
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Date: Sunday, 16 Jan 2011 18:00

In all the years that I’ve been blogging, I can count the number of non-spam comments that I’ve deleted on one hand. In all cases they have been egregious trolls, and in all cases they have been by a person or persons who have used fake names and email addresses. Not all anonymous posting is motivated out of spite, of course. Whistle blowing is on the other end of this spectrum. Most often, at least in the context of this blog, the motivations of anonymous posters fall in the gray area in between those two ends of the spectrum. It’s usually somebody who wants to make a critical comment but fears some sort of negative response. I can appreciate that concern. Sometimes its legitimate. Sometimes it’s just cowardly. And sometimes it’s a bit of both.

This puts me in a bit of a dilemma. I want to encourage people to make honest, useful comments without fear. On the other hand, I also want to encourage—in fact, I want to insist—that people take responsibility for the statements that they make here on my blog.

So I’ve come up with a new policy. From now on,1 if I see a comment that I suspect is being made under a pseudonym, and it is not immediately obvious to me why the commenter has a legitimate and compelling reason to remain anonymous, then I will send an email to the address provided by that person requesting an explanation. If the person responds with even a halfway reasonable explanation, then I’ll let the comment stand. But if I don’t get a response, or if I discover that I’ve been given a fake email address, I will delete the comment immediately, regardless of the merits of the content. To reiterate: If you want to comment on e-Literate and you choose to conceal your identity from e-Literate readers, you must (a) make your identity known to me by giving me a real email address and (b) be prepared to convince me that you have a compelling reason to remain anonymous. The burden is on the anonymous (or, more accurately, the pseudonymous) commenters to convince me that I should let them wear masks when they are in my house and talking to my guests.

This isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s the best one I can come up with.

  1. I won’t apply this policy retroactively to comments that have been posted before now.


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  3. Happy Birthday, e-Literate

Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "About This Site"
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Date: Friday, 14 Jan 2011 17:52

As I wrote in an earlier post, defections of Blackboard Enterprise customers to other LMS platforms might be an indicator of a greater market share movement that we’ve seen in the past because, absent any forced migration, schools just don’t change LMSs very often. Well, Duke has announced that they are moving from Blackboard Enterprise to Sakai. Particularly interesting is their reasoning for undertaking an LMS evaluation in the first place:

Since future versions of Blackboard are significantly different than the current Blackboard 8, any upgrade would necessitate a fair amount of change for users. [Emphasis added.] On top of that, Duke’s needs and priorities have shifted in the 10+ years since we first adopted Blackboard as the campus LMS. This plus the fact that our Blackboard license is up for renewal in July 2012 suggests that it is a good time to review the LMS “landscape” and determine if Blackboard is still the best system to meet Duke faculty, student and strategic needs.

It sounds as though the Duke folks thought that the changes from Blackboard 8 to Blackboard 9 were large enough that they amounted to a forced migration. They passed the threshold of user retraining beyond which you might as well look at all options.

This is always a tough dilemma for developers of software with a significant installed base. You need to evolve your software to keep up with the competition, but in doing so, you force your users to deal with change, when not requiring them to change has been one of your competitive advantages. The challenge for Blackboard is that they face this dilemma at a time when they are also putting their WebCT and ANGEL customers through a forced migration. So if the move to Blackboard 9  from Blackboard 8 is also perceived as, effectively, a forced migration, then that means an alarmingly high percentage of their LMS customers might be looking around at alternatives.

I’m interested in hearing from people who have experience with both Blackboard 9.x and 8.x. In your opinion, is it really a big change? How much user retraining does it require?


Possibly related posts:

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  2. More on Enterprise-class Educational Blog Software
  3. Enterprise vs. Internet World Views in Educational Tool Design
  4. Case Study on Moving from WebCT to Moodle
  5. Connecting Blackboard to Sakai and Moodle

Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "Tools, Toys, and Technology (Oh my!), Bl..."
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Date: Monday, 10 Jan 2011 16:49

This is a question for e-Literate readers who are teachers. I’m trying to understand how instructors in different disciplines choose their books for a class. My sense is that it varies widely by discipline. For example, my wife teaches a lot of English Composition, so the didactic manual isn’t as important as the anthology of short stories and/or essays. I would imagine that her selection criteria for a good anthology would be quite different than, say, a macroeconomics professor looking for a good textbook. And the macroeconomics professor, in turn, might have very different criteria than an art history professor.

All of this matters because it will have a profound influence on how content is digitized, disaggregated, and made available under open licenses. The change is likely to be different discipline by discipline, depending on how well the decision process of the faculty works in the new digital world. Many composition teachers would probably like a world in which they could assemble their own anthologies. On the other hand, if you’re an economics professor who tends to use Greg Mankiw’s book because you like his overall take on economics, a disaggregated, digital world might offer you a different set of pros and cons.

So I’m asking: How do you choose your texts for class? Do you go by publisher/brand? By author? Do you look for a particular theme? Do you think about cost for the students, or open licenses? Is convenience a factor? Please let me know in the comments thread, and please don’t forget to tell me what subject you teach as part of your answer.


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Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "Higher Education, edunomics"
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Date: Monday, 10 Jan 2011 15:56

Following up on my two-part series on the changing LMS market, I am going to write short posts noting LMS evaluation decisions of Vista, Blackboard Enterprise, and select ANGEL customers (as well as any others that seem noteworthy) when I hear of them. Today, via Ray Henderson’s tweet, I note that the San Diego Community College District (131,403 students) has chosen to migrate from Vista to Blackboard 9.1.


Possibly related posts:

  1. CSU Chico Upgrades from Vista to Blackboard 9.1
  2. Blackboard, Inc. Sued for Patent Infringement
  3. Blackboard Is Losing Customers, but What Does It Mean?
  4. Bad News for Blackboard, Good News for ANGEL
  5. Blackboard Inc. v. Desire2Learn Inc.: “Grey” Monday March 10, 2008

Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "Higher Education, Tools, Toys, and Techn..."
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Date: Wednesday, 22 Dec 2010 13:48

I have gotten a lot of very nice compliments in the last 24 hours about the first post in this two-part series. I do want to emphasize that a huge portion of the value in that post comes from the great survey work that Casey Green does. All I did was tease out a few implications and make a few new graphs (which, I admit, were very pretty). If you want to see analysis like this continue in future years, then support the Campus Computing Project.

In this next part, we’re going to go “off-road” a little and see what we can figure out in areas where we don’t have quantitative data that is as solid as Casey’s. As I wrote in the previous post in this series, there are roughly 875 WebCT and ANGEL customers who will have to migrate to a new LMS in the next few years, in an environment of strong budget pressures. This creates an atmosphere in which more and different schools may be in play than has typically been the case. But evaluating options and choosing to move are two different things. What happens in the next few years is likely to shape the LMS landscape for years to come, at least in North America.

Let’s see if we can read the tea leaves.

More on Market Share Numbers

One of the (many) reasons that figuring out what’s happening is so hard is that we don’t really have good, granular data on LMS market share by LMS platform, and the data that we do have appears to be contradictory on the surface. The numbers we get from Campus Computing are very good as far as they go, but they break down market share by company rather than by platform. We have no way of knowing from the survey data, for example, how many WebCT Vista customers there are versus Blackboard Learn Basic, etc.. Blackboard used to break out Blackboard Learn Enterprise licenses versus all other LMS licenses in their public reporting, which was better than nothing, but they stopped doing even that much last year.

On top of that, the aggregate market share numbers we get from Campus Computing seem to be in tension with the customer retention numbers that Blackboard reports. If you strip out the noise from acquisitions, Campus Computing’s survey numbers suggest that Blackboard is losing 6% to 8% organic market share annually. But Blackboard regularly reports customer retention numbers in the 90% to 92% range. Can both of these be right?

Actually, they can. When a company reports customer retention numbers, that’s usually an indication of churn, i.e., how many customers are moving around among the competitors. It matters because there is a cost of sale; every new customer costs money to win over. Therefore, the more customers you hold onto, the fewer new ones you have to recruit to stay even, the more profitable you can be. But Blackboard’s situation may be somewhat different. As far as I can tell, their retention rate reflects not churn, primarily, but almost pure attrition. I am not aware of Blackboard acquiring any new higher education customers for their LMS in North America in recent years, and none of the experts that I asked in preparing to write this blog post were able to cite any either. This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been any, but it suggests that there probably haven’t been many. The company may be picking up a few new customers overseas and a handful of domestic K12 and government/corporate customers, but for the most part, it looks like that 8% to 10% of the LMS customer base lost every year is not being replaced. An 8% to 10% attrition rate at their market share level is roughly compatible with a 6% to 8% loss of overall market share. Furthermore, it’s not entirely clear how Blackboard has been defining retention. If a customer drops a Blackboard-owned LMS but continues to license the Blackboard-owned Xythos content management product, does that customer count as retained? From a cost-of-customer-acquisition perspective, it would be perfectly reasonable for a company to count that customer as retained. But if you’re trying to understand what’s going on in Blackboard’s LMS business, then that sort of accounting wouldn’t tell you a whole lot. More recently, Blackboard management has referred specifically to “revenue retention,” although it’s not entirely clear whether that has always been their definition, nor is it entirely clear how the company derives such a metric. Again, since neither Blackboard nor Campus Computing breaks out customers by the various platforms Blackboard owns (and, in Blackboard’s case, they no longer even consistently break out LMS licenses from other licenses), we don’t have much in the way of hard numbers to help us reconcile these various bits of data and management statements that we’re getting.

At any rate, we have about as good a picture of the recent past as we’re likely to get. There are three questions going forward. First, are the kinds (and sizes) of customers that migrate off of Blackboard going forward different than the kinds of customers who have done so in the past? Second, will the trend away from Blackboard-owned platforms accelerate or decelerate? And finally, will the proportion of departing Blackboard customers going to each platform alternative change going forward?

Kinds of Customers

As I wrote at the top of the post, we’re getting into an area in which we have very little hard data. But from what Blackboard has said on their earnings calls, it appears that the majority of customers they have lost in the past have been WebCT CE and Blackboard Learn Basic customers. By and large, these were low contract value customers. My guess is that they also have tended to be small in terms of student population, but I don’t have the data to prove it. What I do know is that in November of 2007, then-Vice President of Investor Relations Michael Stanton told me that the company may have lost “one or two” Vista customers since WebCT had been acquired in February 2006. Vista was WebCT’s enterprise platform, where it’s larger and higher contract value customers tended to be. And at that point, they were staying.

There are signs that this the state of affairs may be changing, though. Consider:

  • University of North Carolina, Charlotte (24,700 students) has decided to move from Vista to Moodle in 2011.
  • North Carolina State University (31,000 students) has also decided to move from Vista to Moodle in 2011.
  • Wilfred Laurier University (16,000 students) moved from Vista to Desire2Learn last quarter.
  • University of Delaware (19,391 students) just completed a move from Vista to Sakai last quarter.
  • University of Minnesota (51,721 students) is moving from Vista to Moodle in 2012.
  • The Utah Education Network (109,000 college students plus 40,000 K12 students and teachers) is moving from Vista to Instructure Canvas in 2012.

These are just anecdotal, of course, but they raise the possibility of a trend. Particularly important to note is that Vista supports multi-tenant hosting capabilities beyond what Blackboard Learn currently offers. (Learn is reportedly going to come into parity in this regard with version 9.2.) This is particularly important for multi-campus systems or consortia that host their LMS internally. That means these large customers are not likely to have made the move to Blackboard yet.  So, for example, UMassOnline (77,108 students), which provides LMS support for distance learning to five University of Massachusetts campuses plus a handful of other colleges throughout the state of Massachusetts, is on Vista (and is in the middle of an LMS platform evaluation process). These multi-campus systems and consortia are the ones to watch very closely.

The ANGEL demographic is somewhat different. Its strengths were in community colleges (13% market share in 2009, according to Campus Computing Project) and private four-year colleges (10.3% market share in 2009). Again, these categories don’t necessarily indicate contract size. For example, the SUNY Learning Network hosts ANGEL centrally for something like two dozen community colleges. And Monroe Community College—a member of the SUNY Learning Network—has about 19,000 students by itself. Miami-Dade College, another ANGEL customer, has about 170,000 students. The other outliers that I know of in terms of large customers (regardless of segmentation) are Penn State, with 87,000 students, and Michigan State University, with 47,278 students. (SUNY and Penn State are both in the process of respective LMS reviews; there’s no public data I could find on whether Michigan State or Miami-Dade begun any such evaluation at this time.) But overall, my sense based on anecdotal evidence is that the ANGEL customer base probably doesn’t look very different from the CE customer base, in both campus size and contract value. With a handful of exceptions, ANGEL customer attrition could look a lot like the Blackboard Basic and WebCT CE customer attrition that Blackboard experienced from 2006 to 2010—assuming that they leave in the same proportions.

Numbers of Customers

In addition to the kinds of schools that could potentially migrate, the number of schools that migrate from 2011 to 2014 may be different than from 2006 to 2010. We’re not going to find that out based on the number of forced migration candidates, though. The number of combined WebCT and ANGEL customers that need to migrate in the next four years is roughly equal to the number of WebCT customers that migrated off of the legacy platforms in the last four years so, if everything else holds equal, the rate of attrition shouldn’t change that much. What we don’t know is the degree to which economic pressures combined with the increased perception of viable alternatives in the market—or, for that matter, changes that Blackboard makes such as improving customer service, which has been a big push for them of late under Ray Henderson’s leadership—will change the rate of attrition.

Once again we don’t have hard data and are forced to look for anecdotal evidence for the answer to this question. But one kind of anecdotal evidence that would be particularly potent would be customers that are not on legacy platforms moving away from Blackboard. As far as I can tell, the historic attrition of Blackboard Learn Enterprise customers has been very low. Again, customers don’t tend to move from their LMS unless they feel they are forced to do so. If mainline Blackboard Enterprise customers are moving, it likely means that either the economics are driving them or they have had such catastrophic product or customer service failures that they don’t think they can afford to stay with the vendor.

Are there any data points indicating that that this kind of attrition is happening? Well, there are a couple that I know of:

  • University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (28.916 students) are moving from Blackboard to Sakai in 2014.
  • Miami University of Ohio (20,126 students) is moving from Blackboard to Sakai in 2011.
  • CSU Long Beach is in the process of moving from Blackboard to Desire2Learn over the current academic year.
  • The tri-college consortium of Bryn Mawr, Haverford College, and Swarthmore (combined student total of about 4,600 students) is moving from Blackboard to Moodle in 2012.
  • The 14 schools in the Penssylvania State System of Higher Education, or PASSHE (119,513 students) was on a mix of Blackboard, WebCT, and eCollege—but mostly Blackboard—and they recently switched to Desire2Learn. (I’m not certain how many of those Blackboard campuses were on Enterprise, so take this one with a grain of salt.)

This is obviously not enough data to establish a trend. But any defection of a Blackboard Enterprise Learn customer is significant because there is no forced migration and because the barriers to exit are high. To gauge whether there is an acceleration of customer migration starting, I would watch for RFPs coming from Blackboard Learn Enterprise customers, and I would watch schools like Brigham Young (26,928 students), which has been heavily involved with co-designing and piloting Agilix BrainHoney, and Arizona State University’s (70,440 students) deal with Pearson LearningStudio (a.k.a. eCollege). If these schools begin to move to other platforms as their main LMSs, it would be a strong sign that WebCT and ANGEL customers are also likely to move to other platforms in numbers that are higher than in the past.

It’s harder to identify a leading indicator that might suggest the attrition rate is going to be lower. You’d have to monitor school announcements as they come out. If more than 50% of the announcements from WebCT and ANGEL schools are for upgrades to Blackboard Learn Enterprise 9.x, and particularly if the big Vista-using consortia start announcing moves to 9.x in numbers, those would be signs that Blackboard may be lowering attrition rates from their historical norm and holding onto their high-value customers in particular.

In terms of where these customers end up if they leave Blackboard, we have very little data to go on beyond what I covered in my last post.  It’s possible that the Vista and ANGEL customers will have different platform preferences than the CE and Blackboard Basic customers have had, so the numbers we have been seeing in terms of relative market share gains among the contenders could change. And, of course, there’s always the possibility of the breakout success of a player other than the big three taking a few percentage points of the market share pie. The 2011 Campus Computing survey will be particularly important to watch, I think, in telling us the degree to which the trends are holding.

The Bottom Line

Here’s what we know about what’s happening in the LMS market, based on the analysis of this post and the previous one:

  • The data confirm that the LMS market is very much in transition.
  • Projection of current trends over the next four years suggest a world in 2014 in which at least four platforms have comfortably over 10% market share and no platform dominates all others.
  • There is no evidence to suggest that open source is either being confined to small overall market share or on its way to dominance of the market in the next four years.
  • There is some evidence that schools within particular market segments may be predisposed to choose open source, while schools in other market segments may be predisposed to avoid it.
  • There is good evidence that preferences for particular LMS platforms trend strongly by market segment.
  • Within those broad outlines, there are a number of uncertainties related to the economy, the largely unknown switching preferences and tendencies of Vista and ANGEL customers, and the actions of the individual LMS vendors and open source projects that could change the trends somewhat from what we’ve seen in the past.
  • We don’t have any evidence yet to suggest that any such changes are likely to have a very big impact on the overall projections for market share in 2014, although they could have significant impact on individual LMS players where winning or losing a few large deals could have an impact on their businesses, and possibly on the market share numbers within individual market segments.
  • Anecdotal evidence suggests that there may be room in the market for one or more LMSs outside of the big four to pick up a few points of market share over the next four years.
  • Given the sunset dates for WebCT and ANGEL products, most schools that are likely to participate in this change wave will start their evaluations within the next 6-18 months. That means the LMS versions that are available in calendar year 2011 are the ones that they will be evaluating, by and large.

Of course, four years is a very long time in the technology world. I expect the context of the market to be very different by 2014. Between movements toward more personal/informal learning environments, the big changes that are happening in the textbook industry as content providers and delivery platform providers collide, and the breathtaking pace of innovation that continues in the consumer web market, I strongly suspect that we’ll see a wave of new software that will begin to displace the classic LMS. My guess is that it will be mostly co-existing with current-generation products over the next few years, but by 2014 we may see it beginning to change the whole picture for educational technology infrastructure in some fundamental ways.

Buckle up, folks. It’s going to be an interesting ride.


Possibly related posts:

  1. The Evolving LMS Market, Part I
  2. Blackboard's Market Share Erosion
  3. Bad News for Blackboard, Good News for ANGEL
  4. Bad News for Blackboard, Good News for Moodle
  5. Blackboard Is Losing Customers, but What Does It Mean?

Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "Higher Education, Notable Posts, Opennes..."
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Date: Tuesday, 21 Dec 2010 18:24

As Casey Green said in my recent interview with him, the LMS space is a “market in transition.” In 2005, the year that Blackboard acquired WebCT, the two platforms had a combined total of 75.6% U.S. higher education market share, and the next closest competitor had barely cracked 2% market share. Today, the situation is substantially different and changing rapidly. But the narratives around exactly what’s happening tend to be off. Typically, I hear the frame as being a contest between Blackboard and “open source.” Has “open source” (by which we mean Moodle and Sakai, the two open source LMSs with significant market share in the United States) made inroads into the market?  If you read what the majority of sell-side financial analysts1 are writing, you may see the claim that “open source” is not putting a major dent in Blackboard. If you talk to Moodle or Sakai advocates, you might hear that they are crushing the company in sales. Neither account is really capturing what’s happening in the market, so I’m going to try to explain what we know about what’s really going on in a two-part series. In this post, I’ll talk about what the data are telling us so far about the recent shifts in the market, describe how colleges and universities come to decide that they need to go to market for an LMS, and assess the degree to which we may see an uptick in the number of schools that decide to look around and evaluate our options. In the second post, I’ll describe how the next four years of market transition may be different than the previous four and what signs we should be watching for to see which way the market is going to break.

What Has Happened So Far?

Let’s start with an analysis of where we’ve gotten to in terms of market share. Has “open source” (by which we mean Moodle and Sakai, the two open source LMSs with significant market share in the United States) made inroads into the market?

Here’s a graph of their growth, based on data from the Campus Computing Project’s annual survey:

In 2010, slightly more than one in five universities surveyed2 used one of the two most popular open source LMS platforms as its main, centrally supported, institutional LMS.

But that’s not the whole story. There is a third non-Blackboard LMS in the U.S. higher education market that has significant market share. Desire2Learn doesn’t happen to be open source, so it doesn’t fit the narrative. But that’s because the narrative is flawed. Here’s what happens when we add D2L to the picture:

We now see that the three largest non-Blackboard LMSs, as measured by U.S. market share, comprise over 30% of the market. That’s up from about 9% for the group in 2006, the year after the WebCT acquisition (which was announced in October 2005). But even this isn’t the whole picture, because Blackboard acquired ANGEL in 2009. What did the market look like when ANGEL was a non-Blackboard LMS? Here’s the picture, again drawn from data from the Campus Computing survey:

One of the interesting aspects of this graph is that the combined market share of the top non-Blackboard LMSs in 2010 exceeded their combined market share in 2009 even when ANGEL is dropped from the group in 2010. This is not to say that ANGEL’s market share contribution was insignificant or that Blackboard got nothing by acquiring the company. If ANGEL had remained independent in 2010, and if their market share had stayed the same as it was in 2009, the graph would have looked like this:

All in all, it’s pretty clear that non-Blackboard LMSs are growing very significantly in share, and that the growth appears to be accelerating for both open source and private source entrants. In 2009, before the ANGEL acquisition, the split between the open source non-Blackboard LMSs and the private source ones was close to 50/50.

But even that’s not the whole story, because higher education is not a uniform market. What happens if we look at the 2010 non-Blackboard market share by market segment? Let’s take a look, again drawing on the Campus Computing Project’s annual survey for the numbers:

These segments look very different from each other.3 For example, Desire2Learn has done extremely well in the community college segment, which so far has shown itself to be relatively open source-averse, but they don’t even show up in the private four-year college segment, where Moodle dominates. More generally, Desire2Learn does particularly well in those segments where open source does particularly poorly. It is possible that a significant number of schools are making decisions to either go with open source or avoid it early in their evaluation processes. If that’s true, then it may be that Desire2Learn isn’t even running into Moodle and Sakai in many competitive bid situations, since schools would have decided to filter out either one group or the other before making invitations to vendors. If, as colleges tend to do, they are copying their close peers on these decisions, then these patterns could easily propagate through market segments.4

The dominant narrative of “Blackboard versus The Open Source” captures none of this nuance. Nor does it capture the fundamental dynamic of how and why colleges and universities decide to go to market in the first place. It’s worth taking some time to examine that dynamic in a bit more detail.

What Drives Schools to Consider an LMS Migration?

Switching your institutional LMS is not like switching your web browser. It’s a huge and usually painful process involving moving over large quantities of content, developing new integrations with other campus systems, and retraining faculty, staff, and students. I don’t believe the LMS market is functionally differentiated enough that most colleges and universities are likely to feel compelled to consider migrating (or to dismiss the possibility of migrating, for that matter) based primarily on feature differences. Functional differentiators can be decisive in terms of which platform is ultimately chosen, but generally not in whether one is going to contemplate migrating in the first place. Service isn’t typically the main reason why schools move either. It is occasionally possible that a school can have such an unacceptably bad experience with product reliability or vendor customer service that it drives them to leave, but my observation is that, so far, relatively few schools find such situations to be primary drivers for deciding to consider a migration (although a bad customer service experience can be a strong aggravating condition.) That leaves two other factors: cost and forced migration.

Cost: Blackboard has never positioned itself as a low-cost provider. To the contrary, Blackboard’s executive management has indicated publicly in the past that they are more focused on average contract value than on number of LMS customers. It’s very natural for larger companies to increasingly focus on their larger, more profitable customers, since that is usually where most of their growth will come from. I argued in 2007 that this was exactly what was happening at Blackboard and, furthermore, the client loss the company was seeing showed no signs of affecting their financial growth prospects at that time, suggesting that the customers they were losing were indeed primarily the most price-sensitive Blackboard Basic and WebCT CE customers who were forced to move for budgetary reasons. But one of the risks associated with a strategy to move upmarket is that, when hard economic times hit, your customers may find cheaper solutions to be adequate. The question now is whether the current financial crisis leads more and different customers to move to lower-cost platforms.

At this point in any market share discussion that frames the issue as “Blackboard versus The Open Source,” the issue of total cost of ownership (TCO) typically comes up, with somebody asserting that open source LMSs have a higher TCO because of hidden costs. But there are several problems with this argument. To begin with, there are no studies I know of to support this assertion. In fact, what little we do have in the way of TCO analysis cuts the other way. The North Carolina Community College System found that moving to Moodle from Blackboard resulted in a 35% increase in TCO during the transition year followed by a 72% decrease in TCO in the post-migration years. Likewise, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill found that the total annual cost of Sakai would be $332,000, as compared with $620,000 with Blackboard. The increasing numbers of open source LMS customers who use hosted solutions and do not hire developers also provides a significant and growing body of evidence against the argument that an open source LMS must come with hidden costs. And finally, the argument completely neglects to mention the possibility of non-open source alternatives that are less expensive. Neither Blackboard nor Desire2Learn publish their prices, but anecdotal evidence suggests that Desire2Learn’s prices may be significantly lower than Blackboard in some cases. At the very least, D2L appears to be price-competitive.

All of this raises two questions. First, will more—and larger—schools be inclined to switch based on cost differences than have in the past due to new financial realities? Second, will Blackboard come under pressure to cut more aggressive deals in order to hold onto their customers? These are both pretty big unknowns at the moment.

Forced Migration: This is the big one. Blackboard is retiring WebCT in January of 2013 and ANGEL some time in 2014. Customers on those products will be migrating whether they want to or not. In that situation, the majority are going to look around to see what their alternatives are when they otherwise might have chosen not to do so. Blackboard can incrementally reduce the migration effort required to moved to the mainline Blackboard platform versus the competition, but overwhelming anecdotal evidence suggests that, at least so far, they have not been able to pass a threshold at which customers feel like moving to Blackboard won’t really be a migration. Since LMS evaluation and migration efforts typically take about two years, Blackboard probably has about twelve more months to change the equation for WebCT customers and a little more for ANGEL customers. Based on the math that Casey Green laid out in the earlier-referenced recent interview, it appears that there are a bit under nine hundred customers left on legacy Blackboard LMS products. About eight hundred seventy-five Blackboard customers will have to migrate to something in the next four years. That something may or may not be a Blackboard-owned product.

Are the Alternatives Viable?

Even if schools decide they would like to look at alternatives, they have to feel that they have someplace to go. Just a couple of years ago, there was a sense in the market that viable alternatives were in short supply. In 2006, no non-Blackboard-owned LMS had significant market share in the United States, open source was still considered to be untested by many college and university CIOs, and Blackboard was suing Desire2Learn for patent infringement, creating significant uncertainty in the market about Desire2Learn’s long-term viability as a going concern.

Since then, a lot has changed. Here’s what’s true in 2010:

  • Every single market segment in the U.S. has at least one non-Blackboard LMS that has at least nine percent market share, and all but one have at least one entrant in the double digits. This includes but is not limited to open source offerings.
  • Blackboard has dropped the lawsuit against Desire2Learn, and as the market segmentation graph above shows, there is strong evidence that D2L is having a significant win rate for colleges and universities that are considering a migration from Blackboard but aren’t comfortable with open source.
  • As externally hosted LMS solutions are becoming more popular, the advent of cloud computing has greatly diminished the advantages that big companies like Blackboard have in terms of the relative reliability and security of the data centers. For example Moodlerooms’ hosted offering runs on Dell’s data centers.
  • SunGard Higher Education, an organization that has roughly the same financial heft as Blackboard and somewhere around 40% market share in the United States for mission-critical ERP/Student Information System software, has entered direct competition with Blackboard by offering hosting and support for Sakai in partnership with rSmart, making open source more palatable to risk-averse customers.
  • Datatel has formed a close partnership with Moodlerooms somewhat similar to the SunGard/rSmart partnership.

There is some historical precedent for these last two bullet points and the impact that they might have on the market. Around 2000, SCT (the then-owner of the Banner SIS) signed a partnership and reseller agreement with WebCT. According to Karen Gage, who was the Vice President of Marketing for WebCT at the time, that partnership accounted for somewhere between 10% and 25% of WebCT’s LMS sales during the first few year or two of the relationship. Sales dropped off considerably from there and the partnership was ultimately ended—and anyway, the LMS market is quite different today than it was in 2000—so we shouldn’t read too much into this data point. But it certainly is enough of an indicator to give us reason to believe that these partnerships will have some impact on whether schools at least decide to go to market and evaluate their LMS options.

There’s an interesting question about the degree to which other entrants can break into this market. I’ll just mention two possibilities. First, Pearson recently bought Fronter, a European LMS (one that impressed me with their demo, by the way) and has created a new brand for their combined eCollege/Fronter product called LearningStudio. They also signed a deal with Arizona State University to support a small number of distance learning courses for the college that might be a leading indicator of the company getting more aggressive about going after the traditional higher education market. (Right now they have very high penetration among for-profit universities, but only about 1.3% share in the traditional not-for-profit U.S. higher education market.) Second, startup Instructure just recently signed a deal for their Canvas LMS with the Utah Education Network (UEN), a multi-institutional consortium that reaches about 109,000 college students and 40,000 K12 students. That’s a pretty big deal for an LMS startup, and it may presage a thirst for new approaches in the LMS space (in terms of both product design and support/pricing models) leading a percentage of the market to be more risk-tolerant than they have been in the past.

Where Does It Go From Here?

The bottom line is that there has been a dramatic increase in the perceived viability of the alternatives at a time when both forced migration and economic crisis are putting pressure on schools to minimize costs across the board, including LMS costs. We have to weigh the impact of these factors against current market trends. As a baseline, I tried to extrapolate the market share movement in the previous graphs out to 2014. What I did was I averaged the last four years of market share change and, since I wanted to capture the fact that changes in the market have accelerated over the last four years, I double-weighted the last year’s change. (Primitive, I know, but I’m not a statistician.)

Here’s what the graph came out looking like:

This projection has Moodle at around 31%, Desire2Learn at about 20%, and Sakai at about 12% in that year. By extension, that would put Blackboard with market share somewhere in the low- to mid-thirties by 2014, with a few percentage points left over for other options.

There’s a pretty substantial margin of error in this exercise. My completely unscientific guess is that we’re at something like plus or minus four percent (absent major unforeseen developments). There’s a lot that could happen within those lines that could have a significant impact on the various platforms and the vendors that support them. In my next post, I’ll get further into the weeds to see what signs we should be looking for in order to divine what’s actually going to happen over the next four years of LMS market share in more detail.

  1. Sell-side analysts are financial analysts who work for major brokerage houses and provide stock analysis to retail investors. Comments by analysts that you read in business news articles are typically from sell-side analysts.
  2. The survey excludes for-profits and colleges with less than 500 students.
  3. It’s worth noting here that these segments don’t tell you a lot about contract size or even school size. For example, Los Angeles Community College District has over 141,000 students.
  4. It would be interesting to see the degree to which these trends cluster geographically, if we had that kind of data.


Possibly related posts:

  1. The Evolving LMS Market, Part II
  2. Blackboard's Market Share Erosion
  3. Bad News for Blackboard, Good News for Moodle
  4. Bad News for Blackboard, Good News for ANGEL
  5. DIY U: Is There a Bubble in the Higher Education Market?

Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "Higher Education, Notable Posts, Opennes..."
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Date: Friday, 10 Dec 2010 15:32

There is a lot of good buzz in the edublogosphere about Jim Groom’s newly open course called “Digital Storytelling.” I’m not going to have time to participate this time around, so I really hope that he offers it again. But it’s already off to such an interesting start that I can’t resist commenting on it. Jim has been careful to credit other experimenters with Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which is fair and good, but without getting into a discussion about how much is original to him, I think the course is exemplary in a lot of ways, both as a relatively refined example of a new genre and as an educational experiment.

To begin with, as you can glean from the title, this is a course about new literacy. It’s about expressing ideas digitally. For example, one assignment in the class is to express a film in six frames. Here is one of Jim’s two examples from the assignment post:

This inspired one student to respond with his own suggested assignments, such as the following:

Make an animated gif from your favorite/least favorite movie capturing the essence of a key scene. Make sure the movement is minimal but essential.

(He footnotes the assignment suggestion with a link to a tutorial on how to create an animated GIF using free software.)

Brilliant. There is an art to creating assignments that teach structure and disciplinarity while simultaneously encouraging students to make meaning, and Jim has found it. His assignment is wide open in terms of content, inviting play, but provides a pretty focused aperture of form through which that creativity can be expressed. You would think that this approach would be a lot more common in college composition classes than it actually is. To be fair, it’s significantly harder and more time consuming to both generate and assess wide open expository writing assignments than it is with Jim’s tight little piece here, but that just brings me to another point. I would say that a course like Digital Storytelling should be part of every college’s core curriculum, but that doesn’t really go far enough. Rather, it should be integrated into existing classes. If students in Composition 101 had to construct their six-frame movie narratives before they tried to write their first five-paragraph essays, I suspect it would save a lot of pain for both teachers and students. When I taught eighth grade, I once had a student ask me, “Do you want us to write the paper like an essay, or do you want us to write it like we’re explaining something to you?” Sadly, a shocking percentage of eighth grade students manage to move on to ninth grade and get all the way to college without ever having anybody answer that question for them properly.

This is not to say that Jim’s course is all about creativity devoid of traditional academic underpinning. Here’s another of the early assignments:

Read Gardner Campbell’s short article titled “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure.”Additionally, you will need watch Professor Campbell’s presentation on the topic at the2009 Open Education Conference called “No More Digital Facelifts: Thinking the Unthinkable About Open Educational Experiences.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

The article and the presentation will serve as a theoretical and practical framework for the work we will be doing over the next 15 weeks, so please take the time to read and watch both carefully—and then blog your response. Tag this assignment “Assignment 1.”

One of the most exciting things about the course, really the spark that animates it and separates it from so much university teaching, is that it presents critique as a creative act rather than a bloodless dissection. I turned away from graduate school ambitions—twice—because the smell of formaldehyde makes me retch. And I’m a relatively academically inclined individual. For students who don’t have that tweed gene, having courses that enable them to experience the inherent creativity, humanism, and joy in intellectual exploration and clear communication is absolutely essential.

The trouble is, we have relatively few teachers who know how to teach this way and even fewer who know how to do so with digital tools. The two are intertwined, I think. We’ve managed to beat academic prose into submission. It can be a more engaging experience to read your car’s owner’s manual than to read a typical academic paper on a subject that genuinely interests you. But digital media have not yet been tamed by academia. They feel like art. And in our culture, art is ineffable. It’s a gift from God. It’s a light that either shines upon you or doesn’t. Above all, it’s impolite. Public displays of creativity are about as socially accepted of Public Displays of Affection, and for the same reason. It’s not polite to rub people’s noses in something that you have and they may never have.

Most of us are more vulnerable to this social construct than we might like to think. I consider myself to have a pretty healthy ego and be fairly intellectually adventurous, but I was intimidated when I saw this submission to Jim’s course by D’Arcy Norman:

I thought, “I could never do that. Not in a million years. I would look like an idiot in this class.” If you can’t face your fear of flying, then you can’t teach. You might be decent instructor, but you will never be a teacher. But that’s where we are, in part because we don’t generally make the distinction between instructing and teaching. Jim’s class, and others like it, are important for our students to take, but they’re even more important for our professors to take.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying I think the class looks great, I will be watching it with interest, and I hope to be able to take it at some point.


Possibly related posts:

  1. The Pirate Hoax
  2. Some Strengths of Sakai 2: Part II
  3. Using an iPod for Grading in a Web-Enhanced Class
  4. Sakai Conference: Kamenetz Keynote
  5. Video Literacy

Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "Educational Pattern Languages, Higher Ed..."
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Date: Monday, 06 Dec 2010 16:24

This is a guest post by Jim Farmer. Jim is Chairman of instructional media + magic.

Interpreting the CDW-G 2010 survey summary report, Campus Technology magazine concluded: “Faculty members and campus IT staff aren’t exactly in agreement on the necessity of some technologies in education.” The can be interpreted to show CIOs consistently rank the individual technologies higher than faculty. Summary data from the CDW presentation is shown in Figure 1.

The real innovation in higher education it is not the technology itself. This may seem obvious now, but it wasn’t in the past. It’s a recent revelation that comes with changes in the roles of IT staff and faculty in innovation with technology for teaching and learning and in IT organizations and departments on campus.
Trent Batson in Campus Technology, 2 June 2010

In July the “2010 21st Century Campus Report: Campus 2.0” was released at the Campus Technology conference held in Boston. Sponsor CDW-G is “a leading source of Information Technology (IT) solutions for education, government and business.” Their report was a series of summary slides from the survey data.

But the data may suggest a different interpretation.

Faculty rate digital content, wireless Internet access, and smart podiums sharply higher than other technologies. Lack of digital content may be a barrier to the use of the other technologies—an important observation if true. 57% of faculty also responded “accessing the campus’ network from an off-campus location is ‘extremely important.’” Smart podiums are used because faculty to supplement lectures with multimedia—digital content often provided by the textbook publisher or developed by the professor. The use of multimedia is now a mature and frequently used technology. There is evidence showing increased student performance.

Although the questions in the two survey instruments were identical, CIOs (Chief Information Officers) were identifying Important and Most Important technologies for the college or university as a whole. Faculty would respond only for their courses and disciplines; a much narrower view of the use of technology.

Faculty choose the teaching methodologies and education technologies that best accomplish their learning objectives. Their choices depend on the field of study, level, student background and schedule, as well as many other factors. Faculty choices are informed by their particular teaching situation, which is likely a far more limited prism than the “enterprise-level” view afforded to the CIO. Three recently cited examples illustrate this difference: Philosophy using communication technologies for collaboration, algebra using online drill and practice, and art history using lecture supplemented by slides, video, and audio.

An earlier CDW-G report provides insight into the current practices of faculty. Shown in Figure 2, the faculty responded on the use of the six technologies measured in the 2009 survey. In all cases, students use more technologies than faculty. Students use different technologies for different courses (areas of study); their responses would include any technology used in any course.

Figure 2 – The use of technologies by students and faculty

(The CDW-G Classroom Assessment Tool lists 20 technologies with an option to write in unlisted technologies. The only available data for analysis are summaries in the presentations).

The dominant student use of technology remains laptops and the availability and use of course management systems.

In addition to their use of differing technologies due to interaction with multiple faculty members,students also use social networking sites, open-source applications, MP3 players and Wikis (or similar) much more than faculty, likely reflecting personal use as well as use related to learning. The typical full-time student enrolled in five classes has a 34% likelihood of being in at least one course that requires the use of an MP3 player, and a 44% likelihood of being a course that requires the use of a Wiki. Similarly 53% of the students could be expected to take one or more courses using social networking sites assigned by only 14% of the faculty.

This suggests the difference between faculty and student technology use is dependent on the number of courses in which a student is enrolled. These data suggest students will use a technology more often than a faculty member will be assigning the technology in his course; hence the differences in use in the 2009 survey. This is illustrated in Figure 3. The three data points of student use reported are shown in black. The differences between faculty and student use of a technology begins to decline when faculty use is between 45% and 55%.

Figure 3 – Probability of Student Use as a function of faculty using a technology.

An earlier CDW-G survey report also compared use of technology between colleges and high schools. These results are shown in Figure 4. Only high school use of laptops exceed the equivalent use of a technology by college students.

Figure 4 – Use of technologies by high school and college students.

CDW-G did not say the differences between CIOs and faculty were due to faculty being less willing to use a technology. A quantitative analysis of probabilities demonstrates these differences are inherent in students taking multiple courses where, in individual courses, only a few technologies may be the most effective instruction.

There has been little discussion that a lack of digital content may be limiting the growth of the use of certain technologies in higher education. Because of the extensive use of multimedia in the classroom—available from publishers and other sources as a supplement to lectures—and increasing use of lecture capture, which requires no further content development and not limited by lack of digital content, further suggests lack of content as a barrier. There is some data from a major research university consistent with this suggestion.

CIOs take an enterprise view of technology. Faculty employ technologies appropriate to their course. Students must master all of the technologies used in the courses they take. Analysis of any preference or use data should recognize these different realities And may be a factor reducing the rate of diffusion of technology in the college or university.

The CDW-G surveys have added to our understanding of the enterprise-faculty-student perspectives. Next year’s survey should help even more.


Batson, Trent. Innovation in Higher Education: It’s Not the Technology, Campus Technology. Chatsworth, California USA: 1105 Media Inc.

Caraher, Kelly and Meredith Braselman. (2009, 2 November). The 2009 21st-Century Campus Report: Defining the Vision [slide presentation]. Vernon Hills, Illinois USA: CDW Government Inc.

Caraher, Kelly and Meredith Braselman. (2010a 28 June). The 2009 21st-Century Classroom Report Preparing Students for the Future or the Past?. Vernon Hills, Illinois USA: CDW Government Inc.

Caraher, Kelly and Meredith Braselman. (2010b 16 July). The 2010 21st-Century Campus Report: Campus 2.0 [slide presentation]. Vernon Hills, Illinois USA: CDW Government Inc.

Cook, Bryan and Natalie Pullaro. (2010, 30 September). College Graduation Rates: Behind the Numbers. Washington DC USA: American Council on Education.

Emery, Gail. (2008, 13 October). The 21st-Century Campus: Are We There Yet? Challenges and Opportunities for Campus Technology. Vernon Hills, Illinois USA: CDW Government Inc.

Farmer, James. (2007, 12 February). Use of the Enterprise Blackboard Learning System, Spring 2006. Washington DC USA: Georgetown University or instructional media + magic inc.

Kurtz, Ryan. (2010, 24 June). CDW-G 21st Century Classroom Assessment Tool.[Survey text]. Vernon Hills, Illinois USA: CDW Government Inc.

Kurtz, Ryan and Meredith Braselman. (2010, 19 July).Ready or Not: Next-Gen Students’ Technology Expectations Surpass Students’ Today, Annual CDW-G Survey Finds [News Release]. Vernon Hills, Illinois USA: CDW Government Inc.

Nagel, David. (2010, 19 July). Faculty, IT Diverge on the Importance of Classroom Tech Campus Technology. Chatsworth, California USA: 1105 Media Inc.


Possibly related posts:

  1. Restructuring higher education: NCES Stats-DC 2010 Conference
  2. IMS Report on Learning Technology Satisfaction and Trends
  3. Why All Faculty Members Should Blog
  4. Patrick Masson in Campus Technology
  5. Gartner on Higher Education: a Conversation at Georgetown University

Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "Guest Bloggers, Higher Education, Tools,..."
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Date: Thursday, 18 Nov 2010 16:49

When Blackboard acquired ANGEL back in May of 2009, there was a lot of noise about how the acquisition was going to change the company. I wrote a post then called Three Tests for the ‘New’ Blackboard, which outlined some indications I was going to be looking for to see whether there was substance behind the hype. The first sign I got that something was changing happened within days (hours?) of my publication of that post, when Ray Henderson publicly accepted my challenge on Twitter. How well have he and Blackboard done since then?

Really well, actually:

  • Challenge 1, drop the patent suit: Done. To be honest, I did not expect this to be the first one ticked off the list. But it was. Blackboard and Desire2Learn settled in December of 2009.
  • Challenge 2, support IMS Common Cartridge, including export: Done. I wasn’t following this too closely, so I don’t know exactly when this was released, but some time this year Blackboard provided full support for IMS Common Cartridge, including export.
  • Challenge 3, support IMS Learning Information Services: In Progress. Yesterday, Ray Henderson declared in a blog post that Blackboard is “committed to supporting” LIS. To my knowledge, this is the first time that Blackboard has made an unequivocal, public commitment in writing to implement the standard. This declaration has been backed up by activity in the LIS working group that indicates Blackboard is actually taking steps to implement the specification.

If Blackboard succeeds in implementing LIS by the 2011 IMS Learning Impact conference, then Ray will have met all three challenges within 24 months of coming to Blackboard. That’s pretty impressive.

Update: I received an email response to this post from Ray (who is at an IMS meeting today), which I reprint in part here with his permission:

  1. Common Cartridge: we actually have NOT shipped this, just demo’d it. My public statement was to show progress at the 2 IMS meetings this year, and ship by end of year. We’re on target for that.
  2. IMS Basic LTI: this was another area I clarified earlier–that we’d ship LTI. We got conformance cert at this meeting. And so we’ll ship that too, by end of year.

Related story: I mentioned in my blog a mega relationship between Bb and McGraw. We really are using basic LTI as a production technology — and one for a major strategic partner — in 2011. Adoption is key, and I’m delighted to see it brewing up.


Possibly related posts:

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  2. Blackboard Learn President Ray Henderson Starts a Blog
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  4. Progress Toward an Offline e-Learning Client?
  5. Sakai 3 Roadmap and Progress

Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "Openness, Tools, Toys, and Technology (O..."
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Date: Wednesday, 10 Nov 2010 12:42

This is a guest post by Josh Baron, a nominee in the 2010 Sakai Foundation Board of Directors election. His bio and platform are available here.

Challenges and Opportunities

As I look toward the horizon I see challenges, but believe that these also represent opportunities for Sakai, both the product and community, if the right strategic path it charted.

The Challenge and Opportunities of a Two Product Community: The Sakai Open Academic Environment or OAE (the system previously known as Sakai 3) represents a bold step towards evolving not just Sakai but more fundamentally the LMS/VLE as we know it today. At the same time, thanks to the work of many dedicated community members, we are ever increasing (to barrow a phase from Dr. Chuck) the “awesomeness” of the Sakai CLE (2.x). This parallel effort are both evidence of our community’s core value to seek out and drive towards innovation, but also poses challenges with regards to resources, communication and governance. How do we (the community) organize the resources to maintain two products over the long term? How do we talk about our two products to those considering adoption? How do we move the “managed” project that the Sakai OAE represents today to a more “organic” development model over time? Although these parallel efforts raise challenging questions, they also represent a tremendous opportunity to affect not only change in the LMS/VLE market space but to fundamentally transform teaching, learning and research in ways that help academia meet the many challenges confronting it over the coming decades.

The Challenge and Opportunities of Sustainability: Like many of our institutions, Sakai is now operating in the “New Normal” of shrinking budgets and rising expectations. Whereas institutions 3-4 years ago, some who had not even adopted Sakai, became members of the Foundation as means to demonstrate support for the concept of open-source, few have this luxury of resources today and as a result we have seen revenues decline. We, as a community must now justify the “value proposition” for becoming a member of the Foundation which is a challenge to an organization that is based on principles of openness and inclusion. At the same time, the realities of the “New Normal” hold the potential to drive us and our colleagues in other open-source higher education communities to consider new alliance that a few years ago may have not been considered priorities. A tangible example of this opportunity is the Sakai-Jasig alliance that was recently announced, which- I believe, will lead to a more sustainable future for both organizations.

The Challenges and Opportunities of OER: I believe that the Open Educational Resource (OER) movement represents the next “grand experiment” in open-source development and will bring both tremendous opportunity as well as challenges to Sakai, as well as academia as a whole. The ability to share, remix and redistribute open educational content (e.g. courseware, journals, instructional software, etc.) within Sakai could transform education as we know it; freeing instructors from endlessly re-venting content, dramatically reducing costs of instructional materials and facilitating self-directed learning that could empower a new generation of students. Achieving this will require addressing technical, coordination and adoption challenges related to bringing OER materials into the Learning Management System. Although these challenges are far from trivial, the values we hold as a community position Sakai well to play a leadership role in making this opportunity a reality.

Sakai in Three Years

As I look to the horizon, I see a new era in the history of the higher education open- and community-source movement; an era in which a suite of innovative and mature software “built by education, foreducation”, encompassing everything from infrastructure to application, will exist. This mature “open”software stack will allow us to leverage and support the Open Educational Resource movement instrategic ways; providing our users with robust, rich and re-mixable content and an infrastructure tocreate powerful new learning experiences with it. The benefits, if realized, could go well beyond Sakaiand become a global transformative force in education.

More specifically, over the next three years I believe Sakai will have demonstrated a new approach toproduct transition with institutions introducing, through “hybrid mode”, the new capabilities found inthe Sakai OAE gradually and based on user needs and desires. This model will be in stark contrast tothe traditional vendor “big bang” approach of “sun-setting” a product on their terms rather than thoseof their clients. I firmly believe that the Sakai CLE will continue to mature and compete strongly in thetraditional LMS space while at the same time we will see the maturing of the Sakai OAE and the initialrealization of its potential to transform teaching, learning and research. The Sakai OAE’s transformativepowers will be derived from the core design values it has embraced, many of which are outlined in the Learning Capabilities Design Lenses. These include its support for “openness” in all of its forms, supportfor academic networking, and rich collaborative content authoring capabilities.

Beyond the future of our products, I believe our community will continue to grow and mature, boththrough our internal processes as well as through our plans to merge with Jasig. Today we have severalemerging new governance structures, including the “managed project” model being used by the SakaiOAE Steering Committee and the newly formed Technical Coordination Committee (TCC). Theseapproaches to self-governance will mature to become established community practices that will help us manage the development challenges that we will face as a multi-product community.

Steps That We Must Take

As I’ve outlined above, the road ahead is filled with both challenges and opportunities. To realize ourpotential over the next three years our community, with strategic leadership from the Foundation and Board, will have to address a number of key issues.

Foremost for the Board is the need to ensure that we have a long-term sustainable financial modelfor the Foundation and our products. On a strategic level, I believe this will include the need to formalliances across other open-source initiatives. Whereas some alliances may be along the lines of thework going on to merge with Jasig, others may be lighter weight and more focused on shared servicesand/or alignment of missions. For example, forming an overarching alliance among the majority ofopen-source communities could create a single point of contact and reference for institutional decisionmakers and allow us to speak with one voice with regards to the value of open source. Such an alliance would not, in my mind, involve a merging of projects/initiatives nor an effort to bundle our products “ala” a proprietary vendor model, but instead simply represent an aligning of our message and missionsacross projects.

On a more operational front, which is the clear domain of the Executive Director and Foundation staff,we will need to seek new models for membership. This may include, for example, approaches whichencourage membership among those institutions hosted by Sakai Commercial Affiliates as means tomaintain and possibly grow the revenue stream for the Foundation. In addition, we need to work toreposition the “value proposition” for institutions on the benefits of becoming members. This mightinclude the introduction of things such as new awards programs, (e.g. best new implementation thisyear,) for which only member institutions and commercial providers are eligible.

Last but not least, the Board and Foundation must work to facilitate the maturing of community-drivengovernance models. We have learned from the past few years that the introduction of governancestructures from the “top down” have not been successful, yet expecting the community to self-organizewithout support or encouragement has also been an issue. I would like to see a new approach in whichgovernance issues are identified by the community with the Foundation staff then providing necessarysupports to help the community move to address them. The Sakai OAE’s “managed project” model maybe a good example of how this might happen as the Foundation Executive Director is now serving asco-chair of the Steering Committee with the Foundation helping to facilitate certain financial and legal tasks.

Final Thought

As we travel the road ahead we will be faced with major challenges including how to sustain, govern andcoordinate our community efforts. We will need to seek new solutions, from alternative funding modelsto alliances with other communities around shared services, values and common needs. I believe thatmy experience and passion for Sakai strongly positions me to help chart the course toward a futurewhere Sakai transcends our software and community; a future in which our efforts have revolutionizedacademia as we know it today. Though this task is a tremendous challenge, it is one I am prepared forand confident I can contribute to through my dedication, knowledge and leadership.


Possibly related posts:

  1. Sakai Board Platform – David Goodrum
  2. Sakai Board Platform — Nate Angell
  3. Sakai Board Platform — Lucy Appert
  4. Sakai Foundation Board Nominee Posts
  5. Sakai Foundation Board Platform: Vision for the Technology

Author: "Josh Baron" Tags: "Guest Bloggers, Openness, Sakai Foundati..."
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Date: Wednesday, 10 Nov 2010 12:28

This is a guest post by Nate Angell, a nominee in the 2010 Sakai Foundation Board of Directors election. His bio and platform are available here.

Challenges & Opportunities

The greatest challenge we face in the Sakai community is how our collaboration can stay healthy and relevant in a time when numerous forces are rearticulating not only educational technology, but education itself.

Before Sakai first started—not even that long ago—centralized learning management systems (LMSs) were not necessarily considered crucial in higher education, as they still are not across K12 today. Since that time, most higher ed institutions have recognized that offering enterprise online learning platforms is crucial to their missions. In the interim, we formed Sakai to enable us to develop and support such central platforms on our own terms.

Yet today, the now well-accepted idea that an educational institution should offer a single, centralized learning technology platform is under a variety pressures to evolve, including:

  • Nimble, specialized technologies with compelling academic capabilities appearing and disappearing nearly daily.
  • Large commercial technology companies offering seemingly costless platforms for collaboration, research, and thought work.
  • Students, faculty, and researchers finding more reasons to reach outside institutional and pedagogical boundaries.
  • More people customizing, hacking, and developing their technology tools.
  • Data generated by teaching, learning, and research calling out for and flowing in to a wide variety of new uses.
  • People increasingly accessing online technologies day and night from multiple devices in far-flung locations.
  • Educational institutions reinventing their activities to meet changing cultural and economic patterns.

These same pressures—and more—challenge the Sakai community, our practices, and our technology to evolve as well. To meet this constellation of challenges, I believe we in Sakai need to understand them as opportunities for our continued engagement, not as threats against which to raise our defenses. This positive attitude is not unfamiliar to the Sakai community: we rose together out of just such engagement and apply it daily to our work with each other. Sakai exists not merely to support what we have now, but to bring our collective energy and effort to develop and own what we need tomorrow.

Sakai in Three Years

My vision of Sakai three years from now can be summed up in a single word: growth. Not just growth for growth’s own sake, but growth along many dimensions.

Part of that growth should be new people and new institutions choosing Sakai and adding their ideas and resources to our collective endeavor. We set out to help educators take control of their own technology destinies. If we are not bringing that gift to more people, then we are not fulfilling our founding goal.

Yet successful growth is not measured only by adding more names to the Sakai list. We also need to grow what Sakai can offer: our continuing work to open Sakai to other technologies via a variety pathways, to sustain multiple technology projects of our own, and to partner with complementary communities already demonstrates our progress down this path.

We must also measure growth by how many ways we offer to engage in our vision. Sakai has come far beyond our deep, enterprise technology roots to include more players on our stage. We now count technologists of many stripes, instructors, designers, accessibility experts, vendors, policy-makers, and more among our ranks, all hailing from widely international locations and organizations of every shape and size. New efforts are underway to reach out to students, to professional organizations, and to new policy- and grant-making bodies to further expand our constituencies. By continuing to become more, to more people, we ensure our work does not atrophy, losing touch with what matters.

Last, but not least, we must continue to enlarge what is possible with Sakai. While we have a commitment to support the activities we already have underway at our organizations, we also have the tradition and the mandate to support activities that go beyond. The continuing novelty of what our work so far makes possible should inspire us to further work that in turn generates possibilities we can’t yet imagine.

Over the next three years, we should continue—and stretch—these trajectories, until we truly grow to become not just the community that supports a technology called Sakai, but a community called Sakai that supports technologies for education, and all that can mean.

Steps We Must Take

The Sakai community must focus on three, interrelated activities to meet these challenges, grasp our opportunities, and lead us to where we want to be three years from now.

First, a very tangible, yet crucial activity: ensuring the continued health and effectiveness of the Sakai Foundation itself as a coordinating body. The unique governance structure of the Sakai community is one of our most valuable assets. The Foundation is key to our distinction. Imagine for one moment Sakai without a sustaining—and sustainable—nonprofit foundation at its center: any positive vision we have depends on the ongoing vitality of this entity, dedicated to nothing other than Sakai’s success.

Second, a governor for our growth: building and maintaining mechanisms to ensure that growth generates continuing common resources. By establishing a viable core platform and spreading its adoption, Sakai has demonstrated that this center of gravity will generate innovation and extension. We need to make sure that our growth also returns sufficient resources to support the less sexy, yet essential activities at our core.

Third, a guarantee of our promise: establishing and maintaining quality and coherence in our products and processes. As Sakai grows, we need to build on our promise that our work not only meets, but exceeds the quality and coherence of alternatives. To date, we have achieved these measures only inconsistently. We need to institutionalize processes to bring new rigor to our work and meet the expectations we set for ourselves to stand at the front.

I welcome further conversation about these ideas and my candidacy for the Sakai Board of Directors. You can read more of my thinking about Sakai on my blog at http://xolotl.org.


Possibly related posts:

  1. Sakai Board Platform – David Goodrum
  2. Sakai Board Platform — Josh Baron
  3. Sakai Board Platform — Lucy Appert
  4. Sakai Foundation Board Platform: Involving the Teachers
  5. Sakai Foundation Board Platform: Vision for the Technology

Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "Guest Bloggers, Openness, Sakai Foundati..."
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Date: Wednesday, 10 Nov 2010 12:22

This is a guest post by David Goodrum, a nominee in the 2010 Sakai Foundation Board of Directors election. His bio and platform are available here.

First off, I’d like to thank Michael Feldstein for his generous offer to the Sakai board candidates to present their perspectives in this forum as well as offer thanks to the many readers of e-Literate for their patience in wading through a discussion of board responsibilities, Sakai product directions, and open/community source approaches.

I won’t repeat my background and basic platform, which are available here; and will try my best to answer Michael’s call to articulate what I see as the Sakai community’s challenges and opportunities, where I see both Sakai products and community in three years, and what steps we must take to get there.

Challenges and Opportunities: that we face as a community and as part of the larger global education community over the next three years

The larger global education community is living in interesting times: communication is increasingly instantaneous; technological capabilities leapfrog each other daily; social, economic, marketplace, and political changes are constantly upon us. And so the need for individuals to learn, connect, and be contributing members of intellectual as well as social communities grows ever more important. And the ability of our institutions to create an environment to enhance the success of students and scholars alike becomes ever more critical.

The Sakai community is built upon the core values of

  • Higher education meeting its own needs
  • Our institutions maintaining control of their own destinies, and
  • Sharing the burden among like-minded partners.

The opportunity for Sakai is to build on its current success of the Sakai 2 Collaboration and Learning Environment (CLE) and meet the future head-on, providing global vision and leadership for how technology can be integral to the success of the core academic mission.

In my view, the biggest challenges for the Sakai community are to:

  1. Continue to build and evolve a shared vision for the future and maintain core values
  2. Deliver on commitments to always provide high performing and scalable products friendly to both users and developers, and
  3. Accomplish this with a lightweight yet strong Sakai Foundation that champions the most valuable contributions and the most successful self-organizing behaviors in the community.

Sakai in Three Years: A vision for what Sakai (both products and community) should look like three years from now to respond to those challenges and opportunities

Sakai Products

A version 1.0 of a comprehensive vision for Sakai products has been recently articulated, at least from a teaching and learning perspective, with the Sakai Learning Capabilities Design Lenses. Michael Feldstein has previously written a  post about this work and invited me to write a post on the brainstorming and other community activities that led up to the version 1.0 document. It was very exciting to be a part of this highly collaborative work in the community and to continue to champion it in a variety of venues.

I think it’s accurate to say the document is presented as a comprehensive product vision for both the Sakai CLE as well as the newly announced project called the Sakai Open Academic Environment (OAE). Building on considerable advanced work on both the concepts and architecture for Sakai OAE, along with a hybrid approach to working together with Sakai CLE, the two projects are well positioned to deliver on the promise outlined by the Sakai Learning Capabilities.

LMS vendors are always marketing their latest or refreshed versions developed in secret and pursuing technologies and/or market share by acquiring other companies or suing in the courts. Even the open source Moodle is poised for major change as it is now beginning to strategize and brainstorm for a total rewriting/refactoring of its platform (e.g., see this).

The Sakai consortial values and governance affords us all a much deeper level of influence through a variety of tangible contributions to governance, direction, and products that uniquely meet the needs of higher education. In the next three years, Sakai is well positioned to provide an ecosystem of products, integrations, standards (e.g., LTI), and support that together can fulfill the Learning Capabilities vision.

Sakai Community

Simply put, my vision for the Sakai community is a house with all the lights turned on, occupied by multiple groups who are self-organized and board-recognized, and united broadly by common purpose and values. A lot of Sakai community accomplishments over time have occurred somewhat in isolation, pursued by a single institution, and difficult to find up-to-date information on.

This seems to be evolving already. Both the Sakai OAE managed project and the Sakai 2 Technical Coordination Committee (as well as the teaching and learning community efforts on the Learning Capabilities Design Lenses) have been prime examples of highly visible, self-organized efforts within the community, each with multiple participating institutions.

In three years, my vision is for a broader and more diverse Sakai community with a successful merger of Jasig and Sakai, more multiple-institution supported efforts, more higher ed institutions and commercial affiliates as members, and better outreach and communication of community initiatives overall.

Steps We Must Take: specific actions that must be undertaken to fulfill that vision

There are scores of actions and contributions the community would need to take to fulfill the vision I’ve outlined above. But let me focus on specific actions the Sakai Foundation Board needs to take.

For Community Vision

For the Foundation itself, I see several critical areas for thoughtful leadership by the directors through a dialogue with the whole of the Sakai community:

1) Partners. Make mergers and partnerships with other community source groups an opportunity for both organizational efficiency and technical and functional collaborations. The growing open source ecosystem in higher education supported by partner commercial affiliates affords us all a strategic approach to continue meeting our own needs while maintaining control of our own destinies and sharing the burden among like-minded partners.

2) Outreach. Implement an effective Sakai Foundation outreach strategy to a) institutions exploring learning management, portfolio, collaboration, and academic networking applications, b) potential commercial affiliates with services and application integrations that would benefit higher education, and c) other open and community source projects which together with us could create a rich platform for innovation.

3) New Voices. Increase engagement with the newest members of the community, many of which are struggling to find their way among the myriad of projects, sources of information, dense lists of email, and potential ways to contribute. There might be a variety of ways to help with this; one idea would be to create a ‘new members council’ for new institutions and commercial affiliates. A new member would have a representative on the council for twelve months; the council would meet regularly with the executive director and other community resources he brings to bear to an agenda built by the new council membership. New members, no matter their size, should feel they have an established and direct line of communication.

For Product Success

For the Sakai software, I also see several critical areas of importance for the Foundation working with the community:

1) Build and support a coherent product strategy. The Sakai CLE and the Sakai OAE (along with other community source projects) together provide the full range of capabilities needed in the demanding arena of higher ed online, hybrid and face-to-face teaching, learning, collaboration, and academic networking and community building.

2) Turn the lights on. Formally recognize self-organized efforts within the community where multiple institutions are co-sponsoring and co-supporting specific, well-documented initiatives.

3) Support and advocate standards. Adopting integration and interoperability standards would enable bringing together the best content, processes, and tools to support the academic mission of our institutions. As Feldstein has pointed out elsewhere, we need to integrate both the rest of the academic enterprise as well as the long tail of learning tools.

Final Note

As a board director, I believe I would bring a unique perspective:

  • The experience of having supported large and small campuses through an early migration to Sakai from a legacy system;
  • Substantial work with users as well as with development teams in continuing to move Sakai 2 CLE forward;
  • Early championing and participation in the Learning Capabilities visioning;
  • Involvement from the beginning in the Sakai OAE managed project;
  • Being a frequent conversant with institutions considering Sakai — some already leaning, others rather skeptical;
  • Understanding of how an institution can implement community source as a strategic direction; and
  • Leadership experience with sizable responsibilities for both teams and budgets.

The opportunity to serve the Sakai community through a board position would indeed be a rare honor and privilege.


Possibly related posts:

  1. Sakai Board Platform — Lucy Appert
  2. Sakai Board Platform — Josh Baron
  3. Sakai Board Platform — Nate Angell
  4. Sakai Foundation Board Platform: Vision for the Technology
  5. Sakai Foundation Board Platform: Involving the Teachers

Author: "David Goodrum" Tags: "Guest Bloggers, Openness, Community sour..."
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Date: Wednesday, 10 Nov 2010 12:18

This is a guest post by Lucy Appert, a nominee in the 2010 Sakai Foundation Board of Directors election. Her bio and platform are available here.

Sakai in Three Years

The key question for our community to answer right now is, “What is our end goal?” If it is thousands of institutional cul-de-sacs within cul-de-sacs, we are getting there by default – and we could get there with the proprietary walls of commercial solutions just as easily.  If our goal is the desire I hear expressed from faculty and students every day of integrating a variety of external tools and facilitating inter- and cross-institutional sharing and collaboration, then we need to think and work differently over the next three years.

The metaphor of a utility strikes me as useful here. “Utility” implies standards and stability on which or alongside which other layers of infrastructure can be built. One vision of the academic technology of the future, one that I hope to see realized in Sakai OAE/Sakai 3, is that there is a base utility into which individual institutions integrate their internal systems and activate customizations without altering the functionality of the base. For some institutions, those integrations may be the customized experiences of Sakai 2 tools operating in hybrid mode. Whether it is Sakai 2 tool stability or the Sakai OAE platform, however, developing and maintaining that base utility will require a strong structure and process.

Steps We Must Take

This utility metaphor has been used a lot (and with some trepidation) to describe what both Facebook and Google offer users, but using it to describe the open-source products developed by a nonprofit academic foundation has a certain naturalness. However, those products must be backed by a trusted foundation and organization with the power to create and maintain product standards. I believe we are at a point where development and oversight is best done within a common project that takes into account the broadest set of institutional needs and offers a plan and a process for maintaining it over the long term.

That does not mean the treasured Sakai “do-ocracy” must go away, but rather that the spirit be re-directed toward local integrations and customization selections on the one hand, and the development of a sound, flexible, receptive platform on the other. Facebook and Google have become utilities because they offer a standard, scalable, pleasant user experience that has been visionary and flexible enough to respond to social and technological changes. A common platform is the best way for us to achieve those goals with Sakai products.

Challenges and Opportunities

Building that platform is hard. It means looking at new ways of working together, ceding local control at times, and trusting in the end goal of the collaboration.  It means an end to an overriding philosophy of “I’ll make it for me, and if anyone else can use it, great.” While that approach might be helpful in the short run, in the long run it harms everyone. I get my custom experience, but others have to tailor their uses to what I’ve built. There is the very good chance that other institutions will find that tailoring too onerous and will instead build their competing versions, thereby vastly diminishing any chance of cross-institutional work or common integration solutions. And what future possibilities am I cutting off within my own institution by building only to such narrowly focused specifications?

Sakai is a popular choice with academics because it is open-source. But that can only get us so far. If we do not also offer a good user experience and an innovative vision, it will not be long before people give us lip service but pay for the kind of technology they really need and enjoy using.

Our challenge AND opportunity lie in creating the structure and process as well as the product. My experience in attempting this type of project both within NYU and in the larger Sakai OAE/Sakai 3 project suggest that the process will be iterative, deeply collaborative, and dependent on the input of multiple perspectives to be successful. And in undertaking it, our community will be embodying both the spirit of our open-source product and the academic culture we hope it will facilitate.


Possibly related posts:

  1. Sakai Board Platform – David Goodrum
  2. Sakai Board Platform — Nate Angell
  3. Sakai Board Platform — Josh Baron
  4. Sakai Foundation Board Platform: Involving the Teachers
  5. Sakai Foundation Board Platform: Vision for the Technology

Author: "Lucy Appert" Tags: "Guest Bloggers, Openness"
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Date: Wednesday, 10 Nov 2010 12:14

Spotty hotel wifi permitting, I will shortly be publishing blog posts from most of the nominees for the 2010 Sakai Foundation Board election. A couple of the nominees have not responded to my offer. Given the time constraints involved, I don’t read anything into that. People are busy.

Here are the details that I provided to the nominees in the email:

What I’m offering is an opportunity for you to write one blog post that describes your goals and ambitions for the three-year period of your proposed first term as a Board member. Each blog post would have the following three headings:

  • Challenges and Opportunities
  • Sakai in Three Years
  • Steps We Must Take

The idea, if it isn’t clear, is to (1) outline the challenges and opportunities that we face as a community and as part of the larger global education community over the next three years, (2) present a vision for what Sakai (both products and community) should look like three years from now to respond to those challenges and opportunities, and (3) describe specific actions that must be undertaken to fulfill that vision.


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  4. Sakai Board Platform – David Goodrum
  5. Sakai Board Platform — Nate Angell

Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "Openness, Sakai Foundation Board"
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Date: Monday, 08 Nov 2010 21:07

In general, I have been an OER skeptic—not because I think OER is unimportant, but because getting the sustainability model right is really hard. But there is one notable exception to my gloomy outlook; one bright spot that I believe really will transform education. That’s Washington State’s Open Course Library project, under the leadership of Cable Green.

Some excerpts from a Seattle Times article about the program:

Here’s an idea that would take a big bite out of the cost of a two-year college degree:

Gather state community-college faculty members who teach “English Composition I.” Use state and federal grant money to pay them to assemble a top-notch textbook on the subject. Sell a digital version of the book for $30. Ditch the $100 textbook from commercial publishers….

They could lower the cost of a two-year degree, with some studies showing students spend up to $1,000 a year on textbooks….

The state’s community and technical colleges are leading the way with an ambitious new initiative: They’re assembling previously published “open-source” textbooks and course materials for the 81 most popular classes at state two-year colleges — including for such mainstays as “General Psychology” and “Introduction to Chemistry.”

“The power of this is that we’re going to go from a couple hundred dollars per year [for each textbook] to $10 or $20,” said state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, who sponsored legislation that set aside $750,000 for the initiative. It’s a robust level of funding, experts say.

“The return on our investment is going to be extraordinary,” Carlyle said.

The open-source textbook drive is part of a larger state effort, called the Open Course Library, to assemble all curriculum materials — including the course syllabus, videos, lecture notes and exams — for the 81 most popular courses, said Cable Green, director of elearning and open education for the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC).

The board is working with a consortium of international colleges and universities to find and assemble the materials — for example, taking pieces from freely available textbooks to create a book suited for a Washington state course. In Washington, about 90 community- and technical-college faculty and staff are involved….

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has matched the Legislature’s contribution with $750,000 in foundation money….

The textbooks and curriculum materials are being developed this fall and winter for the first 43 classes with the highest enrollment in the state’s two-year colleges, including English Composition I and II, General Psychology, Introduction to Sociology and Introduction to Chemistry. By fall 2012, textbooks and curriculum materials will be completed for all 81 of the most popular classes….

This could be hugely transformative. With the number of institutions participating and the number of courses created, this should hit escape velocity for sustainability fairly easily. It could be picked up by community colleges throughout the country fairly rapidly. And that’s just the start.


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  2. Making College Textbooks More Affordable: Part II
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  5. The Future of the LMS

Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "Higher Education, Openness, Cable Green,..."
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Date: Friday, 05 Nov 2010 19:13

Elections are being held this week for two open seats on the Sakai Foundation Board of Directors. You can see the slate of candidates here. Votes are due in by a week from today. In the interest of transparency, I have invited all candidates to blog about their respective platforms here on e-Literate. Time is tight, so I may not get submissions from everybody, but I hope to get as many candidates as I can to post. I feel strongly that voting decisions should be based more on just, “Hey, I’ve seen that person’s name on list a lot; s/he must be good.”

As a sitting Board member myself, I feel it would be inappropriate for me to comment on individual candidates or even advocate specific platform preferences. But I do think it’s worth talking more about how to pick a good Board member in general. I invite members of the Sakai community—particularly past and departing Board members—to respond here in comments with your own suggested criteria, but here are some possible angles to consider when you’re evaluating the candidates:

  • Influence: Sakai doesn’t have a strong central command-and-control structure. At the end of the day, progress depends upon getting various institutions (both schools and commercial affiliates) to step up with resources. It’s important to have members of the Board who can make connections with resource owners, both in their own institution and in others, to encourage greater participation in and commitment to the community.
  • Leadership: Once again, because the Board doesn’t have a lot of power, it’s important to have somebody with both an attractive vision for the future of the community and the ability to articulate that vision in a compelling way. The flip side of this coin is the ability to listen to community members and become a voice for them. Board members should be good communicators.
  • Expertise: At the end of the day, the Board manages a non-profit organization that fosters a community that develops software. This managerial role requires knowledge of finances, legal issues, and open source community management (among other things).
  • Representation: Sometimes it’s important to make sure that a particular institution is at the table because of the resources and/or leadership that it brings to the community. Electing a representative of that institution can be a good way of ensuring continued or even growing commitment.
  • Service: This tends to get over-weighted when people make quick “oh-I’ve-seen-them-on-list-so-they-must-be-good” voting decisions, but on the other hand, service should not be discounted by any means. People who have already demonstrated their commitment to the community are likely to honor their commitments as Board members as well.
  • Diversity: It’s important to have a range of perspectives represented on the Board. Of course, diversity can mean a lot of things. It can mean big schools vs. small. It can mean universities vs. commercial affiliates. It can mean technical vs. non-technical stakeholders. Or international representation. Or gender, race, etc. You have to decide which kinds of diversity are most important to you. But any way you slice it, you’ll want to look at the makeup of the current group as you think about who you want to add to it.

Again, this is just a partial list. I invite you to add your own thoughts in the comments.


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  5. Sakai Amsterdam 2007: The State of the Union

Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "Tools, Toys, and Technology (Oh my!), Sa..."
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Date: Friday, 05 Nov 2010 18:01

Here’s an interesting presentation from Mark Drechsler of NetSpot Pty, an Australian company that is both a Moodle partner and a Sakai Commercial Affiliate (and the first company to be both, as far as I know):


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Author: "Michael Feldstein" Tags: "Openness, Tools, Toys, and Technology (O..."
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Date: Friday, 05 Nov 2010 17:52

This is a guest post by Jim Farmer. Jim is Chairman of instructional media + magic.

Monday, 11 October the Browne report, “Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education,” was released in the UK.1 If implemented there will be major cuts in funds available to U.K. universities and higher tuition for students. The combination of less funding and higher enrollment is also the new future in the U.S. Even more and bigger funding limits are expected next year. A combination of lower state revenues, higher costs, and limits on federal funding when stimulus funds will no longer be available will impact available funds..

Although UK universities pleaded, and continue to plead, for more funding, the Joint Information Systems Committee began quietly more than 5 years ago to develop a capability for information technologists to contribute to university planning.

Information large databases accumulated from administrative, learning, and library systems are a resource that can, with training, be used to improve university planning. Strategic analytics, the term used in higher education, is based on business analytics.2 It offers the capability of using these data resources to improve planning decisions.

JISC’s Centre for Educational Technology and Interoperability Standards (CETIS) began introducing specific ways Information Technology (IT) could be used for an unspoken contingency plan. CETIS Director Oleg Lieber began this process with the programme for subsequent CETIS conferences.

The JISC CETIS Conference in 2006 began considering the different methods of instruction and the comparative costs. It also identified additional resources needed to serve a growing number of part-time and less-prepared students. There were extensive, and uncomfortable, discussions on maintaining quality under funding pressures. A consensus emerged to revise the curriculum limiting the course options and potentially eliminate programs that had low enrollment. These discussions were important since they led to examples of the role of information technology in developing these plans.

The theme of the 2007 Conference, Beyond Standards – Holistic Approaches to Educational Technology and Interoperability as the use of Educational Technology, focused on increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of teaching and learning. Many sessions explored the potential of distance learning. Sarah Porter, JISC’ Head of Development challenged participants to focus on innovative solutions for the combination of increased enrollments, needs of non-traditional students, and, unsaid, limited funding. Participants were asked to identify “business processes”— which included teaching and learning and research—that were ready for change and recommended interventions. The tools included process enablement, model development, and push-down responsibility—an organizational approach. Building toolkits and services for scheduling and timetabling and workflow were considered critical.

Information technologists now had a challenge and a roadmap.

The 2008 Conference Technology for Learning, Teaching and the Institution opened with Lieber’s slide on the Recession Special followed by a list of needs and resources. Keynoter Andrew Feenberg, Simon Fraser University, described teaching philosophy using distance education technologies—his use technology had expanded the number of students who could enroll by removing the constraints of distance and schedule. What could have been low-enrollment course became “profitable” though never mentioned using that term. At the end Stuart Lee, Oxford University, reminded participants on the effectiveness of the lecture as both an instructional method and as a low-cost methodology, especially when supplemented by technology. His illustrated lecture itself was an example of talent and experience. He delivered an exemplary summary of the conference.

The JISC CETIS 2009 Conference was labeled “A Brave New World?” It programme sharpened the theme of the previous JISC CETIS Conferences. A session labeled “The problem with modeling or modeling problems” drew an overflow of younger, and passionate practitioners. The presentation and discussion focused on computer models that had been used by British universities to analyze planning alternatives. Modeling curriculum–discussed in 2006 and 2007–and studying the analysis of business processes had already led to improvements. Another session documented the collaboration of senior management and information technology that emerged. Senior management now recognized IT as an effective and valued resource for university planning and management.

In March 2006 JISC formed the Strategic Content Alliance to address common problems of obtaining, describing, and maintaining the tsunami of digital data.. One of the Alliance’s key contributions was a report by the U.S.-based Ithaka: “Sustainability and Revenue Models for Online Academic Resources” One of the authors, Kevin Guthrie, was a principal in the development of JSTOR, a collaborative effort that reduced the costs of journal access while increasing publisher revenue. An example of the value of cooperative services and coordinated action.

The Alliance described the motivation:

As organisational budgets tighten and economic uncertainty threatens, many digital projects struggle to develop coping strategies when the funding to support core operations and/or essential development is not forthcoming.

Later in November 2009 the Ithaka published “Sustaining Digital Resources: An On-the- Ground View of Projects Today.” In the foreword Guthrie wrote: “Rather than focus only on methods for generating revenue, we sought to capture a fuller range of the activities carried out by projects today to develop creative strategies for both revenue generation and cost management.”

Planning for the never-spoken recession, JISC CETIS had developed the skills and background of information technologists to contribute new alternatives. That preparation is now benefiting students, the UK government, and the universities. JISC and CETIS should be commended for identifying how to make a positive contribution toward a thoughtful and measured response. And taking action four years before the Browne report was published.

There is a role for information technology that is not yet widely appreciated here in the U.S. Perhaps we could learn from this JISC CETIS experience.

  1. A copy of the Browne report is available here. Information from the JISC CETIIS Conferences can be found at the JISC web site. Inside Higher Education referenced the Times Higher Education article describing both the report and reaction—largely critical. There was also a separate commentary by editor Doug Lederman.
  2. “Business analytics (BA) refers to the skills, technologies, applications and practices for continuous iterative exploration and investigation of past business performance to gain insight and drive business planning. Business analytics focuses on developing new insights and understanding of business performance based on data and statistical methods.” –Wikipedia quoting Michel J. Beller and Alan Barnett


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Author: "Jim Farmer" Tags: "Guest Bloggers, Higher Education, Tools,..."
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