Jonathan lethem has a lovely and frighteningly literate essay in the recent harpers magazine about how we rely on borrowing to create new art. It warns about drawing too narrow an understanding about both copyright and plagiarism.
I have been trying to get a short (but hard to write) document out and so haven't been posting quite as assiduously as I would have liked.
But in that time some interesting stories have come down the pike.
a. An interesting article from the Wall Street Journal called the "Wizards of Buzz" about how relatively small numbers of people drive a great deal of traffic on the Internet. We have known that for quite a while, most notably through the popular writings of folks like Malcolm Gladwell and most recently the Heath brothers. Those individuals are the information brokers, or connectors, or mavens. One of the things I have been wrestling with lately is trying to figure out if and how this sort of insight is at all applicable to academia and with faculty using technology. As we think about ways to raise the impact of our programs and projects surely we need to find a way to use this phenomenon. We have instinctively tried to do this in the past -- identify influential faculty leaders as a means to drive innovation -- but I am not sure if its worked or we have gone about it the right way. And maybe there isn't a way to make it work. As I have started to have conversations with faculty in my new job something they consistently raise is a bit of a feeling of isolation - expressed as the fact that they don't know people out of their department and certainly not well enough to talk about teaching.
b. An interesting piece about the woes besetting the University of Phoenix, from the New York Times. Last year I was shocked to learn from someone at Cal State east bay that most of the requests for transcripts from students transferring out were from the U of P.
The comments are interesting, especially one from Trace Urdan, an analyst at Signal hill Capital Group. She comments:
The point of Blackboard’s patent claim and lawsuit, in our opinion, is to scare
away any larger administrative software vendors that are currently serving the
post-secondary market, such as Sungard SCT or Oracle-PeopleSoft, from entering
the academic software arena through acquisition or otherwise, and providing a
more substantial alternative to Blackboard. Though we believe the market would
embrace such an entrant long-term, customer switching costs are still high and
Blackboard’s solution set and market position are still dominant in our opinion.
John P Mayer has an interesting take. He does point out Blackboard's selective quoting of the Sakai and Educause statement. Those organizations seem far less enthusiastic than one might originally gather from the Bb press release.
Lev Gonick, CIO of Case Western Reserve has an interesting post up. He sees the bundling issue as likely to be very tricky and problematic and argues that we are likely to see quite a bit of tension around the pledge and that issue in the next few years.
Blackboard hereby commits not to
assert any of the U.S. patents listed below, as well as all
counterparts of these patents issued in other countries, against the
development, use or distribution of Open Source Software or Home-Grown
Systems to the extent that such Open Source Software and Home-Grown
Systems are not Bundled with proprietary software.
The commitment not to assert any of these named U.S.
patents and all counterparts of these patents issued in other countries
is irrevocable except that Blackboard reserves the right to terminate
this patent pledge and commitment only with regard to any party who
files a lawsuit asserting patents or other intellectual property rights
against Blackboard or its parent or subsidiaries. This pledge is
binding on Blackboard’s successors and assigns.
This certainly changes the game in all sorts of interesting ways. They key thing I think is going to be the notion of bundling with proprietary software. It will be interesting to see what sharper minds than mine have to say.
Although Blackboard has included in the pledge many named open source
initiatives, regardless of whether they incorporate proprietary
elements in their applications, Blackboard has also reserved rights to
assert its patents against other providers of such systems that are
"bundled" with proprietary code. We remain concerned that this bundling
language introduces legal and technical complexity and uncertainty
which will be inhibitive in this arena of development.
As a result, the Sakai Foundation and EDUCAUSE find it difficult to
give the wholehearted endorsement we had hoped might be possible. Some
of Sakai's commercial partners and valued members of the open source
community will not be protected under this pledge. Furthermore,
EDUCAUSE and Sakai worked to gain a pledge that Blackboard would never
take legal action for infringement against a college or university
using another competing product. While Blackboard ultimately agrees
that such actions are not in its best interest from a customer
relations viewpoint, it could not agree for reasons related to its
existing legal case. Our organizations will remain vigilant on this
point as protecting our member institutions is of top priority.