John Baker just tweeted about the victory D2L was just handed in Federal Appeals Court. They invalidated claims 1-35 of the patent. Whenever I try to follow the exact details of whats going on with the claims and counter claims my head almost explodes. The patent law blog PatentlyO has a good explanation.
I thought I would post a bunch of quick links here instead of burdening my friends with them. Plus this way I know I can find them later.
1. A neat interactive graph from the New York Times on economic cycles
2. A critique of structurelessness, especially with regard to unconferences that seem to be all the rage these days. I will write more about this later. And it is time to start working on another list of really annoying phrases in academic technology.
3. An account of the big brouhaha at the journal Political Theory. As a recovering political scientist I am naturally a bit interested (plus as a grad student I knew and took the odd course with Mary Dietz). But as a general case it shows the dangers of corporate control of academic journals. A bit troubling.
4. And via Stephen Downes Desire2Learn just sued Blackboard for a Declaratory Judgment Action. Go read the blog.
Yeah, maybe too snarky, but it does seem that we have been hearing about the embrace of standards for a while. In his new blog Blackboarder Ray Henderson says that Blackboard is going to be showing some more leadership in the area of standards. This is great news and certainly we need more of it.
However, commenter Roddy Warnock points to a critical part of Henderson's post vis
Once standards like these get implemented, creators of learning content and tools will of course still need to have formal partnerships (for example in our case participating in the Blackboard Building Blocks™ program or the Blackboard Content Provider network) with platform providers like us in order to connect their standards-compliant tool or content to eLearning platforms through supported interfaces. That’s the same as it is today
Doesn't seem that open. I would love to be proven wrong but I fear that Blackboard will continue like many LMSs to be the roach motel's of data. You can get it in, but you cant get it out. (ht Dorothea Salo on Institutional repositories).
I have been looking at and thinking about the Schools on Facebook application being developed by Inigral which has been blogged about by Michael Feldstein (and his guest blogger from the company that makes the product) quite a bit. There is also an article on this in today's Inside Higher Ed. And Tech Crunch covered it earlier in the month.
This is a really interesting product I think and has the potential really to change the environment for higher ed and the way we use course management systems. Part of the promise is that it starts from a whole different starting point than the products that we're used to. One of the things that always strikes me when I use cms's is the crushing sense of path dependency. We seem locked into a way of thinking or approaching the issue that locks us into one direction and limits options (for some really cool general articles about path dependency for example with railroads and the qwerty keyboard see here and here). That sort of path dependency is somewhat inevitable given the scale of the software development that an enterprise system like a cms requires. But it makes innovation and flexibility difficult. So it is nice that with a product like Schools we can approach the issue from a really different angle (with it's own dependencies, of course). We also run all the obvious dangers of getting tied into a specific product and all that that entails. The company already has a product in Facebook called Courses where you can link up to classmates and keep track of a schedule and assignment etc. However, you appear not to be able to search for courses in any sort of easy way ie searching by institution doesnt currently seem to work. Hopefully Schools or a similar product will work better.
It seems to make some sense to build course related information into where students already are. There is of course the danger that students dont want work to happen in Facebook, that its a social space and they want to keep it that way (what others have referred to as the "creepy treehouse effect"). I sort of feel their pain a little in this regard, just in reverse. I mostly see Facebook as a way to keep loose professional connections and find some of the more personal and frivolous stuff annoying eg the sending of trinkets etc. But maybe over time Facebook and its ilk will develop separations or ways of segmenting parts of your life. There is at least some anecdotal evidence that students do not have a problem using Facebook for more work related activities. I know of a number of cases at Mason where students elected to do projects within Facebook and persuaded the faculty member involved to go along with it. This will be an interesting thing to explore.
Of course the company is claiming that this is not a replacement for a cms but an add on to conventional cms's to add to the sociality. Yeah right. Because we need a whole new additional system and sign-on and integration with the SIS. But I guess they have to keep Blackboard at bay. The features that they appear to highlight in their materials are on connecting people in clubs and social organizations. This is already a big use of conventional cms's on campuses and in research I did for ECAR I argued that these uses were something of a "gateway" technology. People start using the technology for something like that and next thing you know they're using it for instruction. I am not sure how much this is still true, given the institutionalized nature of cms's and the way that they are often being challenged by these upstart web 2.0 technologies.
The fact that something like this is so overwhelmingly social is also interesting given the fact that the vast bulk of learning in higher ed happens outside the classroom. Perhaps we need to start on the outside and work inwards rather than the reverse.
Tony Karrer at eLearning Technology has an interesting post on LMSs which he's considering from the corporate sector. In the post he looks at why one particular vendor gets low satisfaction marks in the eLearning Guilds report on learning management systems whereas in some other reports, eg Josh Bersin of Bersin and Associates LMS reports they consistently score highly. Karrer points to the different methodologies that are used in the two reports. The eLearning Guild surveys users more generally, Bersin basically asks the companies for a list of customers and then surveys and interviews those. You're obviously going to get a very different response from someone referred to you by the company than you are from a broader swathe of users.
Tony Karrer is right to point us to look closely at methodology as there is a lot of really suspect research out there, suspect because of the the poor methods used. We need to be more critical users and consumers of research.
However, something else in his post caught my eye and is I believe worthy of greater discussion. Karrer takes a quote from Bersin's website where they describe their methods. It goes like this:
Our patent-pending methodology relies on primary research directly to corporate users, vendors, consultants and industry leaders. We regularly interview training and HR managers, conduct large surveys,
meet with managers and executives, and seek-out new sources of
information. We develop detailed case studies every month. We have the
industry's largest database of statistics, financials, trends, and best
practices in corporate training (more than 1/2 million data elements). (The bold is mine, the italics not) the quote is from this page
Excuse me? When did doing primary research, interviewing users, doing surveys and collecting other data become patentable. That sounds pretty much to me like what every social scientist learned to do in graduate school.
I went to check the patent office and couldn't find anything. It is entirely possible that my USPTO research skills aren't up to snuff but there are three possibilities, two of which make Bersin and Associates look rather bad. a. They're trying to patent research into technology use and satisfaction. Not very good. b. They're dissembling about their patent-pending application. Not very good. c. They have some whizz-bang technology which sounds like all research ever done but that's going to revolutionize research forever. They just can't be specific about it and its buried in the very swanky bowels of the USPTO. This would be better, but I find it unlikely.
As it happens I live just a few blocks from the USPTO. Perhaps I should swing by one of these days to patent my methodology of posting snarky bits of derivative commentary to amuse and enlighten colleagues in academic technology. So what if others have been doing it longer and better!
The September Issue of the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT) is up online. Two articles that immediately caught my eye as worthy of a closer look are the articles by Cooper, Tyser, and Sandheinrich on using online quizzes to assignments to increase student learning and Davi, Frydenberg, and Gulati on blogging across the disciplines. I am possibly a little biased on the first as Scott Cooper is one of my favorite faculty members ever and it was always a privilege to work with him. I still quote him on course management systems. Years ago when I asked him about them and what he thought the educational payoff might be he pointed out that in some ways I was being too literal and asking the question too directly . He used the CMS to grade and post the syllabus and copies of notes etc which was important in a 400 student class. It did however mean that he didn't have 400 students coming to ask about grades and for a copy of the syllabus and notes 'cos Aunt Mabel died last week and they missed class. This meant that he could actually teach biology and answer student questions and increase learning in those moments after class and in office hours. So CMSs did contribute to student learning. But it seems that Scott and his colleagues have found another way to use the CMS. Its a nice straightforward article that will be of use to faculty looking for ways to increase student engagement.
2. A nice post about the different ways that people participate
in blogs. It is very simple but it can be a useful way to think about how to
incorporate blogs into a classroom or class activity. Going through each of the
different C's of participation until you have all of them covered.
3. TLT Questions A useful set of questions to ask when setting up blogs for
use in class. Not focused on pedagogy so much as the logistics of class
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.