The LM-essest 1%: Death by IT governance

Angel, Blackboard, e-Learning, Education, Moodle, Sakai

As with everything, I have nothing to back this up. But anecdotally from faculty and instructional designers I’ve talked to recently, I’d imagine that they love LMSs if they were allowed to change the 1% of the issues that bug them.

For example, if you don’t have the ability to import a rubric and have to enter it manually from a previous system. That 1% capability of the LMS may be so obnoxious that it sours your entire experience. This isn’t really a problem with the LMS, it’s a problem with IT governance and dated policies.

I’d be curious to see the stats on open platforms like Moodle and Canvas when deployed as large central instances vs distributed, smaller ones at college and department levels. I’d imagine that as you get closer and closer to the end users (as far as levels of governance) that perception of quality of the same tool would improve.

I’d do research, but in the age of Singularity, bloated research is dead and gut instinct is the only way to survive. Because structures and institutions won’t change, the LMS community is doomed to a fate of less customers, more requirements. Unless the larger LMS community adopts google-esk, distributed, app-ified, networked services approach to implementation via LTI or lightweight APIs; it will be in a continued state of decline much like the cord-cutters leaching users out of the cable industry.

I think right now the LMS community’s response will be much like cable: you need us, you’ll come back, you’ll never leave, we’ll just raise rates to make up the difference. 4-5 years from now though, they’ll still be saying the same thing and those that get off the sinking LMS ship (now) will be mas money and students ahead of their dinosaur counterparts.

Because they aren’t willing to change their governance or financial model, they will be in a state of staged collapse over the next several years.  The issue at hand is that technology has changed the nature of the way new businesses and ideas can be disseminated and they are still living in the days of brick-and-mortar style buildings that are trying desperately to remain relevant in the “new”-new IT driven economy.

All it will take is a visionary “uber”-like disruption and the entire thing will be threatened; all because the people making the decisions are unable to step back and realize they are the problem.

Earthquakes of a Drupal LMS

Angel, Blackboard, CMS, Drupal, Drupal for Universities Consortium, Drupal in Higher Edu, e-Learning, Education, LMS, Moodle, Sakai

Based on recent events (and added traffic to my site through search term “Drupal LMS”) I think it’s fair to say that the rumblings of a Drupal LMS are a bit more intense then a year ago. First some other opinions on the subject:

Hack Education

Moodle Discussion board

Add in the fact that Schoology and GoingOn Networks have their own LMS entries that are Drupal based and you might see where this is heading.  Enter the main event and one of three major discussions to come out of Drupalcon in my mind (for education at least): The discussion board on Drupal.org that’s starting to heat up.

There were a lot of discussions at Drupalcon about what it would take to make Drupal a full blown LMS.  Many vendors and organizations in the past have mashed up Drupal and Moodle to get the best of CMS world and best of free LMS world.

The reviews in the room (about 20ish) were mixed as to the result.  It was ok but not great.  There also seemed to be the feeling that the moodle community might be in decline from an outsiders perspective.  Based on the last 24 hours, it would appear that Moodle is about to be at an inflection point in adoption.  Either BB will help bring about the death of Moodle on FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) alone; or the community will continue with an influx of passionate educators and edtech leaders taking the charge.

As some other interesting notes from the shake up worth mentioning:

  • Dr Chuck from Sakai is also going to be involved in getting Blackboard to be promoting that project.  I’m not sure what impact this will have on that project but I know there’s a lot of fear about a project lead of his clout “jumping ship”.  While I don’t view it that way, especially from talking to him in the past, there will still be that perception (FUD)
  • Moodlerooms had a bunch of ex-Angel employees; funny how now suddenly BB isn’t going to be sun setting Angel.  Curious to see if those Angel people who jumped ship once will do so again to other moodle shops.

I also mentioned that there were three important things for Drupal in education as a movement to come out of Drupalcon Denver 2012. The second one was that Drupal in Education Unconferences will now be a yearly thing thanks to FunnyMonkey.  Drupalcon is in Portland next year (Funnymonkey’s hometown) and so the Unconference should be epic!

The last point is something that’s currently in the works and has been active for about six months, just under the radar.  A Drupal in Higher Education UnConsortium which is currently in the process of adopting a charter and more official name.  This un-developer network was announced at Drupalcon Denver and has had about 10 active members that meet monthly and have standards they are working towards to the benefit of all of education.  I’ll have more information about that in the coming weeks.

What I’m really excited about..

CMS, Drupal, Drupal in Higher Edu, e-Learning, Education, ELMS, LMS, Moodle, WordPress

I’ve been really excited about the progress I’ve been able to make with the ELMS distribution for the latest version.  To most, it will seem that this has to do with adding functionality and additional stability to the platform.  Those are great, but there’s something far more subtle that I’ve been able to establish in the platform with this version: Something not specific to education.

As I’ve written before, I believe fully that better technologies / frameworks breed better, more sustainable solutions.  As such, it may seem counter-intuitive to put all this effort into something that is inherently non-educational.  I’ve done this to maximize the impact and eyes that can get on the code at all levels.  If this was just something that worked for educators (like Moodle is) then I’d be more or less barring 80% of the community from caring.

While previous versions of ELMS were mired in the context of Courses and Offerings of courses, as of Alpha 6 I’ve been able to break free of these connotations at a code level.  Everything you see with ELMS that makes you think it is specific just to education has been abstracted.  Here’s how:

  • Install Cores – ELMS ships with two install cores as of Alpha 6.  This is mostly just to showcase that it is possible to install the system towards very different purposes off 95% of the same code-base. The Instructional CMS (ICMS) is what was originally being developed towards solely, this will now enable me (or anyone) to develop towards a more collaborative learning environment (CLE) while reusing almost all of the work I’ve done for ICMS.
  • String Overrides – All language that references Courses, Versions, Offerings, and things specific to the ICMS have been written back to a single variable in the database.  The module providing this is called String Overrides and essentially allows you to alter the context of the system’s language globally with a simple form.  ICMS alters this language a little different from CLE, and suddenly we start to have two very different systems.
  • No required Theme – This is a major difference between ELMS and all the current distributions out there. ELMS has no required theme. While it ships with a theme called Cube enabled for the system layer, this and any theme from drupal.org should be able to be used in the mini-sites that are created.  Most of what a system is to people is in the theme layer so this is critical in my mind.
  • Regions – ELMS as a system layer is more of a wrapper on top of traditional Drupal.  This wrapper (provided by a project called Regions) enables the user to do one very important thing: Never have to touch Drupal pages. I think this will take some getting used to for some devs but ultimately it provides much more consistent, touch friendly interface elements that keep people focused on the site without detracting from it.
  • Kit Compliant Features – if functionality works one place it works many.  That’s what Kit packaged Features in Drupal allow you.  It’s like modules and configuration of how to use them all rolled into a simple enable button.  Because ELMS features are kit compliant they will work in the various implementations of ELMS that are going to come down the pipe (ICMS and CLE are the beginning)

It is for these reason that I’m so excited about the potential for the types of systems that ELMS can create.  It also puts my mind to rest knowing that I can swap out the entire connotation of the system on install. This vision is of a picture I’ve had in my head for the better part of a year, driving me slowly to madness :).

I’ll be presenting at Drupalcamp Baltimore Friday on this concept of using one distribution to mutate into many. I think you could reduce the development time of many complex systems as a result of the ELMS code-base.  The code / feature set allows for anything that meets these requirements:

  • There is a wrapper of some kind (parent, or course) that has micro-sites associated to it
  • There is a micro-site (site, or version) that can function also to the same level of flexibility as a full Drupal site

Here are some concepts that I think could be built with ELMS pretty quickly:

  • Popular Blog site dot com – This web service has a User to Blog relationship (ELMS + blog theme + blog + simple aggregators)
  • Popular Survey site dot com – This web service could have a User to Survey or Organization to Surveys relationship (ELMS + Webform)
  • E Portfolio –  1 to 1 Student to slightly different kind of blogging platform (Popular blog site dot com + a few image views)
  • Rubric Management service — Course to Instructor relationship (ELMS + Rubric)
  • Student Club management — Club to website relationship (ELMS + a few themes + features from atrium / commons for collaboration)
  • Asset Management System — Organization to Project relationship (ELMS + few content types to handle media implementation)
  • Traditional LMS – While i wouldn’t recommend this, it’s certainly not far off (ELMS + Quiz + Gradebook + LTI)

I know a few people have asked if this is an LMS platform to which I say, this is about transforming the LMS model.

My 2012 Prediction for EDTech

Blackboard, CMS, Course Development, Drupal, Drupal in Higher Edu, e-Learning, Education, ELMS, LMS, Moodle, Sakai, Uncategorized, WordPress

Many others will give you their predictions for 2012. I am not many others, so I will give you one prediction.  In typical fashion, this will be probably seen as completely over the top, but I never could paint with pastels.

2012 is the year that Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) starts to hollow out the Learning Management System (LMS).

Last yearand flowing into this yearthe groundwork and infrastructure has been laid that will bring about the death of the traditional, single point of entry LMS.  I believe that technology standard is something known as  (LTI).

What is LTI?

LTI works essentially the same way Twitter and Facebook do when authorizing other apps to share a login.  Using a standard called OAuth, FB and Twitter are able to generate a secure one-time login time of address that is only valid during the current connection.  In plain English, it’s a secure way of letting you login without creating an account.

LTI brings this same type of security standard to the LMS world.  Site builders can create trusted login relationships between the traditional LMS and toolsets outside the LMS.  This allows you to pass information about students and instructors (and other roles) between systems, creating a seamless experience for the end user. You can then pass someone multiple directions as needed.

LMS (e.g., Canvas) to LMS (e.g., Moodle or Sakai) and, more importantly in my mind, LMS to non-LMS.  Maybe you can understand the next heading when framed with the following context:

  • All major LMS projects (proprietary included) are getting behind LTI;
  • LTI is far less complicated to understand and implement than SCORM; and
  • LTI can easily be implemented in non-LMS systems to bridge them with LMS systems

The Trojan Horse

LTI is how we finally escape the pit of singular system that has boxed up educational experiences for so long.  Why do you think faculty and students always end up utilizing ad-hoc methods to manage and communicate knowledge?  We provide them with tools for drop boxes, they use Flickr. We give them email, they want light-weight chat integration.  We give them forums to structure content, they use Google Docs.

LMSs and the scale they need to be built to, combined with the pace at which universities adopt new systems is a perfect storm scenario.  We constantly are behind the needs of our users, off-the-shelf and custom solutions never meet needs for long or fully satisfy audiences.  It’s not because the tools are poor, it’s because the structure is wrong.

LTI allows instructional designers, instructors, developers and management to think differently about the way they plan and implement learning systems.

A Structured Anarchy Future

Many of my ideas for my original Structured Anarchy post were borne from trends I noticed in the non-edu space with regard to technology; ideas that have turned into my obsession.  LTI/OAuth is the solution to a problem that the corporate/Web 2.0 crowd solved many years ago — pervasive logins across multiple websites / servers.

Students don’t want to have to learn multiple interfaces, yet Google seems to have over a dozen services strung across different addresses and different functions and are very successful.  Have you ever not used Google maps because the interface was strikingly different from Gmail? I realize I’m just pinging on Google, but Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft and many others are doing similar things.  

Ultimately, you need to make a focused Web service; do something REALLY well; create project teams to sustain development for it and then feed users to it; create a singular method of login; make the experience seamless or reduce it to a “click to connect to {XYZ};” and provide standard UX / UI elements.

Personal Learning Environments

A Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is the suite-of-tools approach to learning systems designed to minimize the LMS.  Look, we need an LMS/central system (at least until this gets wider implementationit’s just the role of that system needs to be far more minimalist.  

An instructor wants to create a blog for their course. Let’s provide them with the best tool possible. Name the LMS that handles blogging well, please. (while I don’t support using this) WordPress comes to mind for blogging.

An instructional designer wants to create an e-text that’s separate from the LMS because it’s mostly static content. Name the LMS that handles content really well. Hence the need for an Instructional Content Management System.

An instructor wants their students to have a conversation around video / audio assignments.  Name the LMS doing that well.  I’m told they are getting better at it but will they ever be youtube or a youtube clone?

Students want to collaborative work in teams and manage their project.  LMSs project group spaces and areas for document management, but do they come close to Google Docs, Basecamp, or Atrium?

Now, rubrics, gradebooks, email communication…I’ll leave these to the LMS.  Social interaction on the Internet is changing at light speed, while university and college infrastructure was built to house knowledge in a similar form for decades at a time.  It’s time for a change.  Universities and colleges need to transform or fade away.

An old adage is that college is an experience, and that many people are paying for that experience.  As that experience becomes increasingly more digital, let’s build systems that can help provide the best experiences possible.

If only there was a system positioning itself as part of the learning platform revolution…

Rumblings of the Drupal LMS

CMS, Drupal, e-Learning, ELMS, LMS, Moodle, WordPress

I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter recently about Drupal as part of the university landscape.  One system that has yet to be created but there seems to be rumblings of is the Drupal LMS.  Conversations with various colleges and universities about the potential of using Drupal as the next LMS seem to be popping up more and more as well.  There are lots of closed source LMS out there, which I’m obviously in love with but a Drupal based LMS is a massive undertaking and currently, one does not exist (that’s an open distribution at least).

I was accused of starting to build an LMS a couple years ago when we started talking about ELMS (pronounced elms like the tree not E {pause} LMS).  I say accused because many open source LMSers will tell you to use Moodle and that anything else is a replication of effort.  As a side note just to make sure its in writing: ELMS is not an LMS, if anything it’s closer to a LCMS — Learning Content management system but as there is no fine grain user tracking or grade book component it’s not a learning management system.  I’m writing this to give exposure to a larger movement that seems to be afoot to make drupal a LMS.

Now as I’ve found in the past, you don’t bad-mouth Moodle, especially not while sitting in a MoodleMoot presentation ;).  Trust me, I’m sure you’d get a lot of platform fan-boyism from me about Drupal if criticized too, everyone loves their own kids :p.  But here are the reasons I usually steer people to Drupal away from Moodle.

  • Moodle is just an LMS
  • Drupal can be anything
So applying these logical conditions to the following problems, which makes the most economic sense long term (not tomorrow)?
  • We want to build a website for our college (Drupal)
  • We want to build an intranet for our department (Drupal)
  • We want to build a community site for our students (Drupal)
  • We want to build a mailing list for our alumni (Drupal)
  • We want to build an asset management system (Drupal)
  • We want to build a content management system (Drupal)
  • We want to build a LMS (Moodle?)
  • We want to build a blogging platform (Drup…ok no seriously just use WordPress)

So let me get this straight.  You’re telling me that Drupal can be used for all these different systems?  And that we will hire Drupal people and train people in Drupal for all these different purposes and can share employee knowledge / skills across the different units of our university… except for the LMS?  That’s a special exception because of the size and scale and it just can’t be done.  We need specialized programming knowledge in order for that to be achieved.

Really? I think what we need is access to specialized end-user knowledge.  Based on some discussions and presentations floating around the web I think you’ll start to see some movement towards a Drupal LMS.

Some postings I’m referencing as my “evidence” that there is movement here:

Ultimately I think various Drupal LMS platforms will start to emerge or at least good recipes for people to follow in building their own.  A few reasons as to why since I don’t need to go over them endlessly:

  • Drupal’s community is huge
  • Wide variety of Drupal themes
  • Tons of Drupal usage in higher education
  • Drupal is NOT educationally focused, so solutions are tailored to solve big architectural problems of the web (= lots of devs) and then viewed through the lens of an educator, modules can be selected and developed
  • Quiz, Gradebook, Content Outline Designer modules already exist and I’m sure others will start to pop up

Structured Anarchy

Angel, CMS, Course Development, Drupal, e-Learning, Education, ELMS, LMS, Moodle, Penn State

A year has passed since I first talked about the concept of Global Success vs. Global Failure of the LMS.  I am writing now to talk about how I’ve begun working towards that goal that you might better plan for a decentralized future as well.  Decentralization can be scary, after all, it’s everyone for themselves.  The fear was well expressed to me in a phone call recently:

anytime I’m told we’re building it ourselves I feel like we must be doing something wrong

And yes, historically this is accurate.  If you went it (truly) alone without any underlying structure you were “doing it wrong”.  Starting from a single line of code and working from there is not the way to go about tackling our problems.

What I’m calling for though isn’t to start from nothing; far from it.  Today I would like to introduce a phrase I heard recently that hit me so hard I had to write about it.  It’s the phrase I’ve been looking for to describe what I’m building towards and what I’m personally calling for in future development strategies: Structured Anarchy (SA).

At first glance this phrase may seem set against itself.  How can something be structured and have order, while at the same time lacking order and structure entirely?

Take the forest as an example:  While you can look at the forest and say that the trees have been chaotically dispersed; you can see the trees as individual components of that random landscape.  They have defining characteristics and all have a similar underlying structure.  Some trees are different shapes after years of growth, but they are all generally the same (having leaves, branches, roots, etc).

This is what I hope to build with our future implementations of ELMS.  A forest, so dense and seemingly random in layout that there is no organization.  Some trees having more branches than others, or different colored leaves; yet, still all sharing the same underlying structure and coming from the same source of seeds.

I have been implementing our own form of SA in-house by slowly moving us further and further from centralized systems.  Here is a chart of our move towards Structured Anarchy since 2006:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We start out very centralized, only housing our own core content in Dreamweaver files.  Then you can see we slowly transition from a centralized system, to our own.  The process continues and increases in pace as we shore up more and more of our own Information Architecture.

My plans of structured anarchy, often referred to as project Ulmus, has helped us put our destiny in our own hands and given us greater control of how we want to develop and structure course materials going forward.  The idea being that we can continue to provide better experiences for our students and staff through continued refinement of our own infrastructure while centralized authorities must remain relatively static in order to serve the general population.

Part of our success with SA involves the organic spread of the technology.  We’ve had many early adopters locally but now the time has come to attempt to spread the reach of ELMS further.  Later this year, a full version of the ELMS core platform will be released with more systems to follow by the end of 2011 into 2012.  Currently, I am working on ELMS Core – Alpha 3 but it is planned to be production ready by August 2011 (in-house) with public and internal releases shortly there after.

ELMS Core is just the first in a series of distributions that you’ll see released in an effort to not only nudge us further away from central systems but help increase platform sustainability through adoption.  Currently the second and third distribution releases are:

  • Asset management component to simplify the embedding and copyright management of media
  • Student collaboration component with a heavy focus on critique and community

The idea isn’t to make each of these “products”,if you want to call them that, do Everything.  The idea is to have each one focused on meeting a certain goal and using minor APIs and authentication to knit all the systems together. This has shown to not be an issues for students or faculty (through anecdotal evidence as well as minor surveys) over the last five years that we have been moving in this direction.

So the message hasn’t changed from last year.  Technology has been empowering in the past and it continues to be today.  As such, we are constantly able to do more with less (ELMS is still a one-shop, one-person show) and look to keep moving in an increasingly independent direction.

I look forward to the coming year and where this discussion may take us instructionally as well as technologically.  Please feel free to offer your two-cents on the concept of Structured Anarchy or our direction in general.

Open Source Learning Environments, they’re about STUDENTS DUMMY!

CMS, Course Development, Drupal, Education, Moodle, WordPress

I was recently reading a literature review about open source in higher education.  If you can get your hands on a copy of the document I highly recommend it.  To summarize, Williams van Rooij identifies five reasons that all literature cite as to why open source in higher education is awesome-sauce:

  • Social and Philosophical believes (Education is thought it should be free so code / systems should be too)
  • Software Development Methodology Benefits (design in the open, collaboration)
  • Security and Risk management benefits (many eyes on code, collaboration again)
  • Software adoption life cycle benefits (less chance of lock in, constantly updated / improved by others, collaboration…again…)
  • Total cost of ownership benefits (reduction in cost because of distributed programmer base and their…collaboration)

Does anyone else notice a problem here though (other then Williams van Rooij)?  Other then collaborative and strategic mission blah blah, blah, WHAT DOES CODE COLLABORATION HAVE TO DO WITH STUDENT LEARNING?!?  Nothing.  She identifies that all these papers talk about how great open source is but they all attack the problem from the same angle — money, collaboration, lock in, risk assessment… essentially a whole lot of awesome manager bullet points on a PowerPoint slide.

  • We participate in Open Source
  • Our Students Use Twitter
  • Our Teachers Use Facebook
  • Our IT staff saved X dollars last year
  • We were able to do more with less resources
  • Insert bottom line and philosophy crap here

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Those are some great reasons to adopt open source software (OSS).  Open source technologies are all about community development and a culture that fosters open development; often times breeding more successful solutions.  My issue is exactly what the author find to be lacking in the research: pedagogical Reasons for educators to adopt OSS.  How does OSS improve the instructional transaction between instructor and learner?  How does it solve issues related to open education? How does it solve the growing divide we see between haves and have-nots when it comes to education?  Can it solve these issues? Can it even begin to address these problems or is it purely something great for tech circles to engage in and IT philosophers to write papers about?

The backing is coming in time. Admittedly what I’ll be posting is mostly collaboration commentary but phrased how we all need to be shaping the conversation — collaborative efforts directly impacting learning experiences.  Here’s some of the ways that  the whole educational process can benefit from a distributed learning environment.  OSS in house as well as free / open services available on the web.  I group all of these  under an umbrella term I am deeming an Open Source Learning Environments (OSLE):

  • Open software leads to open standards – If your unfamiliar with open education, SCORM, and OER, I suggest looking into them further.  These are all concepts born out of the open source movement in education.  They directly impact the student / teacher relationship because it reduces the number of times resources have to be re-created.  Someone, somewhere has written a lesson or whole course on everything from String theory to what is Chord progression.  It’s out there, search for it and let the open standards move that content between systems.  Or better yet, if it’s truely open just point your students to it for a lesson or two.  Seeds of my previous article are being planted all over the place…
  • OSLE embrace social media formats — Enter Vimeo, YouTube, Flickr, Picasa, Blip.tv,… need I go on?  Sure, these technologies are often times distracting, but OSS breeds transmission standards and formats that allow things like Vimeo and YouTube to display their videos within your course just by knowing the url (ala Embedded media fields in Drupal).  There’s a wealth of [legal] educational material on YouTube that provide a great way to have students react to documentaries and other articles.  For example, the white-house posts all most all media there in some form for a civics discussion or students can watch parts of Discovery and PBS programming for science concepts.
  • Improved teacher to student communication — We’ve reached a point where e-mail is impersonal and students don’t want us bugging them on their FaceBook, mySpace, and twitter social spaces.  But there are still great opportunities to leverage the power of social technologies to benefit student – teacher interactions.  We added online rubrics (open Drupal project) to several online classroom settings and now students get richer, more detailed feedback then ever before possible online.  New modules are created everyday for Moodle, Drupal, WordPress and the rest that hook better and better social services together.  Imagine an internal Gigya service for education and the potentials of optional, cross-posted participation.  Or, [and I just started looking into this] a diigo environment specific to a course environment in Sticky Notes (Drupal).
  • Improved student learning through collaboration — remember when collaboration was just setting up a wiki, giving people accounts and telling them to edit stuff?  Remember how painful that was to get setup, painful to manage, painful to teach people how to use the technology.  All those barriers are melting away.  Sites are 1 click creation, accounts are pervasive (openID, LDAP, co-sign), and the wall between the student and the teacher known as technology has turned into an open plain.  Students can set up their own OSLE on blogger or WordPress to create a semi-professional learning resource of their own.
  • Instant Online Portfolios — “I have all this great work I did in class” no longer has to be a problem.  Ideas aren’t trapped in endless Word files, presentation scripts, Drop Boxes (*dig) and Power Point slides.  Projects are collaborated on in Google docs, they’re discussed in Blogger, they’re viewable on YouTube.  Students can leave higher education with a toolbox showing everything they’ve been able to accomplish while in school.  Are you enabling their work to be portable through Views and pointing them to post to social services? Or are they still dumping their knowledge to a drop box?  The knowledge economy of the future will demand they be able to sell themselves and their ideas before they graduate.
  • Production Creativity — Do you remember early 2000 how long it took to produce a high quality learning resource?  Never mind the mindlessness of uploading HTML in DreamWeaver or Homesite (old school); how about creating a high quality video?  The cost of creation is so much lower (which is what social media is all about) but think of how much higher quality resources we can create as education providers now then before?  And for that matter, how many MORE educational opportunities we can create.
  • Distributed Learning Environments — How often do you see  “experience using FILL IN SPECIFIC TECHNOLOGY” on a job application and it not be something generic like Word or Word processors? For the longest time I heard from people “we need to unify the student experience” and I have ALWAYS disagreed.  Students are tweeting, IMing, texting, watching a movie, taking your course, and thinking about what they’ll do in an hour when they’re done reading…all at once.  They are distracted and constantly moving between frames of reference and environments.  Your branding changing a little bit when linking off to another system isn’t going to kill them; if anything it’s only going to help them be more marketable.  Diversify the learning environments and engage students in a variety of systems so they learn to utilize a wider skill set.  The more experience they have using a multitude of systems the better off they’ll be, their work environments are only going to be changing at an ever increasing pace.
  • Learning Experience Design — This is a philosophy that’s becoming more apparent at my place of employment — Learning Experience Design.  We don’t just want students to come to our bland –insert default theme here– course / learning environment.  We want students to get sucked into the material.  The more engrossing and engaging the EXPERIENCE, the more likely you are to get them to close twitter, their phone, turn off TV and focus on your content.  Embed YouTube and they’ll be in your material watching YouTube, not on YouTube watching LOL-Cats videos in between your lectures thanks to “related videos”.  Leverage open tools so you can leverage the magic that is good theme design.  Remember, like it or not we’re not just selling knowledge, we’re selling a commodity.

I’d love for someone to write articles proving some of the claims above so that they are more then just ‘best practices’ but that’s part of the point of writing this.  To get you to ask yourself, are you leveraging any of these approaches above or just a few?  Are you fully embracing the potential of an OSLE or are you just playing here and there to make your management happy?

Are you working towards another bullet point, or towards actually changing the lives of your students?

  • Your move

Global success, Global failure of the CMS/LMS needs to stop

CMS, Drupal, Education, Moodle, WordPress

We need to rethink the way we go about implementing and building large-scale university systems.  I started answering a post recently on Drupal.org about a Moodle / Drupal merger.  The commenter was saying that Moodle could be plugged into Drupal somewhere down the road as a module because of how much better Drupal is at…well.. everything (outside of LMS).  As I started to respond, it occurred to me that this fits in well with a system design I’m working on.  Let’s lay out an example of how you’re screwed now…

  • You bought into a CMS / LMS (one package)
  • People said “OMG this does everything possible but nothing well”
  • This CMS / LMS is bought out, losses popularity, is no longer maintained, is too expensive to hire independent people / your own people to keep afloat
  • You need to move to something new and soonish because everyone’s clamoring for it and you’re just waiting for the day something breaks that no one knows how to fix

So right now, your stuck in one system and want to start looking at another.  You can look at Moodle and hope that your SCORM packages will transfer correctly.  You can look at Sakai or any number of other projects and say the same thing.  OR, you can do what I’m doing currently and start looking at NO, ONE, SOLUTION.  I know you’re saying “but Bryan, didn’t you mean just the Drupal solution”, no. Drupal is not the answer. Plone, WordPress, Moveable Type, Joomla, PHPNuke, Moodle, NOTEPAD is not the answer.

We need to start looking at systems development based on a services and scalability perspective.  No one system is going to solve that problem.  We need to start looking at what systems do well and then play to those strengths in the creation of a service.  Right now I’m planning out the new version of ELMS (version 3) and it doesn’t involve just 1 Drupal site / system.  In fact, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t even just involve Drupal.  It involves a star / ring based network of systems approach to network design.

Here’s a sample setup

  • A lightweight, data transmission and organization system at the center.  This is either Moodle or Drupal (or anything open source that meets data / record keeping needs).  It also polls the rest of the systems to pull together a view of all data relevant to users in a portal type of display
  • It then dictates to all the other systems in the network what users can access what, who’s in what course, what courses are running.  All that fun stuff.
  • Other systems in this setup include:
    • A CMS. Something that presents course content and presents it very well.
    • A social media management system (SMMS).  I’ll be making another post shortly hashing this lightbulb out a bit more but think a SMMS that’s specific / internal to your learning ecosystem is the future.
    • Syllabus / course objectives communication system.  This is more of a traditional LMS with JUST the course framework and pacing components involved.
    • A Communications system.  Forums, FAQs, Email, all that traditional communications management stuff
    • Blogging platform — A space onto itself that’s a living community where students / staff can blog about whatever (or make course specific ones).  Free flowing, loosely knit together via track backs and comment streams
    • Wikispace for collaboration — kinda dur what to use here…

So, what I’ve proposed above is more of a communication between and across systems.  Things like single sign on systems and simple modules within each project could allow users to flow seamlessly between them.  RSS and XMLRPC calls could allow session / user display data to flow seamlessly across each.  The most important thing though is that any system can be any CMS/LMS choice.  Example of that….

  • Core LMS / data system is Moodle
  • CMS is Drupal
  • SMMS is Drupal
  • Syllabus system is WordPress
  • Communications system is Plone
  • Blogging platform is moveable type
  • Wiki collaboration via Wikispace

All systems can now scale independently of one another both people, database and server wise.  We all have people around EVERY major university that have people with these skills right?  And one big barrier to switching to 1 standard is that ” we have Plone/Drupal/Moodle/WordPress/Joomla/Wikispaces programmers that will all be re-trained on Plone/Drupal/Moodle/WordPress/Joomla/Wikispaces”.  So avoid the barrier, play to your staffing’s strengths.

Will some need to be retrained? Definitely.  But there’s no longer a global success, global failure involved. We don’t have to worry about “what happens if we all go Drupal and the project fizzles?” and the same can be said for any other system.  I have my own personal preferences to different systems and coding practices (obviously) but a lightweight communications system could be cobbled together between each system to allow information to pass freely.

Everyone keeps their skill set, everyone keeps their system of choice, everyone wins! Thoughts? Comment here or on twitter @btopro

Moodlemoot

Moodle

Preface — This is as it’s happening, raw reaction to MoodleMoot and presentations there in.  I am trying to gain more experience / knowledge with Moodle to make an informed decision about whether or not they do things that we should be investigating.  This could be particularly harsh, you have been warned ;)

This will be on going but thus far from MoodMoot I’m unimpressed with Moodle.  Now, I didn’t like Moodle coming into things having played with it a little bit.  But after seeing others walk through how to modify aspects of Moodle sites (all of which look the same minus minor color alterations and logo graphics) I can securely say that I’m horrified of this product.  Mile long pages of settings to change text?  PHYSICAL .php files laying all over the place?  Discussions of how to submit bug tickets about the gradebook and other components mid-semester / during usage?!

WHAT!?  Are you kidding me!?  This can’t be a serious way people work.  Common slams on Drupal:

  • Usability
  • Complexity
  • Security

My new and improved list of common slams on Moodle:

  • EVERYTHING LOOKS THE SAME
  • Complexity through lack of usability — this is like looking at Drupal 4 branch in terms of what things mean and do
  • Form and function — .php files laying around instead of having everything be modular; example: to change a status message generated by moodle.php, I need to go to moodle.php in an admin menu and physically edit the mile of options (ummm….String Replace Drupal module to do this that’s 1 very small page)

Wow… more to come as this keeps going on but I’d like to dig my eyes out at the thought of people moving to this.  There’s no way this product is mature enough for me to mess with it.