My take on “IBM and Desire2Learn Take On Education Data Challenge”

It’s all over Twitter today:

This is an interesting step in data management and analysis and predictive analytics in education. I think what this brings to the front is that analytics is very much a business application, and that applying it to learning changes the education game, considerably. I’m not saying that it’s all bad. In fact, I think there can be a lot of good in it. With any discourse around this, I feel compelled to throw in a couple “let’s be cautious” and “consider the implications” type comments. I’m excited by predictive analytics. They’re neat, and I love all the pretty graphs. Should IBM and D2L be making conclusions and interventions based on the mass of data available? What are the implications and potential pitfalls of having edu-business-borgs making conclusions and giving advice? Consider what can’t and shouldn’t be counted. Let’s be sure to question the robots when they make decisions based on logic like this:


My take on Desire2Learn’s Learning Suite 10: Elegant and Extensible

passing car


or, “Get out of my way and let me do stuff!”

I was honoured to be asked to speak at Desire2Learn’s Product Announcement yesterday. The event focused on the launch of Learning Suite 10. You can read all about it on their site.

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with Desire2Learn for over 12 years. I’ve seen the staff grow from a team of 5 coding in someone’s basement apartment over 400 people who make up the company today. It’s quite remarkable. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing D2L’s software mature over the past 12 years to the world-class product it is today. Learning Suite 10 marks an important step in their evolution.

One of the things that sets D2L apart is their engagement with their clients, and that they actively seek out and listen to feedback from the community of users. D2L knows that I love to get sneak peeks at new tools, and I have a bit of a reputation for speaking my mind. So, at Guelph we’ve had guest access to Learning Suite 10 Early Access for about a month, to kick the tires.

This release, in a word is ELEGANT.

The layout is crisp, the navigation is slick, and the tools themselves fade into the background, which is awesome. It lets users focus on what’s important…teaching and learning. In some ways the best tools are the ones you don’t notice you’re using. It’s important for software developers to know when to get out of the way and let users focus on what they need/want to do. We shouldn’t have to discover the proper combination of clicks and to figure out how the tool was created in order to use it properly. First impressions of D2L’s Learning Suite 10 are that was built with this type of usability in mind.

It’s an elegant design. And what it creates is a solid foundation to work with and build on. I was happy to see in this release continued development on D2L’s Web services. These APIs will allow institutions like ours to build, integrate, and extend their teaching and learning tools and services.

I’m excited to start working with Learning Suite 10. I’m anxious to see how instructors and students start to shape this platform, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with D2L on this and future developments.

Congratulations, John & Kenneth, Jeremy, the Brian’s, Heather…and all the rest. Great work. Keep it up!

I had fun during ePweek, and learned a lot

Many thanks to those who participated in the University of Guelph’s first (annual) ePortfolio week.

ePweek 2011

Dave Cormier joined us on Tuesday: Managing to know – a tale of cave paintings, eportfolios, printing press and PLE. Dave’s talk visualized by Giulia Forsythe in the image below:

Managing to Know

Some great presentations during the week, drawing on expertise and experiences from the School of Engineering, Educational Development, Student Life, the Graduate Student Learning Initiative, Hospitality and Tourism Management and the Bachelor of Arts and Science Program.

If you work with learning objects & repositories, what’s your experience been?

For the past 8 months, I’ve been researching Learning Object Repositories, trying to figure out just what they’re all about and how their potential benefit to course design and delivery. Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting of discussion topics, and to those of you who don’t work or play in this field, this video might be worth watching instead.

The idea of “Learning Objects” and “Repositories” have been around for awhile. David Wiley has a thing or 2 to say about about them. For now, I’m going to steer clear of definitions, metaphors and discussions around their effectiveness (or lack thereof). Let’s just say, I think they have their use.

There’s a bunch of LOR-type tools and databases out there; some tied to a learning management system, some stand-alone, some commercial, some open source. The Edutech Wiki has listings and information. We use the Desire2Learn Learning Platform tools at the University of Guelph, so my experience is flavoured by that. I have, however dabbled in some other tools, for comparison purposes.

Here’s my thinking on LORs:

  1. They require a different way of thinking about content development and course design. It’s not just about uploading files from your desktop to a course site. To be effective, there needs to be “Learning Object Thinking” built into content design. Modularity. Re-usability.

  2. Learning Object Repositories are disruptive technologies. They promote sharing and openness. These will be foreign concepts to some.

  3. That said, most repositories have tools in place to manage access, copyright, work-flow, distribution, and all that important stuff. There’s also some great tools for reporting and measurement baked in to a good LOR. If these things are important to your context, make sure the tool you adopt has those features.

  4. But, because of that, they can be difficult to manage and administer. The use of an institutional repositories requires dedicated resources.

  5. And speaking of “foreign”, if you work in this realm, you will develop a love-hate relationship with metadata. It could be your best friend, or it could be the aunt you never want to visit at Christmas-time. Aim for the first.

  6. Reap what others sow. Let others reap what you sow. Through the Open Archives Initiative (OAI), repositories can be set up so that they are interoperable, to facilitate the efficient dissemination of content. Think harvesting. Share openly and borrow shamelessly.

Here’s an introductory presentation I shared for some people at my institution. Feel free to use or adapt if it meets your needs:

On Learning Management Systems and ePortfolios

The University of Guelph has a 10 year history of using (in some shape or form) Desire2Learn as a Learning Management System. For the past year, D2L has been a campus-wide tool for all websites for distance education and face-to-face offerings. If you’re into this type of thing, you can read about the details of the migration, as well as the official rationale for the decision.

With the move to a campus-wide solution, came an increase interest and activity in the use of ePortfolios. Guelph has a long history of scholarship and initiatives with (e)portfolios. Some of them:

In June of this year, we facilitated a series of focus groups on the use of ePortfolios to gather feedback on current use and planned use to help guide what needs to be in place to support these initiatives.

So, all that said, what I wanted to talk to you about was this:

Some of the feedback we’ve received from students and instructors is that there is a fair amount of confusion about the connections between the CourseLink (D2L) ePortfolio and the (D2L) Learning Management System tools (both where they are linked and where they are separate). Overwhelmingly, there is a perception that the eP is a course-level-tool only and not a user-level-tool. As we’ve witnessed, the eP can (and has been) effectively incorporated into course design. The struggle, I guess is the promotion of the tool for use outside of formal assessment and/or across courses.

Let’s set aside (for now) the real hurdles that a majority of students will not use a tool unless it a) is going to be graded and/or b) can see the usefulness of the tool for advancement (career advancement, graduate studies application, etc.) Let’s assume that can and will be…hurdled.

What I’m chiefly interested in (now) is how we can present the eP as “linked but separate” from the course-based LMS tools. Do we need a separate entry point for users to access the tool? Where are the links? Do we need to build stand-alone, separately branded web apps to allow users to upload material? Can the links be made so that when I post/upload material to my other networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, etc.) I can cross-post to my ePortfolio (please)?

Curious to hear what other institutions are doing/thinking about here.

Teaching and Learning Awesome People Exchange Program

This week, I spent two days this week in Ottawa, consulting with the staff from the Educational Development Centre at Carleton University.

A number of Ontario Universities are in the midst of a review of their Learning Management Systems. I was honoured to be asked to visit so that they could “pick my brain” to see what they could learn (good, bad, scary, and exciting…almost exciting) from my experiences and reflections having recently been involved in the University of Guelph’s migration from Blackboard/WebCT to Desire2Learn.

I was able to share some ideas around implementation and configuration, as well as communication and training/orientation plans. I’m far from an expert in LMS administration, but after over a decade of working with features, bugs, and the occasional “gotcha”, we easily filled a couple days of conversation about lessons learned and best practices (or at least ”better practices”).

Finishing up, I started to turn an idea around in my head that’s been lingering for awhile now. Let’s call it the “Teaching and Learning Awesome People Exchange Program” (which conveniently can be shortened to TALAPEP. Catchy? Not really, no.

So, under TALAPEP, awesome people working in Teaching and Learning (or similarly-mandated) centres would be given the opportunity have placements in other centres or exchange jobs with people nationally or internationally who work in similar (or almost similar) capacities. “PEPpers” could be matched up according to technologies used, or projects underway, or whatnot.

Do programs like this exist already? They should.

Architects of Education, #D2L10, Chicago

Up early this morning to catch my ride to Toronto Pearson airport, en route to Chicago for FUSION, the annual Desire2Learn Users Conference.

This will be my sixth time attending FUSION. I’m one shy of a perfect record, as I was off one year on parental leave. It’s a good conference. Three days, hanging with system administrators, instructors, technical support and help desk staff and institutional administrative staff from K-12, Higher Education, Corporate, Government institutions. I’m excited to (re)connect with D2L users to share experiences and build knowledge. It’s a lot of fun too.

Some highlights to look forward to (for me) at FUSION 2010: