Monday, December 29, 2008

More interaction

Real quick...I'm giving Twitter a try, so feel free to follow me at jbohreruw. Another way to get in touch is via AIM: jeffszanyworld.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

MN Governor wants 25% of credits online

This is certainly an interesting report. [Also see the Governor's press release and a Chronicle article.]

If all goes as their governor hopes, our colleagues who support learning technologies (including Desire2Learn and Moodle) in Minnesota are headed for an exciting and challenging future.

Minnesota's governor Tim Pawlenty is calling for students in the Minnesota State Colleges and University system to receive 25% of their credits online by 2015. The report states that currently, 9% of all MnSCU credits are received online.

The governor's initiative also calls for increased online offerings by the University of Minnesota which is not part of MnSCU. His plan also impacts secondary education, reportedly changing high school graduation requirements "to require every student to participate in online education."

As for the obvious question about funding, the report states

Pawlenty offered no information on the money such an effort would cost or save.

The governor did say he’ll expect to see progress on online education in the future when MnSCU and the U of M ask for bonding and general fund dollars.

“As we think about funding and bonding decisions … we’re going to be asking how MnSCU and the university are meeting this goal that we are outlining today,” Pawlenty said.

From a Wisconsin/UW-Madison/UW System perspective, I wonder how our neighbor's initiative might influence our own governor Jim Doyle and our state legislature. Might they be tempted to legislate online education as a cost-saving measure? As excited as I am about an administrative investment in learning technology and online education, I am skeptical about rigid degree requirements. Does this mean that students will be scouring for courses based on their delivery mechanism rather than their content? How will statewide sharing of online courses be made easier, or even possible? What investment in infrastructure (both technical and faculty development) will be needed?

I'm optimistic that Minnesota can get this right. Pawlenty's rhetoric, at least, is an encouraging start.

“We believe this is just a change in the way the service is delivered. Faculty will be as engaged, perhaps more so, in this type of delivery of services than they would be in the traditional program,” Pawlenty said.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Student rips Learn@UW (D2L)....or does he?

Last week, one of UW's student newspapers ran an op-ed from a student titled "Learn@UW Unworthy of a Learned Man".

It included the following zingers that caused me to simultaneously wince and chuckle (in agreement):
"The profile section tries to emulate Facebook, and it's almost creepy."

"For me, I know I want to sign off Learn@UW as soon as I log in."

"...every time I sign on Learn@UW a piece of me dies."

"I would rather spend more time learning at UW and less time Learn@UW-ing."
But when I really listened to what the student was saying, he was lamenting instructors' lack of use or ineffective use of the system. Some of his comments mirror what we have heard from students through surveys and focus groups:
"I only have three out of my six classes that make use of the would-be wonderful online grade and announcement portal."

"The program would be infinitely more effective if all classes were mandated to use it..."

Three out of six classes use Learn@UW? Generally, that's at or above average--something people like me celebrate! If this student is typical, then our students have high expectations for their instructors.

I was able to glean a few useful nuggets from this article: students could really use the course widget that shows updates (we've been told to disable it for performance reasons) and we might not be able to expect students to complete their profile (photo, interests, etc.).

I'm also heartened to know that for one student at least, this learning tool has the potential to be so much more valuable. That's something we can work on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Questions about Schools on Facebook

Last week, a number of our central IT staff and a few key campus administrators met over a brownbag to watch Inigral's demo video of their Schools product. Afterwards, we discussed positive aspects of the product and our concerns about it.

In the end, I was very pleased that such a diverse and influential group came to discuss the notion of integrating with a third-party product.

I made note of a number of questions that arose and grouped them into a few broad categories:

  • For how long is our institutional data kept at third-party host?
  • What are the intellectual property (of students) considerations?

  • How often would our enrollment data be updated at third-party host?
  • Will advertising be served? How?
  • Is there a difference between a person's regular Facebook profile and their Schools profile?
  • Can any members of a class get to other classmates regular profiles without being a friend?
  • How would FERPA exceptions be handled in the application?

Instructional and Business Process
  • What is our process for choosing which "cool new" tool/service to try or adopt?
  • What are the implications if instructors participate? What if they do not?
  • Could our institutional participation in Schools somehow help teach students how to best manage their "public face" (online profiles and info)?
  • Should we consider this a student-only tool? Just at first or for how long? Do we let instructors or TA's in?
In the end, we and any potential vendor, will have to address questions like these -- and many more -- prior to our adoption of an outside vendor-hosted application. I'm quite optimistic that our university is asking the right questions and has people open to discussing this new model.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Two Issues Regarding Schools on Facebook (FERPA and Creepy Treehouse)

Two areas of concern arise quickly when we begin to discuss the idea of leveraging third-party technology by integrating university enrollment data: FERPA and the "Creepy Treehouse Effect".

Inigral's Michael Staton, a former teacher who is now involved with the release of Schools on Facebook, addresses these two issues in recent posts.

FERPA, Facebook and The Social Web

"...The immediate reaction to the thought of activating a campus-wide Facebook application can make any decision-maker nervous. Information is shared all over Facebook, and a campus’ interest to keep student data private and secure is not only an obligation but is also upheld by the law....At Inigral, we’ve worked with our pilot school and our lawyers to assure that all features of our application are FERPA compliant and uphold the strongest standards of security and privacy. I don’t want to go into the exact feature set that makes it such a comfortable thing for institutional adoption, but it is proof that venturing into the wide world of the Social Web is highly possible with a little care."

Debunking the Creepy Treehouse: the Functional Mall
...We don’t need to give educators an excuse to not be using these technologies, we need to be getting them to understand how best to use these technologies. We need to keep in mind the “creepy treehouse” to guide us, but let us not point to everything on Facebook and Myspace, Twitter and Flickr and start accusing. As long as everyone is using their privacy settings and limits contact with those that might be of a “transcendant” age group or have a “careful” boundary (e.g. teacher/student, parent/child) to transactional interactions."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Schools on Facebook (app by Inigral)

A few weeks ago I discovered this new Facebook app that attempts to leverage university enrollment data (eek, I know, hang with me) and create a secure social network space inside Facebook for students/instructors/courses/organizations.

Called Schools on Facebook, this app does look promising in that it facilitates connections among classmates in a way that our current course management system cannot on a platform that virtually everyone is using.

The first step in determining whether this has any educational value is running it by some students. (We sure would not want to build any type of creepy treehouse, you know.)

[Note: I initially forgot to add that Michael Feldstein invited Inigral's Michael Staton to describe the application here. It's worth reading his article and the comments.]

Here are some comments from two students after watching Inigral's demo video:

"At first I was a little skeptical; however, I think this application has a TON of potential, especially for allowing students to network with their classmates, specifically other students in their major. The uses are more numerous than I can count--from organizing study groups, to leaning what student orgs your classmates are in, to learning more about the students/staff/professors in your department. I also think that it is still "fairly" (loose term) secure, since each individual user still has the ability to limit who sees their profile, and all the class discussion boards are public forms (more or less)....I think it is definitely worth looking into for Facebook users on our campus (the majority of students). It has huge potential to get a promote our University--not only as a step up as a tech savy institution, but also to promote the University to new students (via current students using this application)."


"There are so many applications and different features on Facebook now that I can't keep up with what is changing and what is still the same. It's overwhelming actually :D. But I think this application is very useful for meeting people who is in your class. I've had so many classmates who have e-mailed the whole class list asking a question about an assignment or getting lecture notes and I've had some professors who tell us that the class list is for their use only. So I think this application will be very useful for students to communicate with each other without actually adding them as "Friends" on Facebook. There are so many applications on it right now that are sooooo pointless but people still use it so I think something as useful as this has good potential."

I pinged Inigral's Michael Staton for more information, and the other day he called me up. We discussed at length the difficulty (policy-wise) in getting our university to send enrollment data to a third-party. However, I must admit that I have yet to even broach the subject with our enrollment management staff. I was impressed by Michael's understanding of the issues involved with this type of data integration. He also emphasized their goal of making integration as simple as possible for university technologists.

Michael told me that the future direction of this application would veer more towards student life than learning, as he was leery of trying to compete against the traditional learning management systems.

He also said that other features would include things like gifting, a name game (for putting names with faces--instructors would love this), a message wall, and instructor-managed controls for what is or is not displayed on a course page.

So...what do YOU think about this new app? Is it worth investigating at UW? Do let me know.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Google's new Knol service

This is something I want to check out: Google Knol. Not sure of it's place in education, perhaps something akin to Wikipedia without the crowdsourcing? We'll see...

From Google's official blog announcing the public launch of Knol:
The web contains vast amounts of information, but not everything worth knowing is on the web. An enormous amount of information resides in people's heads: millions of people know useful things and billions more could benefit from that knowledge. Knol will encourage these people to contribute their knowledge online and make it accessible to everyone.

The key principle behind Knol is authorship. Every knol will have an author (or group of authors) who put their name behind their content. It's their knol, their voice, their opinion. We expect that there will be multiple knols on the same subject, and we think that is good.

With Knol, we are introducing a new method for authors to work together that we call "moderated collaboration." With this feature, any reader can make suggested edits to a knol which the author may then choose to accept, reject, or modify before these contributions become visible to the public. This allows authors to accept suggestions from everyone in the world while remaining in control of their content. After all, their name is associated with it!

Knols include strong community tools which allow for many modes of interaction between readers and authors. People can submit comments, rate, or write a review of a knol. At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads from our AdSense program. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with a revenue share from the proceeds of those ad placements.

We are happy to announce an agreement with the New Yorker magazine which allows any author to add one cartoon per knol from the New Yorker's extensive cartoon repository. Cartoons are an effective (and fun) way to make your point, even on the most serious topics.

Everyone knows something. See what people are writing about, then tell the world what you know:

I do think this type of service would be cool in our huge university. Right now, you need to author a traditional web page, hosted within a traditional organizational structure. So, as an IT employee, I don't have a place to post my specialized knowledge about 14th century eating utensils. Our current institutional repository was somewhat designed for this purpose, but it's so 1999ish.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Learning and Technology Blogs list by George Siemens

George has compiled a very useful list of key learning and technology blogs. This list is great: not too long; not too short. There always is concern that a particular list will not be kept current. However, with blogs that is less of a concern. Just use this list to find new blogs and subscribe to their feeds.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Help build a girls dorm in Kenya

My friend and colleague, Renee Schuh, is working to raise funds to build a new girls dorm at Terry's Orphanage in Machakos, Kenya where Renee volunteered last year. They need to raise $15,000 by November 2008. You can help in a number of ways, including attending a benefit concert this Sunday in Madison WI. Check out the project's site or The Machakos Project cause in Facebook for more information.

I wouldn't promote a cause I did not believe in.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Blackboard-Sakai Connector: Blackboard as Academic Hub??

Here's a report about a new Blackboard add-on in the works that will integrate Sakai and Blackboard via Bb's "Building Blocks" extension program.

In general, Syracuse is on the right track, figuring out how best to integrate multiple learning systems. However, the following quote by Bb's CEO reveals Bb's world view: Blackboard as the center of the academic universe.
“Students should not have to worry about whether different technology is powering their online learning environments for different classes,” said Michael L. Chasen, Blackboard’s president and CEO, in a prepared statement. “With a single login users should have access to all of their courses and course material. There should be one place they can go to get all of their course information.”

At Wisconsin, we agree in principle with Chasen. However, we have chosen to have our campus portal be that hub for course information. We have built an "Academics" tab within our portal where students can find links to their Desire2Learn courses, their e-Reserves, and even their Moodle courses. These systems send their data to our portal's "Resource Bridge" that connects the various system's data to the students and presents it in a single coherent module within the "Academics" tab.

Constructing a campus academic hub that is Blackboard-centric, increases complexity and risk during this era of CMS turbulence. However, like I've mentioned before, Blackboard deserves credit for playing in the open-source field.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why aren't faculty using a Course Management System?

I just uncovered a previously unreported piece of data from a 2007 survey conducted by the University of Wisconsin System. In our 2008 Milestone Review of Desire2Learn at UW-Madison, I included much data from the "2007 UW System Web-based Teaching and Learning Survey". Somehow, I managed to overlook this particular item.

Over 500 UW-Madison faculty responded to that 2007 survey, and 138 of them responded to the question:
If you are not using any type of course management system (CMS) or learning management system (LMS), what are your reasons?

28.3% Not necessary / Not applicable
25.4% Not familiar with them / Don't know about them
21.0% Use other tools or my own website
11.6% No time to learn how to use
7.2% Not convinced enough about their usefulness
2.9% Disagree with their use
2.2% Lack of support
1.4% Will use in the future

The second-most common reason ("not familiar/don't know") jumps out at me. These respondents account for 7% of all faculty responses to the '07 survey. It seems reasonable to believe that our efforts to raise awareness of the course management system still seem prudent.

What fraction of our faculty will never use a CMS? A conservative approach would be to combine all these respondents less those who stated "not familiar/don't know" and "will use in future" and divide by the total respondents (517). This exercise shows that approximately 20% of our faculty might never be inclined to use a course management system at UW-Madison.

I very much hope that UW System continues to deliver this survey in the future. The 20% figure is one I want to track over time.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Current Drama of Blackboard vs. Desire2Learn

Michael Feldstein has done an incredible job of not only elaborating on the battle going on between Blackboard and D2L, but also in providing very informative insights from interviews and his research. In his latest dramatic post, Feldstein:
  • Shares the response from Bb's general counsel, Matt Small, to Feldstein's earlier report that Blackboard had been contacting D2L clients.
  • Includes comments from a legal advisor to one of D2L's clients explaining his version of the call he received from Matt Small.
  • Accurately characterizes the current state of anxiousness that D2L's U.S. clients feel.
  • Adds a potentially fascinating angle on how statewide university systems might have constitutional grounds for fighting Blackboard directly.

From a current D2L client's perspective, this is turning out to be one heckuva roller coaster ride.

(This photo, as perfect as it is for this post, belongs to someone else. Let me know if it is yours and I'll act accordingly.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

gRSShopper released by Stephen Downes

As many of you know, Stephen Downes creates and shares information about learning and technologies at a prolific rate. His newsletter has been one of the most useful sources of current news that I've received for years. He has built and used his own custom system for aggregating and publishing material, and now he's released it to the public as gRSShopper.

I'm not sure that I'll be installing it anytime soon, though anyone interested in writing or gathering content and sharing it in multiple modes (site, RSS, newsletter) might want to give this tool serious consideration.

Here's what Stephen wrote when announcing the code's availability:
OK, here it is: the release, under GPL, of my RSS aggregation and personal content management software, gRSShopper. This release is numbered 0.1 and readers should take into account this there is still a lot that could be added to the software. That said, it's the tool I use to run all my web sites (it supports multiple sites with the same installation). I have created a demonstration site where you can go in and play with the site administration tool. I will be adding some examples of the system's functionality over the weekend. The source code is available on SourceForge and also on the gRSShopper site. I don't expect massive numbers of downloads or WordPress-like popularity. Rather, I view it as one prong in my overall research effort, a demonstration, in code, of the concepts I talk about in writing. But I will help people who are trying to install it (within reason) and I will continue to develop and improve the software - and will welcome contributions.

Thanks Stephen for this contribution!

Friday, May 23, 2008

20 New Features in Desire2Learn 8.3

This weekend, Learn@UW (our Desire2Learn system), is down for an upgrade from D2L LE 8.1 to 8.3. Of course, such a big outage means there is absolutely nothing to do around here (kidding of course).

In preparation, I put together some of the key changes that our instructors will face when the system comes up. This isn't a perfect list. I'm sure I missed some other changes along the way. Some of the new features are a result of our tweaking permissions rather than a new feature that the vendor added. Some changes are due to the fact we are getting both 8.2 and 8.3 in this upgrade.

Here's a PDF of the full presentation with screen shots or screen captures.

What's New in Learn@UW? 20 Changes in (Approximately) 20 Minutes

1. Improved browser support. D2L now supports Firefox 2.0 on both Windows & Mac, Safari 2.0 and 1.3, and IE 6/7. (Someone in my presentation asked about Firefox 3 support (he said, "but it's Release Candidate 1"). Seriously.

2. Inactive course indicator.
D2L now displays a little gray icon with an exclamation mark for courses that are not active for student access. This will help cut down calls to the help desk, but I'd still prefer to see a loud red X or something more visible.

3. New icon set. Experienced D2L users might get a bit disorientated with the new look, but overall, it's an improvement.

4. New navigational elements. D2L now has a much more consistent navigational interface. Across almost all tools, buttons and menus are located in consistent places. I haven't measured this, but the navigational improvements seem to cut down on the number of clicks needed to do something.

5. Instructors can toggle the role of users in their course. This was something we implemented by adjusting permissions slightly.

6. Instructors can remove TA's and instructors for their course. Again, this was a UW-Madison permissions tweak to cut down on support cases.

7. New Groups tool on course navigation bar. To leverage the enhanced groups functionality, you need to put the Groups tool in the nav bar. I think the prominence of this tool will get people thinking more about how to consider groups in their course.

8. Groups - very easy setup. By simply selecting a few checkboxes, instructors can create workspaces for their groups that include group discussions, group dropboxes, and group file lockers.

9. Improved HTML Editor. This was a big deal for D2L. I believe they implemented the TinyMCE HTML editor. The editing area is expandable, the buttons are clear, and it should work well across supported platforms and browsers.

10. HTML editor is everywhere. We decided to enable the HTML editor for all tools. The result is that the editor appears in places we didn't expect. Many surprises here, but no red flags yet.

11. Grades - easier interface. Again, navigational improvements make the plethora of options/settings a bit easier to wade through.

12. Grades - setup wizard. This is cool. When an instructor first clicks their Grades tool, a screen appears that lists the current gradebook settings. It's called a wizard, but (unless I'm mistaken), it doesn't walk an instructor through each setting or option.

13. Grades - spreadsheet view. This is even cooler. Instructors have been wanting the gradebook to "act more like Excel". I think this new ability to click on gradebook cells and enter scores will appease many frustrated instructors.

14. Dropbox - ability to multi-edit. Instructors can now edit multiple dropbox folder names and settings on a single screen.

15. Improved accessibility. We haven't done our own testing (and probably won't), but D2L's documentation purports to many improvements aligning with W3C standards. Some stated enhancements include: proper image alt/null text, proper headers/titles for tables/frames, hidden skip links for navigation bars and widgets, and the overall improved interface standardization.

16. Content - expand and collapse modules.

17. Content - multi-edit. See #14.

18. Content - learner statistics. This feature provides content item-level stats such as number of users visited and average time spent on item. The value here is not in analyzing the minutia of data, but rather, giving the instructor a feel for who is using the material (and who is not).

19. Discussions - linked to gradebook. Like quizzes, discussion postings can now be graded and automatically connected to gradebook columns.

20. Discussions - ratings. Interesting. Instructors can optionally enable ratings so that students can rate each other's posts on a 5-star scale. Average ratings are calculated. I'm sure that instructors opinions on this feature will vary greatly.

Like I said, I know there are more changes than what I've noted here. Over time, I'm sure this list would change considerably once we get more experience in 8.3.x.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Blackboard's Facebook App (My Frustrations with D2L Grow)

The Chronicle reported on Blackboard's new Facebook application that sends a notification to students when a course has been updated with new material. It also somehow munges together a Blackboard course roster with Facebook friends or profiles (correct me if I'm wrong here) to better connect with classmates. Institutions can disable this if they want, but I don't understand any security or privacy concern when all Facebook is receiving is a notification message.

This development makes me frustrated with the Desire2Learn Learning Environment for a few reasons:

1. D2L does offer users an Updates widget for their My Home page and course home pages which is very useful...theoretically. Our institution has been advised to disable our Updates widgets due to the load it puts on our system (frequent queries to various tables), potentially degrading overall performance. Right now, UW students cannot even benefit from this handy notification system that already exists within the course management system, let alone in a prominent third-party app that's not going away any time soon.

2. D2L's lack of play in the open architecture field is becoming more apparent. Sure, D2L is releasing some type of SDK soon, but it is literally years behind Blackboard in this area. Blackboard's Building Blocks program has opened many doors for custom development by not only their partner vendors, but also educational institutions.

3. D2L's lack of social learning tools is a growing wart on the system. I hear an increasing number of faculty wanting things like blogs and wikis for collaboration purposes, but D2L is sorely lacking in this area as well. The current blog tool in D2L is for personal blogs (not course-based blogs) and has an interface that will turn people away if they've ever used some of the common blogs available today.

To be clear, I'm not advocating for the course management system to be an increasingly larger beast. Its enormous and complex architecture is costly and fragile. We all would benefit from an opening up of the CMS so that we can hook in our other tools and services, not to mention push out its data when necessary and appropriate.

Well, I'm sorry for the semi-rant here. I guess hearing of this Blackboard advancement touched a nerve of mine! As always, I'm curious to hear of your thoughts and new ideas.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

What Good are Informal Assessments?

The College of Engineering here at UW-Madison has launched an online newsletter, "Teaching and Learning Insights" as part of their 2010 Initiative.

They have been publishing a series of brief articles ("What Good are Informal Assessments?") spotlighting a variety of informal assessment methods. Some topics include clickers, wikis and blogs, and daily quizzes. Obviously, instructional technologies play a key role in these assessments.

The articles are short, well-written, and highlight the teaching efforts of local faculty. I highly recommend it not only for my colleagues here at UW, but elsewhere.

Now, if they could only provide a feed of their content!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Microsoft's attempt at e-Learning development

I typically do not follow Microsoft news closely, however this caught my eye yesterday. Microsoft has released their "Learning Content Development System".

According to Microsoft:
The Learning Content Development System (LCDS) is a tool that enables you to create high quality, interactive, online courses. Virtually anyone can publish e-learning courses by completing the easy-to-use LCDS forms that seamlessly generate highly customized content, interactivities, quizzes, games, and assessments—as well as Silverlight-based animations, demos, and other multimedia. Register to download the free LCDS release, then start creating your own e-learning courses today!

I found that Jan Van Belle downloaded and installed the LCDS last night. He offers a few reactions here.

From what I can surmise, it seems like this is an offline tool. Instructors (or e-Learning developers) need to publish the material somewhere. I also cannot tell if a gradebook tool is included.

Given that this product is for Windows-only, a downloadable application, and instructors must go through a publish step, I don't think this version of the product will take hold in higher ed or even make more waves than a brief mention like this.

Let me know if you've tried out this new tool and what you think about it.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Instructional Innovations with Drupal

I'm very excited to see the services recently launched by Learning Support Services (UW-Madison College of Letters & Science).

LSS has leveraged Drupal to build a few template-based instructional systems: LessonShare and Collaborative Sites. LessonShare is a collaborative lesson-building system for instructors and teaching assistants. Collaborative Sites offers a streamlined course website that provides a wiki-based platform for student-generated content.

I love the innovation behind LessonShare -- create a system that addresses an unmet instructional need (lesson plan building and sharing) -- and I equally love the efficiencies of the Collaborative Sites project. I'm sure it addresses LSS's growing demand for wiki-based course sites.

In an upcoming WisconsinWeek article about Collaborative Sites, Doug Worsham and Sue Weier of LSS answer the question, "How does Collaborative Sites differ from the campus course management system (Learn@UW/D2L)?" Their response:
"We're really not creating an all-encompassing solution meant to support both course administration and student interaction. We're focused on online interaction and collaboration....We're not trying to make the Swiss Army knife, we're making the corkscrew."


Follow-up notes
I see that Doug has posted an online guide to setting up collaborative sites in Drupal at

Friday, April 25, 2008

More data from UW-Platteville students

I previously mentioned that the UW-Platteville student senate will be urging their faculty senate to mandate gradebook use of Desire2Learn by their instructors.

Their resolution was based on a 2008 online survey done of UW-P students, the results of which the current vice-president of the student senate generously shared with me. 346 of the 5837 students responded to the survey.

Two questions and results jumped out at me:

1) "Would you be in favor of a mandate that would require ALL UW-Platteville Faculty Members to post Student Exam & Homework grades on D2L?"
YES: 79%
NO: 21%

2) "Do you feel having the chance to view your grades online would increase your motivation in the classroom?"
YES: 80%
NO: 20%

I like the fact that this survey connected use of the online gradebook with motivation in the classroom. It is noteworthy that 80% responded affirmatively to the question.

I can't envision a faculty senate voting in favor of any such mandate, but at the very least, this action by the student senate will heighten the awareness of what students desire in their learning environment.

Learn@UW/D2L usage at UW-Madison

I've always found it a challenge to answer the question "What percentage of courses (or sections depending on who's asking) use Learn@UW?"

First of all, at UW-Madison, we are a ginormous institution with a lot of instruction taking place in every shape and mode imaginable. Defining "course" and "section" is a tough task.

Recently, I attempted to figure this out with the help of staff that work with our student information system. I limited stats-gathering to official/timetable courses, including the professional schools, including independent study courses, excluding study abroad and excluding any bogus courses that the registrar's office creates. Also all members of cross-listed courses are counted as separate courses. All combined sections are counted separately, not aggregated. Phew.

Here are our results:
Fall 2007Spring 2008
Total Official Courses43844405
Total Official Courses w/ Activated Learn@UW Sites1292 (29.5%)1474 (33.5%)
Total Official Sections1496014550
Total Official Sections w/ Activated Learn@UW Sites4598 (30.7%)5062 (34.8%)
Total Enrollments in Official Courses w/ Activated Learn@UW Sites6869673224
Unique People Using Learn@UW3065829449

My director, Kathy Christoph summarized it nicely: Learn@UW is being used in about 1/3 of the courses by nearly 3/4 of the students for an average of about 2.5 courses each.

At this large R1 university, I'm personally pleased with 33% usage of the central course management system. Also on our campus, there is a number of local schools and departments using other course management systems such as Moodle or their homegrown solution which raises the overall saturation numbers. But that's another story for another day...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wisconsin-Platteville students want faculty mandated to use D2L gradebook

In a move similar to that at Marquette University, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville students senate voted to recommend to their faculty senate a mandate that would require all instructors to use the Desire2Learn gradebook for each course.

Marquette students want faculty to be required to attend one D2L training session and post the course syllabus in D2L. UW-P students want their instructors to be required to use the gradebook at minimum.

Neither resolution has much chance of passing their faculty senates (a previous and broader student resolution at UW-P requiring faculty use of D2L failed to pass through the faculty senate), but these moves indicate that today's students value the use of the course management system--particularly the posting of course materials and use of the online gradebook.

I'm curious as to the extent faculty and instructors are required to use a course management system or attend training, particularly in a hybrid environment (Obviously, many fully-online programs require this.) Of what examples are you aware?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

5-Year Review of Desire2Learn at University of Wisconsin-Madison

After 5 years of using D2L as the central course management system (branded "Learn@UW") at UW-Madison, our Academic Technology department asked me to lead a milestone review process. Naively, I said OK to what turned out to be a 10 month project culminating in a 25 page report.

The executive summary and full report are posted at the DoIT Academic Technology site.

Some of the key findings include:
  • 30,000 people use Learn@UW each semester at UW-Madison
  • 77% of students report a positive experience
  • 73% of instructors report a positive experience
  • Instructors primarily use Learn@UW for course administration
  • Students most value convenience and the gradebook
  • Instructors report problems with the interface in general and specifically with the quiz and gradebook tools
If you scan the report, do you find anything in it surprising?
Has anyone conducted, or read, a similar report from a university?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

D2L's list of court documents

I just realized that Desire2Learn has been posting quite a collection of court documents in a user-friendly page on their patent info site.

Desire2Learn to revise flagship software

D2L's hometown newspaper, The Record (Kitchener/Waterloo, ON), reported today about D2L's strategy for bringing its U.S. customers into a non-infringing status. D2L wants to get as many self-hosted U.S. customers into the soon-to-be-released Learning Environment 8.3.

The tricky part is ensuring that 8.3 is not infringing on Blackboard's controversial patent. D2L sounds confident that its redesigned code will be blessed by all parties. D2L CEO John Baker was quoted:
"We're very confident that 8.3 will be a good workaround," he said. "We're just waiting on the final legal stamp of approval."
The "final legal stamp of approval" is the key point. Blackboard will be allowed to review the new code, and ultimately it would seem that Judge Ron Cook has to find the software to be non-infringing.

The eventual challenge will be for campus technologists to implement a plan that not only complies with the vendor's wishes, but more importantly, ensures for its thousands of faculty and student users a smooth transition to a new version of the software, whenever a transition happens.

Baker, and the rest of us, are still anxiously awaiting developments on a review of the original patent:
"The patent should never have been issued in the first place. We're going to push the courts to recognize that."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Following the Blackboard patent & Desire2Learn issues

Now that an initial verdict has come down against D2L for infringing on Blackboard's patent, a number of issues remain up in the air including the practical implications of the injunction against D2L, a review of the original Blackboard patent, and an appeal to the verdict by D2L.

Here are the best resources I have found for following these developments:

Desire2Learn's patent blog
* D2L has provided a great deal of information throughout the process. Obviously, their comments must be constrained by their legal counsel.

Barry Dahl's Desire2Blog
* Barry is the Vice President of Technology & the Virtual Campus at Lake Superior College which is a D2L customer. Barry seems to have the ear of D2L and their CEO John Baker which makes for interesting content on his site that is frequently updated.

e-Literate by Michael Feldstein
* Michael is a product manager for Oracle and former online learning leader at SUNY Learning Network. In addition to his insightful commentary and useful links, he recently hosted an eye-witness account of the Bb-D2L trial on his blog.

The NOSE by Alfred Essa
* Al is the Associate Vice Chancellor and Deputy CIO at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. He frequently writes about e-learning, open source, and specifically the Bb-D2L patent issue. MNSCU is also a D2L customer.

Let me know if you recommend other similar resources.

UPDATE: OK, in all fairness, I should also link to Blackboard's patent site:
Just compare it's content with that of D2L's patent info site. The recent letter to the "Blackboard Community" has been loosely translated by Barry Dahl. Enjoy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What's with Wisconsin and Desire2Learn??

Within a span of 3 months, the Marquette (WI) University Student Senate reportedly
"passed legislation last November unanimously recommending that all
Marquette instructors be required to attend a D2L training session
and at the very least post the syllabus on the course site"
while the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater faculty senate
"formally expresses its dissatisfaction with the performance of the
current implementation, infrastructure, and management of
Desire2Learn and request that the University of Wisconsin System
Administration investigate the systemic nature of the problem and
resolve it."

And then a few days ago in the wake of the Blackboard-Desire2Learn verdict (where D2L was found to have infringed on Bb's controversial patent), the University of Wisconsin System is quoted in Waterloo's (ON) The Record:

"Our university system really loves Desire2Learn as a course-management system, and we've had relatively good luck with it," he said. "So this is a problem."

Hmmm. Sounds like students want instructors to use it more (and more effectively), instructors want it to run well, and administrators...well...we're trying to figure it all out.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Desire2Learn ePortfolio

Desire2Learn just announced that their ePortfolio system will be available to clients for installations beginning February 28.

Today's announcement reminded me that I saw D2L's Ken Chapman give a presentation of their ePortfolio system back in July 2007. Though I have not followed the trends and issues of ePortfolios over time (and I'm not even sure where my own institution currently stands on this idea), I came away with a number of impressions.

If some of these notes are vague, it's because my memory has deteriorated since last July. I'm also hoping that what I saw back then is actually still a part of the product set to be released.
  • The learner is at the center of their model. Not only can artifacts be added and grouped, but the learner can reflect on these artifacts and collections. Depending on the configuration, instructors, peers and the learner can assess the artifacts.
  • A new kind of inline help was developed by D2L for their ePortfolio system. I'm hoping this will eventually show up in the Learning Environment system.
  • Feedback, alerts, and comments were incorporated.
  • Tagging of artifacts was incorporated. Again, let's hope this appears in the LE at some point.
  • "Presentations" allows the learner to select from a number of different views of his/her ePortfolio according to the intended audience. The template designs seemed very modern (similar to Blogger or WordPress-style designs).
Feel free to leave comments if I've erred in my notes.

Also, D2L has scheduled a slew of webinars as part of their Desire2Learn ePortfolio Webinar Series.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Blogger now supports Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian

Blogger recently announced that they now support these three Asian languages. It's a significant step for an online tool to support right-to-left writing. As Blogger states on their blog:
Supporting these languages is a huge milestone for us because — unlike the other 37 languages Blogger is translated into — Arabic, Persian, and Hebrew are written from right to left. As you can see from the above screenshot (image), we had to flip the whole interface around.

Besides localizing the Blogger interface into these three languages, we have right-to-left templates and have added new toolbar buttons for bi-directional text editing in the post editor.
This is something the learning technology community has been wanting in our learning systems for years. Moodle appears to have the best support currently with their language translation packs. Blackboard 7 also offers numerous language packs (including the highly requested "Pirate Arrrr (High Seas)" language--really?) and both purport to be flexible enough for institutions to modify and develop their own language packs. Desire2Learn is not even close, though it does offer a few options such as French and UK English. I'm somewhat relieved to hear that it took Blogger this long to support bi-directional text editing and localized interfaces. Indeed, it's a complicated but worthy endeavor.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

eLearn Mag's Predictions for 2008

eLearn Magazine has assembled an impressive collection of predictions from many prominent thinkers in the field of learning technology including Stephen Downes, Jay Cross, Michael Feldstein, Patti Shank, Curt Bonk and others. It's worth a look.

A number of similar themes emerged:
  • more attention to serious games and virtual worlds
  • use of social networking for learning (rather than just a trendy thing to do)
  • loosening grip on the market by proprietary vendors
  • warnings about avoiding hype

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Regular Online Quizzing Increases Preparation for Class

This article from the January 2008 edition of the International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning describes how the use of regular online quizzes can improve class participation and preparation.

Effectiveness of Regular Online Quizzing in Increasing Class Participation and Preparation

Abstract: Research suggests that frequent, regularly scheduled quizzing is associated with pedagogically desirable outcomes such as higher performance on exams. It was hypothesized that requiring students to complete brief scheduled online quizzes on assigned reading material before class would also result in increases in both the number of in-class questions and comments and the number of students who read the material prior to class. For each of 3 semesters, students in 1 section of introductory psychology who took time- limited, out-of-class, “open-book” WebCT quizzes on daily readings were compared to students in another section who did not take quizzes during that unit. Because each section participated in quizzing during 2 units and no quizzing during 2 units, within-section comparisons were also made. Analyses indicated that quizzing was associated with increases in both the number of student questions and comments made at the beginning of class and the number of students who reported that they came to class having read the assigned material. It was suggested that the immediate feedback provided by quizzes is particularly efficient in identifying areas of misunderstanding and in challenging students’ “illusion of knowing” the material. Spontaneous, anonymous comments on end-of-unit surveys also suggested that a primary value of online quizzing is in helping students maintain a regular reading and study schedule.