PebblePad (Academic) Year One

So as we round out another academic year, now seems to be as good a time to talk about my view of PebblePad.

In this first year, I created 9000+ accounts, who logged in to the system a total of almost 39,000 times (I only count for 319 of those!), working on a total of 8700+ workbooks, or one of 12,500+ templates; creating 9700+ portfolios and submitting almost 7300 things for assessment in 99 active workspaces (PebblePad’s language for a course space). Personally that resulted in 37.5 hours of overtime, 30 consultations with at least 20 different faculty and 30 presentations to students from as few as 20 to as many as 200.

PebblePad has received one major upgrade (and one forthcoming in a few weeks), and a couple of minor patches. The upgrades were smooth as silk from an administrator perspective, because they happened in the wee hours of the morning and were usually done by the time I logged into the system as part of my morning ritual.

How’s it been? Busy. The work in the previous paragraph has been enough to keep me busy were it my only task, but in this time I’ve also had to support the LMS, and bring badging online (that, alone is another story that will be blogged about shortly). I did crunch some numbers and I spent approximately 75% of my time on ePortfolio related work – whether that be documentation, consultations or working with the tool itself.

The administration of PebblePad is dead simple because there’s very little beyond the initial configuration (in fact, I’ve only been back to look for the Turnitin linkage and to run monthly reports). The only glaring thing missing is that the system can’t tell you how many people logged in during a month long period – but I can get that information by looking at the last 28/30/31 days activity page, on the first. It’s not exact, but it’s close enough for now.

I did notice throughout the year that there was very few inquiries from students about how to do anything. They didn’t contact me anyways. They might’ve gone to instructors, but anything complex that had to be done usually had accompanying documentation or a video. I do know that most of my support requests were about getting their login credentials (the system was not connected to our central authentication system for the academic year – due to technical issues we’ve been having that’s mostly out of our control). That issue will be out of the way this month, so it should be clear sailing for folks next year.

We had people use PebblePad (well, Pebble+ specifically) for the sort of thing you’d expect a portfolio platform to do – collect disparate experiences, assemble them into a coherent statement about the experience or themselves and submit it for assessment (or credit for an experience). We also had people use portfolios as a way to assess (and have students self-assess) against programatic outcomes. We also had a few rogues use the peer grading capability of Atlas (the assessment piece of PebblePad) without using the portfolio piece at all, which is great that people are pushing the envelope so early. We had a group use PebblePad as the platform rather than the LMS as they had previously done. We have a group using PebblePad to replace existing paper based workbooks with digital ones. All good foundational work in our third year of ePortfolio/Learning Portfolio initiatives on campus, and the first year of PebblePad.

What could I have done better?

Well, I think I could’ve pushed for more help to ensure that some of the things I did were done the right way. For instance, I ended up doing too much work for faculty, instead of them being trained on how to use the system well and then letting them configure and play. Part of that was the late starting date of the system (September 2nd) – part of that was me trying to make things easy for people – so they could focus on teaching rather than the technical stuff. I wonder if I’ve set a terrible precedent for taking on too much work, which will make the sustainability of what we do, untenable?

I could’ve asked better questions about why students were doing this, rather than getting on with the work – I do that in other aspects of my job, so why I didn’t really challenge people with portfolio work is a bit puzzling. I suppose it could’ve been that there was just so much to do, that I didn’t want to get into it with many people. That has to change. Even though I’m not an Instructional Designer, sometimes I’m the only person (along with my colleagues who hold the same title) instructors will come to with their ideas about using technology.


Technology Has Missed Education During the Internet Age

Holy crap! My entire life is a sham! The whole Web 2.0 thing we’ve been writing about for years, didn’t exist! OK snark over. I’d like to point out that this, very slanted to favour the current VC funded educational technology movement, written by a guy who could profit greatly from moving cash out of public education into his privately controlled hands (and we can talk for hours if that’s a good idea or not). I would’ve responded there, but TechCrunch requires you to sign in with your Facebook account, and that’s my personal life attached to that service, not my professional one. Oh well, the flame wars would’ve been epic. Here’s the first juicy quote…

Despite its importance, education seems to have been missed by the Internet revolution. When I walk down the hall of a middle school, not much seems to have changed since I was a student some 15 years ago.

OK, the halls won’t tell you anything. The halls are going to be the same. Although if you were there when students were in the halls you would notice the very common sight of a smartphone or even the odd tablet. But you’d actually have to look for that. However, if you look in the K-12 classroom, you’ll see a lot more instructors using different types of technology. The most interesting change will not be in the schools at all, but in the student’s home, where they connect to the school board LMS, or look up things to help them understand on the Internet at their teacher’s request. Some more advanced teachers (and you can look squarely at Google’s Teacher Academy and awards, Apple’s Certified Educator, Microsoft’s Teacher Academy to see evidence of the contrary). If that doesn’t really hold water for you, what about TeacherTube, EduBlogs or any of the other K-12 friendly sites that have existed since the mid-2000’s?

Luckily, that is changing. There are a growing number of entrepreneurs working to reshape education. Every year, thoughtful new solutions come online to solve a piece of the problem. Innovators are working hard to create students who can learn how to learn, who can think critically and who can lead.

Correct, things are changing. Entrepreneurs trying to reshape education is a real threat to education, much like how hypercapitalism is a threat to our sovereignty. Entrepreneurs will only seek to reinforce the common pedagogies – ignoring those who are working in collaborative or communal modalities. Capitalism likes behaviourist, didactic pedagogies as they’re easy to replicate in a software environment. Thoughtful solutions? No. Profit opportunities? Yes. And 99% of them fail. Look at the first EdTech boom (circa Web 2.0, or 2005) and how many of those companies have lasted? Very few.

But before we can talk about the future, let’s review the past…

Sure, but I don’t trust you to get it complete, right or even anywhere close to objective. Ignoring that just over half of the graphic deals with pre-industrial revolution, and ignores the Gutenberg Press; why do we need to know about pre-industrial revolution information, as education was a privilege of the rich – it could be argued up until the 1950’s but that’s an entirely different blog post – and a radically different thing? Oh, the cherry-picked examples (much like what I’m doing here) are problematic at best, misleading at worst. In between 1996 (when the White House offered 1 billion dollars for computers in schools) and 2006 (Khan Academy) nothing happened.

Except a whole lot happened. There’s this thing called the LMS that happened. Video taping lectures (a practice dating back to the 1970’s) and digitizing them on CD-Rom, then DVD, then on the Internet, happened. Several ePortfolio companies started. Oh yeah this thing called WordPress. What about Wikipedia? Yeah, nothing important there. Open Source software doesn’t really work in a venture capitalist world.

…and the current edtech landscape.

Misses so much that you’d hardly have time to write out what it misses.

Luckily, there are some great companies who are working to change this by focusing on helping parents give their children a solid educational foundation. The space is dominated by apps and gamification, which appeals to children’s natural curiosity and provides research-driven cognitive and non-cognitive activities to help facilitate development. On-demand app-based learning is a great supplement for families who cannot afford pre-K.

It’s not luck, it was a gap that is perceived by startups, and a few companies made a few apps that were decent for pre-K. I don’t know about pre-K efficacy, but I do want to question the idea that poor people are using apps because they can’t afford pre-K. I’d suspect that poor people aren’t using anything because they can’t afford the devices that apps run on, nor the monthy fees (if they exist). So the people using these apps are probably those who would be able to help educate their children, pre-K or no pre-K.

Also the space is dominated by apps because there’s no organization to sell enterprise level software to.

The common school was built for everyone. It was open to all races, classes and backgrounds. It taught a common curriculum to every student. It was designed to process thousands of students and get them to a base level of competency. It was the era of mass production’s answer to educating a mass of students to prepare them to enter the workforce.

While it was built for everyone, it most certainly was not open to all races (uhhh, segregation?) or classes (often the poor chose to send no one to school because the farm needed workers). This whitewashing of educational history needs to stop. Mass production didn’t start in the post-civil war era, it is commonly associated with Fordist principles, which coincide with the factory assembly line in 1910’s. Also, this whole passage glosses over the societal uses of school – socialization, networking, collaboration.. of course it does.

But the era of the assembly line is over. We are in an age of mass customization, fueled by technology. Seth Godin recently asked, “What is school for? If you’re not asking that, you’re wasting time and money.” We need to question the traditional approaches to education and embrace new modes of learning to help create the next generation of leaders.

To create the next generation of leaders? Leaders develop themselves. We don’t need to target leaders, we need to target the other 99%. Seth Godin sucks. You have to ask what is school for to understand what purpose it serves in society (hint, it’s not to create leaders), not to use time well or earn money. At least one thing is right here, mass customization is here, but if we’re just swapping UI interfaces over the old teaching methods, are we really improving things? I don’t think so.

Students are going to university because it is “the right thing to do,” often without a thought to the ROI on their education or the work opportunities after school. Only 19 percent of full-time college students graduate in four years, which dramatically increases the cost of their degree.

Why does education need to have a ROI? It’s not a business, it’s an education. The graduation in four years trope is problematic yes, but it’s mostly because students are working more than previously, just because of the cost of education, and can’t afford to not work. Part of that is the privatization of schools, part of that is the outsourcing of public funds into the hands of profit motivated companies, part of that is the rising costs of administration and part of it is the slowness of universities to adapt to a five year model rather than four. None of these problems can be fixed with an app.

Over the past several years we’ve seen the rise of the modern edtech industry. There have been massive investments in the space, and the success of these firms will dictate the future of the edtech landscape.

More successful exits (like Lynda) will help to propel the industry forward. Investments in the first generation of edtech have also made it difficult for the second generation of companies to attract investment, as investors have been watching this first cohort closely to gauge results.

You do know that Lynda started in the mid-90’s right? You know in that gap you illustrated between 1996 and 2006? It’s “exit”, to which I can only assume means the purchase of by LinkedIn as a value-add to users of LinkedIn, which hasn’t worked out quite so good for them. If you believe that the purchase was meant to prop up the value of LinkedIn’s stock, like some do, then really it’s not about education at all, but finance.


Digital Marginalia 3 – Connective Tissue is Key

I ran across a scrap of paper that I had scrawled two ideas on:

“Aesthetics help inform people of the usual cues for identity. They identify a person as as a participant of a culture”.

The whole idea that aesthetics are a cultural artifact that I haven’t thought about for probably ten years. So it lead me down a rabbit hole of thinking about aesthetics as a white thing – as in a racist artefact of a dominating culture. Then I ran across a Washington Post article about film and the inherent racist qualities of the technological process (film and lights calibrated for white skin rather  than a multitude of tones).

I started thinking about how we (and by that I mean white people) end up designing software, websites and apps from that privileged perspective. I haven’t really dug deep enough to think about it more than a passing thought, but I wonder about these things when I have some moments alone. It’s not a comfortable space as I’ve always prided myself as being an anti-racist sort of fellow.

“There is only one literacy – the one item that you need to be literate is just in different forms.”

I think this is from Stephen Downes, or it could be from someone else. Whoever said it, that resonates with me right about now.

I’ve been working on using D2L’s Valence API to extract an entire course’s discussions for network analysis, and found Philip Larsen’s Presentation from Fusion 2014 (which I attended, but not that session, dammit!) which will pull the data out, and then I’ll use PHP to create a CSV for input into the network analysis tool. There’s not that much more to write about as I’m basically using the existing project carte blanche and do some heavy lifting after the fact.

2016 Horizon Report for Higher Education

So I seem to only write about the Horizon report in even numbered years – for other looks what I’ve thought here’s 2014’s Horizon Report and 2012’s Horizon Report. For the record, I’ve though this report missed a lot because it looked solely at trends without a passing nod to history, how technology has impacted education (especially systematic education like higher education) or even a passing wink at the fundamental challenges for technology in education.

This year, they did actually change the structure of the report a bit, and it now factors in some challenges. That’s a positive change.

One of the challenges that they think is solvable is the blending of formal and informal learning (I guess one could distill that down to “learning”, but that might be a tad reductionist). I’ve written before about the challenges of institutionalizing informal learning (and thus changing it to formally accepted learning, which changes the nature of the thing), but we’ve seen some interesting developments on this front – especially when you consider how open badges can play in this realm, where groups who value prior learning can award a digital badge based on whatever criteria they set. Sheesh, that sounds like a learning outcome or something. It’s too bad that the Horizon Report totally glossed over that fact (even though one of their case studies, for Deakin Digital  does exactly that.

Also under solvable challenges is Improving Digital Literacy… which I think is actually a difficult problem to solve as you’re going to be “teaching” this as a moving target. What literacies in a broad sense encapsulate are useful as guideposts, but do jack squat for the translation of those literacies to skills (with specific tools) that is the real thing that can be measured. Never mind that tied into this context of improving digital literacy is also improving access for all (not just white North American and European folks, who are disproportionately active online when compared with worldwide access), and not access in a Facebook-preferred context either. The bigger issue that gets uncovered with digital literacy is much like literacy in the recent past. Literacy has a color, and a privilege that we cannot ignore. Except this time, I don’t see any Great Awakening.

So, in my opinion to solve digital literacy, you have to solve some of the inequalities in society, which are built upon the hypercapitalist notion that people have a monetary value, and once society has spent more on the person than they’re worth, there’s no use for them. So social handouts, programs and the like get cut. OK, off the soapbox.

I also really wonder about the personalized learning entry under challenges – because we barely understand what people need to learn (and don’t get me started about how best to help people learn). How can we truly personalize learning if the person doesn’t necessarily know what they need to know? So I have concerns about the idea of personalized learning, but I’m very interested in helping people figure that one out. Really, personalization is an engagement strategy that almost always works. We know that making something relevant to a student will get them engaged, hell, even excited to participate. So maybe we’re not looking for personalization, but relevance?

D2L Badging

So, I’ve been poking around with D2L’s badging/certificate since it was unveiled in September (and actually writing this blog post since then!) on our test instance and it’s been a fun thing actually thinking about and configuring a new tool. It’s been so long since I’ve actually spun something new up – that I had to really work the part of my brain that frankly hasn’t been worked in a long time – the “what if?” part. What really stinks is that with badging we actually don’t want to have every instructor available to create badges. That simply means controlling access to the tool via Navigation Bars (which we don’t allow our instructors to change) or creating a new role. Either way is a bunch of manual work for me.

The one big problem, and this isn’t by any means a knock against us, is that I haven’t had time to properly configure this on test in a way that makes testing easy – I’ve just been too busy working with ePortfolios and PebblePad to take the time. Thankfully there’s documents like the Assessments Administrator Guide on the Brightspace Community that help a lot when working through the user permissions (which frankly are poorly documented) and what used to be called DOME variables (now Config Variable Browser). So we’ve slowly got the technical side working and we’ve run into a huge issue that could conceivably cripple the whole damn thing. Issuing a certificate or award (or digital badge) means that we’re giving power to instructors that Registrar’s previously held very closely to themselves. So, we’ve devised a way to do this without ruffling institutional feathers – and with a way to control how the badges are used.

We really want to avoid badging as another way to give grades or learning outcomes. There is already a wealth of tools in the LMS that do this (uhhh, Grades and Competencies/Outcomes) so do not recreate what you already do and add a pretty picture to it. That is useless, and students will inevitably find badges useless in that context. More importantly, external parties will find badges useless, which if you really want badges to hold some value, then you will need external people to value them. Giving a badge that says you got an A in a course, is frankly useless (as useless as the A is in determining what a person is capable of or knows).

So as an institution we are looking at ways that we can ensure that people using badges are using them in ways that actually contribute to the student experience, by either awarding badges that have no representation elsewhere (like experiences that could make up a part of a co-curricular record) or awarding badges for skills that are not explicitly found within the core curriculum. Students already have a transcript that uses grades as a way of communication ideas about broad topics. Students should have learning outcomes that syllabi tell them are the important aspects of those courses. Don’t bother recreating the wheel – higher education already has a few that work well enough. Focus on what doesn’t get communicated already.

Our initial plan was to have training help people through this process and when they complete the training, they can then issue badges within their courses context. We’re still doing that – but with an added wrinkle. By the end of the workshop, instructors have designed at least one badge, thinking through the visual design (and sketching it out), the implications of what a digital badge means, how this badge might connect to external groups, what criteria or release condition will issue the badge and finally, how they might value badges coming into the course from other sources.

All of this on paper. Then people can have a serious thought about how it’s technically going to happen. Essentially it’s a two hour enforced planning session.

What will inevitably come up is that some forward thinking instructor will ask “what if we want to have students give each other badges?” and the answer will be “they can’t (providing that the student role is configured in a typical way that controls access to courses)”. It’s a huge gap that’s not a problem with the tool, but with the design of the LMS.


First Month (and a bit) of PebblePad

It seems that the basic uses of an eportfolio platform are easy as pie for our campus. We’re now at the mid-to-highly complex uses that I thought we might see before this – which begs a question. Is it that no one wanted to push the boundaries of the older system, or was it that the boundaries weren’t worth pushing? Or maybe we weren’t ready to push? I’ve often said I’ve built a career out of workarounds and getting systems to do what they weren’t meant to do. Unfortunately, it’s getting harder to do that – with LTI and ubiquitous acceptance of embed codes from social sites – there’s not a lot of need to bend systems.

However, getting acquainted with a new system (full caveat I had access to the older version of the system for almost two months before PebblePad was turned on September 2nd), while trying to wrap my head around some of the complex asks has been challenging for an old brain like me. For instance, wanting peer marking, peer review and feedback, but not allowing other peers to see the graded assessment or the graded feedback, yet allowing for a commentary feedback to exist on the item, and the assessor can provide a final grade based on the accumulated individual feedback from other students. In a class of close to 80 students. Turns out, not a problem. Even with some initial missteps, it was relatively simple to setup and have working (with some significant help from PebblePad support).

Flexibility for what students can do in the system? No problem. We’ve got one class that’s given workspaces to all their project groups giving them full access to that area to configure how they like. They just can’t remove managers (the instructors) or give grades. They could if their role was configured for it, and the instructors wanted that. That kind of power in a system is really something I’ve missed with the major LMS vendors (and believe me, I’ve asked for the power to give instructors the ability to give students a sandboxed area to add their own content, create their own assignments, etc. etc.). We’ve got another doing peer review. We’ve got another doing typical portfolio stuff – where the student assembles a portfolio and submits that to a lone marker.

I don’t want to sound like a pitch man for PebblePad, but honestly, in a decade plus of working with learning systems, putting in tickets and generally working with educational technology, I’ve never had better service than I do with PebblePad. Tickets are answered intelligently within 24 business hours, most often resolved within that time. Now maybe that’s me, finding easy problems to solve… but only one ticket has lasted longer than a week, and it was to do with the iOS app that was mostly waiting for Apple to approve the app’s update. Which is a huge testament to the people working at PebblePad.

With that said, we’re working with version 5 of PebblePad, and I’m starting to get at some of the limitations. The first one, is that you can’t embed anything into the system except YouTube videos. Students just don’t use YouTube – in fact many use Vimeo, Prezi, Slideshare, Vine and any number of other sites would be nice to embed that right on a portfolio page rather than link it. Now, having spoken to them about it, they’ve stated that they will look at it and see if there’s something they can do to branch out from just YouTube (I suggested adding Prezi, Vimeo, Slideshare, and a couple other ubiquitous sites). There was some security concerns about rogue embeds, but I’m sure they can figure out a solution. Most of the limitations I’m seeing currently will be gone when version 5 and 3 have parity in February – and some were addressed in the November 15th update – again a good thing to see with a company.

So over a month in, I’m really, really impressed. I don’t often get ebullient with external companies (in fact I’m usually very critical of edtech capitalism), as I’ve seen companies grow and what that growth means for the clients,  I hope the future is as bright as the present.

Full disclosure: I was invited to attend a week’s advanced training at PebblePad HQ in the UK. My work paid for the flight, Pebble Learning paid for a week’s accomodation as well as meals and drinks. I don’t think that my opinion can be bought with a week’s accomodation and food (we did have a lovely time), nor change my opinion of the product. Your opinion and mine may vary.

Digital Marginalia 2 – Electric Boogaloo

Digital Marginalia is an infrequent blog post series that captures some links I’ve retweeted or looked at, grouped into a theme, and commented on.

Disrupting Education/Learning – Whatever that Means

There’s two related bunch of links that are tied here; the first being the onslaught of Richard Branson, Disrupting Education:

And the response:

It’s strange because I understand what Branson’s saying, and yes, education needs more flexible education. But to criticize something he doesn’t really know, because he didn’t go into it forty years ago, and isn’t part of it now, and clearly doesn’t get that in fact, higher education does do a lot of the things he says it doesn’t. Business schools basically train their graduates to be startups. Many, many MBA programs have that as their overarching theme. Our Master’s level Engineering program is based on a business project model with real clients. We aren’t unique in this. Our Geography department have several trips to real world places to do the work that they will do post-graduation. When I went to community college a decade ago, we took several entrepreneurship classes, because they knew that software designers would likely be their own bosses. Should things be more flexible? Yes. Often the reason things aren’t flexible is because someone, somewhere along the line bought a student information system that can’t schedule things in less than three hour blocks, or doesn’t understand that a course isn’t 14 weeks. That’s the sort of flexibility that the private sector brings you. Get real, Branson. Martin Weller said it better (first link under responses) so go read his post and give it some love because it’s so terribly spot on.

“LRNG redesigns learning for the 21st century so that all youth have an opportunity to succeed.”

Really, I don’t have any non-vulgar words… OK here’s a fact you may want to consider, YOU CANNOT REDESIGN HOW I LEARN. I control how I learn. YOU control how you communicate information to me; I control how I receive that information. If you do not agree, then you are working on a paradigm that reinforces that students are empty vessels that need to be filled with knowledge. Again, I agree with connecting someone’s passion with learning, doing it through an online medium, sure that’s awesome. I love the Cities of Learning program, I really do. Just “redesigning learning” is like saying you’re “redesigning eating”.

Closing of the Open Web–with-no-comments-allowed

Commenting, whether you think it valuable or not, is one of the best features of the world wide web. The amount of time I’ve found something in the comments of an article that links to another great thing is staggering to think about. The Vice thing is kind of delicious, in that after years of cultivating this vacuous audience (looks directly at Dos & Don’ts) they now want a civilized discussion. I guess people can grow up, but instead of turning off comments, why don’t you do like many other places and cultivate the commentary by moderating it. That way, you approve the good stuff and your audience doesn’t have to change the way they interact with the site.


Google and privacy? Uhhh, the jokes write themselves.

Undoubtedly, not all of what Facebook tells itself about you.

Manditory watching. Glenn Greenwald is one of the most important journalists of our time. Seriously undervalued/rated.






First Week of Using PebblePad

A little preamble.

We’ve been looking at bringing on a second ePortfolio platform since January. We’ve used the D2L ePortfolio platform for two years, with some significant gains, but with quite a few growing pains. The tool doesn’t seem to be getting much focus from D2L – instead they seem to be looking at mobile ePortfolios the last few years. While that’s great, and the app is very, very slick, the way we authenticate to our LMS prevents us from using any of the D2L developed apps; Assignment Grader, ePortfolio, Binder, Pulse, none of them will work for us because of the way we authenticate. Changing our authentication process is on our list of things to do, but isn’t going to happen soon (think: one to two years).

While ePortfolio is a good tool for individual use in context of classroom activity, it doesn’t really do co-curricular stuff well without a bunch of workarounds, like creating a course to house the co-curricular activity. It works well in a mentorship situation (where the mentor is an instructor in a class). It also doesn’t allow people to collaborate effectively. You can share a presentation, giving the other person full rights to edit, but for some weird design reason, you cannot edit anything that exists in the presentation. Even with permission to edit the underlying artifact. This was a deal breaker for a few faculty in large classes. Critical reflection in a social space is something our faculty want, our students want and the literature suggests might be more effective at challenging underlying fundamental thinking.

So we started looking at options.

I tried to advocate for a Domain of One’s Own style project using WordPress as a base for how students could construct a “portfolio” – but too many people felt that it couldn’t adapt to a curriculum based approach where an instructor type person could securely grade and provide individual feedback. People that have used WordPress understand that you can in fact, do just that, but it take a little more work. All else fails there’s e-mail right? Honestly, I didn’t think this option would gain much ground, it’s too radical for our campus, and not necessarily a perfect, easy fit for our needs.

We looked at other providers, Known, Digication, Mahara (and holy crap if you think D2L ePortfolio produces elderly looking portfolios, Mahara looks like warm garbage strewn across an empty strip mall from the 80’s) and a number of free solutions (including Pathbrite). Nothing really did all of the things that we wanted – we needed a pretty broad tool that could do many different things (including co-curriculum uses, personal uses, group/shared uses, curricular uses and finally, a mentor/mentee communication tool).

After putting the others through the review process, we ended up selecting PebblePad and began planning. Negotiation took a bit longer than we liked, but all in all, we turned on the system on September 2nd. We didn’t have time to do single sign-on, or connect the Student Information System to it, or our authentication system. Basically we have a link in the LMS that takes the student/user to the login page and they authenticate to an account I’ve created (to date, 7260 accounts). It also means that the assessment areas in PebblePad – called ATLAS –  (which are distinct from assessment in the LMS) were created manually by me (about 40 so far).

The fact that we turned on the system and did some minor configuration and started running within hours (albeit in a hosted environment) was pretty pleasant. There’s been no major issues (so far). There’s been no real questions come in to ask about “how do I?” – mostly about “can I get an account?” I’ll update in a month or so how things have gone to that date in the future.

D2L Badges (If I Designed the Badges In the Image of the Work I’m Doing)

I’ve been working with badges for over a year now, and we’re finally starting to put together a program that will help identify skills, have students award other students badges, and make up essentially a co-curricular record for students.

Internally we struggled (and still struggle) with the software and the design – early ones had easy to achieve badges which didn’t mean much; later iterating into something a bit more robust. I wanted to share what we’re doing but people are also looking at researching our efforts, so I’ve had to abstract that a little bit to share the design, but not the specifics. So I looked around and thought about the things I know that might be transferrable. At the same time D2L has announced that the Learning Environment for continuous delivery clients will get a badging application in the September update. Aha! The badges of D2L. It’s not a perfect analogy, but bear with me, I think there’s some important parallels that should be easy to decipher. First, some history.

Many people who have been through an LMS review will tell you that selecting the software  is not just about features, it’s more about the people behind the software. Much like badges, it’s not about the image that they project, but the metadata that they contain within. So for the purposes of “badging D2L” I’ve decided to take the well known public faces of D2L and apply badges to them. It works as a parallel for the work we’re doing around building a co-curricular record.

topdogThe top of the hierarchy is easy, it’s the Top Dog badge. This badge is awarded for people who are involved in a wide variety of things, evangelize the D2L experience, are endlessly positive and feel like a trusted companion or a good friend. Who would be the best person to represent the Top badge? Founder and CEO John Baker is clearly the most well-known of all D2L employees. Most customers, industry analysts (amazing that EdTech has analysts now), and will think of John Baker when thinking about D2L. Always interested in his clients, and endlessly positive about the D2L products – John fits the top of the hierarchy (and the characteristics of our badges).

Just underneath the Top Dog badge, we have three other that one has to earn, before getting the Top badge. The Community badge, Productivity badge and Development badge.

The community badge could be earned for contributing and developing a sense of community around D2L products.

After John Baker, Barry Dahl is in the #2 spot of people well known within D2L – that can communitybe within the EdTech community (via the Desire2Blog he authored prior to joining D2L), or the Teaching and Learning community (via the D2L Brightspace Community, or the many regional forums that D2L hosts around North America). He has been a D2L award winner multiple times (prior to going to work for them, of course), been on the main stage at Fusion multiple times, probably upwards of a hundred webinars and is just generally well-known throughout the D2L customer base. In fact, I’d say that if you became a client of D2L in the last 5 or 6 years you’d be very likely to know Barry, much like how I got to know Barry, through the community around D2L’s products. Never mind the fact that Barry was a “face” of D2L before being hired by D2L. He was critical of the product at times, but always out there helping the community around the D2L Learning Environment.

For the Productivity badge, the earner has to be able to be a part of different aspects of a project, responding to other member’s (and community) ideas in an inclusive, respectful and productive manner.

productivityThe Productivity bages is represented by Ken Chapman. Ken as VP of Market Strategy is certainly one of the more prominent D2L people due to his longevity with the company and  his engagement in many different forums; including Fusion, webinars, client visits, and  the like. Funny, I went to D2L’s site to grab a picture of Ken for the badge, but he’s not listed under the  “Leadership” page on their website.

The last badge at the first tier would be the Development badge. This badge would be earned by demonstrating the development of themselves, the community and/or project.

developmentThe Development badge is represented by Jeremy Auger, Chief Strategy Officer at D2L. Another long-term employee (one of the originals, I think) who has had pretty high visibility at Fusion and in all the other venues  where  you  have a chance to get to know these people. One caveat here  is that lots of D2L customers know who Jeremy is, but I’m betting that very few can actually tell you what he does (I’m sure it’s something…). The badge is sufficiently vague, like a title that is bestowed on a chief strategy officer. I kid, I kid, cleary D2L’s strategic efforts in their three markets (K-12, Higher Ed, Corporate) must pass through Jeremy.

As you might well know, badges can be cumulative or solitary. I’d imagine that would be the case if I were explaining D2L’s badging hierarchy, and not McMaster’s approach to badging co-curricular activities. So the next level below might be made up of two or more badges that could earn you the Community, Productivity and Development badges. If we were to further drill down D2L’s hierarchy, lesser badges might be represented by some other well known D2L people.

For the Development side of things: Probably Nick Oddson, Sr. VP of Product Development.  Nick hasn’t been at D2L all that long, but he has had high profile announcements at the past couple of Fusion conferences. If he sticks around, he will more and more become one of the faces of D2L. Another person might be Paul Janzen, who’s very active in the Valence community and on the development side of things.

For the Productivity side of things: Mike Moore another employee who came out of education and who gets lots of face time related to the Insights analytics product line and learning outcomes (which are currently undergoing a revamp).

For the Community side of things: Maybe controversial (depending on when you became a D2L client, you might look for Jason Santos here, but in my opinion he’s too new), but I’d choose Terri-Lynn Brown for this spot since it is based on who the best-known employees are, not the most “important” (whatever that means). Terri-Lynn is a Calgary resident and a former K-12 educator who still is very well known within that market, and across Canada.

After that, we could go on with this exercise, but I think you get the idea. If I had made this post a few years ago, it would be a radically different post – filled with names that resonated maybe a little more. I wonder if the changes we’ve felt as clients of D2L will spill forward into the product.

Like badges spilled forward into the latest update.

LMS Review

So our current contract with our LMS vendor is complete in October 2018. I can’t say what we’ll do, but the landscape has changed somewhat since the last LMS review was done at work, so we’re starting to form a committee to look at our options. Ultimately, we’re doing this so far in advance because you should take at least a year to transition, which would put us at fall 2017 for starting to roll out the new system for users, which means that we’d need to know in the spring of 2017. Maybe the cost of change will scare us into another contract. As I see it, there’s four options available to us.

1. Stay with D2L. This is the easiest answer, and least complicated. We’ve been relatively happy with them as a company so there’s really no need to change, and despite the minor blips (the great outage of 2012) it’s been pretty smooth so far. Maybe continuous delivery will be awesome, and really a review of the LMS will be a mere formality.

2. Move to another hosted LMS. This is the second easiest answer – if the campus decides that D2L isn’t the choice for us, then we choose another vendor, enter into protracted negotiations, and go through the formal process of getting vendors to submit to review, tender offers, and go through the motions with selecting a new partner for the next five years. I’m not sure if the campus will think this is an option at all. Blackboard was our previous LMS, and didn’t work – essentially leaving the campus without a functional LMS for a whole semester. By the time it did start working, the relationship was in trouble, and well, that’s why we have D2L. That’s according to faculty who were here during the time it happened, which was prior to my time. Another seismic shift may not be in the cards. Another factor is that we’ve become a PeopleSoft school for our various systems across campus. That implementation has been rough for the campus. I’m not sure they have the appetite for another system to learn so quickly.

3. Go back to self-hosting LMS software. This allows us to look at open source solutions, and rely on our own IT group to take server maintenance, infrastructure and all the other associated risks back under our roof. It’s unlikely that we would do this due to the human cost of running a mission critical server – and we’d have to look at hiring back expertise that was relocated to other groups on campus or into industry. Those costs, are not insignificant. The complexity of running Moodle or Sakai at scale for 25,000 to 30,000 users, isn’t lost on me. It’d be a great challenge. I don’t know that this will be palatable to the campus either as we’ve had people who were running their own Moodle install come over to use the institution’s provided install of D2L. Maybe that’s the path of least resistance? Maybe it’s the students pushing for one platform? Who knows.

4. Do away with the LMS. This is an entirely radical idea, but what if we just left it up to instructors to do it themselves? I’d be ok in this scenario, despite having this a huge part of my job description, because there’s always going to be technology to use to teach. I’d have to adjust. Would this even fly? Probably not. Imagine the headlines: “first University to do away with the LMS”… would be useful to put on my tombstone after everyone lynches me because they need a secure webpage to link their stuff to.

As a teaching and learning centre, we’ll be interested in finding something flexible to teach not only in the modes that people currently teach in, but also in the pedagogy that people want to teach in. All LMS’s say they can do constructivist style setups, but really they require changes globally to do so. No one gives the instructor the power to turn on or off student control of a slice of content, or a discussion, or even a collaborative space for document sharing. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that all LMS’s are designed as content delivery tools, not knowledge construction tools. And to that end, the choice of tools that can be used is often controlled by LMS administrators, not the instructors. Now, there’s great reasons for structuring things in such a way; theoretically administrators have subject matter expertise in selecting partners to connect to the LMS and have experience with vetting vendors. Right? I hope so. I know I’ve tried my best to make sure I’ve done right for student’s privacy, intellectual property and general safe digital space. I don’t know what I don’t know though. I guess, through the next three years, I’ll start to find out.