D2L Fusion 2017 Recap

Every year it’s a bit different; some new faces appear, some old ones disappear. Jobs and roles change, focus changes. Las Vegas is a place that exemplifies an absurd demonstration of capitalism at its most consumer-driven absurdity. With the event happening in Las Vegas, I thought that D2L might be subtly telling us that they were taking a gamble. Turns out, that the gamble is not a big, all-in shove to take the pot, but perhaps a less-sexy gamble of shying away from glitzy announcements, to a more mature, iterative approach.

People talk about Las Vegas light shows being spectacular, but the one over Oklahoma City was pretty dang cool.

Flying Near Lightning from Jon Kruithof on Vimeo.

Usually in my recaps I’ll talk about the sessions I attended and what I learned. This year, was like every other, the sessions were well done, interesting, and useful (although maybe not immediately useful in my case). I won’t break down each thing learned, or really talk about what the learning was, instead I’ll reflect on the conference as a whole and maybe some of the underlying things that were interesting.

My focus this year was to really better understand two things, API extensibility and the data hub (Brightspace Data Platform, or BDP, which is awful close to ODB). I think I did that. I attended one session that described how they use the API to scrape everyone’s course outline, which was cool because that’s something that has come up periodically at McMaster, and I’ll have to get in touch with them to see how they handled ownership and other matters. It’s that fine line that admins run up against, where they can do things, but should they? We often fall on the no, we shouldn’t side.

I didn’t really pay attention to the keynotes – John Baker’s become quite a good speaker – but I’ve heard it before. I’ve been working at D2L clients now for almost a decade. I’m probably as intimately familiar with the product as many of the people working at D2L. Ray Kurzweil is interesting as a person, and I appreciate some of his theories, I don’t think the singularity will happen (we may approach it, but never achieve it) and I don’t really dig his speaking style. The talk (for me) really circled around the changing nature of work and that is a reality of my everyday.

I did a session about the work we’re doing badging faculty for skill in LMS use, more in another post about that.

I saw echoes of what I’ve done around faculty training in other presentations (which I stole from others whom I’ve worked with and talked to). More importantly, I walked around chatting with folks I know, wondering if this was still right for me? Is EdTech still the thing that I want to be working in? I’ve been in this field since 2001 (or 2003, or 2005, depending on when you want to mark my start – whether as a computer programming co-op student looking after a language lab, or when I graduated or when I first started working in higher education relatively uninterrupted). That’s a long time. I’m still energized by seeing the exciting things that other people are doing. And almost to a person, whenever I say to those people, “hey that’s awesome” or express my interest, there’s the same, humble responses of surprise that anyone would want to talk to them about what they’re doing. I don’t know if that’s a Fusion specific thing, or an EdTech person thing, or just my humble radar forcing me to talk to those people.

It also reminded me that any interesting work was extending the LMS –  using Node.js to create an Awards Leaderboard, doing data analysis for LMS wide analytics using the Brightspace Application API. Hell, even understanding what the Discrimination Index means in the Quiz tool.

My personal underlying theme was that there’s more that can be done with the LMS if you extend it’s capabilities. I think we’re on the cusp of doing just that. 

Once again, it was a fun after the conference experience. Hanging out with some of my favourite people (and recognizing the posse from just a few short years ago is just about gone!).

 

Blackboard Thinks They Know How You Teach

In November of last year a blog post by Blackboard was making the rounds. A Blackboard study documented how instructors use their system which was somehow conflated as being equivalent to knowing how teachers teach. We could talk about how terrifying this blog post is, or how it’s devoid of solid analysis. Instead I’d like to turn over a new leaf and not harp on about privacy, or a company using the aggregate data they’ve collected with your consent (although you probably weren’t aware that when you agreed to “allow Blackboard to take your data and improve the system” that they’d make this sort of “analysis”), but just tear into the findings.

Their arbitrary classifications (supplemental? complementary?) are entirely devoid of the main driver of LMS use: grades, not instructor pedagogical philosophy – students go to the tools where they are going to get marked on.  Social? I guarantee if you did an analysis of courses that value use of the discussion tool (note, that’s not about quality) as greater than 30% of the final grade, you’ll see a  hell of a lot more use of discussions. It’s not that the instructor laid out a social course, with a student making an average of 50 posts throughout the course (which if you break that down to 14 weeks of “activity” that works out to 3.5 posts per week – which is strangely similar to the standard “post once and respond twice” to get your marks – it’s that discussions are the only tool that give some power to students to author.

Time spent is also a terrible metric for measuring anything. Tabs get left open. People sit on a page because there’s an embedded video that’s 20 minutes long. Other pages have text which is scannable. Connections are measured how? Is it entry and exit times? What if there’s no exit, how does the system measure that (typically it measures for a set amount of activity and then if none occurs the system assumes an exit)? Were those values excluded from this study? If so, how many were removed? Is that significant?

Now Blackboard will say that because of the scale of the data collected that those outliers will be mitigated. I don’t buy that for a second because LMS’s are not great at capturing this data from the start (in fact server logs are not much better), because there’s very little pinging for active window or other little tricks that can only be really assessed using eye tracking software and computer activity monitoring. Essentially garbage-in, garbage-out. We have half baked data that is abstractly viewed and an attempt is made at some generalizations.

Here’s a better way to get at this data: ask some teachers how they use the LMS. And why. It’s that simple.

If you look at Blackboard’s findings, you should be frankly scared if you’re Blackboard. Over half of your usage (53% “supplemental” or content-heavy) could be done in a password protected CMS (Content Management System). That’s a system that could cost nothing (using Joomla or any of the millions of free CMS software available) or replicated using something institutions already have. The only benefit institutions have is that they can point at the vendor when stuff goes wrong and save money on outsourcing expertise into an external company.

If you take the findings further, only 12% of courses (“evaluative” and “holistic”) get at the best parts of the LMS, the assessment tools. So 88% of courses reviewed do things in the system that can be replicated better elsewhere. Where’s the value added?

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.

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.

Why Are Systems Administrators for the LMS Such Dicks?

Full disclosure. I’m an LMS administrator, and I’m probably a dick. I will say, in my defense, that I’ve never set up a system from scratch, but have contributed to configuration discussions, so I’ve been close to the decisions that get made in configuring a system, I’ve never had to do it.  I have, however, had the opportunity to change the system and still have not, for many legitimate reasons. However, the controls that we could configure to be adjusted by the end user, in all practicality cannot be configured in that way due to the constraints of the software. The only platform that could be configured in such a way was First Class, which wasn’t an LMS, but a communication platform for collaboration (think SharePoint, but functional).

What if faculty could choose the tools they wanted, and essentially plug them into a system that housed their content and managed the enrollments? I don’t see this as any different than a faculty member choosing a textbook – however, the education system and people like me, LMS administrators and educational technology advocates everywhere, have made choices like this all but impossible because of the infantilism of faculty. We often treat faculty like they couldn’t, or shouldn’t make these choices. As educational technology professionals, we often just espouse what we think in much the same way a parent lectures their children. We talk about ways that technology should be used, instead of fostering a culture of creativity, we actually work against it in the interests of managing technology.

And there’s the ugly word: management. Systems administrator aren’t just administering systems, but really they’re administering people, and administering access to information. Some parties (students) shouldn’t have access to each other’s courses, so that’s a constraint on what we can do – especially if a system wasn’t (gasp) designed for it. Some parties (faculty) shouldn’t have access to each other’s courses to preserve intellectual property – the only capital they have under neoliberalism.

While we may be justified in many cases in saying that faculty don’t always look out for the finer details of educational technology (like privacy, or data collection, or accessibility) – it’s not because they couldn’t. I often wonder if we stopped running workshops on how to use the tools we support in place of teaching what the considerations are for using tools if faculty could be encouraged to take responsibility for their own teaching spaces?

Could institutions feasibly support hundreds of tools? Of course not, but instead of training people how to use tools, we should be training people how to select tools that respect user’s privacy, meet their needs and most of all, help students learn. Really it’s that simple.

What If… We Made the LMS Truly Modular?

I think we all understand that the LMS as a tool is a pretty cruddy one. It does a lot of things, some well, many not in ways that you, as an instructor would prefer. At last year’s Fusion conference, we heard D2L speak about their LTI integrations, and how Brightspace was the integrated learning platform. I’ve heard that many people envision what D2L are selling as a hub and spoke system – where Brightspace (or the Learning Environment, or even more crudely, the LMS) acts as a hub – and the tools connected are the spokes. I wonder what things would look like if we extrapolate that idea out to the nth degree?

For instance, you could replace the gradebook with a tool that worked for you – Google Spreadsheets, Excel online, or a box plot device. Chalk and Wire has replaced Canvas’ gradebook in one instance, and I’m sure that the inefficient tools of any LMS are things that one would want to replace. Does that mean the all of them? For some snarky folks, yeah, that would mean all of them. Those folks should just teach in the open web.

The LMS also provides a fairly elegant way to get student data into your course area. That’s probably something instructors or faculty wouldn’t want to do. Hell, I’m glad we have someone on my team that wants to do it because it’s an ugly job.

And for many, the content management of these systems are pretty good. In D2L’s case, the way the content tool works is pretty decent (now if hide an item means really hide any evidence of the item, we’re talking). Imagine if you could take elements of one system you like (say Angel) and add-in features to allow for customization for the individual course needs?

Or how about replacing the groups tool with some other mechanism?  Quizzing is something that people already are pushing to publishers like Pearson or McGraw Hill, but what about up and comers like Top Hat or Poll Everywhere (which, lets face it, is essentially a quiz engine wrapped in a polling tool)? Discussions become a Disqus link at the bottom of a item in the content area… there’s lots of clever fun to be had with this idea.

Now to some extent, you can do this already (depending on how locked down your system is by your systems administrators). Change the navigation bars to point to tools you use connected through LTI – however you have some issues with doing this yourself. The biggest one is that at some point, you’ll run into some technological problem that you can’t solve easily. I suspect, that’s what the Internet is for.

At some point one (or many) of you will point out quite rightly, that this sounds an awful lot like what the web is (or more accurately, was). And my answer is yeah, that’s about right. Used to have websites that we plugged bits of HTML into to make what we needed. Until it was commodified.

You can probably draw a comparison to the modern LMS to Facebook – mostly everyone uses it but would probably use a better system if everyone else went to it first. Universities would consider another model as long as everyone will come along. However, in the current higher education system, where we have seasonal and precarious work dominating instructional positions – there’s no time or want to develop a better way. The LMS works as a co-conspirator in the commodification of education. It’s not directly responsible, but it plays a  part in making education at university an easily packaged and consumed affair. The LMS isn’t alone, Coursera, Udacity, those type of MOOCs are equally complicit, or maybe even moreso.

And that’s a more likely reason we’ll see a modular LMS. More vendors get opportunities to get into different institutions that aren’t their current clients.

(Spare) Change

This post may only be worth a defunct penny, but it’s all I’ve got on a sunny, near-Spring, Friday afternoon. With the accelerated rate we accept change in our devices, software, computers, media consumption habits – it’s shocking how glacial Learning Management Systems move. It’s as if they don’t think anyone would want something different. Even the new upstart, Canvas, does the same sort of thing (albeit under a nice shiny coat of paint). Every system’s sales pitch is about giving students (or learners) the power to do stuff, but ultimately, the administrators of the system disallow that for many good and some bad reasons.

Good reasons? Privacy is a huge one, although maybe becoming less and less important as time moves on. Security is another – for instance, while administrators can give student roles the power to create content, it would also reveal content that was due to come up later in the course. First Class was always a great tool that gave control over users to differing levels – so if you had a group, a student could have full capability to delete, add, create or remove anything in that group. If that group lived in a course (a conference in First Class terms) the student could traverse higher into the course level and only access certain functions.

Bad reasons? Convenience is one of them. “Everyone gives students this permission set, so we suggest that you do too”.

What it often means is that we have a pre-conceived notion of how a student should behave in an online space, and by hook or by crook, we’re going to make them fit in. Pounding square pegs into round holes doesn’t make sense in life, why do we insist on it in our online course delivery vehicles? Why can’t modern systems allow for a level of complexity that respects people. In some cases, you do want content to be protected, but it’d be awesome if students could add their own content as well. Students present in your course? Wouldn’t it be great to have them able to access an area to share their presentations with each other?

This isn’t such a startlingly new idea. The criticisms that are laid out in 2004 are the same as they are now. Why? The Learning Management System is solving a problem based on a narrow definition of what a classroom is, rather than what learning is. Learning in 2015 is a much more nuanced, complex thing that it was even a decade ago. More students, larger classes, more dynamic mix of genders, races, classes and sexualities – never mind learning preferences and personal history. How can a monolithic system solve that problem? By getting more complex. Is that solving the problem though? Based on my experience, no.

So where does that leave us? Well, I suspect at the tip of the iceberg. Maybe experiments like DS106 are part of the answer. Maybe some of the interesting analytics work will help us define who students are, and how to teach to them. Maybe it’s the abolishment of the course and implementation of a much more agile, holistic package delivering real learning based on individual need.And that’s where my thoughts circle back to student empowerment. I’m sure you can piece together where this might be going, but maybe getting rid of the moronic, capitalist structure (yes a course is a capitalist invention to assign a monetary value for a period of time with instruction) is the first step. A first step that won’t happen, but a good first step. Then we need to get real about student empowerment. Not talking about  it, but actually doing it.

Publisher Integrations with D2L

So I’ve tried to write this post several times. Tried to work up some semblance of why anyone would care about Pearson or McGraw Hill and integrating either publishers attempt at crafting their own LMS into the one that our institution has purchased (at no small amount).

Then it hit me while going through Audrey Watter’s great writing (in fact, go over there and read the whole damn blog then come back here for a quick hit of my snark). The stuff that I’ve been challenging Pearson and McGraw Hill on is stuff that we should be talking about. I’ll encapsulate my experiences with both because they tie nicely together this idea of giving private interests (eg. business, and big business in this case) a disproportionate say in what happens in the classroom.

The concept is really twofold. One, why are we providing a fractioned user experience for students? This disjointed, awkward meld is just a terrible experience between the two parties. Login to the LMS, then login again (once, then accept terms and conditions that are, well unreadable for average users), then go to a different landing page, find the thing I need to do and do it. Two, students are being held hostage for purchasing access (again!) to course activities that in any sense of justice, would be available to them free. Compounding this is the fact that most of these assessments are marked, and count towards their credit. And there’s really no opt-out mechanism for students. Never mind the fact that multiple choice tests are flawed in many cases, but to let the publisher decide how to assess, using the language of their choice, is downright ugly.

Pearson

So Pearson approached us to integrate with their MyLab solution about two years ago. We blankly said no, that request would have to come from a faculty member. Part of that is fed by my paranoia about integrations, especially when they require data transfers to work, part of it is that frankly, any company can request access to our system if we allow that sort of behaviour. Finally a faculty member came forward and we went forward with an integration between Pearson Direct and D2L. I will say that parties at D2L and Pearson were incredibly helpful, the process is simple and we had it setup in hours (barring an issue with using a Canadian data proxy which needed some extra tweaking to get working correctly). The issue really is should we be doing this? The LMS does multiple choice testing very, very well. MyLabs does multiple choice testing very, very well. Why are we forcing students to go somewhere else when the system we’ve bought for considerable sums of money does the very same thing well? Well the faculty member wanted it. What we’ve found is that most faculty who use these sorts of systems inevitably find that students don’t like jumping around for their marks.

Additionally, when the company has a long laundry list of problems with high stakes multiple choice testing, how does this engender faith in their system?

McGraw Hill

Again, all the people at McGraw Hill are lovely. None of them answer any question about accessibility, security or anything it seems straight. That may be because their overworked, that may be because they don’t know. None of the stuff I’ve seen is officially WCAG compliant, however it may have been created prior to that requirement being in place, so they may get a pass on that one. The LTI connection is very greedy, requiring all the options to be turned on to function, even though D2L obfuscates any user ids, and it bears no resemblance of an authenticated user (thanks, IMS inspector!) it still needs to be there or else the connection fails. What kind of bunk programming is this? Why is it there if you don’t use it? Why require it? Those questions were asked in that form in two separate conference calls, to which most went unanswered. I did receive a white paper about their security, which did little to answer my direct questions about what happens to the data (does it travel in a secure format? who has access to this feed?) after it leaves D2L and is in McGraw Hill’s domain.

Now I’m paranoid about data and private companies. I immediately think that if you’re asking me to hand over data that I think is privileged (here’s a hint, it’s all privileged) you should be able to at least answer why in the name of all that is unholy, that you deserve to have access to it, and if I agree to give it to you, what happens to that data, when it leaves my system and sits on yours. That should be easy to answer and not require any sort of thought. It makes me wonder if anyone is asking these questions at all. They must? I mean, everyone is thinking about this sort of stuff right?

Badging

I’ve been involved, somewhat peripherally, with the Open Badging Initiative for the last six months or so. Initially, it was a way to start thinking about breaking the LMS (Integrated Learning Platform? aw, screw it, I don’t know what the thing is called anymore) out of the box it’s in and communicating what the LMS does well with other parties. I thought it could be a way to communicate skills, think about developing a short-hand language through the badge to communicate with other people. It’s really a way to check all the boxes that get me excited currently. Open standards? Yep. Mutating a system to do something other than what was intended? Yep. Visual design an image that communicates a value to another party? Yep. Explore the value of a systematic education? Yep.

The problem is that I essentially stopped programming in 2004 when I really didn’t need it anymore. Sure I’ve done a few things like hack together a PERL script to parse out values in a text file, and dump it into a database, but using badges at this point, or at least at my institution, I need to get up to speed with programming and handling JSON, XML if I’m going to start tinkering with our LMS and implementing badges. Ouch. Thankfully, I’ve got a few friends and colleagues who’ll help me get there.

For those of you who don’t know, badging is a way of giving value to something by awarding an image that represents that value. At it’s simplest, it works like the Scouts – demonstrate something and get a badge for demonstrating that you know something. It’s basically the same proposition as what grades are in higher education. The neat thing is that the badge doesn’t have to be tied to a number that’s arbitrarily set by someone (a teacher) or something (a computer, schooling system…). It can be tied to evidence or not, depending on the issuer of the badge and what they demand for getting the badge. That’s where badging is cool for me.

When you earn a badge that conforms to the Open Badges Standard, it can be pushed to your backpack. This is the central repository of badges for you. I’ve embedded below a portion of my backpack for you to see how one might display achievements.

What makes badges a little better than a grade value is the evidence of learning which is listed as part of the criteria. Now in many cases this is not as transparent as it should be. For instance, I’ve been working through CodeSchool’s Javascript introduction and JQuery courses that issue badges. Their criteria is displaying on a page that “confirms” I completed a module. Wouldn’t this page be much better if it shared exactly what I did to earn the badge? That would be powerful. I realize that there’s all sorts of considerations for student privacy, and ideally they would be able to control what is shared with the badge (maybe an on/off switch with each badge issuer to allow for a simple description of what earned the badge or a more detailed results page). That might lead to badges being more than a symbol of learning that doesn’t communicate clearly to the viewer what was learned.

Survey Says? A: Integration!

We’re in the midst of developing an LMS survey – which has broader implications as we also want to ask about other services my department provides (which is Blackboard Collaborate for web conferencing and iClickers for classroom response). All of a sudden, this quick survey has turned into this potentially really long thing that people will be unlikely to answer. Never mind it’s late in the semester (exams started yesterday) so I expect that user responses will be less than stellar.

With that said, it will be interesting to see what people think of D2L as we’ve introduced it. In the three years I’ve been here we’ve made some significant upgrades (from 9.2 to 10 in one year, and to 10.2 the next) and with those upgrades have come some significant growing pains. Next year should see us integrate Blackboard Collaborate, Pearson and McGraw Hill into our instance of D2L, which will hopefully solve some issues for faculty (namely the butt ugly interface you have to use with Blackboard Collaborate). We’re also planning on fixing the partial e-mail issue and additionally have PeopleSoft integrated into our process as the old Student Information System is going to get shut off. Cripes, that looks like a lot of change on paper – and I’m not quite sure how things will get managed. So yeah, if I’m not blogging that may be why (never mind the two presentations I’m co-presenting at Fusion, or the one I’m doing at AAEEBL!). Busy, busy summer.

Well, what does that mean for you, good reader? Well, probably more of the same – sporadic updates, maybe some neat charts and graphs,  some preliminary findings from our Learning Portfolio initiative in year one and more snarky comments about what MOOCs have become.