Course Management System Content Conversion Tools wikipage

One of my main gigs is running a repository service to help faculty here in BC share online course content. As I have likely lamented far too many times, the bane of my existence is the uneven support for content interoperability across the various course management systems. At last count we had at least 6 flavours in the province in which ideally the content would work, and certainly would love it if it’d work with others too. So while I personally believe CMS are increasingly bankrupt as a model for online education and continue to work with others to demonstrate new ways of teaching and learning online, my reality is that the content I am asked to help share is almost exclusively CMS-based, and moreover built directly inside the CMS, thus somewhat reliant on the vendors to provide easy and open ways for getting it out. Yeah right.

We come at this issue from many different directions trying to improve it. We built a “best practice” wiki to encourage people in the province to share their tricks and tips on how to work with CMS and still get content out “cleanly.” We are looking at some content “convertors” as part of the repository framework to clean up some of the exports into better formats (a dicey proposition at best). We’re experimenting with a “harvestor” that will grab CMS content not through the API but by spidering course sites.

Along these lines, I have put together this wiki page to collect together whatever CMS content export/conversion tools I can find, mostly for the CMS flavours at play in the province, but not totally limited to.

And I’d like to invite you to play. There are multiple ways to contribute to this – if you have a wikispaces account, I will gladly add you to the site. If instead you are a user, simply tag any resource you think appropriate with “cms_migration” (or even just send it my way with the “for:nessman” tag). Am I duplicating effort here? Please tell me if you know of another good collection of CMS conversion tools. I have no need to re-invent the wheel here, just trying to give people as many options as possible. Please also tell me if I am barking up any wrong trees with my assessment of what CMS already work well (or not) with each other – I get sporadic access to any of these, and the situation often changes with versions etc. If you can think of a better way to do this, I’m all ears for that too. – SWL

Jim Farmer’s Eyewitness Account of the Blackboard Patent Trial

Through a combination of resignation towards what seemed a pre-determined outcome and pre-occupation with Northern Voice when it was announced, I managed to miss most of the recent hair-pulling that the ridiculous finding in Blackboard’s favour prompted. And thank goodness too, my hair couldn’t have stood it 😉

But I did go read Jim Farmer’s extended eyewitness account of the trial which Michael Feldstein graciously posted over at e-Literate, and I thoroughly advise you too as well, as much for what it portends for the future of high tech patents as what it says about this particular judgement.

It is not difficult to see a picture here (and I want to be clear here, because I think Jim did a fine job being as impartial as possible, that these are my interpretations) of not just “Justice for Sale” but “Patent Law Judgements as Economic Diversification Program.” It’s bad enough to have to read this about Blackboard’s (god how I even cringe to write that name) expert witness:

“Expert witnesses always are asked about their fees. When asked how much he had earned, Mark Jones was unable to give an answer. He said he had spent “hundreds of hours” and gave his rate as $325 per hour. (I thought he said $375, but court documents have the lower amount). He also said he had received $170,000 in fees from Blackboard before the end of 2007 as his [IRS Form] 1099 showed. It is likely he will have been paid more than $300,000 for his testimony when the trial is complete.”

But the picutre of an economically challenged town with a propensity to trust the government (in this case the Patent Office) gearing up to become a high tech patent rocket docket should send shivers up your spine (well, at least unless you are totally jaded about the state of justice in the land, which I can’t say I’d blame you for being.)

Go read for yourself. But all I can help thinking is – did we honestly think it was going to go any other way? And how far along are you on your open source CMS? (or even better, on your loosely coupled teaching platform?) – SWL

bfree – export courses from Blackboard

Another useful pointer from Michael Roy at Wesleyan’s Academic Commons, bFree is a tool built by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It allows you to open a Blackboard course export or archive file, select the files you want and then export these as an independent website.

This might not seem like a lot to some, especially with supposedly mature content interoperability specifications to ease the movement of content between CMS, but frankly I did a little dance when I saw this.

My issue hasn’t actually been with Blackboard’s CMS (no one in B.C. runs it) but with the product they acquired, WebCT. Specifically CE6 and Vista. I run a repository service for the province. We have funded both individual resources as well as full courses to be shared through this service. In CE6, there is currently no way to get a full course worth of content out of the system at one time in a way that works with any other systems. You can take a ‘module’ at a time as an IMS Content Package, but not the whole course. It’s not that this wouldn’t be feasible; the exact same state of affairs reigned over CE4 until it came time to get everyone off that platform when suddenly a tool that could export the entire course as an IMS package was created (the administrative Content Migration Utility). And it’s not like I am waiting around for WebCT/Blackboard to fix this; I was willing to develop a powerlink that extracted the entire set of content modules at once in a format that could be used in other systems. Except, much to my chagrin, I learned that WebCT/Blackboard had systematically left out the module export functionality from their API, and there are no plans to ever include it. Meaning there is no programmatic access to export content packages out of WebCT CE6. If you want to move an entire course worth of content, do it one module at a time.

This is probably enough that they can claim to not be playing the content lock-in game, but if I were at an institution that had recently adopted WebCT CE6, I’d be asking what the exit strategy from the product was (you do have one, right? because it won’t be long before you’ll have to have one) and shudder to think it amounts to “we’ll wait until WebCT offers us a good solution.” – SWL

Blackboard’s Social Bookmarking Service

This looks to be a new social bookmarking service launched by Blackboard. The difference from existing services like Well, not much, as far as I can tell, except that it is aimed solely at Blackboard and WebCT customers (non-customers can search the site and find links, but not contribute). So why would you use this? Presumably Blackboard had enough existing customers ask them for a social bookmarking facility that was integrated with their Blackboard accounts which they could “safely” use with their students.

I am sure they will get demonized for this. Me, sure I’d love to see systems that instead of creating additional silos and enclaves allowed users to move in an authenticated form from the institution’s systems to ones out on the general web, you know, have my cake and eat it too. But the customers (that’s you, right) have got to demand this, not expect vendors whose whole business model is ‘lock in’ to simply just provide it. And the sad fact of the matter is that none of the internet-wide identity plays seem really up to this. Yet. This is one place where Open Source could make a huge difference, as introducing new features there does not have to be limited solely by the focus on profits. You’d think. Yet for some reason I still can’t get a simple OpenID plugin for WordPress. The pundits are right, identity will be big in 2007. But without the move of some major market shaker towards one of the ‘open’ approaches, don’t be surprised if it’s a continuation of the silo arms race between the bigs (read Google, Yahoo and MSN, not Blackboard) instead of a signle sign on paradise that results. – SWL

UPDATE: Blackboard have updated their blog with more details on this initiative, some of which is reminiscent of the EduGlu conversation. Does this mean we can sue them now 😉

My holiday gifts to you….

You already know what I want for Christmas. So in the spirit of the season, here are my (non-denominational holiday) gifts for ….

WebCT and Blackboard – I’d say a lump of coal, except they’d probably just claim to have patented ‘mining’ and sue me. So instead, how about “Courage,” the courage to adopt a strategy that keeps customers not by locking down their content in difficult to export ways but instead by creating a product people can easily leave but want to stay with; the courage to grow as a company not through intimidation and pathetic legal challenges but again, by continuing to develop a product that people simply want to buy (oh, and did I mention I believe in Santa Claus too!)

ELGG – continued success, and for some funder to acknowledge the blood, sweat and tears of these guys to build one of the best social learning platforms around today. As open source.

D’Arcy – some plane tickets to Hawaii so I can finally stop seeing all the links to Hawaiian hotels in his feed 😉

Alan – what do you get the guy with a great new job and seemingly unlimited talent? How about some well earned time at his cabin soaking in that unused hottub!

Stephen – A Patent. On Everything. Just Kidding.

Brian – his own radio show. I know, I know, who un-Web 2.0 of me. But I’d listen to it. You probably would too if you’d seen his record collection.

All the Edubloggers who felt it necessary to acknowledge an “award” from a link troll – some more self-esteem. Come on folks – “top 100 Edublogs”? What you’ve got there is exactly equivalent to someone’s blogroll. You’re all great. We love you very much. Remember, in the inimitable words of Dave Winer – it doesn’t matter if only 2 people read you, as long as they’re the RIGHT 2 people.

Michael (and all the other tireless folks working to expose the evils of software patents for education) – Math You Can’t Use: Patents, Copyright, and Software. Actually, no. Just a well deserved break. (And to Michael, great success next year in the new job).

the Moodle, Sakai, Atutor, .LRN projects and all the other open source CMS folks – continued success in the new year. Even if you are not an open source CMS adopter, be glad for what these folks are doing for you. Because you benefit from their work and efforts too, in more ways than you likely realize.

And finally…

To the readers of EdTechPost – thanks. And a promise – to re-launch this site early in the new year with comments back on. So you can talk back to nonsense like this post. That’s gone unrectified for far too long.

Hope you all get a break over the next few days, I look forward to learning and creating with you all in the New Year! Cheers, Scott.

educate/innovate = use patents?

OK, so at least they did post something back on August 7 about the patent (a staff member posting a letter on behalf of Michael Chasen, the CEO), but otherwise, the Blackboard “blog” has been thunderously silent given the amount of hoopla in the blogosphere over the last month directly concerning them.

Not really surprising, but also not what I’d call an “authentic” engagement with the concerns of their readers/customers. (And my reaction to the notes from their conference call with ALT in the UK is the same as Stephen’s – apparently I’ve found another use for our stockpiled baby wipes now that our kids are out of diapers).

I did say that I was reserving judgement on the BB ‘blog’ until there was more to judge. Looks like the evidence is in, though, and on the charge of “falsely impersonating a blog” the evidence is based on the omissions as much as what is there. – SWL

Blackboard Patent and Prior Art*/

I am officially still on holidays until next Tuesday but made the mistake of checking my email (I have managed to abstain from my bloglines account though!) and through a mailing list I subscribe to saw a post on the nastiness that is Blackboard’s patent application. If you can beat them, sue them, eh?

The ensuing effort to create a history of LMS/VLEs through Wikipedia is great and to be applauded. When I saw the posts about Blackboard’s patent I immediately thought of our Edutools site, actually its predecessor, Landonline, developed by my colleague Dr. Bruce Landon and hosted by my former employers, the now defunct Centre for Curriculum, Transfer and Technology (C2T2).

Bruce originally created that site in 1996 (pre-Blackboard, in fact the early version was pre-WebCT as well.) I checked the Internet Archives, and while they don’t have a copy from 1996, they do have ones from 1997, 1998 and 1999. If you have a look at the copies on the Wayback machine. The copies on the Wayback machine aren’t pretty (lots of broken images) but you can see, for instance in this comparison from 1998, that Blackboard (here called Courseinfo) and WebCT show up in this apples to apples comparison with 4 other systems at the time.

It’s not like Landonline/Edutools is the only example you can point to that was comparing Blackboard and WebCT to competing offerings – Marshall University’s Center for Instructional Technology’s comparison of LMS/CMS tools from 1999 is still available online, as is Virginia Tech’s from 1998. What I do think is significant, however, is that at Edutools we can actually show a continuous development of the feature set that we use to compare these products from 1996 until our current one – certainly with changes and modifications over time, but it has been a relatively consistent point of comparison for almost 10 years now.

I am not a lwayer and don’t play one on TV, and I am sure there is enough weasily language included in the patent that Blackboard will have some success using it to bludgeon competitors and customers alike. But if the creation of this behemoth didn’t light a fire under your ass to do something different, maybe consider this a second opportunity to change course. – SWL

Greg Ritter and Co back and blogging

Got an email today from an old blogosphere pal, Greg Ritter, who had gone AWOL back in 2004, that he has started blogging again. Greg, the Associate Director of Research & Development at Blackboard, is part of a new initiative there to start blogging. (I can almost sense the rotten tomatoes flying at the back of my head right now – one nice thing about having comments broken for now is that the knee jerk reactions can happen elesewhere.) Anyways, I plan to add it to my aggregator for now and will reserve judgement until there’s more to judge. Who knows, you might be surprised – I have faith that Greg gets this stuff enough that he can have a positive influence and maybe create an authentic forum for exchange with that company. – SWL

Humboldt College Comparison of Satisfaction of Moodle and Blackboard

Thanks to Alan and John Arle for pointing to this presentation by Dr. Kathy D. Munoz and Joan Van Duzer of Humboldt State University which provides some comparative data of a course delivered through both Moodle and Blackboard. Student satisfaction and performance are fairly similar between the two environments, with a slight preference for Moodle, and the real differences seem to come out when the instructor/developer satisfaction is taken into account too. While Blackboard is hailed for the strength of its gradebook, it’s built-in survey tool and for seeming easier off the mark to beginners, the presentation then lists a whole host of advantages and satisfactions that emerged over time with Moodle. – SWL