Help choose the future focus of Edutools

The WCET-supported Edutools site has helped people make better informed educational technology decisions since 2001 (and even before that when it was known as “landonline” after its creator, Dr. Bruce Landon).

For the first 4 or 5 years I was responsible for doing most of the product research. This was a wonderful role and helped me understand a number of educational technologies much more deeply. Unfortunately, that model of a central reviewer creating all the content is neither very contemporary in reflecting the importance and abilities of the overall community, nor was it very sustainable.

We have worked up a new community-driven model for an Edutools site that we will be launching in the fall. And as part of the new site, we are going to focus on some new technologies. This is where we could use your help. Help us figure out which educational technologies you would most like to see a new Edutools site focus on by taking the below poll; it’ll only take a few seconds, but will help us focus on things that really matter to you. Thanks! – SWL


Comparison of CMS, Course Materials Life Cycle, and Related Costs

My colleagues Bruce Landon and Russ Poulin were commissioned last year by MIT to produce a report which compared the CMS practices and costs, as well as the life cycle of course materials, at ‘peer’ institutions in an effort to provide a benchmark for future decision making. I was just informed that MIT has generously made the report more widely available online at the above location. In addition to MIT itself, the peer institutions surveyed included Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, Columbia, Berkeley, Harvard (College of Arts and Sciences), University of Chicago, Middlebury, University of Texas at Austin, Princeton and Yale.

So while you might not consider your institution a “peer” (but hey, why not, in this global,online economy) I expect there will be something of interest to anyone involved with the management of institution-wide CMSes. It’s a lengthy report (90 pages) but in it you’ll find such things as costing and support information from a wide variety of scenarios, though one of the findings was that

most of the institutions did not have a better handle on cost data and that (for many of the respondents) costs were not a principle driver in decision-making.

It should also not be surprising to anyone having to deal with higher ed content management practices that the survey shows them to be all over the place and largely still a matter left up to the whims of the individual instructor. Which might seem fine to many except consider that “the annual costs of course materials can exceed the cost of the C/LMS by millions” and we all know at some point, something is going to give. – SWL

Edutools ePortfolio Comparison / Changes to the Edutools Review Process

I wasn’t really a part of this project, but my colleagues at Edutools have put the comparison of 6 eportfolio tools into our comparative analysis tool so you can now do some easy side-by-side comparative analysis of them.

Now’s probably as good a time as any to mention a change to the overall review process on the Edutools site, specifically with the better known Course Management System comparison site.

The big issue with running this site has always been how quickly the reviews go out of date and the effort involved with maintaining them (on the old site, we had active reviews for 25+ CMS). That’s why we’ve changed our review model. Instead of only one person doing all the reviews, anyone is free to post a review of a new product or a revision to one of these. We’ve also built some feedback mechanisms and associated discussion forums with each of the reviews in the hopes that the community will police itself – the reviews are partially constrianed by a set of checkbox features, but there are free text areas as well (these are clearly demarcated on the site) to allow for additional comments outside of the standard feature comparison.

So I am no longer actively writing these reviews, they are being upkept by various people, including the vendors themselves, and we encourage you, if you find the site useful and have issues with a review, to read the Editorial FAQ and follow the dispute process if there are issues in what you are reading. – SWL

Sakai 2.0 Review posted on Edutools site

I don’t normally post notifications of every new review we do on the Edutools site, but in the case of Sakai there has been a lot of interest from this community and so I thought it might be warranted. As always, we endeavor to provide descriptive, non-evaluative reviews of the software within a framework that allows you to compare it with other known quantities and for you to make the judgements yourself. For instance you can view a side-by-side comparison of Sakai 2.0 with Blackboard 6 and WebCT CE 4 and Vista here, or look at it in comparison to some other open source CMS (Moodle, Atutor and .LRN) here. – SWL

Invitation to WCET-led ePortfolio Software Research Project

Over at Edutools, where I spend at least half my life, we have been quietly trying out a new model for researching ed tech software and helping people get up to speed on different technology issues. Last year we ran the model for the first time while looking at various Learning Object Repository technologies. We’ve just run the same project a second time, the results of which will be released publicly later this year at the WCET Conference in New Orleans.

In essense, the new model we are trying out is to create a small group of similar type partners (so far we have dealt mostly with state-wide systems and some larger institutions) to jointly investigate a particular type of educational technology using the Edutools comparative analysis model. The challenge is obviously coming up with a common set of systems to look at, as well as a common framework for comparing them given differences amongst the partners. Luckily, each time we’ve run it there has been more accord than discord, and in fact the partners truly seem to appreciate each other’s interests in packages they had not previously considered and on features they hadn’t seen as key.

The other part of the project is to bring the partners together to share their current experiences trying to implement these systems; typically they are all at an early stage (hence the value in participating in the project) but have all done some planning work, and find it valuable to learn how others are tackling the issues. This year we also brought in people from the previous year’s project to speak on what they had achieved in the past year, a hugely valueable set of lessons. Finally we bring in a number of guest experts to speak on topics of the groups choosing – this year it was Ed Walker bringing us up to speed on standards adoption and plans for the future, and Clifford Lynch on whether multiple repository needs could be met through a single system. The irony for me is that while the comparative ‘reviews’ are ostensibly the raison d’etre for the project, the partners are finding as much, if not more, value in the interaction amongst themselves, and with the guest experts. It’s become as much a process of getting more familiar with the domain and its issues as it is about chosing software.

Which brings us to the above item – this fall we (WCET and Edutools) are partnering with the Electronic
Portfolio Action Committee to run this type of engagement, but this time looking at ePortfolio systems and issues. It is great to be doing this in partnership with EPAC as they bring consderable expertise and experience to the issue of ePortfolios. If this sounds of interest, please contact Russ Poulin at WCET at the numbers provided for more information. – SWL

SUNY Learning Network’s Next-Generation Technology Strategy Recommendations

Over on e-Literate, Michael Feldstein shares this link as well as some back story to the above document, a report which lays out the goals, principles, and key functional requirements for a next-generation learning enviornment for SUNY Learning Network. It’s well worth a look and the principles it holds up are laudable. I was especially pleased of the use they made for the Edutools CMS comparative framework. They seem to have taken and used it much as it is intended, as a factual and non-evaluative description of current CMS functionality (and not as the prescriptive or evaluative document some folks have on occassion misunderstood it as). – SWL

WCET/Edutools LOR Comparative Research Released and

Regular readers will know that one of my two jobs is working with the folks at the Western Cooperative on Educational Telecommunications (WCET) on the Edutools project to compare course management systems. In fact I just returns from their annual conference, this year held in San Antonio, Texas, which will be the basis for a few posts.

A few months back I wrote about a project we did last spring with 4 state systems to compare existing Learning Object Repository software. Well finally we have released these findings to the public (part of the agreement was that the partners had exclusive use for 6 months before we published the results).

The final report (co-authored by fellow bloggers Bruce Landon and Brian Lamb, as well as Russ Poulin from WCET) is now available. Probably of more interest is the actual side-by-side comparison of 6 products. I would be very interested in any feedback people had on the actual comparative framework we employed, that is, the features and their groupings on which we reviewed the software. We did base it on a bunch of different LOR architecture and use case documents folks have shared on the web, and I used it in our own LOR project here in BC as the basis for our initial requirements set, so I think it stands up pretty well, but I am always interested in hearing whether others think it presents a valid framework for comparison. It shoud be noted that these reviews are now 6 months old, and these products have been rapidly evolving, so caveat emptor. – SWL

Utah Education Network implementing North Plains asset management system

I wouldn’t normally carry a news release like this but I have a bit of a personal connection with this story – the folks from UEN were partners in the recent project I did with WCET to research a number of learning object repository software packages, and based on their urging one of those packages ended up being NorthPlain’s Telescope product.

But I think the story is more generally significant because it adds a spin to the standard ‘repository’ players. NorthPlains is a Canadian company that has made its fortune selling ‘digital asset management’ software to large media companies, specifically ones like Sony Pictures. While it isn’t purpose built for higher ed learning objects per se, it offers quite impressive functionality for dealing with media assets in general. And given its flexibility to deal with multiple metadata schemas or any type of workflow and its smart integration with a host of 3rd party authoring tools, it’s actually not so hard to see how software like this (and there are a fair number of other packages in this space, all fairly mature when compared to some of the LOR stuff) can serve as the basis for a LOR play. In fact, in that WCET project (results of which will be published in the fall), of the 6 products we looked at, only one could be said to be a ‘learning object repository’ in the strictest sense – in addition to North Plains, the others were variously a ‘learning content management system,’ an ‘institutional repository,’ an ‘Education Institution Content Management System’ and finally a ‘digital content management’ originating from the library world. All of which, to varying degrees of success, could fulfil the role of learning object repository, proving yet again how slippery a beast those are. – SWL

The Bad News and The Good News

Two weeks without a post deserves some explanation, and the reasons for my recent absence are both not so good and really great. First the not so good news – I just got out of hospital after another bout with Crohn’s Disease. I luckily managed to escape the surgeon’s knife for now (having had the good fortune of meeting a surgeon reluctant to operate!) and we’re hoping that a new course of medication and a new diet will help things in the long term. I am almost back up to speed now, so here’s keeping my fingers crossed!

But the other reason for the lack of posts is that I’ve been extremely busy with what I’ll call the “great news” – at the start of February I embarked on a brand new project with the folks at BCcampus, Open School BC and a group dedicated to Telelearning-in-Health across the 5 BC Universities. I am project managing the implementation (and I stress that word) of a learning object repository infrastructure that will serve the needs of these varied communities in B.C. It’s been in the works for a little while now, but I wanted to wait until it was firmly under way before announcing it. We’ve got a fairly aggressive timeline (project is scheduled to end September 2004) and so we are ramping up right now to identify key requirements and assess the existing open source options. It is a hugely exciting opportunity both in the work I’ll get to do and in the people I’ll get to work with – the various partners involved end up touching most of the educational institutions in BC in one way or other, and there is just a ton of great experience across this province to tap into.

I am fortunate that these folks agreed to a 4-day-a-week-deal which will allow me to keep working with my friends and colleagues at Edutools – we continue to add new reviews of Course Management Systems there, and are also looking to some exciting new projects in the near future, so I’m really pleased to be able to work on both projects.

So hopefully you’ll start to see more posts again, though at the current pace of things will likely still be a bit sporadic. I expect I’ll end up publishing a project-based blog for the LOR implementation, if only for my own tracking purposes, and when I do I’ll share that URL as well. – SWL

e-Learning Policies Comparison Site

Some of you know that I work part-time as a researcher on course management software for the Edutools project. But the scope of the Edutools project was always meant to be larger than just course management software. The intent has been to extend the model of comparative analysis and idealized decision making to other technologies and areas of concern for educational technologists, instructors and administrators.

Yesterday the latest part of the site was announced – the e-Learning Policy site which “ focuses on the unique policy issues that are created by the e-delivery of higher education courses and programs,” specifically the major policy areas of:

  • Funding
  • Intellectual Property
  • Quality Assurance
  • Transfer and Articulation
  • Tuition
  • Fees

In addition to providing background and related links on these policy areas, the new site allows you to search the database for policy excerpts and synopses from specific institutions using a large number of criteria and compare these policies in a side-by-side manner. If you use the site and find it useful, please let the good folks at WCET know. – SWL