Moodle (Open Source CMS)

It seems like every college instructional designer that I talk with says that though they are using a commercial learning management system* (like WebCT or BlackBoard), they are now experimenting with an open source product (like Sakai or Moodle).

I attended an event at Rutgers recently that featured their serious exploration of Sakai. Take a look at

The higher up you go in school administration, the more likely you are to hear that "co$t" is a reason to explore OSS. But when you talk with faculty and designers, you are more likely to hear that control and customization are their chief interests in the software. And if you talk to system admins, they are most concerned with the issues of support and most encouraged with the prospect of being able to get into the code.

If you haven't had a chance to use any of the open source products, I suggest that you look at Moodle. Not because it is the best of the lot, but because there is a strong community of users and several sample and demo courses that you can explore without any downloads or installation.

Sakai actually comes from the world of research and was not originally created to be used as a course management system. Moodle was actually built following social constructionist pedagogy as a CMS. There's more about this approach at

Take a look at the Moodle Demonstration Site where you can practice using the most recent stable released version of Moodle. You can log in using generic information and see it from administrator's perspective or as a teacher.

The database and files are erased and restored on the hour, so you can make a mess and it gets cleaned up for you.

There is also a features demo course that lets you create an account and actually "participate" and use the features, post etc.

* What term are you using these days to describe a WebCT/Blackboard type of product? Course management system (CMS) was once the way to describe this software. Now, CMS also means "content management system." So, do you say "learning management system" (LMS) instead?

Comment below...

Broad (and scary) new digital copyright bill

This is a frightening turn in the evolution of the DMCA, intellectual property and copyright - both for educators and citizens.

Congress readies broad new digital copyright bill April 24, 2006 (From a news story on

"For the last few years, a coalition of technology companies, academics and computer programmers has been trying to persuade Congress to scale back the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Now Congress is preparing to do precisely the opposite. A proposed copyright law seen by CNET would expand the DMCA's restrictions on software that can bypass copy protections and grant federal police more wiretapping and enforcement powers.

The draft legislation, created by the Bush administration and backed by Rep. Lamar Smith, already enjoys the support of large copyright holders such as the Recording Industry Association of America. Smith, a Texas Republican, is the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees intellectual-property law.

A spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee said Friday that the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2006 is expected to "be introduced in the near future." Beth Frigola, Smith's press secretary, added Monday that Wisconsin Republican F. James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the full House Judiciary Committee, will be leading the effort."


If these changes are made, it would be a federal crime for just trying to commit copyright infringement - attempts, even if they fail, could be punished by up to 10 years in prison.

Currently the DMCA generally prohibits distributing or trafficking in any software or hardware that can be used to bypass copy-protection devices. The proposed change says you cannot "make, import, export, obtain control of, or possess" any anticircumvention tools if they may be redistributed to someone else. An example that is often used is the recent involves the so-called "rootkit" on some Sony BMG Music Entertainment CDs that was exposed. Jessica Litman, a professor of copyright law at Wayne State University, say that "If Sony had decided to stand on its rights and either McAfee or Norton Antivirus had tried to remove the rootkit from my hard drive, we'd all be violating this expanded definition."

This law would allow wiretaps in investigations of copyright crimes and permits criminal enforcement of copyright violations even if the work was not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

It increases criminal penalties for copyright infringement originally created by the No Electronic Theft (NET) Act of from 5 years to 10 years (and 10 years to 20 years for subsequent offenses). The NET Act targets noncommercial piracy ( posting copyrighted photos, videos or news articles on a web site).

Museums are blogging too

It's interesting who is blogging and why they are blogging. I came across this blog called Eye Level from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Why are they blogging? Kriston Capps, a writer (on contract with New Media Initiatives) wrote back in September 2005 the first entry for the blog. Here's an excerpt:

"Why this blog? I don't doubt that many of you are wondering why a
museum has a blog and, by extension, why the museum thinks you ought to
be reading it. You may be wondering whether you've even visited the Smithsonian American Art Museum... Frankly, we are not entirely sure how this blog will fit
into that effort—consider it a work in progress— but its fundamental
goal is to foster conversation and debate about American art..."

There are categories on the blog including "technology" and how it relates to museums.

The same way that museums, zoos and science centers have been offering "virtual field trips" using ITV and videoconferencing, they are beginning to offer more via their websites and blogs.

We're not talking about only the big institutions

A fun site is the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (NYC) which deals with animation,
anime, cartoons, comic books, comic strips, political illustration, editorial cartoons,
caricature, graphic novels and more. They are using a blog to keep their site fresh.

No more textbooks? What would Gutenberg say?

I wrote about Wikibooks a few days ago, but I dont' want to give the impression that I think textbooks will soon disappear.

There are economic reasons for them staying around: academics write them & academics assign them; it is an industry that will work hard to retain its place in the market; it's the easiest (not the best) way to create a course "curriculum" (that's hard to even type!).

I do think that they will begin to supplement course textbooks or become part of a package of readings and resources (none of those being an actual traditional textbook) that are used in a course. I think of undergraduate literature courses I had many years ago that required a dozen works of fiction but didn't demand any certain edition, and were supplemented with handouts & reserve readings.

I have seen in several places online the suggestion of using a wikibook as a longterm assignment for students. The examples I've read were all K-12 but could apply to higher ed.

Say I am teaching an American literature survey course using an anthology. I assign students to select a chapter of the book to "rewrite." They would review the chapter (probably in this case it would be a time period) and determine what was missing from it: primary sources, links to online materials (author sites, public domain literature for comparison or contrast) other perspectives (women, minority literature, the influences of music, art, historical events). Now, imagine if this researched material was collected in an online wikibook format (rather than the traditional individual papers which might not ever be seen by anyone but the instructor). It's easy to see benefits to the students: a real audience for their research (worldwide if you want to post it in a public place), collaborative experiences, mini-lessons in copyright, fair use, & judging materials found online etc. It's easy to see benefits for the instructor: a resource that helps those students and can be reused & shared and is dynamic enough to continue on its own, new perspectives on your curriculum, even something other than 30 papers to read and evaluate.

The Wikimedia Foundation hosts the Wikibooks project which already has almost 12,000 submissions in various stages of development.

An interesting wikitextbook project is the FHSST: Free High School Science
, initiative that is trying to develop science textbooks for high school students in South Africa. The link is to physics but they are working on biology, computer literacy, and chemistry texts. (You can look at the entire South African national curriculum at

MIT's Open Courseware
project has already gotten a lot of attention in higher ed with its resources for faculty, students and self-learners around the world.

There's a Virtual Textbook of Organic Chemistry from Michigan State at

The site Textbook Revolution is a good aggregator of information about this topic. It looks like a blog, but is really just using a blog software format for site creation. Their links page will send you to book projects and they have projects categorized by subject area. They are also looking at open courseware efforts that go beyond the "textbook."

What would Johann Gutenberg think of all this?

Would he be happy with Project Gutenberg, the oldest producer of free ebooks on the Internet?

There are 18,000 free books in the Project Gutenberg Online Book Catalog and 2 million ebooks are downloaded each month. That sounds like revolution to me.

Hot Issues in Ed Tech at the Campus Technology Conference on Education Technology

What do you think are the hot issues in educational technology?

I received an email about the Campus Technology Conference on Education Technology (July 31–Aug. 3, 2006, Boston, MA) and these were the 10 "issues impacting your institution right now" that they list.

  • Mobility
  • Security
  • The 'Smart' Classroom/Campus
  • IT/Telecom Infrastructure and Support
  • Technology Funding
  • Enterprise Strategies
  • Professional Development
  • eLearning
  • Open Source
  • Digital Media/Publishing

Agree? What would you add?