The Turbulent Waters of the Course Management Systems

The CMS or LMS (course or learning management systems) world is somewhat chaotic the past few years as big commercial players like Blackboard, Desire2learn, Angel, compete, get bought out and battle in courts over patents. Add to that chaos the rise of "free" (though not without cost) open source systems like Moodle and Sakai.

And we also have offerings that are a blend of free and commercial. In late 2011, Pearson announced its own free course management system called OpenClass.

Instructure also unveiled last year Canvas, which The Chronicle of Higher Education described as a "Upstart Course-Management Provider Goes Open Source".

Coursekit is yet another new CMS jumping into the pond. A trio of UPenn dropouts have raised more than a million dollars in venture capital to design their own online course platform. It is one that is supposed to emphasize social networking and an easy-to-use interface. Of course, it has all the usual tools too - discussions, grading, shared calendars and links, student profiles etc.

Thirty universities tested Coursekit last fall (Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania included).

What might be unique is that the company has 80 student ambassadors to introduce the new course-management system to students at colleges across the country.

Coursekit's home page says "Make your course come alive. The simple way to manage your course and engage your students. Instructors: It's free and always will be. 
an international team backed by the European Union and based out of Berlin has introduced a new, free, dual-language learning management system with a large dose of collaboration functionality built in.

And there are new international systems too. One cloud-based offering is iversity. One of their claims of uniqueness is the concept of "social reading" to go along with the features we expect. Their homepage declares that it is "The Collaboration Network for Academia - Organize courses, research groups and conferences – for free." They claim more than 12,000 students and faculty members as beta-testers from 80 colleges and universities. They also have a a team of young graduates from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Singapore, and other countries that have rebuilt the platform to address user feedback. (iversity is now available in English and German.)

The "social reading" feature allows users to annotate PDF documents collaboratively.

The software is free to individual users, but the company can also offer customized services to institutions. In Germany the company offers a low-cost service that allows students to order printed copies of faculty-assigned reading. This project was initially funded by the German Federal Ministry of Science and Technology with additional funding coming from a regional development organization using both EU and local funds as well as a German venture capital firm.

2012 Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institutes

The Library of Congress is now accepting applications for its 2012 Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institutes in Washington, D.C.

The free, five-day institute will provide educators with the tools and resources to effectively integrate primary sources into classroom teaching.

Institutes will take place on the following dates:

• May 21-25, 2012
• June 11-15, 2012
• July 9-13, 2012 (World Cultures Focus)
• July 16-20, 2012 (Civil War Focus)
• August 6-10, 2012

There is no charge for the program or materials but participants must cover costs for travel to Washington, DC and lodging and meals while in Washington.

Participants may earn three graduate credits from George Mason University for completing all Summer Teacher Institute requirements (fee).

Application Deadline: February 17, 2011 -

No Diploma But You Can Have Some Badges


I had a conversation with a colleague this week about adaptive learning systems and we drifted into talking about tools like the Khan Academy. That free online tutorials provider offers as an incentive "badges" to students for progress. I don't if many educators believe that getting an image icon that says you are a "Great Listener" because you watched 30 minutes of videos is actually "motivating" to students.

Collecting a certain number of those badges along with badges for passing standardized tests on the site, can earn you something like a "Master of Trigonometry."

Do you add that badge to your resume or application?

An article from the points to these badges as being a new consideration for more traditional colleges and universities. They reference MIT's recent MITx learning system. Not unlike Khan Academy, students use self-paced online materials, take online tests and earn certificates. MIT also is teaming with OpenStudy, which runs online study groups, to give online badges to students.

To older readers, those badges might evoke scout achievement patches and for younger readers it will seem to follow videogame feedback incentives like power-ups.

Are we seeing the end of "standard" certifications and diplomas? Not yet, but as I have written before here, when the job market starts to accept new learning systems as training, schools had better be ready to respond.

If you follow the scouting and videogame models, we know that achieving milestones - some easy, some difficult - and getting regular and almost instantaneous feedback IS motivating. Are your students AS motivated by an "A" on a paper or even an "A" in the course?

Update link  1/22/12

Disruptive Education

Over the break, I was reading The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out and it fits very nicely into my current thinking about the evolution of School 2.0 in the next few decades.

It is co-written by Clayton Christensen, which is what initially caught my eye. He is considered "the father of the theory of disruptive innovation." His previous books include The Innovator's Dilemma, which examined business innovation, and The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators.

The Innovative University is at first an analysis of the traditional university that we know in order to get at its "DNA" which then leads to the how (and why) higher education needs to change to have any future success.

From the book jacket:

"The language of crisis is nothing new in higher education—for years critics have raised alarms about rising tuition, compromised access, out of control costs, and a host of other issues. Yet, though those issues are still part of the current crisis, it is not the same as past ones. For the first time, disruptive technologies are at work in higher education. For most of their histories, traditional universities and colleges have had no serious competition except from institutions with similar operating models. Now, though, there are disruptive competitors offering online degrees. Many of these institutions operate as for-profit entities, emphasizing marketable degrees for working adults. Traditional colleges and universities have valuable qualities and capacities that can offset those disruptors' advantages—but not for everyone who aspires to higher education, and not without real innovation. How can institutions of higher education think constructively and creatively about their response to impending disruption?

Throughout the book Christensen and Eyring show what it takes to apply Christensen's acclaimed model of disruptive innovation to a higher education environment. The Innovative University explores how universities can find innovative, less costly ways of performing their uniquely valuable functions and thereby save themselves from decline."

Disruptive innovation, a term of art coined by Clayton Christensen, describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then moves "up market" to eventually displace the established form.

Examples of disruptive innovation include cellular phones disrupting fixed line telephony, and the traditional full-service department store being disrupted by online and discount retailers. Christensen also sees an earlier disruptor of the four-year college experience as being community colleges.

I agree with him that companies tend to innovate faster than their customers’ lives change - newer phones but customers who don't want to upgrade yet - and so most organizations end up producing products or services that are actually too good and too expensive for many of their customers.

But I don't think that model works for education.

In education, customers/students innovate faster than the schools. They have the technology in their hands before we have it or a way to use it in our classrooms. And yet, schools continue to charge too much for an inferior product.

I wish I believed that education was consciously opening the door to “disruptive innovations,” but that is not what I see.

Christensen teaches at the Harvard Business School. Although he has had health issues the past few years, he continues to write and I discovered that he has a newer book, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, that I will need to order.

It seems that in education, Christensen and the other authors are pointing to "student-centric education" as the disruptor of our current "interdependent curricular architecture." Much of that is made possible through technology.

He has written about online learning for student-centered innovation and many educators and institutions will be pleased to hear that disruptive technology/innovation in education can help create a new market and value network.

They will be less pleased to know that it eventually goes on to disrupt the existing market and eventually displaces it.

Disruptive ideas improves a product or service in ways that the market does not expect. Those services will be designed for a different set of consumers. It will probably lower the cost in the existing market. That might translate into the new, improved School 2.0 made for Student 2.0. And all at a lower cost. But who will be providing that education? Harvard, NJIT, Passaic County Community College, MITx, University of Phoenix, The Open University, Google, Facebook or some new entity that doesn't even exist today?

Books by Clayton M. Christensen