EduBlogr - Blogging in E-ducation

Of the millions of blogs out there, probably only a few thousand are specifically devoted to education. This is one of them.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

BlackCT merger thoughts at FutureU

Gail and Terry at FutureU weigh in with some predictions. I agree with all of their points except this:

Schools may begin to take a greater interest in faculty training that is applicable across platforms. We’ve heard it time and again in FutureU train-the-trainer workshops. Faculty members eager to get started with their first online course will ask us: “Can’t you just teach us which buttons to push?” So, despite our strong recommendations to the contrary, they build a deep skill level in a platform that may soon be gone with the wind. We predict that the impact of this merger will be enough to convince a lot more schools that they should provide basic HTML training and start planning to “chunk” content into reusable learning objects that are compatible with any standards-compliant system (SCORM, AICC, ADA, etc.).

While schools may be interested in cross-platform skills, individual instructors will remain reluctant to expand their skillsets beyond their content specialities. Rather, look for schools to realize that they need dedicated specialists who understand both the educational process and the technology. (Being one of those kinds of people, I realize that this is a self-serving prediction.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Liveblogging the mergecast

I'm going to try my hand at liveblogging, using the EDUCAUSE broadcast of the Blackboard-WebCT press conference / "town hall" Q&A session. Someone on the BLKBRD-L list at ASU called this the "mergercast."

Here's the URL.

I've got my headphones and a fresh pot of coffee. T-40 minutes. Time to get a few things done before the fun begins. (Ironically, I'm working on a report for the college's Distance Learning Committee on the costs and benefits of upgrading to Bb Enterprise! Paging Ms. Morissette, Ms. Alanis Morissette)

T-minus-15: Sound check, refresh coffee, quick trip "down the hall."
T-5: What do I expect? Not much news, really. I expect a recap of how wonderful each CEO thinks the other is, their firm committment to their customer base and to continued product improvement, etc. etc. Corporate spin - seen it before, and I've got the hip waders on.

The real interesting stuff will be the Q&A session.

"Reporters only: Dial the following number to participate in the Q&A: 866-753-8247, conference code 3973210697. " I'm reporting, right?

Here we go - the mic is live... hey - there's thumbnail video, too! Background murmurmurmur, announcement asking folks to please take their seats and set pagers to vibrate. Rebuffering - must be several folks logging onto the data stream. I hope they've got enough outbound bandwidth.

Melissa Chautner Sr. VP of PR. Some questions we may not be able to answer.

Chasen: Bbs mission is to enable educational innovations everywhere. uniting will help meet mission. Two eliearnig pioneers.
Many common traits - both background in academia. Both focused on cuttiong edge products - Bb's list is longer. Communitis of practice . Proud and Excited. Meeting with several clients in town hall and 1-on-1.

Carol Valone: Marks an achievement in e-learning history. Enable collaboration across the globe at a critial time in elearning - worlds largest communty of practice - further innovation. Since 1997. greatest innovations yet to come...

Interuptted by a call. They took a few questions, it seems. but said nothing really.

Chasen - new system will be developed over time - over short term will continue to compete until merger closes in early 2006

Valone - we'll be having town hall sessions with clients and look forward to meeting with you.

That's it. Even less than I expected!

Update: Laura Little is similarly nonplussed.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The future downside of M&A

John Hagel has another interesting post up at Edge Perspectives. He's looking at the bankruptcy this week of GM supplier Delphi. I wonder what cautionary parallel there might be to the Blackboard acquisition of WebCT?

Maybe nothing - GM and Ford have huge labor costs that factor into their poor financial performance, and they are locked in fierce competition with each other and foriegn manufacturers. Blackboard has miniscule labor costs in comparison, and enjoys market dominance now and for some time to come.

On the other hand, look a few years down the road. e-learning is new and just becoming a major player; it is not yet fully integrated into the culture. Perhaps it's a bit like the automobile industry in the 30's. Even if many people don't yet own a car, almost everyone has at least seen one. The number of people who have taken online classes is relatively small, but the idea of taking a class via the Internet is widely-known (if not universally accepted as "quality" education).

Through the Forties and Fifties, the auto industry continued to grow, and the automobile became part and parcel of American culture. If the e-learning pundits are right, that could - should - must - happen in this industry over the next fifteen years or so.

In the sixties, though, the industry began to stagnate. Serious competition from overseas surfaced in the 70's, and ever since then Detroit has been on the defensive, cutting costs like mad.

Forewarned is forearmed, they say.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Blackboard - WebCT merger: links and blog round-up

Hat Tip to Dr. Cable Green at OLN for many of these links, passed on from the WCET list.

Audio of Blackboard's investor conference call

Live Blackboard press conference on Tuesday, October 18th, 10 AM Eastern. (See liveblog post above)

Scott Leslie at EdTechPost

Stephen Downes recaps reaction.

Inside Higher Education article (mentioning your friendly neighborhood EduBlogr!)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

reflections on the merger

According to the site, the product lines will remain intact and supported [for now I assume], while over time a new product set that combines the best of both worlds will be rolled out. As I wrote to one of our faculty (her immediate reaction was amusing, and unprintable :-D), it'll take several months to do the paperwork, several more months to fire and reassign sales and backoffice people, and then they'll be able to start thinking technical stuff. If they fast-track it, they MIGHT be able to have something (BlackCT?) in beta this time next year.

Or they might take a deep breath, step back and really think strategically about 21st century learning. Maybe they'll start slow; come up with a blog or wiki module that can be plugged into both Enterprise and Vista. ('Course, us po' redheaded stepchillin' - Basic customers - gots to stay out in de barn.)

I suspect that the low price means that Blackboard sees WebCT's main asset as its customer base rather than its technology. WebCT has some nice features. But having used both systems, Blackboard seems to deliver a more consistent overall user experience. They've been steadily gaining market share, and it's certainly not due to agressive pricing.
After the quality and customer-service debacle of CourseInfo 3.x Blackboard shook itself and decided to get its act together and become a Big Company. They're certainly structured that way now, and this deal only reinforces that.

Moodle and Sakai aren't real competitors for Blackboard's customer base IMO. I just don't see open source solutions as major players. WE are not the customers. We're the users. The customers are our bosses and their bosses, the VPs who sign the POs. relatively few institutions - especially small and medium-size institutions - can afford open source. Pay $75,000 a year for software licenses, or hire 1.5 FTE system admins / programmer-analysts at $60,000 to support open-source? Even I can do that math.

Feature-wise, OSS tends to be a couple of years behind commercial off-the-shelf products. A big part of that is the fact that OSS depends on volunteer development, while COTS vendors have dedicated developers. Bb is trying to straddle that line with its Building Blocks architecture. Unfortunately, their current pricing strategy leaves the smaller customers (like us) out in the barn. (Macromedia did the same thing with Extensions for Flash and Dreamweaver. Fortunately for the little guys, anyone can use the Macromedia extensions.)

There may be a third path. Maybe, just maybe, the combined company will say, Hey, you developers and end-users. We know you've had some great ideas that we've had to set aside in the past, because we've been locked into these legacy architectures. We're going to start with a blank sheet of paper and design a real, 21st-century learning system with all the features, bells and whistles you've been waiting for.

Sure, I'm an optimist. I'll be scanning the sky for swine. ;-)

UPDATE: Welcome readers of Inside Higher Education!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Blackboard eats WebCT

Back in June 2003, Rob Reynolds suggested that a merger between Blackboard and WebCT would be a good thing. would simplify things enormously. As an online course developer, I could only hope that the combined resources of the two companies would result in an improved flexibility and innovation for course management.
We're going to find out.

Friday, October 07, 2005


The conversation with Chris Lott, Stephen Downes and George Siemens at George's Connectivism Blog has been a great example of why semantics is important. George points out that the focus has been on content for the past several centuries because it's been easier to create the content than the connections.

But connections have always been possible as well. You can go to a library (Carnegie, a university, a monastery, Alexandria). Read books and articles. Go sit at the feet of great teachers. Go do original research. Publish it. Get feedback. Rewrite, remix, feed forward.
That's all been possible since ancient times.

What's new, now, is that it's easy, cheap, and fast. Ridiculously so. We make connections at the speed of light rather than at the speed of text. I'm still trying to work out whether this represents a fundamental change.

People are still people. Mazlow's ladder applies today as surely as it did to the slaves of Rameses, the beggars outside Solomon's palace, or Siddartha Gautama. Technology does not change the things we do - only the ways in which we do things.

People today and a thousand years ago want to be entertained. So today we download mp3 files rather than wait for a traveling minstrel. Today we have far greater choice, zero delay of gratification. But is that a fundamental change?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Web 2.0 - developing a definition from examples

John Hagel has a thoughtful post on what Web 2.0 is. Up to this point, it's been a concept with lots of examples, but without a definition. Hagel provides a definition and goes through each word of the definition in exegetical fashion to show why it fits.

Good stuff on many levels, not the least of which is providing a worked example of developing a list of attributes from a set of prototype examples.