Fall projects

I’ve got a busy fall on the go with some new initiatives and projects keeping me busy.

EdTech Demos

This is a new educational technology initiative here at BCcampus, designed to help expose the system to some new ideas and educational technologies. These are free 30-60 minute virtual  demonstrations done about once a month.  So far I’ve done 3 of these demo sessions (Canvas, FieldPress, H5P) and I’ve been very happy at the response and attendance from the post-sec system.

One of the goals I have is to try to make some space for open source educational technologies as these are often interesting projects that don’t have the marketing or promotional budgets of a commercial edtech company. But there will be a mix of commercial and open source, big and small to try to get a nice flavour of what is happening in the edtech space. I have 2 more schedule for this fall, one with D2L Brightspace on Learning Analytics at the end of October, and another with Hypothes.is in late November.

I’ve put together an email notification system that people can sign up for to get notified when these demos happen. I am shooting for about one per month.  I’m also looking for suggestions of edtech that you would like to see a demo of.

Guide on the Side Sandbox

I’m also coordinating a sandbox project with a group of academic librarians from aroun d the BC post-sec system for an open source application called Guide on the Side. Guide on the Side is an open source app developed by the University of Arizona to create guided tours of websites and web applications. We are just in the process of installing the software and forming our community. This sandbox project will run for the next 6 months as we test out the software. I am trying to put together some edtech evaluation frameworks (SAML, RAIT, etc) to use as a guide for evaluating the software. I imagine I’ll end up cobbling a few of these together to come up with a framework that works for what we want our sandbox projects to do.  We’ll be releasing our findings in the spring.


I’ll be heading to EDUCAUSE in Anaheim at the end of the month. The last time I was at EDUCAUSE was in 2007 where I first met Bryan Alexander and learned about this new thing called Twitter. I don’t know if this one will be as memorable (Twitter became kind of a big deal in my life), but I am looking forward to attending.

I am in a bit of session overload right now as I plan to attend and put together my schedule. I forgot just how massive this thing is. Holy session overload! One time slot I am looking at has 53 concurrent sessions. Even when I filter from 7 to 3 streams, I still have 25 options. This one looks most relevant for how I feel at this moment.


As I have written about before, I am intrigued by a few new technologies and ways of thinking about edtech that have been coming out of EDUCAUSE, specifically the idea of Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) and applications like CASA. These are the sessions I’ll be attending, along with some more on personalized and adaptive learning which I feel I have a good conceptual understanding of, but have yet to get a good grasp on some of the more practical applications of these technologies.

Privacy Impact Assessment & WordPress Projects

One of the other projects I have on my plate for this fall is some Privacy Impact Assessment work for the BC OpenEdTech Collaborative. We had a very productive meeting of our WordPress group where one of the barriers identified by the group was the lack of clarity about data sovereignty and privacy with the technical solutions we are looking at (EduCloud, Docker, and WordPress itself).

While we do have a FIPPA compliant hosting service in EduCloud, that is just one (albeit significant) piece of the FIPPA puzzle. But there may be other privacy considerations when it comes to using WordPress. For example, a plugin may potential disclose personal information to a server outside of Canada.

Since privacy and FIPPA (within the context of educational technology) is part of my wheelhouse, I’ve taken on coordinating a Privacy Impact Assessment for an EduCloud based WordPress project.  Since a privacy impact assessment is something that is done on an initiative and not just the technology used as part of the initiative, I’ll be taking a fairly in-depth look at one of our applications of WordPress and using it to construct a Privacy Impact Assessment report that can then (hopefully) be used as a template for other initiatives using similar, but slightly different technologies. I have an idea of how to do this in my head, but haven’t yet fully formed how to execute it yet.

Other stuff

There are a number of other projects I have on the go right now (including a big one with BCNET and UBC developing an onboarding process for institutions who wish to join the provincial Kaltura shared service), and participating on the SCETUG steering committee. But these are likely the ones I’ll be blogging about over the coming months.

Oh, and something unrelated to my work with BCcampus – I’ll be spending some time prepping to teach in the new year at Royal Roads University in the Learning & Technology program. The course (normally taught by George Veletsianos) is  LRNT505: Community Building Processes for Online Learning Environments, and I am thrilled to be able to get into a (virtual) classroom and work with students. Being that I have been out of an institution for the past 4 years, I am immensely grateful to have the opportunity to jump back into an institution as a faculty member & work directly with students.


NGDLE and Open EdTech

I’ve been doing some research on Next Generation Digital Learning Environments (NGDLE) and think it might be another useful way to frame some of the work we are doing with open edtech. Educause has a 7 Things paper and a deeper white paper on NGDLE, and Phil Hill has written about NGDLE as well if you want to dig in further.

In a nutshell, NGDLE is the idea that the next generation of learning tools isn’t the single monolithic LMS, but rather a series of applications connected together using different sets of emerging and established learning tool standards.

The LMS may be part of an NGDLE environment, but it is probably more likely that the LMS would take on a more connective and administrative function in an NGDLE environment. The idea is to separate the course administrative tools & functions (like classlists and gradebooks) from the teaching and learning tools, and allow faculty to mix and match tools to fit their pedagogical needs. This gives faculty greater autonomy with what tools they want to see, while still being connected (with technologies like LTI & Caliper) to centralized institutional systems.

While it is being tagged with “Next Generation”, it is an idea that has been around for awhile now (see D’arcy’s eduglu post from a decade ago). It also strikes me that there is more than a nod to the concept of the PLE in this approach as well, although the PLE construct is about more than just technology and tools and is focused on learner autonomy, while NGDLE is more institutional and faculty focused.

We’re beginning to see institutions move towards this approach where the LMS is more the middleware that handles the administrative functions of course management, and faculty mix and match the learning tools to meet their goals. Phil Hill wrote a post about the University of North Carolina Learning Technology Commons where faculty can log into choose learning tools from an approved list of tools that will integrate with the existing LMS – the idea of a learning tools app store.

These tools are approved in 2 senses. First, there is a peer review process where faculty can review the tool and leave feedback for their peers, similar to the CASA model that I wrote about a few weeks ago, and which I love.

The second part of becoming an approved app involves vendors who submit their app to be reviewed and listed in the app store. In fact, a big part of the UNC app store approach is to, “iron out inefficiencies in edtech procurement.”

Smoothing procurement.

Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with putting systems in place to smooth procurement, especially when part of the purpose is to make room for smaller players and not default to the 800 pound gorillas. But it does make me wonder how do faculty find tools that do not have a vendor pushing and backing them? The process (as it appears to me from the outside) seems to heavily favor commercialized vendor backed learning tools as opposed to open source community developed applications.

Certainly, there is a lot to like about the NGDLE approach. It acknowledges that there is seldom one tool that fits all pedagogical needs, and gives faculty the freedom and flexibility to try out different tools to fit their pedagogical goals. Indeed, I can see the NGDLE concept as one way to frame the open edtech experimentation we are doing with Sandstorm.  And UNC may have mechanisms to get tools in the app store that are not vendor driven, so I have to applaud the fact that they are doing this and making more teaching and learning tools available to faculty.

My caution is if the only options we put in front of faculty to carry out one of the core functions of our institutions are commercially driven options, then we’re not only missing out, but are locking ourselves in to a vision of edtech that is completely vendor driven. We are not putting all the edtech options on the table; options that often have much more involvement and development input from actual educators than many vendor solutions.

As Candace Thille noted in her recent Chronicle interview on learning analytics As Big-Data Companies Come to Teaching, a Pioneer Issues a Warning (may be paywalled)

…a core tenent of any business is that you don’t outsource your core business process.

Teaching and learning are the core business of most higher education institutions. How much of that core business are we willing to outsource?

Also, see Jim Groom.

Photo: Open source free culture creative commons culture pioneers by Sweet Chilli Arts CC-BY-SA