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


Framing our Open EdTech project

There was a great series of blog posts between Dave Winer and Joi Ito this past weekend about the Open Web that touched on the role of universities in the Open Web. You can read Ito’s first post, Winer’s response, and Ito’s followup.

A few things struck me reading this exchange between two web luminaries. First, both are having a good old fashioned blog dialogue on the open web in spaces they each own and control, and because of that I get to reap the benefit of overhearing their conversation. This gives me a better understanding of how two people who are deeply connected to the web are feeling about the web today. Their transparency working in the open brings to me a bit of their knowledge about the state of the web. And clearly, they are both feeling the web that they know – the web that allows exactly this sort of free flow of dialogue – is being threatened by more and more closed spaces.

The second thing that struck me was the list of call to action points that Dave Winer posted as one way to combat the closing of the Open Web.

  1. Every university should host at least one open source project.
  2. Every news org should build a community of bloggers, starting with a river of sources.
  3. Every student journalist should learn how to set up and run a server.

I’d actually expand the third point to include many more people, including first and foremost, any academic or researcher.

But it’s the first point that caught my eye and made me wonder how many open source projects are being hosted by BC higher ed institutions? And how many of those are specific to teaching and learning?

I know that UBC and RRU have public open portals that showcase some of the open work being done at those institutions. I imagine there are many many more at not only those institutions, but others around the province being spearheaded and/or contributed to by staff, students and faculty. I’d be interested to hear about them, and if you know, please leave a comment below.

It was a timely series of posts to read for me as I have been working with Grant, Brian, Tannis and Val on crafting a vision & plan for our open collaborative educational technologies in BC higher ed group (OCETBCHE? We really need to come up with a name), and one of the goals I have of our work is to see an increased level of interest across our system in the use of OSS for teaching and learning.

To frame our work, I’ve been looking for some high level documents that articulate the importance of OSS in an educational context. One of the strongest statements I have found about the importance of OSS in education (that also connects quite nicely with the BCcampus mandate of open education in general) is a paragraph in the Capetown Declaration.

For many working in open education, the Capetown Declaration on Open Education as a defining document in the field. While it is often connected most explicitly to open education resources, there is also a section in the document that speaks directly to software and technology that doesn’t seem to get the same level of attention as the sections about OER’s.

However, open education is not limited to just open educational resources. It also draws upon open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues.

Building on this principle, I’ve been thinking about the purposes of our working group, and I’ve come up with a few ideas of why we want to do this.

  1. To promote the use of open source applications focused on teaching & learning. While there are numerous commercial vendors promoting the use of commercial software, numerous open source applications get overlooked because there are no vendors selling & marketing OSS.
  2. To provide practical solutions to educators wishing to employ open education pedagogies that build on network learning principles.
  3. To promote inter-institutional collaboration. OSS relies on the development of communities of developers and users in order to be successful. The success comes from sharing knowledge about how the software is constructed and can be pedagogically utilized. The software becomes the focal point around which a community can develop.
  4. To provide a pathway for institutions and educators to actively participate in OSS projects that are focused on EDU OSS.  Pathways to participate in OSS projects can sometime be obtuse and difficult to maneuver, meaning educators may not want to, or feel welcome to, participate in EDU OSS projects. This group can provide support for those who wish to dive deeper and participate in specific community projects, and in ways that are not just software development. This provides benefit to the OSS project as it can bring new members into the community, and active involvement in OSS communities strengthens the software, the community developing & maintaining the software, and the long term sustainability of the software.
  5. To encourage technological autonomy and provide ways for students, faculty and institutions to own and control their own data.
  6. To lower the barrier to participation on the open web for faculty and students.
  7. To provide value to other higher ed support systems within BC (think specifically of utilizing services like BCNet’s EduCloud).

It’s my start at trying to define some of what I am hoping we can do here in BC over the next little while.

Photo: I support the Open Web by Bob Chao CC-BY-NC-SA


Attribution and content theft in a new media world

A few weeks back I was contacted by Buzzfeed reporter Katie Notopolous interested in doing a story about my ongoing PayPal woes. Buzzfeed published Katie’s story yesterday. In the story, Katie included a link back to my original PayPal blog post.

Immediately after the story was published, I began receiving pingbacks on my blog and my comment section began to fill with stuff like this…


I decided to follow a few back thinking that they might be commenting on the story. Instead, what I found was content scrapped verbatim from Katie’s Buzzfeed story, including the link back to my original blog post.


Copied site #1


Copied site #2

Which explains why I was getting pingback after pingback from these content mills as they copied and pasted the story exactly as it appeared on the Buzzfeed site, right down to using the same Getty photo (that I suspect Buzzfeed had to pay for the rights to use) that Buzzfeed used in the original story.

photoEach of the links I follow (close to 20 now and they keep coming in) was the same. No additional context. No editorializing. No opinion on the story. Just a straight copy and paste of Katie’s story onto their site.

What was worse is that Katie – who did the original work – isn’t even attributed as the original author of the story. On most sites the content is posted by “admin” or “editor” or some other anonymous title. But in some cases, there are other people taking credit for Katie’s work, like Michael Blythe, if that is indeed your real name.

theftWhile I have had content from my own blog scrapped and farmed in the past, I haven’t seen it happen quite this quickly and at this scale.

For journalists, these must be both exciting and terrifying days. You now have a potential audience reach unheard of in human history. Exciting. But publish online and your work will be stolen and quickly capitalized on by others. Frustrating.

I don’t greet the disruption of journalism with glee. And I’m not justifying the theft of content, but in a digital world content will be copied, it is inevitable. If your business model is dependent on advertising revenue derived from driving traffic to your site with original content, you are in trouble.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that trying to stop this from happening is like whack a mole.


Dear EdTech Conferences. Try harder.

Got a notice today of an upcoming conference being put on by IMS Global called the Learning Impact Leadership Institute. I went to check out the website to find out more about the conference and saw the lineup of the eight confirmed plenary speakers.

CaptureNotice something?

Yep. All white. All male.

Now, just to be clear, this has nothing to do with who is on the panel. I don’t know any of these men personally, although there are names I certainly recognize and people whose work I follow. So, I don’t want this to come across as a criticism of the people in the photos or their work. It is definitely not that.

But it is a criticism of the event and the organizers who, in this day and age, cannot seem to find a single woman or person of colour to include.

In this case, I find the offense even more egregious because this event is being presented as a leadership event, and the message this sends is that the only people who are eligible to become members of the edtech leadership elite are white men.

That message gets reinforced even stronger when you scroll to the bottom of the page and see who the organizers have decided to include as representatives to provide testimonials about the conference.


Yep, three more white guys (again…this is not a criticism of these individuals).

This conference is a definite candidate for the All Male Panels Tumbler (thanks Tara for reminding me).

We need to do better.


Yeah, I know it’s 2016….



Bring on the festival

This year the BC post-secondary system is trying something new with conferences. Instead of multiple small conferences, there is going to be an uber-conference called the Festival of Learning, June 6-9 in Burnaby.

The Festival brings together a number of smaller events that BCcampus has supported over the years, including the Open Textbook Summit, ETUGSymposium on Scholarly Teaching & Learning, and the BC-TLN Spring Gathering. The Festival is being organized by the BC Teaching & Learning Council.

The idea behind the Festival was to bring all these different groups together in one place at the same time to provide some space for collaboration and co-mingling.

The challenge in doing this is to do it in a way so that the uniqueness of each singular event that made it important and special to that particular community isn’t lost in a larger event. So far, from the draft program schedule I have seen (being part of SCETUG this year and helping to coordinate some of the ETUG part of the conference), the Festival organizers have done a good job at pulling it together & maintaining space in the Festival for each of the different groups to flourish.You can see this reflected in both small ways (the way all groups are represented on the general call for proposal page, for example), and larger with each group having their own program committee.

I’m quite looking forward to the week in Burnaby, and think this is going to be a massive teaching and learning event for our system.

If you have attended any of these events in the past, then you’ll want to mark June 6-9 on the calendar. If you haven’t, then this year will be a great time to join BC post-secondary faculty, educational technologists, instructional designers, and others involved in EdTech &  SOTL in BC at the Festival. Calls for proposals are on now until March 16th. Keep an eye on the website for more information.

The Festival runs June 6-9, 2016 at both the Delta Villa Hotel and BCIT in Burnaby, BC.



Privacy & Security Conference

Spent last week at the 17th annual Privacy and Security Conference in Victoria. The event is put on by the BC provincial Office of the CIO & Ministry of Finance. What follows are some notes from the sessions I took in.

Overall, the conference was better than I expected, although I found the huge number of vendor and vendor presentations disconcerting. The vast majority of attendees at this conference are primarily from government ministries and departments. As a bit of an outsider, I was troubled by the amount of prime time given to the likes of Oracle, IBM and Microsoft to pitch directly to those in government who make the decisions around IT, privacy and security. There were many problems raised that – surprise – there were solutions to. I’m not naive to believe that there isn’t a cozy relationship between government and big tech business, but seeing so much of the conference as a sales pitch to government raised the ick factor for me moreso than the usual conference vendor presence. I hope that, at the very least, BC taxpayers made a chunk of sponsorship cash from the conference.

That said, there were some good sessions. My interest was more on the privacy side over the security, so I passed on a lot of the security bits and stuck with mostly privacy sessions.

The first day was dedicated to pre-conference half-day workshops, and the two I attended (Privacy & Ethics, and Privacy Governance) were perfect primers for me coming into a new role that will have privacy and FIPPA as an integral component of the work I’ll be doing.

Privacy is a fairly new societal concept. It wasn’t until the 1890’s that this idea of personal privacy as a right began to appear in legal journals, driven by new information technologies of the day (the party line telephone and postcards). Interesting to see how technology remains the primary driver behind privacy discussions today.

Privacy is contextual was a reoccurring message throughout many of the governance and legal sessions I attended. Meaning that, while there is both constitutional and common law around privacy, there is still room for interpretation.

The legislation in BC is driven by some key principles of privacy governance – that the right information is gathered and used by the right person at the right time for the right purpose and in the right way. Practically speaking this means taking measures to ensure that you (as someone collecting personal information) only collect what you need for the purpose you need to collect it for, and only use that data for the purpose you collected it for.

Keynote: Richard Thieme

Richard Thieme did a good keynote on day one, although the title of his talk The Porous Borders of the Modern Imagination: Privacy, Trauma and Mass Media led me to believe there would be some critical analysis of the role of the mass media in shaping the narrative of security, privacy and state surveillance. It never materialized. But the keynote was enjoyable as Thieme provided some historical context around privacy that helped frame the themes of the rest of the conference for me. He also reminded me of how powerfully right McLuhan was when he said (to paraphrase), “we look to the future through a rearview lens”, and how that lens is both comforting and problematic.

ISO 27018

Chantal Bernier (former Privacy Commissioner of Canada) introduced me to the international code of practice for personally identifiable information in public clouds, also known as ISO 27018 standard. It’s a fairly new standard from ISO, but I can imagine we’ll begin to see this certification being stamped on all manners of services from IT companies offering cloud services. I wonder if this standard may be under consideration by the BC government as they review the current FIPPA legislation?

The TPP and BC’s FIPPA

BC Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham did touch on the current FIPPA review (which a number of educators and educational technology groups have contributed briefs to). The big point in Denham’s talk that jumped out at me was that she believes that the BC privacy laws around local storage of data will hold a trade challenge should the TPP and its clause on allowing the free flow of data across borders be ratified in Canada.

Sketchnoting my way thru the conference

I tried something different this conference. Rather than firing up my laptop and taking part in the backchannel (which, whenever I checked, was crickets considering there were something like 700 people at the conference), I decided to work on sketching some notes during the talks I attended. I have to say, I loved doing this. I found I paid closer attention to the speakers, and my brain had to work hard to try to organize concepts and thoughts on the fly. I can see the appeal and will definitely be using this again in the future.

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