Thursday, July 12, 2012

#bbw12 Day 2: Discovering You are the Red-headed Stepchild + keynote coverage and some not-quite-so-public info

So, this is the day that I was conflicted about with regards to Blackboard World, attending, applying to be an official Blogger (they liked the olive sauce post by the way -- and it was worth it! yummy!). Today was the big keynote with cool announcements and features that Blackboard wants shouted from the rooftops...and while I will be doing some shouting...even some positive shouting :), I want to put this in context:

We are not Blackboard Learn users. We use the newly acquired Blackboard Engage (formerly Edline). Jen and I were asked to come present our use of the LMS within our 1:1 BYOT system. We presented yesterday and it seemed successful...great audience and questions. We even got to make a short promo video for Blackboard, although without the Android w/ a surfboard, it will pale in comparison to the latest Jen&JD Show. We have also worked with some great people MoodleRooms (another Blackboard acquisition) and some great people from Blackboard as we put together the school's new technology plan.

We like Blackboard...but we also like the free and open internet.
We understand the need for an LMS and the potential it has to shape things...but we hate lock-in

...and so with that, my view from the blogger's table:

The keynote begins with an impressive look at the world of Blackboard. I smile when I see the 20,000+ schools under the Blackboard Engage umbrella -- we were a great acquisition for the company which had not been able to make real in-roads into the k-12 market. I am excited to hear how Engage will become a part of the Blackboard community as a whole.

The presentation kicks off with a "I am a digital native" animation that puts some of the youtube infographs to shame in terms of production quality. It  does reinforce the idea that #digitalnative is synonymous with #digitalcitizen and the back channel picked up on that and grumbled a little bit. It's interesting, because based on other RTs and reactions, some people were eating it up. I am not sure if this is due to conflicting idea, differing experiences, or an evolutionary opinion that develops over time.

They come out of the gate with the big announcement. It is called ProjectXP (visions of decades old operating systems cross anyone else's mind? maybe the guys at Moodlerooms who helped work on some of this are big Dungeons&Dragons fans). Its Goal: to integrate the learning communities of 25,000+ campuses, enabling them to share resources, ideas, and connections in a way that is integrated with the LMS...whichever LMS you are using. Now that is ambitious!

The first part of this is to be called xpLore and we got to see the demo from the keynote. Using a search bar, the user can search for keywords and then use some pretty powerful filtering to narrow down by grade, by course, by state or common core standards,  etc. until the right lesson shows up. If that lesson is in the form of a learning object (cute term) such as a quiz, interactive handout, worksheet or the like, it can be imported to the teacher's courseware with a few clicks (I think I counted three).

It was impressive to watch the same lesson imported into a classroom in each of the major LMSs: angel, moodle(rooms), sakai, learn...all except Blackboard Engage (ouch...shot down like the chess-club president asking out the prom queen). Understand, there is a rich irony here since the lesson that was being bandied about like it was the second coming was a geometry quiz supposedly for the 7th grade. I was later able to confirm with the CTO of Engage/EdLine that they will NOT be able to tap into xpLore during the beta and that any link-in is at least a year out. 

But it got me thinking...

Interlude: A bump-and-run PLN
After our wildly successful BYOT presentation, Jen was talking to a teacher who is also moving BYOT who has done some interesting lessons with skin-pigmentation experiments in science...exactly the kind of lessons that our biology teachers are looking for as we integrate discussions of diversity and inclusion into the classroom across the curriculum.

These bump-and-run encounters are the norm for educators and one of the main reasons we goto conferences, talk on twitter, and read blogs. We are looking for the ideas that work that came from people like us. We do not necessarily want to take the entire lesson whole (although sometimes...) but we want to discover!
End Interlude

This has been tried a lot in the past. I can remember consulting with the Indianapolis Children's Museum on their grand idea to do a similar thing through Ning. It often fails. The two things this has going for it beyond the ready-made install base: 
  • the backend share is easy. There is not a real second step like there is when posting a lesson to a 3rd part source, or a blog or twitter. Click share and choose one of three levels and its done...I couldn't tell if it was burned in at the learning management level, but if its not, that will be the next step.
  • they have already built partnerships with and cengage (textbooks, mindtap), so they have ready-to-go modules for use. If they can get teachers to flip the switch to share their own content with the world, this has the potential to be the must have in Walled-garden-educator-networks

(and that's whats in the back of my head. The share can happen because it is seamless to the work already done...but to make the share seamless, you have to tie to the LMS and that will always cost money)

My questions:
  • They showed links to common core and state standards. Will schools be able to develop their own standards that can be tapped into or do we have to rely on the ever-present "tag"?
  • How much extra is the access to this content on top of the licensing for the various LMS systems?
  • How integrated is the share backend for teachers to upload their own content to the world? Built into the LMS would be awesome!

Aside 1: discussing this with an unamed Blackboard employee later, she mentioned that she felt bad for Engage, the red-headed stepchild of Blackboad...I mentioned that I had tweeted that smae thing. Her reaction: "oh, I totally got that from you off twitter" -- win

Aside 2: I began to restructure to think of an LMS as content curation + the day-to-day of school while our Google Drive/Docs/Apps environment would be the Student Creation side of productivity. Behold, I recieve a tweet about the BBOOGLE project, integrating the two systems together. Cool stuff.

Other features and announcements:

Some incredibly discrete analytics available at the teacher, department, and administrative level. While you knew that there would have to be some comparative data stuff spouted regarding teacher value-add, it is also nice to see that teachers can drill-down to item levels to see what is working and what isn't in the classroom.

A new texting service from Blackboard Connect. This one I panned pretty harshly and may have hurt the feelings of a few people on the development team I talked to afterward. My thoughts: the emergency text has already been covered. What I need is a system that links me into the non-SMS worlds of iOS messenger, gTalk, and even Twitter. From
People are moving towards IP-based communication methods that have many of the advantages of SMS without some of the limitations. SMS messages are limited to 160 characters, plus it isn't unheard of for a message to get lost or delayed for hours. IP messaging eliminates both issues. - Information Week
After a lot of debate over minutia of SMS prevelance, age categories, Worldwide vs. US trends, and unlimited texting plans, I was finally told (have to check my notes to get what I am allowed to say correct): "Blackboard has concrete plans going forward with regard to txt communication beyond SMS" -- so there you have it, a product announced today that already has the phase two alpha on the burner. Talk about moving at the speed of tech.

The ability to give gradebook points to users based on viewing content. This fell like lead despite a pause for applause. You cannot show a rockin' video that keeps repeating "I am an active learner" and then expect me to get all doe-eyed about passive-learning points -- we care about this content so much, the teacher isn't even really grading it!

Blackboard Social -- seriously? another social network? I had a few members of the team try to explain to me how this wasn't a social network "like that", but the demo showed follow requests, status updates, a lovely profile screen (with the ability to IMPORT your profile info from FB or Twitter). There was no mention of an API in or links out. The presenter even said "It's just like..." -- Thumbsdown (on FB)

Blackboard Mobile - led off soft with a fun (but how useful?) augmented reality view (campus zombie attack anyone?) but finished strong with an end-user license model: 1.99 for a year/5.99 unlimited. This is as it should be. Nice job.

Dixeland Jazz on the Creole Queen
And that's it for the Keynote, my reactions, and whatever inside scoop I was able to pick up. Sticking around New Orleans? I recommend the Creole Queen riverboat. good food, excellent Dixieland Jazz, and a relaxing ride up the shipping lanes. One or two more big posts from here depend on what I get out of the Kahn Academy Keynote and then off to the sunny shores of Michigan for a week! Keep your tweets, retweets, comments and likes coming!