Tom's Two Cents

What Color Is Your LMS Parachute?

What Color Is Your LMS Parachute?

I’m reblogging and expanding on a comment I left on Jon Mott’s blog post about the demise of Lively, Google’s Second Life clone. He and I and lots of others are interested in the idea of using collections of social web apps to form Personal Learning Environments in “the cloud.” Institutions are showing interest, but with obvious concerns about lack of control. While Jon’s post focused on the need for caution with cloud apps that can be temporary in nature, I think his words of caution can be applied more generally to any app that doesn’t come with clearly marked exits. Usually, these exits come in the form of standards-based content export capabilities. Look for them. Like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, robust import/export is the sign of a good app.

Now let’s look at this from a marketing perspective. If you are Blackboard, why would you ever allow anyone to export anything useful? If a customers are packing up their content that means they might be leaving. That’s like a crab trap with a big hole at the other end. That is unacceptable.

If you are Blackboard, you talk about IMS Common Cartridge compliance. But don’t do anything to make it actually happen. Take your time talking about it. Heck, you can even join the IMS Global Learning Consortium. That looks good. But don’t write any code until you absolutely have to. And when you are finally forced to implement CC, don’t give users an exit that works too well. They might use it.

Anyway, here is my comment from Jon’s blog:

Seriously, people have been painting themselves into corners ever since the invention of… um… paint. Whether you are talking about cloud-based apps or a Blackboard server nestled safely in your institution’s server farm, you can still wind up stuck… either locked out or locked in. While parts of the cloud will likely blow away, new ones will likely take their place.

The real question is “Can you get in or out of where you currently are, and can you take your data with you?” Frankly, I would rather take my chances on being locked out of a few cloud apps than locked into a single, proprietary LMS. Interestingly, I’m working with a group on an IMS CC-Blackboard converter that should get around the import/export problem despite Bb’s foot-dragging. Guess where it will live? In the cloud… with all those risky, new-fangled apps. 🙂

6 thoughts on “What Color Is Your LMS Parachute?

  1. Marion Jensen

    Agreed. Almost anything you choose, whether it’s in the cloud, or an off the shelf product, doesn’t guarantee they are going to be around for 5-10 years down the road. Just ask everybody who was using WebCT. I’ll take my chances with something that makes it easy to import/export.

  2. Jon Mott

    This has spawned a very interesting discussion . . . I’ve been writing a paper with a colleague at BYU about openness, modularity and interoperability. We’re making the case that you can’t really have any of the three without the other two.

  3. Scott Leslie

    Tom, exit strategies are good. I am both hopeful and sceptical of Common Cartridge as an exit strategy in the near term – as in, exit to what?

    In any case, I look forward to hearing more about this particular project, because you are 100% right, if you wait for Blackboard to provide a CC export, we’ll all be old and grey before we see it. The people I feel even more sorry for are the CE6 and Vista customers (not the Blackboard ‘proper’ product) – you can bet that their exit strategy, which they will be forced to employ in 12-24 months, is an “exit” directly into “BB NG,” ugh.

  4. Tom

    From what I have seen Common Cartridge has had good uptake by many LMS/CMS communities. Soon, converting a Bb export to CC will mean you can take your content package and put it into Moodle, Sakai, Plone, or eduCommons (if you want to go the OpenCourseWare route, for example). The ideal Common Cartridge Tool would also be an editor (so you can add or change metadata outside the LMS) and a player (so you can test interactive content, quizzes, etc.) Other XSLT translforms already exist to do the same kind of conversion with WebCT and older versions of Blackboard. The company that is positioned to pull it off is a small start up called enPraxis (http://enPraxis.net). Still looking for a little bit of funding, but it will come.

    From there the next step would be to create non-LMS plugins that play nicely with CC. That’s the beauty of an open standard. I should be able to throw my course into WordPress or Facebook (ClassTop folks, are you listening?). But for now, creating a way in and out of Blackboard is where we start.

  5. atutor

    Is this BB to CC converter available yet?

    Getting content out of LMSs has been an issue for as long as LMSs have been around, in both commercial and open source systems. Still, many years after their introduction, implementations of “true” content interoperability (importing and exporting) is rare. Many systems will ingest content, but once in, its locked in. The only explanation I can come up with, for this lack support for interoperability standards, is fear on the part of LMS developers of loosing clients, giving them a way to get out of the system. Maybe this is a issue for IMS to deal with. Their standards after all only reward the ability to import content into a system, providing no motivation to provide exporting capabilities. When choosing an LMS, elearning practitioners need to be aware of what they're getting into. If they choose a system without true interoperability, they're going to have great difficulty getting their content out of the system and into another should they choose to move or diversify their elearning practices.

    One system that that has taken on true interoperability is ATutor, a relatively small player in the LMS market. ATutor is open source, making its code available and encouraging other systems to copy or mimic it. Since 2003 ATutor has had IMS Content Packaging importing and exporting. Shortly after IMS QTI (Question Test Interoperability) was introduced so tests could be imported and export. Recently ATutor once again leads the way with importing and exporting of IMS Common Cartridges. Still adoption of exporting in other system is virtually non-existent.

    There is really no excuse for systems like BB not to implement common cartridge. If a relative small system like ATutor can do it relying on grants and donations, surely a multi-million dollar company like BB can come up with the funds to add true interoperability, and free its content. Or, is BB worried about loosing its monopoly on the large institution LMS market?

    http://www.atutor.ca

  6. atutor

    Is this BB to CC converter available yet?

    Getting content out of LMSs has been an issue for as long as LMSs have been around, in both commercial and open source systems. Still, many years after their introduction, implementations of “true” content interoperability (importing and exporting) are rare. Many systems will ingest content, but once in, its locked in. The only explanation I can come up with, for this lack support for interoperability standards, is fear on the part of LMS developers of loosing clients, giving them a way to get out of the system. Maybe this is a issue for IMS to deal with. Their standards after all only reward the ability to import content into a system, providing no motivation to provide exporting capabilities. When choosing an LMS, elearning practitioners need to be aware of what they're getting into. If they choose a system without true interoperability, they're going to have great difficulty getting their content out of the system and into another should they choose to move or diversify their elearning practices.

    One system that that has taken on true interoperability is ATutor, a relatively small player in the LMS market. ATutor is open source, making its code available and encouraging other systems to copy or mimic it. Since 2003 ATutor has had IMS Content Packaging importing and exporting. Shortly after IMS QTI (Question Test Interoperability) was introduced so tests could be imported and export. Recently ATutor once again leads the way with importing and exporting of IMS Common Cartridges. Still adoption of exporting in other system is virtually non-existent.

    There is really no excuse for systems like BB not to implement common cartridge. If a relatively small system like ATutor can do it relying on grants and donations, surely a multi-million dollar company like BB can come up with the funds to add true interoperability, and free its content. Or, is BB worried about loosing its monopoly on the large institution LMS market?

    http://www.atutor.ca

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