The EDUCAUSE NGDLE and an API of One’s Own

I have been meaning for some time to get around to blogging about the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s (ELI’s) paper on a Next-Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) and Tony Bates’ thoughtful response to it. The core concepts behind the NGDLE are that a next-generation digital learning environment should have the following characteristics:

  • Interoperability and Integration
  • Personalization
  • Analytics, Advising, and Learning Assessment
  • Collaboration
  • Accessibility and Universal Design

The paper also suggests that the system should be modular. They draw heavily on an analogy to LEGOs and make a call for more robust standards. In response, Bates raises three concerns:

  1. He is suspicious of a potentially heavy and bureaucratic standards-making process that is vulnerable to undue corporate influence.
  2. He worries that LEGO is a poor metaphor that suggests an industrialized model.
  3. He is concerned that, taken together, the ELI requirements for an NGDLE will push us further in the direction of computer-driven rather than human-driven classes.

As it happens, ELI’s vision for NGDLE bears a significant resemblance to a vision that some colleagues and I came up with ten years ago when we were trying to help the SUNY system find an LMS that would fit the needs of all 64 campuses,[1] ranging from small, rural community colleges to R1 universities to medical and ophthalmology schools to a school of fashion. We got pretty deep into thinking about the implementation details, so it’s been on my mind to write my own personal perspective on the answers to Tony’s questions, based in large part on that previous experience. In the meantime, Jim Groom, who has made a transition from working at a university to working full-time at Reclaim Hosting, has written a series of really provocative and, to me, exciting posts on the future of the digital learning environment from his own perspective. Jim shares the starting assumption of the ELI and SUNY that a learning environment should be “learner-centric,” but he has a much more fully developed (and more radical) idea of what that really means, based on his previous work with A Domain of One’s Own. He also, in contrast to the ELI and SUNY teams, does not start from the assumption that “next-generation” means evolving the LMS. Rather, the questions he seems to be asking are “What is minimum amount of technical infrastructure required to create a rich digital learning environment?” and “Of that minimal amount of infrastructure we need, what is the minimal amount that needs to be owned by the institution rather than the learner?” I see these trains of thought emerging his posts on a university API, a personal API, and a syndication bus. What’s exciting to me about these posts is that, even though Jim is starting from a very different set of assumptions, he is also converging on something like the vision we had for SUNY.

In this post, I’m going to try to respond to both Tony and Jim. One of the challenges of this sort of conversation is that the relationship between the technical architecture and the possibilities it creates for the learners is complex. It’s easy to oversimplify or even conflate the two if we’re not very careful. So one of the things that I’m going to try to do here is untangle the technical talk from the functional talk.

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  1. I understand that SUNY has since added a 65th campus []
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Personalized Learning Changes: Effect on instructors and coaches

Kate Bowles left an interesting comment at my previous post about an ASU episode on e-Literate TV, where I argued that there is a profound change in the instructor role. Her comment:

Phil, I’m interested to know if you found anything out about the pay rates for coaches v TAs. I’m also interested in what coaches were actually paid to do — how the parameters of their employable hours fit what they ended up doing. Academics are rarely encouraged to think of their work in terms of billable increments, because this would sink the ship. But still I’m curious. Did ASU really just hike up their staffing costs in moving to personalised learning, or was there some other cost efficiency here? If the overall increase in students paid off, how did this happen? I’m grappling with how this worked for ASU in budgetary terms, as the pedagogical gain is so clear.

This comment happened to coincide with my participation in WCET’s Leadership Summit on Adaptive Learning, where similar subjects were being discussed. For the purposes of this blog post, we’ll use the “personalized learning” language, which includes use of adaptive software as a subset. Let’s first address the ASU-specific questions. Continue reading

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Instructor Replacement vs. Instructor Role Change

Two weeks ago I wrote a post about faculty members’ perspective on student-centered pacing within a course. What about the changing role of faculty members – how do their lives change with some of the personalized learning approaches?

In the video below, I spoke with Sue McClure, who teaches a redesigned remedial math course at Arizona State University (ASU) that is based on the use of Khan Academy videos. There are plenty of questions about whether this approach works and is sustainable, but for now let’s just get a first-hand view of how Sue’s role changed in this specific course. You’ll see that it took some prodding to get her to talk about her personal experience, and I did have to reflect back what I was hearing. Note that the “coaches” she described are teaching assistants.

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Moodle Association: New pay-for-play roadmap input for end users

As long as we’re on the subject of changes to open source LMS models . . .

Moodle is in the midst of releasing a fairly significant change to the community with a new not-for-profit entity called the Moodle Association. The idea is to get end users more directly involved in setting the product roadmap, as explained by Martin Dougiamas in this discussion thread and in his recent keynotes (the one below from early March in Germany).

[After describing new and upcoming features] So that’s the things we have going now, but going back to this – this is the roadmap. Most people agree those things are pretty important right now. That list came from mostly me, getting feedback from many, many, many places. We’ve got the Moots, we’ve got the tracker, we’ve got the community, we’ve got Moodle partners who have many clients (and they collect a lot of feedback from their paying clients). We have all of that, and somehow my job is to synthesize all of that into a roadmap for 30 people to work on. It’s not ideal because there’s a lot, a lot of stuff going on in the community. Continue reading

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