Online Teaching Conference (#CCCOTC15) Keynote

Back in June I had the pleasure of giving the keynote at the Online Teaching Conference (#CCCOTC15) in San Diego, put on by the California Community College system. There was quite a bit of valuable backchannel discussions as well as sharing of the slides. The theme of the talk was:

Emerging Trends in Online / Hybrid Education and Implications for Faculty

As online and hybrid education enter the third decade, there are significant efforts to move beyond the virtualization of traditional face-to-face classroom and move more towards learner-centric approaches. This shift has the potential to change the discussion of whether online and hybrid approaches “can be as good as” traditional approaches to a discussion of how online and hybrid approaches “can provide better learning opportunities”.

For those who would like to see the keynote, I am including the video and slides below. Pat James’ introduction starts at 05:50, and my keynote starts at 09:15.

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Blackboard: Ask and Ye Shall Receive (Better Answers)

About a week ago, I complained about Blackboard’s lack of clarity in messaging about their platform in general and the implications for managed hosting customers in particular. I wrote, in part,

What is “Premium SaaS”? Is it managed hosting? Is it private cloud? What does it mean for current managed hosting customers? What we have found is that there doesn’t seem to be complete shared understanding even among the Blackboard management team about what the answers to these questions are.

The problem with this oversight is deeper than just leaving managed hosting customers in the dark. Blackboard is asking customers (and prospects) to have patience as the company performs a major retooling on their platforms. In order to get that patience, they need for customers to understand (and believe) that this really is a major retooling, what is being retooled (at a high level), and what they will get that’s different from other platforms at the end of the process. This is a hard communication challenge, but it is also Blackboard’s live-or-die challenge. They really need to convince customers and prospects that the platform has a bright future, and to do that, they have to communicate nuances and technical issues that are not easy to communicate to executives. This is not something that can be fixed with a couple of DevCon sessions.

That’s why I was happy to see Blackboard respond this week with more clarity.

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Universities As Innovators That Have Difficulty Adopting Their Own Changes

George Siemens made an excellent point in his recent blog post after his White House meeting.

I’m getting exceptionally irritated with the narrative of higher education is broken and universities haven’t changed. This is one of the most inaccurate pieces of @#%$ floating around in the “disrupt and transform” learning crowd. Universities are exceptional at innovating and changing.

While I agree with his primary point about false narratives with simplistic no-change assumptions, I think there is a risk about going too far the other direction. Universities have certainly changed, and there are many innovations within universities, but universities are not very good about diffusing the innovations that they do make. I made this same argument here and here.[1] Campus changes are apparent, but too often I see innovative course designs showing real results, but courses in the same department remain unchanged.

In my opinion Universities are exceptional at innovating, but they are not exceptional at changing.
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  1. The first article had more of a technology focus, but the same applies to the pedagogical side of change. []
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IBM’s Misleading or Just Incorrect National Ad on Student Retention

Thanks to Chris Edwards for alerting me to this one. In a nutshell, IBM launched a national ad campaign last month that included commercials during Wimbledon on the weekend. They’re spending big money on this campaign about big data, learning analytics, and reducing “dropout rates” [emphasis added below].

In the US, 3 in 10 college students drop out, but how can you spot who is at risk? The one who lives far from campus? The one who works the night shift? The one with new responsibilities? One thing can’t tell you, but the right combination can. Universities are using IBM Analytics to understand pressures in and out of the classroom. Some expect to cut dropout rates by 25%. IBM Analytics is working to make education smarter every day.

If you follow the URL listed at the end of the YouTube video and select ‘Education’, you get to the main page that highlights the same video as above. For further explanation: Continue reading

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Blackboard Potential Sale: Market timing, financials, and some thoughts on potential buyers

With Reuters’ story last week that Blackboard is putting itself up for sale through an auction, one question to ask is ‘why now?’. As Michael has pointed out, Blackboard is in the midst of a significant, but incomplete and late, re-architecture of its product line.

Bottom line: If you think that Ultra is all about playing catch-up with Instructure on usability, then the company’s late delivery, functionality gaps, and weird restrictions on where the product can and cannot be run look pretty terrible. But that’s probably not the right way to think about Ultra. The best analogy I can come up with is Apple’s Mac OS X. In both cases, we have a company that is trying to bring a large installed base of customers onto a substantially new architecture and new user experience without sending them running for the hills (or the competitors). This is a really hard challenge.

Market Timing

On the surface, it seems to be a high-risk move to try and sell a company before the changes are solidly in place and customers have demonstrated that they will move to new architecture rather than “running for the hills”.

Assuming that the Reuters story is accurate, I believe the answer to the question on ‘why now’ is that this move is about market timing – Blackboard wants to ride the current ed tech investment wave, and Providence Equity Partners (their owners) believe they can get maximum value now. This consideration trumps the otherwise logical strategy of waiting until more of the risk from the new user experience and cloud platform roll-out is removed by getting real products into significant number of customers’ hands. VC investment and M&A activity are at high and potentially unsustainable levels. 2U has shown that ed tech companies can go public and be a success. has shown that relatively mature companies can be acquired for very high valuations. Instructure is likely to go public in early 2016. If you want to get a high price, sometimes it’s worth going on a hot market before addressing most of the re-architecture risk. Continue reading

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