Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Evil Empire of Educational Technology or Just Bright Business?

Joshua Kim puts some perspective on the new Eluminate, Wimba, and BlackBoard Merger here:
http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology_and_learning/first_reactions_to_blackboard_buying_wimba_and_elluminate

Let us take a moment to reflect on the last four years in elearning technology.

When I began in the industry in 2006, we were a BB institute (BB 6.3) with building blocks for Learning Objects for journals, blogs, wikis and for their really cool BackPack. I added within the first year Wimba's Live Classroom to our Voice Tools. Wimba as a building block inside of BlackBoard was beautiful. The system itself was fairly easy to navigate and Wimba just gave us one more way to communicate.

Were there headaches? Yep! Like many companies, Wimba had based their platform on Real Player for video at the time. Teaching students to use Real Player with a special set up, I piloted several sections of Speech with a brilliant co-worker. It was hard, but really gave our students a cheaper option than buying a 200 dollar video camera.
Alongside our work were teachers using TeacherTube and YouTube as well as other free wares. I championed Wimba to others, others picked up Wimba, Wimba got better.

We now are a D2L institution. Wimba doesn't quite work so beautifully there. Faculty have to see the ugly admin side of our server, and so do students. No pretty web interfaces or easy point, click, and do for us! I waited, waited, and then waited some more for the promised integration from both sides. With Wimba's sale to BB I wonder now who was telling the truth about WHY that integration was not taking place.

Lesson Learned: These are businesses and they DO NOT care about education no matter their creative little blurbs about being for people or being innovative.

Education should take a leaf out of this book and start creating our OWN solutions. We DO care about teaching and learning and we won't constantly be asking a vendor to reshape a tool because no programmer ever asked a teacher how it should work.

Overall, I know it was good business sense that created the agreement between Wimba, Eluminate and BlackBoard. I almost hate myself for, by proxy as a user of both, helping them understand how cool each other really were when combined. I noted in a journal almost two years ago that the natural evolution of the LMS would be something like Wimba with Learning Objects tools. The LMS would be only a repository and grading system wrapped around our more experiential tools. Discussion boards are boring, text is flat.

The only consolation that I have at the moment is that D2L, though corporate, is doing a better job of listening and opening up after the lawsuit. New products that BB has never even thought of, D2L is working on. I am proud to have worked with the D2L on the http://www.synergic3.com/ work that created the Course Builder and Design Wizard. These are tools for teaching that were informed by teachers.

The new external link integrator is another good sign for open practices that did not exist before.

I temper my praise with the Lesson Learned from above.

So, where are we? We should be in a state of constant vigilance. Watch what companies are doing, keep your RSS hot with their movements. Every year we have to renew contracts and make technology plans. We are business forecasters who make self fulfilling prophecies by what we support and do not support. When you see good practices and expected transparency, stick around. When you see doors between you and the person you are trying to reach, think twice. Contribute to growth, but make them pay YOU for your advice.

I never thought I would need a business degree or an economics background to teach, but I am finding on a regular basis I am becoming a paralegal (another article for certain). We should be requiring disclosure in our contracts! We should be leaving better 'outs' for when company directions are not matching our own. We should be mercantilists in the strictest sense!

How about clauses that give us money off our contracts for significant suggestions or development ideas or integration work from our institutions that are the result of collaboration with the company we purchased the product from? Why not give your clients the rewards? It at least makes us feel a little better about your company and our choice to use you.

As you can see, I am disillusioned though I understand the machine in elearning that has broken my heart. I really did believe that 'People teach People', and perhaps they do. However, I would also say, 'Businesses Make Money'. It was a smart move, but the rest of us will survive and find something else.

I close this article with a quick note that Wikinomics by Tapscott and Williams is the model we as educational institutions need to follow if we are looking at smart business practices for education. Collaboration is our only hope in keeping up. Take cues from community user groups and make your own communities. If we must predict the future, then let us write it together. If there is a problem, there are thousands of experts hanging out waiting at the FAQ.

We are in the business of education, and education has no room for business practices that are shady, veiled, and affect our ability to support the students we care about. Deals behind closed doors with a Thank You note afterwards are not how you treat loyal customers. You should talk to your customer base before merging or changing your paradigm drastically. You have a right to make a dollar, you do not, however, have the right to make a dollar by selling my server space!

Collaboration means openness, peering, sharing, and globalization according to Tapscott and Williams. Dear Wimba, you failed on openness and I will miss the warm fuzzy I used to feel before you became, "just a company."

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