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By Kenneth C. Green October 13, 2011 1:45 am UTC

Ok, so the campus LMS market is in transition. Blackboard’s announced plans to retire its legacy LMS applications is a major catalyst for this transition: upwards of 700 Blackboard LMS clients, primary but not exclusively colleges and universities, confront “up or out” decisions regarding their current campus implementations of retiring Angel, WebCT, and other older Blackboard-branded LMS applications.

But other factors are also at play. For example, almost three-fourths (73.4 percent) of the campuses participating in the 2010 Campus Computing Survey report their institutions are “reviewing options for the campus standard LMS” in response to budget pressures, up from 68.5 percent in fall 2009.

On the provider front, over the past three years Desire2Learn, Moodle, and Sakai have each gained share and reached critical mass, having secured significant deployments across all sectors. Additionally, several new LMS providers (Epsilen, Instructure, and Loudcloud, among others) have entered the campus LMS market: these three new entrants, and others, are generating significant interest and are signing some interesting campus clients.

Yet “transitions” in the LMS market are not new. “Way back” in 2004, following the announcement that the Mellon Foundation would provide a significant grant (seed money? venture capital?) to help support the development of Sakai, I described the then campus LMS landscape as a “mature market with immature products.” Explanation: even by 2004, most campuses already had a site license for a LMS, even as these applications were less than a decade old. And that combination – a mature market with immature products – has been and remains a recipe for continuing transitions in the market.

Is your institution engaged in or about to begin a LMS review? If so, below is list of ten questions about LMS transitions that may prove useful

1. Why are we considering a LMS review and possible LMS migration? What’s been the campus experience with our current LMS application and provider? How long have we been using the current LMS? When did we last conduct a formal review of the current LMS? Are we “happy” (or at least reasonably satisfied) clients? Has the current provider failed to honor the letter or spirit of the contract? Are we forced into this review because our current LMS provider will terminate support for this specific application? Are we exploring LMS options because of cost issues and budget pressures? Has new technology emerged that is (or seems) significantly better than our current LMS platform?

2. What does our current LMS do well and what do we want (need!) it to do better? What do faculty and students like about the current platform? What do we want – or really need – the LMS to do better? Will other LMS platforms address the gap between current and required performance?

3. What is the real annual cost of our current LMS? What proportion of the total operating cost involves fees to providers for code, hosting, and support services? What about the cost of technology services and support that come from various campus budgets and that are provided by campus personnel?

4. Who will be involved in the review process? Will appropriate campus constituencies – technology conversant faculty and IT support personnel as well as students – be directly and indirectly involved in the review? And what criteria will be used for the review?

5. What’s been the experience of institutions similar to ours that have undertaken a LMS review and a LMS migration? What can we learn from the experience of other institutions? Are there formal reports from other campuses that can inform – and perhaps expedite – our efforts? After implementation, did their new LMS meet initial expectations on instructional, operational, and financial issues?

6. How fast are we prepared to migrate to a new LMS, should we decide to do so? Some institutions plan for a transition year as they migrate to a new LMS; others push forward to complete the migration during the summer that affect the speed of migration to a new LMS? Can we afford to support two LMS applications if we opt for a one-year transition strategy?

7. What kind of training and support services will students and faculty need to expedite the transition to a new LMS? How will we promote and deliver training to students and faculty? What kinds of assistance will faculty require to convert course materials from the old LMS to the new one?

8. What are the benefits – instructional, operational, and financial – of migrating to a new LMS? Will a new LMS actually save us (real) money when we look at the total cost of operation and deployment? Will more faculty use it? Will faculty make better use of it? Will it provide real instructional benefits? Will it offer operational benefits (e.g., less need for user support)?

9. How will we evaluate the LMS migration process? What data do we currently have about our LMS utilization? What data do we need to collect as we begin the migration process, should it go forward? How can we leverage data from our LMS for a better understanding of retention and academic engagement issues that involve students and also curricular development and IT support issues that involve faculty?

10. How should we document the LMS migration experience? Question 10 really is about addressing the issues cited in Question 8: can we document clear (and presumably compelling) instructional, operational, and financial benefits following a change in the campus LMS? This is not an “academic” issue. A LMS transition consumes significant time, talent, and financial resources. Inquiring minds – on-campus and elsewhere in the larger higher education community – will want to know (a) if your migration met expectations, (b) what transition; (c) what you could have done better, and (d) what others might learn from your experience.

Admittedly, many of these questions seem – indeed are – obvious. Yet a steady stream of campus newspaper articles, editorials, and blogs periodically delivered to my computer via Google Alerts affirms the wise words a pragmatic professor offered in the opening moments of a graduate seminar on public policy many years ago: “implementation is the movement from cup to lip.” While many campuses to a great job of planning the transition to a new LMS, a good number do not. And the problem areas all seem to involve training and support for students and faculty.

As with so many IT issues, technology may be the easy part of a LMS transition. It’s the planning, policy, and people factors that pose the real (and continuing) challenges.

DISCLOSURE: Eight firms that provide LMS applications and support services – Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Epsilen, Instructure, The Longsight Group, Moodlerooms, Pearson, and rSmart – are corporate sponsors of The Campus Computing Project.

By Kenneth C. Green July 20, 2011 2:15 am UTC

(Spoiler alert! This is a long blog – more than 2400 words.)

It’s been 20 days since the announcement that Providence Equity Partners would acquire Blackboard. The acquirer became the acquired in this transaction: Blackboard, which has spent more than a half a billion dollars over the past five years to buy a range of technology firms that focus on the education market (Angel Learning, Elluminate, iStrategy, NTI, Presidium, WebCT, and Wimba, among others) agreed to be purchased for approximately $1.64 billion.

Not surprisingly, the message from Blackboard, as reflected in a public letter from Blackboard CEO Michael Chasen, a blog post from Blackboard Learn president Ray Henderson, and an accompanying set of FAQs – is, in essence, that the sale to Providence will have little impact on the company’s relationship with clients. Chasen’s letter announced that he and the current management team “will remain in place and we do not anticipate any changes [in Blackboard’s] day-to-day operations.” Henderson’s blog provided some additional rationale for the financial deal, suggesting that private ownership frees management from the quarterly pressures to report continuously rising revenue and profits: “private equity now provides an alternative ownership model that’s more agile…firms like Providence include very long-term investors…willing to take longer-term perspectives.” Henderson also proclaimed that that the new owners “share our vision of improving the education experience for our clients, and of the mission critical role [Blackboard’s] platforms play in teaching and learning today.”

The July 1st sale announcement ended a not-so-dramatic drama. One key indicator of the low drama was the absence of any significant chatter on the EDUCAUSE CIO ListServe following the sale announcement. Previously, a major (acquisition) announcement from Blackboard typically generated a number of (often angry) comments. In contrast, the ListServe was quiet about Blackboard over the July 4th weekend, save for one forwarded press release about the sale and one self-promoting post from a consulting firm.

INSIDE BLACKBOARD. Tracking Blackboard these past few months has been an “inside baseball” experience. There is a small group of people, on campuses and in the financial markets (alas, myself included), who watch closely, probably way too closely. Looking back, it has been interesting (but not surprising) to see how much of the commentary about the impending sale now seems to have been off the mark. Consider two examples, both from an April 20th post on

  • The Prospective Buyers. Industry analysts interviewed by Forbes blogger Eric Savitz identified more than a dozen potential bidders for Blackboard including Apple, Google, IBM, Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Microsoft, NelNet, News Corp., Oracle, SallieMae, SAP, SunGard, and the Washington Post. Few of the interviewed experts suggested that Blackboard might be purchased by a private investment firm.
  • The Sale Price. Analysts pegged Blackboard’s sale price from the high $40s to $60/share. The final sale price - $45/share - was about $5.00 under the stock’s 52 week high ($50.26), and a few bucks below the $48.80 that the stock hit in the days following the April 19th announcement of “unsolicited offers” to buy the company. The sale price was also about $7 higher than the stock price on April 18th ($37.93), the day Blackboard announced it had received unsolicited offers to buy the firm.

Also worth noting is that the speculative comments about the sale price appear to be the catalyst for press releases from more than a dozen law firms announcing that they are ”investigating potential legal claims against the Board of Directors of Blackboard. . . whether the shareholders are being underpaid for their stock, and whether Blackboard's Board of Directors acted in the shareholders' best interests.” One investment firm has also filed a lawsuit claiming that the Blackboard was sold through "an unfair process and for an unfair price."

(Allow me, esteemed readers, a moment of shameless self-promotion: my April 27th Digital Tweed blog – “Buying Blackboard” stated that “probable bidders are investment firms rather than companies that currently play a major role as content or technology providers to the campus market.” )

SHALL WE SPECULATE TOGETHER? The Blackboard sale to Providence Equity closes one set of speculative conversations (who will buy Blackboard) and serve as a catalyst for a new set of equally speculative conversations. My guess is that the next round of speculative conversations – on many campuses, on the web, among Blackboard’s business partners and competitors, and elsewhere – will focus on the four issues: leadership, the LMS franchise, synergy, and acquisitions.

== Leadership. Blackboard’s happy campus clients will be pleased by the announcement that Michael Chasen remains as Blackboard’s chief executive officer and that the current management team also stays on. I agree with my fellow Inside Higher Ed blogger Joshua Kim's comment that Blackboard Learn president Ray Henderson has become close to indispensable for Blackboard’s LMS franchise. The LMS remains the largest and most strategic of Blackboard’s operating units. Henderson is clearly “first among equals” among the leaders of Blackboard’ six business units (Analytics, Connect, Collaborate, Learn, Mobile, and Transact): none of the other operating unit directors get the corporately sponsored air time or has the public presence that Henderson occupies (enjoys?). And this all appears to be part of the corporate plan: when Blackboard bought Angel Learning in 2009, Chasen said, in essence, that he appointed Henderson to helm Blackboard Learn in part because Angel had a great reputation for quality assurance and customer service, key areas where Blackboard needed to improve. (Those “inside Blackboard” types with hyperactive inference engines no doubt noticed that Blackboard’s web page for the sale announcement titled CEO Michael Chasen’s statement about the acquisition as just a “Letter to Blackboard Clients” with no reference to Chasen’s name, while Henderson’s blog post about the acquisition appeared above of the “client letter” and referenced Henderson by name.) Henderson’s metrics for improving the LMS franchise, as presented at various public forums, suggest he is succeeding, as do the client comments on various blogs and ListServes.

== The Campus LMS Franchise. Give Blackboard credit: it helped to create and provide credibility for the notion of “learning management systems.” Moreover, large numbers of Blackboard’s current LMS clients are upgrading to the newest version of Blackboard’s LMS application, Learn 9x.

Yet Ray Henderson’s best efforts notwithstanding, Blackboard’s LMS franchise continues to lose clients in the campus market. Blackboard’s public data suggest that some 700-plus Blackboard LMS clients (mostly but not exclusively colleges and universities) confront "up or out" decisions by the end of 2013, when Blackboard terminates support for its "legacy" LMS applications, most notably WebCT and Angel Learning. These impending "up or out" decisions fuel what has become an increasingly competitive LMS market in higher ed: Blackboard’s competitors include “established” rivals such as Desire2Learn, eCollege, Moodle, and Sakai, plus new entrants, including Epsilen, Instructure, and Nixty, among others. Until recently, Blackboard’s LMS defections have been from client campuses on legacy LMS licenses. However, over the past year Duke University, Miami University (Ohio), and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have announced plans to migrate from the enterprise version of Blackboard Learn to Sakai. Similarly, the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, also a Blackboard enterprise LMS client, has announced plans to move to the Instructure. It’s a safe bet that other Blackboard enterprise LMS clients will make similar migration decisions over the next two yeas. The question is how many enterprise and legacy LMS clients migrate to another LMS, over what period of time. Data from the 2010 Campus Computing Survey document the shifts in the LMS market in recent years and also suggest that many campus are evaluating their options: three-fourths (74 pct.) of the CIOs who participated in the fall 2010 Campus Computing Survey report that budget issues are a catalyst for their campus to “review options for the campus standard LMS.”

On the revenue side, the defections of legacy LMS clients may not adversely affect Blackboard’s balance sheet. At least that’s what I infer based on a recent conversation with a campus official confronting an “up or out” decision regarding an expiring WebCT license. For this institution, the current WebCT license runs $40k annually; a new Blackboard Learn license would cost the campus almost $200,000. If these numbers accurately reflect the revenue profile of Blackboard’s LMS contracts, then a small number of institutional upgrades to the enterprise edition of Learn could offset the revenue loss from legacy licenses migrating to other LMS applications. In other words, Blackboard could still grow its LMS revenue even as its share of the campus LMS market continues to decline.

Interestingly and ironically, Blackboard CEO Michael Chasen predicted the rising competition from new arrivals in the LMS market five years ago. Defending Blackboard’s (controversial) decision to sue Desire2Learn for patent infringement at an EDUCAUSE conference town hall meeting in fall 2006, Chasen explained that his company had invested significant dollars to develop its LMS application. The patent lawsuit, he stated, was one way for the company to protect its investment in its intellectual property from new firms that might want to enter the LMS market. And as noted above, the competitors have come: they are gaining traction and signing contracts with campus clients. (Blackboard ultimately lost the civil lawsuit against Desire2Learn on appeal in 2009; concurrently, the USPTO also rejected Blackboard’s patents claims for its online learning system.)

== Growth. Providence and its investment partners bought Blackboard because they feel the company has good prospects to grow revenues and profits. Even as the strategic LMS franchise declines as portion of overall revenue, Blackboard officials have been consistently bullish about company’s growth opportunities. Admittedly, I’ve not seen the Blackboard briefing books reviewed by the Providence analysts and executives. But like many other observers, I’ve reviewed Blackboard’s public numbers on product licenses for 2006-2009, as well as data from The Campus Computing Project and other sources. Consequently, my own assessment is that Blackboard confronts significant competition in each of the business units in its core market – higher education. For example, as noted in the April 2011 “Buying Blackboard” blog, the company was a first mover the mobile arena, but major competitors – both LMS and ERP providers – are now in the mobile game, often at price points well-below the cost of Blackboard’s service. Too, I’m hearing from a small but growing number of CIOs that they want to circumvent branded (iPhone, Android, etc.) mobile applications and hope to move their institutions to a “web-based approach to provisioning mobile apps.” The new Analytics business, based on the recent iStrategy acquisition, comes late to the market and confronts significant competition from established ERP/administrative systems providers that have long-term relationships with campus clients and also the "middleware" analytics firms that also have established market positions and campus relationships. The Collaborate products also confront significant competitors, including some Open Source applications. The (admittedly old) data that Blackboard released from 2006-09 about the number of licenses for each of its operating units revealed slow growth for Connect and Transact licenses in the latter years; there is little reason to believe that number of Connect or Transact campus clients has grown significantly in the past two years.

== Synergy. Acquisitions provide an opportunity for both analysts and executives to look for synergy (and cross-selling) opportunities. Providence owns or is an investor in several for-profit colleges and also a number of technology firms that provide services to the higher ed and K-12 markets, including, most notably, SunGard, parent company to SunGard Higher Ed, a major provider of administrative/ERP systems to colleges and universities.

No doubt Blackboard and Providence execs are in conversation about synergy opportunities. The quick and easy synergy (as if these things might be really quick or really easy) would appear to involve the Blackboard Student Services unit, which provides call center and IT help desk services. Providence executives could ask other firms in its education portfolio to consider moving call center and support services to Blackboard’s Student Services unit.

For many campus IT officials, the immediate synergy questions involve SunGard Higher Education, whose parent company, SunGard, is part of the Providence investment portfolio. (Providence is an investor in SunGard, but not the leading investor.) For the past decade Blackboard and SunGard Higher Ed have always occupied parallel, if increasingly interdependent worlds. SunGard’s Open Digital Campus strategy and Community Source initiatives appear open and ecumenical towards LMS providers; moreover, a year ago SunGard announced an alliance with rSmart to support Sakai. Consequently, it seems highly unlikely that the Blackboard acquisition leads to anything approaching a “BlackGuard” or “SunBoard” initiative that would redefine the relationship between the two firms in the coming months.

== Acquisitions. Blackboard has had a voracious appetite for acquisitions. As noted above the company has spent more than half a billion dollars over the past five years to buy a range of tech firms that serve the education marketplace. Asking “who’s next?” is an appropriate question.

Several Blackboard alumni now occupy senior positions at a number of firms that provide products and services to the education market. These firms might be potential acquisition candidates. One example is Starfish Retention Solutions, launched several years ago by Blackboard alumnus David Yaskin. Starfish provides software-based retention and student success services and has more than 70 campus and K-12 clients. From the distance, Starfish seems like a possible addition to the recently launched Blackboard Analytics business.

Blackboard and Providence executives might also be looking for additional educational tech firms to complement and expand their respective education portfolios. In fact just this week, Ascend Learning, which is owned by Providence, announced plans to acquire PrepMe, an “adaptive learning platform and virtual classroom SaaS” that also offers test-prep services.

LOOKING FORWARD. Beyond the speculative conversations, campus officials want to know what the short-and long-term impact of the Blackboard sale means for their institutions.

Understandably, a key concern is the cost of various product licenses: will Blackboard raise prices to increase revenue? Campus clients will have cause for concern if Providence follows the path taken when Elsevier acquired a number of scholarly journals and then increased prices significantly. Alternatively, licensing fees remained relatively stable when SunGard bought SCT some years ago and, more recently, following last year’s sale of Datatel to an investment group. A strong statement from Blackboard’s execs about stable pricing would no doubt ease concerns for campus officials who confront stressed budgets and some uncertainly about their future licensing costs.

As others have suggested, the Blackboard sale is a strong signal about how commercial markets assess the commercial value of ed tech companies. Yet for colleges and universities, the ultimate value of Blackboard and other firms is the added value that their products and services provide to campus users.

There is no question that learning management systems have become the instructional technology infrastructure for a significant portion of on-campus courses; moreover the LMS is, without question, the core technology infrastructure for online courses and programs. But do Learning Management Systems and their supporting technologies contribute to improved educational outcomes? How would we know? What metrics should we use to address the question of value added and educational outcomes?

When launched a more than a decade ago, the discussions that shadowed the LMS often included some conversation about outcomes: sure it can help you post stuff to the web, but will it do anything for student learning? These questions linger: the best research about the impact of the LMS on student learning – studies that draw on large, diverse samples of undergraduates – suggest that the students who spend more time “on the LMS” do better than their peers. In other words, controlling for a wide range of variables, it is time on task, rather than technology, that affects the learning experience and learning outcome. The organization of resources within a LMS may help foster student engagement, encouraging students to spend more time on task (time engaged in learning). But time, rather than technology, appears to be the critical variable.

Perhaps it is time to reassess our aspirations and expectations for the technologies that are now ubiquitous and imbedded in the campus experience. I suspect that there is a rising tide of semantic remorse in the campus conversations about learning management systems – particularly the “management” aspect. Were the LMS providers starting over today, no doubt many would position their products as “student engagement platforms,” a clear shift in emphasis from a faculty need (managing instructional/learning activities) to a goal for students (engagement in learning).

The ubiquity of the LMS affirms its role as a core instructional resource. But at the risk of reduction, so too are browsers, search engines, and Powerpoint. These are all technology tools that have become “core instructional resources.” Perhaps the Blackboard sale provides a symbolic opportunity for all of us – tech users and tech providers – to ratchet down the rhetoric about what we do with technology, or the magic of certain technologies for teaching, research, and instruction. Paraphrasing a comment Steve Jobs once made about the Macintosh, yes, various technology tools really can be "insanely great." But we also know from experience – with Macs, and also with PCs, smartphones, the Web, and with a lot of other tech stuff – that an “insanely great" tech tool still requires us to work at it, to work with it, and to invest time and effort to make it work effectively. The lure, promise, and potential of technology remain even as some of the luster (and bluster) has dulled.

Your thoughts? Is the Blackboard sale a big deal for higher ed, or just much ado about very little?

Disclosures: Blackboard, Datatel, Desire2Learn, eCollege/Pearson, Epsilen, Instructure, Moodlerooms, rSmart, and SunGard Higher Education are corporate sponsors of The Campus Computing Project. I own no Blackboard stock. I am on the board of directors of Perceptis, a company that competes with the Student Services unit of Blackboard.

By Kenneth C. Green May 9, 2011 1:30 am UTC

I’m obligated to post two corrections to my April 27th blog, "Buying Blackboard." The errors were clearly mine; the errors are annoying and embarrassing.
Let’s begin with two corrections.
The first error involves an uncorrected typo – an "o" which should have been an "e." Because of the typo I incorrectly cited Epsilon, an email marketing company that recently experienced IT security breaches. The reference should have been to Epsilen. To Evan Nisonson, CEO at Epsilen, who noted the error as a COMMENT, and also to you, esteemed reader, I apologize.

The second error involves my statement at the back end of the "Buying Blackboard" post about corporate debt. I correctly stated that Blackboard has spent more than half a billion dollars on acquisitions since 2006. Incorrect, however, was the statement, "That's a lot of debt to pay down," which imples that Blackboard is heavily burdened by corporate debt. It is not. I should have done a better job of checking the facts about Blackboard’s corporate debt rather than succumbing to my hyperactive inference engine. To Blackboard, and again to you, esteemed reader, my apologies.

And now on to the extensions.

First, no matter how you may feel about Blackboard – and lots of individuals both on- and off-campus have (very) strong opinions for or against the company, its leadership, and its products – Michael Chasen, Matthew Pittinsky and others who founded the company and the folks who work at Blackboard today do deserve their props. Blackboard survived the era and has grown dramatically over the past decade; last year’s sales totaled some $447 million. That’s not a random number; the revenues are not from random sales. Campus clients and others are buying lots of "stuff" – various technology applications and support services – from Blackboard

Admittedly, the company’s LMS franchise, which currently accounts for about half of total revenue, confronts significant challenges. New competitors seem to emerge about every five years, witness Desire2Learn, Moodle and Sakai in the middle of the last decade and, more recently, Epsilen and Instructure. Some 800 current Blackboard LMS clients confront "up or out" decisions about migrating from "sunsetting" Blackboard LMS applications (various versions of the WebCT and Angel LMS platforms) by 2013. Blackboard will win some of those "up or outs" and it will also lose some; but the company’s LMS platform will remain a presence on many campuses in the years ahead.

Second, I'll stand by my statement that higher ed has reasons to be concerned about corporate debt and the prospects for price increases in the wake of a Blackboard sale. As the close of the stock market on Friday (May 5th) , Blackboard's market valuation was about $1.6 billion. Admittedly, I am a civilian, not a financial analyst. But $1.6 B sounds like a lot of money to me, particularly for a firm that provides tech resources and services primarily to non-profits – colleges and schools. Assuming that Blackboard sells, whatever entity buys Blackboard will have to address the costs of the acquisition; it will have to find, make, or take cash from some source to cover the acquisition.

Third, the higher education LMS market really is in transition. Shortly after the January 2004 announcement that the Mellon Foundation would provide a $2.4 million grant (seed money) to help underwrite the development of Sakai as an Open Source Course Management/ Learning Management System, I characterized the CMS/LMS market as a “mature market with immature products.” By that I meant that the market was mature because even by fall 2003, almost all campuses had an institutional license for one or more CMS/LMS applications. But these were also young – immature – products, barely five years old. And as young/immature products they would have to evolve. The evolution of both the products and the market have contributed to current transitions – and volatility – in the higher ed CMS/LMS market.

The growing competition in the LMS market benefits users and providers. For users, the competition means more options and also price competition. Concurrently, the competition in the LMS market forces all providers, proprietary and Open Source, to bring their “best game” – their best code, best technology resources, and best services – to the market each day. And that’s a good thing for all involved.

Disclosures: Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Epsilen, Moodlerooms (which offers support services for Moodle), and rSmart (which offers support services for Sakai) are corporate sponsors of The Campus Computing Project. I own no stock in any of the companies cited in this DigitalTweed post.

By Kenneth C. Green April 27, 2011 8:30 am UTC

"Buying Blackboard" is often a topic of interesting campus conversations this time of year as colleges and universities move through the spring budget review and contract renewal cycle. However, this past week many of the more interesting “buying Blackboard” conversations shifted from campus to corporate offices. That’s because on April 19th Blackboard announced that it had hired a financial advisor to help its senior executives review “unsolicited, non-binding proposals” to buy the educational technology and services firm.

The announcement was good news for many Blackboard investors, as the stock jumped 28 percent – about $10 – following the April 19th announcement. I say most investors because there is a sizable short position on Blackboard – institutional investors and others who believe that the stock will tumble over time, not rise. You’ll pardon the pun, but it is probably fair to say that the Blackboard shorts (i.e., short-sellers) took one in their shorts last week.

There’s lots of speculation on and off-campus about who might be bidding for Blackboard. A summary of analysts’ comments published by Forbes late last week wanders the landscape of content and technology providers. The prospective buyers are/might be/are not: Google, IBM, McGraw-Hill, Microsoft, News Corp., Pearson, Oracle, SAP, and SunGard. To date, however, there has been no public comment from Blackboard or the prospective bidders: the identity of the bidders – and bidders is the key term here, as in more than one according to the Blackboard press release – remains shrouded in secrecy.

As I scan the landscape, my hyperactive inference engine suggests that the probable bidders are investment firms rather than companies that currently play a major role as content or technology providers to the campus market. This tilt towards investment firms rules out college publishers such as Cengage, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson, and also large, multi-market technology companies such as Google and Microsoft.

Why investors rather than current providers? Several factors point in that direction. Admittedly, publishers might find the Blackboard LMS franchise interesting as another distribution platform for curricular content. But data from the 2010 Campus Computing Survey document the continuing decline of Blackboard’s hegemony in the campus LMS market. This decline seemed implicitly acknowledged in a conference call with corporate analysts some weeks ago when John Kinzer, the company’s chief financial officer, stated that he expected revenues from the company’s LMS franchise to decline from
55-60 percent of current total corporate revenue to 20-30 percent in the next three-to-five years. Kinzer’s unusually candid comments about Blackboard’s shifting revenue portfolio also reflect high expectations for strong growth among Blackboard’s other business units such as mobile and notification services as well as the newly acquired/launched Blackboard Analytics and Blackboard Student Services units.

Yet corporate expectations for growth notwithstanding, Blackboard confronts significant competitive pressures across most of its business units. As noted above, there has been continuing erosion in its LMS position in the higher ed market: more erosion seems inevitable as some 700 current LMS clients confront "up or out decisions" because Blackboard has announced plans to terminate support for the Angel Learning and WebCT platforms over the next two years. (The 2009 Angel acquisition accounted for 63 percent of the growth in Blackboard’s Enterprise LMS licenses between Q4-2006 and Q4-2009.) Some of the current Angel and WebCT client campuses will migrate to the Blackboard Learn Enterprise application (Learn 9.x). Concurrently, some current Blackboard LMS clients will move to Desire2Learn, Moodle, or Sakai, LMS applications
that have gained market share in recent years,. And still others may opt for one the newer LMS platforms such as Epsilon or Instructure that are beginning to gain attention and traction.

Although Blackboard was a "first mover" with mobile services two years ago, other LMS and ERP providers have since announced their mobile strategies, often at lower cost. The new Blackboard Analytics offering is late to the market and will have to compete the with business intelligence and analytic services offered by the established ERP/administrative systems providers that have long-term relationships with campus clients and also the "middleware" analytics firms such as Cognos and SAS that also have established market positions and campus relationships.

Another factor that points to investment firms as the likely bidders is that Blackboard businesses units such as Transact (the card business) and Connect (notification services) probably would not be easily integrated into or digested by content or technology providers. The card and notification businesses are, by the standard conventions of business school case studies, "mature" businesses as almost all potential clients have already acquired these technologies, either from Blackboard or a competitor. Google and Microsoft do not have a history of buying tech firms that work in individual markets (e.g., education); rather, they typically acquire tech firms for compelling technology or to expand a position in growing markets.

Finally, a key issue for Blackboard's current education clients is the issue of corporate debt. Since 2006, Blackboard has spent more than half a billion dollars to buy a number of companies including WebCT, Angel Learning, NTI (now Blackboard Connect), Illuminate and Wimba (now Blackboard Collaborate), and Presidium (now Blackboard Student Services). That's a lot of debt to pay down, and more debt seems inevitable following a sale. This suggests that the company's new owners will be looking for new revenue, which then suggests price increases – potentially significant price increases – across the range of Blackboard’s current product lines and services. An investment firm might be less sensitive to complaints about rising prices than a company that already has well-established business relationships in the higher ed market.

Admittedly, these are my best guesses. (What are yours?) Like everyone else, I'm waiting for the press release that provides more information about the bidder(s) or confirmation of the sale.

But as we wait for that next press release, we might ask ourselves some other questions: what does the higher ed community want and need from a learning management system and from LMS providers? What does the LMS currently do well – and what must it need to do better? What do the individual LMS providers do well – and what must they do better? These questions about the role of the LMS and LMS providers are all part of the larger conversation about our expectations and aspirations for the role technology in higher education.

Disclosure: Blackboard, Cengage, Google, Epsilen, IBM,McGraw-Hill, Microsoft, Pearson, Oracle, and SunGard are corporate sponsors of The Campus Computing Project.

By Kenneth C. Green March 15, 2011 6:45 pm UTC

Mr. Steve Ballmer

Chief Executive Officer

Microsoft Corp.

Redmond, WA

Dear Mr. Ballmer:

Got a minute? We need to talk.

Last week I spent $219.45 cash – my cash – for a copy of MacOffice 2011. Like a lot (millions?) of other Mac users, I’ve been a long time Microsoft client, buying upgrades of the MacOffice products. Although I own a Mac, my Mac really runs on Microsoft Office.

Early reviews of MacOffice 2011 were promising. The Wall Street Journal’s tech guru, Walt Mossberg, no softie when it comes criticizing Microsoft, praised the new release of Office for the Mac as “by far the best Mac version of the [Office] suite I’ve used, and I can recommend it.”

And like lots of MacOffice users, I was encouraged that the new release included Outlook for managing my email, calendar, contacts, and other tasks. Given some of the problems I’ve experienced syncing Entourage data with my smartphone phone, the addition of Outlook over an update of Entourage seemed promising. For example, in his review of MacOffice 2011, Mossberg said that the “advent of a robust, full-featured Outlook for the Mac isn’t all that’s new in Office for Mac 2011, but it’s a big deal.” A really big deal! Indeed, it seems as if much of the marketing message for MacOffice 2011 focused on the arrival of Outlook as a “full-featured” PIM – personal information manager – to replace the oft-criticized Entourage application.

Alas, imagine my surprise when I learned that Outlook would not sync with my iPhone calendar. I guess I was not the only one surprised by the conspicuously absent calendar sync support: a Microsoft tech I talked with recently told me that the missing support for the calendar sync with smartphones was the top complaint about the product among people who called into the Microsoft help desk in the months following the release of MacOffice 2011.

(Of course, this assumes that they could easily find a phone number to call: your troops do a good job of burying phone numbers deep in your user support web sites. Moreover, one of the two user support URLs cited in the booklet I received with my retail copy of MacOffice 2011 referenced an Office –Windows support site, not Mactopia, the Microsoft-sponsored web site for Mac users.)

But, of course, I should have known. The whole premise of the software business seems to be “buyer beware.” The lengthy warranty and licensing statements none of us ever reads state clearly in contorted legal terms that Microsoft is not really responsible if the product fails to work, if a Microsoft software application destroys my data, or if I erroneously infer reasonable features and functions that Microsoft fails to provide.

So I guess it really was really my fault. I forgot to read or did not pay attention to the single cautionary sentence towards the end of Mossberg’s otherwise glowing review that warned about the missing calendar sync function. But tell me, Mr. Ballmer: how do you ship a product and simply fail to include a core feature such as calendar syncing? And then fail to notify potential buyers that this critical feature is missing? (Would you ship an upgraded version of WORD without the spelling checker?) These are the decisions that feed customer anger and fuel conspiracy theories. The missing calendar sync is really a very big diss to millions of MacOffice users who own smartphones.

And yes I read the November 17th technical explanation offered by Andy Ruff, the lead program manager for Outlook, regarding the reasons MacOffice did not ship with the calendar sync function.

But I don’t want a technical explanation; Like others, I want a product that delivers on expectations – explicit, implied, and inferred. And here MacOffice did not deliver on a key and very reasonable customer expectation: syncing my Outlook calendar with my smartphone.

Your firm shipped MacOffice 2011 in October. The “critical” update I downloaded this week (14.0.2) did not fix the calendar sync problem. Moreover, Microsoft has yet to announce a date for when the calendar sync will arrive.

Mr. Ruff’s November blog on the calendar sync issue offers three choices: “if calendar sync is really important to you, you have the following options:

  1. Use another product – up to you, but I’m convinced that Outlook provides the best integrated solution on the Mac.
  2. Wait for the update to upgrade – don’t buy the product until we upgrade.
  3. Go ahead and upgrade and wait on Outlook — you can use Entourage 2008 but Word, PowerPoint, and Excel 2011"

"It’s a fine combo" writes Mr. Ruff, "and I believe the benefits of those products alone is a good upgrade. If you have Outlook there, when the update comes, you’ll get it for free and can switch over.”

I doubt that this is a satisfactory option for many of us. Moreover, most of us don’t dive deep into Microsoft web sites for the detailed technical information Mr. Ruff offers to explain the delayed calendar sync function. Rather, we read occasionally web pages (see Mactopia) and product boxes. And there is nothing on the key Microsoft pages that promote MacOffice 2011 or on the product box that warns about the delayed release of the critical calendar sync function.

So here’s my counter proposal, one that recognizes the realities of the market and how Microsoft’s Macintosh customers (clients?) buy software and decide to upgrade. I think it is a simple, fair, and transparent solution.

Microsoft should slap a sticker on each physical product and a banner on every MacOffice 2011 web site page that states “Smartphone owners beware: the product you are about to purchase will NOT sync calendar information with your smartphone. The calendar sync function is coming, but we cannot tell you when.”

Admittedly, this is not a great solution, but at least it will provide accurate information about a key product limitation for others who are considering the upgrade to MacOffice 2011.

You also might consider making amends with those of us who have spent countless hours attempting to sync calendars and more hours cursing Microsoft for this “waitware” application. But, alas, we’ve been here: marketing messages and (reasonable) customer expectations notwithstanding, the guideline (sadly) remains: buyer beware.


Casey Green

Encino, CA

By Kenneth C. Green March 4, 2011 9:30 am UTC

The lead article in today’s edition of Inside Higher Ed presents the results of the 2011 Presidential Perspectives survey. I’m pleased to report that The Campus Computing Project worked with the editors of Inside Higher Ed on this survey. More than 950 presidents completed the questionnaire, making Presidential Perspectives one of the largest surveys of campus leaders in recent years

The goal of the Presidential Perspectives project was to understand how colleges and universities have been dealing with the financial challenges posed by the current economic downturn. The survey provides information about the most pressing issues that confront colleges and universities, the strategies used cut costs and increase revenues, the role of various constituencies in helping presidents maneuver during the downturn, the likelihood that the new Congress will act on issues that are important to higher education, and the effectiveness of campus investments in information technology.

Before discussing the technology data, let’s talk about the presidents. As a group, these 956 men and women (median age 60; mean age 57) have come of professorial and professional age concurrent with the transition of information technology on campus from unique to ubiquitous. Although they may not be blogging and tweeting, they have more than a passing familiarity with the increasingly critical role of technology in the campus infrastructure and operations: instruction, management, scholarship, and services.

The survey data present presidents as ambivalent about the impact of the significant sums their institutions continue to invest in information technology (IT). That even a simple majority of the presidents who participated in the Presidential Perspectives survey do not view key components of the continuing institutional investment in IT to be “very effective” should be a cause for concern among campus technology advocates, campus IT officers, and the firms that provide technology resources and services to higher education.

Library resources and services emerge at the top of the list of "very effective" campus investments in IT. But even here the numbers are not overwhelming: just half (51 percent) of the presidents participating in the survey assess the campus investment to support IT for library resources and services as “very effective” (scale score of 6 or 7; scale: 1=not effective; 7=very effective).

Ranked second as a “very effective” IT investment by just under half the survey participants is administrative information systems/services (48 percent), followed by on-campus teaching and instruction (46 percent), and online/distance education courses and programs (45 percent). “Data analysis/managerial analytics” ranks fifth (42 percent).

Moreover, as is always the case with the higher education enterprise, a single (and simple) number masks significant differences in and across sectors and segments. Some examples:

  • Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of community college presidents rate the IT investment supporting on-campus education as “very effective” compared to just a third (32 percent) of public university presidents and just a seventh (13 percent) of private university presidents.
  • Community college presidents also lead in their assessment of the role of IT in online education: two-thirds (68 percent) view the IT investment to support online courses and programs as “very effective,” compared to two-fifths (39 percent) of the presidents of private master’s institutions, a third (34 percent) of the presidents of private universities and a just over a fourth (27 percent) of the presidents of public universities.
  • Fully half the leaders of public and private universities assess the IT investment to support research and scholarship as “very effective” (51 percent public; 55 percent private) compared to a fourth of their peers in public and private master’s institutions and a fifth of the presidents in private baccalaureate colleges.

In aggregate and also by sector and segment, these data about IT issues provided by the Presidential Perspectives survey do not bode well as "measures of success." Indeed, what emerges from the survey is a portrait of campus leaders who appear to be dependent on, captive to, but also ambivalent about the continuing investment of people and money required to acquire and support a full range of campus IT resources and services. And IT really is a significant investment: despite the recent budget cuts that have wrecked havoc on many campus IT units, data from the 2010 Campus Computing Survey reveal that total campus expenditures on IT – dollars for hardware, software, services, and personnel – now consume about 5-8 percent of the total institutional budget (range: 4.8 percent in public four-year colleges to 8.4 percent in community colleges.).

So is there an “action step” that emerges from the Presidential Perspectives data on the effectiveness of IT?

For campus IT advocates, technology officers, and the firms that provide IT resources and services to colleges and universities, the action steps involve better evaluation and communication: the continuing evaluation of the of impact and benefits of IT, coupled with continuing communication about what IT does well and also what IT must to better. Too, here as elsewhere in academe, campus officials must recognize the need to use data and information as a resource (i.e., how do we do better?) instead of as a weapon (i.e., who do we punish?).

Forty years ago the President’s Task Force on Higher Education (The 1971 Newman Report) chided the academic community for the “widespread tendency to trivialize the problem of efficiency in higher education.” The Task Force went on to write that efficiency “is not only a financial problem, but an intellectual one. The questions about efficiency lead to a host of questions about teaching and learning, and the ultimate questions about the nature and purpose of higher education.”

The continuing campus conversation about information technology is, at one level, a conversation about efficiency: how do we do better, and how we can use technology resources to enhance instruction, scholarship, campus management and operations, and campus services. The great strides in technology we have experienced over the past three decades notwithstanding, the Presidential Perspectives report provides a compelling statement that campus leaders believe we can – indeed must – make more effective use of technology resources. And here the issue is not the false choice between the legacy of high touch vs. the promise of high tech. Rather, the quest is for tech-enabled high touch – the best of both "touch" and "tech" to improve and enhance the work of academe.

By Kenneth C. Green November 22, 2010 1:30 am UTC

Two surveys released earlier this month add detail to the map of online education in the United States. The 2010 Sloan Consortium Report documents the continuing growth of online education and the impact of the current economic downturn on rising online enrollments. Concurrently, the 2010 WCET-Campus Computing Managing Online Education (MOE) survey provides important details about the instructional, operational, and technological terrain of online education. (Click here for the IHE reporting on the Sloan Consortium and Managing Online Education surveys.

Taken together, data from the Sloan Consortium and Managing Online Education surveys offer an interesting map of the evolving and expanding the landscape of online education:

  • Enrollments are up. The Sloan surveys reveal that the number of students taking at least one online course grew from 1.6 million in fall 2002 to 5.58 million in fall 2009. Online headcount enrollment – individual students enrolled in one or more online courses – now account for almost a third – 29 percent – of the 19.34 million full-time and part-time students of all ages enrolled in public, private/non-profit, and for-profit degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States.
  • Past enrollment gains are also prologue: Almost all (94 percent) of the fall 2010 MOE survey participants expect their institution’s online enrollment numbers to increase between 2011-1013; two-fifths (41 percent) anticipate enrollments to grow by 16 percent or more over the next three years (A/Y 2011-2013)
  • Online education is moving from the periphery to the core. More than three-fifths (63 percent) of the Sloan survey participants agree that “online education is critical to the long-term strategy of my institution.” However, less than half the colleges and universities in Sloan survey have incorporated online education into the institution’s strategic plan.
  • Many institutions are making money on online education, but others are uncertain if their programs are profitable. Almost half (44 percent) of the campuses participating in the MOE survey state that their online programs are profitable; more than a fifth (22 percent) report profits (defined as total revenues minus all expenses) were better than 15 percent for the past academic year (A/Y 2010). Yet an equal number of the MOE survey respondents (45 percent), typically the operating officer for their institution’s online programs, report that they do not know if their online programs were profitable this past academic year.
  • Online students are taking “traditional” courses, but taking them online. The MOE survey reveals that three-fourths of the students enrolled in online course and programs are taking “traditional” degree-credit or certificate courses. More than four-fifths (84 percent) of the courses that campuses offer online are also available on-campus.
  • Organizational structures are in transition. More than two-fifths (44 percent) of the MOE survey institutions report restructuring the organization of their institution’s online programs in the past two years while three-fifths (59 percent) expect to reorganize online ed in the next two years. Moreover, thirty percent that have organized in the past two years and also expect to restructure again in the next two years. The catalysts for restructuring cited by the MOE survey participants include budget issues (38 percent), a change in institutional leadership (35 percent), a change in program leadership (29 percent), and campus efforts to centralize the management of online education (27 percent).
  • Internal issues and resources pose major barriers to program expansion. Although it is common to cite external factors such as national or program accreditation requirements, state regulation, or federal financial aid regulations as issues that impede program expansion, the MOE survey data clearly indicate that internal issues – budget cuts, lack of key human resources such instructors and support personnel, and faculty resistance to teaching online – pose a much greater challenge to institutional expand their online activities.
  • Quality metrics are often informal while program assessment can be erratic and inconsistent. The participants in the MOE survey (the senior campus operating officer for online education programs) and the Sloan survey (provosts) generally report that their institution’s online programs are “as good” or “better” than the on-campus program. However the question that shadows this affirmative assessment about the quality of online programs is “How do they know?”

Some of the most interesting data from the MOE survey document mandatory training for faculty who teach online. Fully half (51 percent) of the campuses participating in the 2010 MOE Survey report that faculty who teach in online must complete a mandatory training program; the training averages 22 hours. This represents a significant investment of institutional resources and also a significant commitment of time from faculty who want to teach online.

The mandatory training data also reflect a dramatic difference in the institutional investment in faculty who teach online vs. on-campus. As my colleague, Ellen Wagner, the executive director of WCET, commented in the press release for the Managing Online Education survey, ““Mandatory training for faculty who teach online courses reflects an institutional awareness that the online environment is different. The all-too-common – and unfortunate – practice of hiring part-timers and handing them a syllabus, textbook, campus map, and parking pass will not suffice for faculty who teach online courses.”

Let’s applaud the investment that institutions make in providing training for faculty who teach online. And let’s applaud the commitment of online faculty who complete these training programs. Both the institution and the individual faculty are engaged in a commitment intended to improve the learning experience for online students.

And let us also recognize that the expanding individual and institutional experience with online education should suggest some new strategies and opportunities to enhance and improve on-campus instruction. As one example, institutions would probably do well to encourage (but not require) on-campus faculty to complete the training mandated for online faculty. The purpose of this training should not be to dictate the use of technology resources such as a learning management system, or to require that all courses have a technology component. Rather, the goal of training should be to help improve the quality and effectiveness of all courses, online and on-campus.

Your thoughts, esteemed reader? What does online education do well? What must it do better? And what lessons emerge from the online ed experience that could help to improve the effectiveness of on-campus courses?

By Kenneth C. Green November 1, 2010 2:00 am UTC

Do you know the story of the Potemkin Villages? Russian Minister Gregory Potyomkin allegedly ordered the building of fake villages and imported “happy serfs” to impress Catherine II as she toured recently conquered territory in the Crimea in 1787. Whether myth or fact, today the term Potemkin Village has come to mean “an impressive façade or show designed to hide an undesirable fact or condition.”

At the risk of hyperbole, I’m concerned about the emergence of Potemkin campuses, as reflected by the deteriorating infrastructure required to support academic programs as well as institutional operations and campus services. At a time when the nation needs and demands more from higher education, the nation’s public and private/non-profit postsecondary institutions are struggling to maintain academic programs and institutional operations with fewer financial resources. Intended to inspire, the mantra offered during economic downturns – “we will have to do more with less, and do it better “– at best annoys.

Community colleges, often the canary in the coal mine of higher education, are on the front wave of this Potemkin campus experience. On-campus and on-line enrollments are booming in the nation’s public two-year colleges, in large part a response to the current economic downturn. Yet two recent surveys of community college presidents conducted by The Campus Computing Project and the League for Innovation in winter 2009 and again winter 2010 in reveal that budgets are eroding while enrollments are exploding. More than half (52 percent) of the community presidents participating in the winter 2010 survey reported a budget reduction, compared to 57 percent in the 2009 survey. However, the proportion of community college presidents reporting budget cuts that exceeded 10 percent more than doubled from 7 percent in the 2009 survey to 20 percent in 2010.

Not surprisingly, the mix of rising enrollments and continuing budget cuts force community colleges into a Potemkin strategy: hiring part-time faculty to meet the demand for additional classes, but not hiring the necessary support personnel – academic advisors, developmental ed specialists, vocational counselors, and instructional and IT support personnel needed to assist students and staff instructional programs. So while campus officials can report adding classes to meet demand, they are not addressing the increased pressures on the instructional and operational infrastructure that accompanies the rising enrollments.

Additional evidence of the Potemkin campus strategy in community colleges is reflected in new data on IT budgets from the 2010 Campus Computing Survey. While budget cuts seem to be abating in public and private four-year colleges and universities over the past year, the percentage of community colleges reporting a budget cut in central IT services increased from 38 percent in fall 2009 to 46 percent in fall 2010. Given that IT resources are an essential part of the infrastructure for on-campus and online courses and services, it makes no sense to cut IT budgets. Unfortunately, the data tell a different story.

Yet the Potemkin campus problem is not limited to community colleges. The Los Angeles Times (30 Oct 2010) reports that both the University of California (UC) system and the California State University System (CSUC) are exploring either mid-year and/or fall 2011 fee increases intended to “to make up for severe cuts from previous years that have left [UC and CSUC campuses] in a deep hole and forced drastic reductions in course offerings, in student services and in the numbers of part-time faculty.” For UC students, the impending rise in fall 2011 fees, estimated to be 7-10 percent, follows a 32 percent increase in undergraduate tuition and campus fees for the current (2010-11) academic year. CSUC undergraduates confront a potential 5 percent mid-year fee increase, to be followed by a 10 percent increased for fall 2011.

Similar scenarios are playing out in most other states as public colleges and universities raise tuition to offset reductions in the annual budget allocation from the legislature. Admittedly, this is not a new scenario: rather, it is the routine response to budget cuts during economic downturns.

Lest this narrative be misinterpreted, I do not believe that trustees, presidents, provosts, and other senior campus officials happily support the budget cuts that have wrecked havoc upon almost all sectors of American higher education over the past two years. Moreover, I believe that campus officials really do understand the dire impact of the continuing budget cuts on academic programs, institutional operations, and campus services.

What’s to be done? Beyond the efforts of college presidents, the conversation about Potemkin campuses needs to go off-campus – into the state legislatures, the public square, and the corner office. Where are the raised, public voices of corporate leaders? This is a non-partisan issue: across the political spectrum, those who express concern about the vitality and competitive health of American corporations and the nation’s economy should recognize that human capital and talent development, as well as tax policy, warrant their attention.

Baby Boomers were big beneficiaries of the explosive post-World War II expansion of American higher education – growth supported by state dollars to build campuses and federal dollars for research and student aid. Those who preceded us on-campus, in state legislatures, and in corporate offices did for us. It is time for those who now occupy these same chairs and offices to ask what can – indeed must – be done for others, what must be done to avoid the creation of Potemkin campuses.

By Kenneth C. Green October 18, 2010 7:45 pm UTC

Last week The Campus Computing Project announced the winners of the 2010 Digital Puck™ awards. The announcement was the part of my EDUCAUSE conference presentation summarizing the results of the 2010 Campus Computing Survey.

The awards – admittedly arbitrary on my part – reference the widely cited comment of hockey great Wayne Gretsky: asked why he was so much better than many of his peers, Gretsky quipped that “I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.”

I’ve long argued that a digital puck is probably a good metaphor for the conversation about technology in higher education. Like a hockey puck, technology is in motion (dynamic). Moreover, the trajectory – the direction and speed – can change quickly. For individuals and institutions, just as it was for the Great Gretsky, the challenge is to anticipate where the puck is going.

These first Digital Puck awards to go three technologies that loom large for higher education in the next few years. The CIO’s who participated in the 2010 Campus Computing Survey are bullish on these technologies. All three technologies are in the early stage of deployment; the early if affirmative assessments suggest each will have important impacts on instructional resources and campus services in the coming years.

With no further delay, here are the Digital Puck Awards for 2010.

The first Digital Puck Award recipient for 2010 is eBOOKS. Well over four-fifths (87 percent) of the CIOs and senior campus IT officers who participated in the 2010 Campus Computing Survey agree or strongly agree that “eBook content will be an important source for instructional resources in five years,” up from 76 percent in 2009. Additionally, more than three-fourths (79 percent, up from 66 percent in 2009) agree/strongly agree that “eBook readers (hardware) will be important platforms for instructional content in five years.”

I discussed “Year Two” of the eBook in academe in an August DT post. The platform options, market opportunities, and enabling technologies for eBooks continue to improve. However, eBooks and eTextbooks remain an “ever arriving” technology that, to date, are not a competitive alternative to used textbooks: publishers still develop titles primarily for print, and then port print content into electronic formats. Consequently, eBooks and eTextbooks do not yet provide a compelling value proposition for most college students.

But watch this space carefully. Within five years I suspect that we will see the beginnings of a significant market for eBooks designed for college students that provide compelling, price competitive content – more than just print content ported to screen.

Winner Number Two is MOBILE APPS. Again drawing on data from the 2010 Campus Computing Survey, more than two-thirds (70 percent) of the survey participants agree/strongly agree that “mobile [LMS] apps are an important part of our campus plan to enhance instructional resources and campus services.” However, the survey data indicate that mobile apps are in the early phase of campus deployment: as of fall 2010, a little more than an eighth (13 percent) of campuses have activated mobile apps; another tenth (10 percent) report that mobile apps are scheduled to go live at their institutions this current academic year (2010-11), while a quarter (25 percent) report that mobile apps are currently being reviewed by their institution. The fall 2010 deployment numbers are highest in private universities (24 percent) and public universities (21 percent).

No question, of course, that the campus interest in and movement to mobile apps reflects trends in the consumer market. Student Monitor’s spring 2010 survey of full-time undergraduates in four-year colleges indicate that 98 percent of students own cell phones and almost half have smart phones. Students expect their institutions to provide the kinds of resources and services they experience and enjoy as consumers. Mobile apps migrate access to instructional resources and campus services from the bookmarks on your Internet browser to the buttons on your smart phone.

The movement to mobile apps has been lead by the learning management system (LMS) providers. The firms that provide administrative (ERP) systems to higher ed have yet to launch their own mobile apps. Given the lead of the LMS providers in the mobile app arena for higher education, the ERP providers may follow an alliance strategy, as reflected in Datatel’s partnership with Moodlerooms and SunGard’s recently announced alliance with rSmart. Then again, the ERP providers may decide not to cede the Mobile App market to the LMS providers. If so, the ERP providers that dominate key sectors of the campus market – Campus Management, Datatel, Jenzabar, Oracle, and Oracle – will have to move quickly to launch their own branded Mobile Apps for campus clients. (AUTHOR CORRECTION: Datatel's MOX, released in June, is a branded mobile app from an ERP provider.)

The third and final Digital Puck award recipient for 2010 is LECTURE CAPTURE. Fully three-fifths (61 percent) of this fall’s Campus Computing Survey participants agree/strongly agree that “lecture capture is an important part of our campus plan for developing and delivering instructional content.” As with mobile apps, lecture capture is in the early phase of what will likely be widespread campus deployment: as of fall 2010, just 4 percent of courses make use of lecture capture technologies, up from 3 percent in fall 2008.

A month ago I described lecture capture as the new lecture, commenting that lecture capture raises a number of significant questions about intellectual property (who owns it), tagging (who catalogs it?), and utilization (how will it be used, and by whom?), among others. As with other new technologies, we’ll need some carefully designed research projects to understand and assess the impact of lecture capture on the instructional activities of faculty and the learning activities of students, as well as the impact of lecture capture on learning outcomes. Inquiring minds will want to know if lecture capture makes a difference – and if so, in what ways, for which students and faculty, and under what circumstances.

So there you have it: the Digital Puck awards go to three technologies in the early stages of deployment that seem likely to have a major impact on instructional resources and campus services.

What are your thoughts, esteemed reader? What think ye of the Digital Puck Awards? Are eBooks, mobile apps, and lecture capture each worthy of a Digital Puck Award? And what are your thoughts for the 2011 nominees?

By Kenneth C. Green October 12, 2010 2:00 pm UTC

The EDUCAUSE Conference begins today in Anaheim. This annual gathering of higher ed’s tech tribes and tech providers is part professional meeting (lots of sessions) and part trade show (lots of tech firms on the exhibit floor). It’s a good venue for clarifying campus IT priorities (“what are others doing that we need to do here at Acme College”), and for creating wish lists (“look at all the stuff that tech firms have to offer to higher ed; if only we had money for this great stuff!”). The substantive work at EDUCAUSE really does occur in three venues: in formal sessions, in informal hallway conversations, and also on the exhibit floor

As in years past, technology leadership will be a hot topic at the EDUCAUSE conference. Tech leadership and the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) will be the focus of several formal conference sessions (including one I will moderate Thursday afternoon). In public forums and private conversations, there will be discussions about the appropriate roles and responsibilities of the CIO and the (at times unrealistic) expectations institutions have for the individuals who aspire or ascend to the CIO position.

Aspiring tech leaders often use the EDUCAUSE event as part of their quest for the career algorithm. Given the multiple demands on CIOs, what’s the appropriate mix of visionary, technocrat, manager, and digital plumber? How does the mix vary by campus context and culture? Do I have to have an engineering or computer science degree to become a CIO? (No! Many do not!) Who would I want to work for? Who are the interesting role models? Who could I learn from?

All this brings me to the recent passing of Robyn Render, the Vice Chancellor for Information Technology of the University of Nevada System, who lost a long and courageous battle to cancer last month. Robyn was a statistical outlier in the world of higher education tech leaders in oh so many ways. She was a black woman with a master’s degree in a world populated by lots of white guys with doctorates in scientific and technical fields. Robyn worked her way through the professional ranks at several institutions to become the CIO of the University of North Carolina System before moving to Nevada. She also served a term as chair of the EDUCAUSE Board.

Like many of her CIO peers, Robyn was smart about technology, but she also knew that the really pressing campus IT issues often have less to do with technology, per se, and increasingly involve planning, policy, campus politics and, most importantly, people. She was thoughtful with her words, tactical and tactful in dealing with both issues and individuals. Unlike many of her CIO peers, Robyn was wiling to suffer fools (at times, including me) in ways that her more credentialed colleagues often would not. She understood the importance of listening and nuance.

Although this begins to read like a eulogy, it is really intended as a reference. Current and coming CIOs would do well to recall that people, policy, planning, and political issues are all part of the daily experience of campus IT leaders across all sectors of higher education. As experts on IT issues, CIOs are often asked to speak; it is also important that current and aspiring campus technology leaders be able to listen.



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