Ministry announces selected LMS development partners

February 16, 2009

The answer to the question in the last post is five, or at least that is how many LMS vendors the Ministry has now selected as development partners for the Managed Learning Environment project. Announced on 10th February and in no particular order they are:

  • A consortium comprising:Catalyst with “Moodle”; Dataview with “The KnowledgeNet”; and Spike@School with “Learning Caves”;
  • Edtech with “Ultranet”; and
  • Editure with “MyClasses”.

The Ministry has chosen to work with developers of learning management systems because the LMS is regarded as the central hub of the teaching and learning activity (curriculum and pedagogy). The above vendors will be funded by the Ministry of Education to further develop their products to meet the evolving interoperability standards. In turn this will mean that schools will be able to share resources and over time work seamlessly in the greater managed learning environment. Students will be able to enjoy the new style of learning opportunities and retain a digital record of learning that can mature and move with them.

An MLE includes facilities for online collaboration and publishing, file (digital) repositories, eportfolios, communication, content management and delivery, social networking, planning, course and assessment tools, federated search engines, identity and access management, parental portal, and all the commonly used student management system modules.

Schools can now purchase a learning management system and be reassured (for the above providers) that the ongoing development pathway will in part be directed, supported and funded by the Ministry of Education. The Ministry’s direct assistance to schools is limited to advice and guidance; it is not possible for the Ministry to make funding available to help schools purchase a learning management system.

LMS vendors that were not selected for the MLE tender will still be able to access the specifications to enable the required interoperability; however they will not be financially supported by the Ministry.

The MLE concept in New Zealand is still immature and the total development time will be several years. The first obvious change noticeable to schools is likely to be the availability of the Education Sector Federated Search from within the LMS. As enhancements become available other benefits will include:

  • Better student outcomes from increasingly adaptive teaching approaches, with the student at the centre, and able to take advantage of the evolving technology;
  • Increased family engagement through the provision of a parent portal and timely reporting showing learning activity and achievement; and
  • Additional MLE modules and services available through the provision of funding assistance to take selected LMS vendors on an enhanced development path.
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Million dollar question: How many LMS are enough?

November 7, 2008

One key decision in design of an MLE is how to get the best return from the funding available? Is it to subsidise the move to an approved MLE (or LMS), as in the SMS activity? Or is there another, more suitable option, given the learning from the SMS work and the relatively low uptake of LMS by schools (2400 schools use one of 10 SMS and 460 one of 12 LMS)?

After much discussion and debate the decision was made that the Ministry would neither mandate nor fund usage of an LMS or MLE. Rather, the effort and investment would be on interoperability between application/modules and services that constitute an MLE, improving both the user experience and the value for money.

The learning management system(LMS) is a key component of the MLE (TKI holds an interest information sheeton why to use an MLE/OLE), core or central even for the foreseeable future. By this I mean that other services, modules and applications in the teaching and learning aspect of schools will ‘plug into’ or interface with the LMS.

Therefore, a key question is how many LMS should there be, or at least how many should the Ministry invest in? The lower the number the further the interoperability money goes, but the less selection for schools, the greater the risks if one/some prove unsuitable. The higher the number the more likely a school will find one they like, but the investment money gets spread further.

With a slight distortion of the economic concept of marginal utility, the first LMS would offer the greatest value, with each subsequent LMS adding less value than the previous one. However, having only one would represent a monopoly, at least in receiving Ministry funding (schools remain free to select and use any LMS they like). This introduces risks like higher prices, less innovation, a risk of failure and the costs associated with changing provider.

And what about the prevalence of open source software (e.g. Moodle), where in theory more than one vendor could offer competing business models (e.g. based on different levels of service and price) from the same code base. In this scenario the benefit of each dollar spent on interoperability could be appropriated by all the schools that were clients of the two vendors.

So, the million dollar question is how many LMS (or code bases) is ideal? And to get you started the view of the school-Ministry reference group is 2, 3 or 4.

  

 

 

The beginnings of a national education network

October 25, 2008

In planning the managed learning environment (MLE) activity I have a growing awareness of the importance that key services should be available on a high-speed, education network, as well the public internet. KAREN in the Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network and in the schooling sector provides the backbone for an emerging National Education Network(NEN). The current trial has largely been about proving technical/connectivity issues (i.e. joining one consumer to one provider) and has both worked and provided valuable learnings to all involved.

 

However, looking towards 2009 there is an expectation that more services and more consumers will connect and that this will increase the momentum of the NEN. The easiest way for MLE providers to play their part is for the project to bulk purchase their membership, a concept that is well down the discussion path but not (yet) approved.

 

So, for the last two weeks I have been asking school and vendor staff what services and content would be most valuable to schools if available on this network. Mainly services that are significantly enabled by high-speed internet access with no data caps, the findings group into three areas:

  • Cost reduction: Services that have the potential to actually save schools money if available at a reasonable rate. For example, the viability of “back-up and archiving as a service” is completely reliant on no data cap (a far cry from the connectivity deals available to most homes and schools in NZ). PABX as a service (with VoIP handsets now reasonably priced and more schools on fibre connections) would allow many schools to share the hardware and management, so long as the provider was innovative and astute. Services would start from common voice services (call management, voice mail, toll reduction, etc) and could grow into things such as integrated communications.
  • Better experience: Activities that are possible for most schools today but where fast, fat and free (the mantra of the Nelson Loop) connection makes the experience much better. Examples include managed media services (e-Cast and Clickview), content repositories (TKI), learning management systems, etc.
  • Impossible before: Educators and learners dream of activities in/at school that require very fast connections (which some learners have from home, but with a large equity issue here) and/or entry to restricted access sites (often available on one of the 250 other advanced networks connected to KAREN. Examples include augmented reality, virtual reality, 3-D animation, etc). 

But in considering who should receive a connection right there is one essential attribute of any service provider (irrespective of which of the three areas they operate in) – Drive. Energy. Entrepreneurship.

 

As in the biblical parable of the talents, the recipient should have the wherewithal to make something from the opportunity. Any vendors or service provider has to work to make the most of the break and will hopefully be in a self-sustaining position (with regard to KAREN membership) and the end of one or two years.

 

So, what services/content ideas do you have that if connected to KAREN/NEN would be of most benefit to schools?

 

Open, free, freedom

October 22, 2008

Two months ago I discovered the Capetown Open Education Declaration and loved it. Wayne Macintosh, the founder of WikiEducator was sharing at e-FEST 2008 about the merits of open approaches to education. The topic was captivating and I found myself spending many hours reading around the web for more related information. It represents much of what I believe about education, even things I may not have expressed before. Would my employer ever be a signatory to a declaration such as this?

Another presentation was on the New Zealand Creative Commons work, following on from years of pioneering work in America and elsewhere. Years ago I started seeing the CC symbol appear in readings and web resources, but now there is an local site for use by NZ creators. Within a week I found myself publishing an interoperability specification under the Attribution-Share Alike (BY-SA) license and I had started!

A few weeks later I found myself at the second New Zealand Open Source Awards in Wellington. Words like free and open were used often. Again, a body of literature and philosophy to read, discuss and debate.
So, when saying that our MLE and MLE work will be open I mean: freely available; transparent; with the minimum of rights imposed; able to be taken, used and altered by anyone.  

Managed learning environments

October 14, 2008

For many years my circle of interest has included managed learning environments (MLE) (even when I did not know exactly what they were), while my circle of influence has been centred on student management systems (or management information systems, as they are called in some countries). Recently, however, I have been tasked “to design and promote an educationally relevant, open, modular, standards-based, sustainable approach to MLE development and use for New Zealand schools”.

I am indebted to the work of many others, most notable Derek Wenmoth (see his archived blog postings on this topic). The domain is full of TLA’s, especially for the different incarnations and modules. Many vendors tell me that they offer an OLE/VLE/MLE/PLE/VTLE/LMS but is not really like any others out there. Sound familiar?

Central to my mission are the key words “educationally relevant, open, modular, standards-based, sustainable”. The better my understanding of these the better the solution will deliver to them. For the next few postings I want to focus on only three (with a close inter-relationship), coming back to the other two (that are much broader) another day.

By open I mean I appropriating all the good meaning from open source, open government, open education, etc. We will release publicly as much information as we can, as early as we can, at all steps of the journey. As we want wide vendor and school support, much of which we will not directly fund, we need to share where we are going to allow others to make their own investment and expenditure decisions with full information on our activities.

Modular as in a collection of different application and/or modules and/or services from many different providers of sources, all working together harmoniously for the benefit of the educators and learners. Quite different from the approach where a small number of providers,each offering many modules that the vendor has brought together, are contracted by with centrally and rolled out to schools.

We will seek out existing standards and specifications, select those most suited to our need and orientation and fund reference implementations to ‘prove’ they work in our context. While not funding school use, the value gained to schools using interoperable modules should grow, increasing the return quicker than the price rises.

Simple to write but a little harder to do.

Have to start somewhere, some time

October 12, 2008

After many years of reading blogs and even a short trial I feel like it is now time to start properly. I find myself surrounded by people who get some value either from writing or reading them. Well, maybe that is not quite true, but at least some of my friends and colleagues do.  And many of my clients (teachers, educators, students) blog, so joining in does make it easier to understand better some of their needs.

I am also becoming more interested in documenting my thoughts for the sake of revisiting and building on them, a sort of journal to help me build on earlier thoughts. A new job (senior manager in the e-learning or ICT in education domain), new family developments and a circle of influence that has grown quickly all create pressures and doing what I have previously done is unlikely to deliver different results.

One challenge is the work vs. personal aspects. What is appropriate for a public servant to write, especially when much will be work related? (I have read the guidelines).

I guess I will just start and feel my way forward, a little like walking in the dark in a strange room. Easy to start off safely and grow as I gain experience. So, Sunday evening after a restful weekend and I am on my way.