Monthly Archives: November 2010

Blackboard Demonstrates IMS Basic LTI and IMS Common Cartridge Import and Export

The IMS ( quarterly meeting at The Woodlands, Texas had several exciting demonstrations of implementations of IMS standards in leading products in the marketplace.

If you recall, back in July Ray Henderson announced that Blackboard Learn would ship support for IMS Common Cartridge and IMS Learning Tools Interoperability in their core product line by 1Q2011. This would mean that users could make use of these standards without installing a building block – the standards would be supported with a stock install of the product.

The July announcement left a bit of “wiggle room” as these announcements often do. The questions on everyone’s minds were (a) which version of Learning Tools Interoperability would they ship, (b) which version of Common Cartridge would they support, and (c) would they support export functionality in their implementation of CC.

Blackboard’s Demonstration in Texas

While the code is still in QA and has no firm shipping date, Blackboard demonstrated BBLearn 9.1-based software in Texas that answers all those questions quite nicely:

  • It will support IMS Basic Learning Tools Interoperability 1.0 – and it has already passed the IMS Certification.
  • It will support IMS Common Cartridge 1.0 and IMS Common Cartridge 1.1. IMS CC 1.0 is already released and Blackboard is nearly complete on certification. IMS CC 1.1 is not yet released but is well-described in the Basic LTI specification. Blackboard went ahead and implemented what should be CC 1.1 (i.e. it can import and export IMS Basic LTI placements as part of their cartridges).
  • The Blackboard IMS Common Cartridge support includes a full-featured export. It does not just export cartridges that were imported, it can export anything from the Course Content section of a Blackboard course (including Basic LTI content items).

I was given a chance to play with the Blackboard QA servers and the support is quite nice and very easy to use. Basic LTI is a simple extension to their URL content type. No other LMS has taken this approach and it is actually very clever. It allows Blackboard to leverage a number of features in their product around allowing the administrator to monitor system activity.

In a sense, it builds on the notion that an IMS Basic LTI launch is simply a “smart URL”.

Angel Support for Basic LTI from Penn State

In another demonstration, the team from Penn State showed their implementation of Basic LTI for Angel. Penn State is using it to help them build tools that will function identically as they transition from Angel to some other Learning Management System over the next few years. Once of those projects is from the WebLion team that is a Learning Object Repository in development written using Plone and Zope that supports IMS Basic LTI Provider. Penn State expects to have Basic LTI running in their production Angel before 1Q2011.

While no formal plans have been announced, with a bit more development effort, the Angel support for Basic LTI can be passed to Blackboard – hopefully for inclusion in a patch release for Angel.

If Blackboard provides support for IMS Basic LTI both in Angel and in Blackboard 9.1 would allow Angel users to develop tools that could work in Angel that they could take with them as they transition to Blackboard 9.1.

I reviewed the Penn State Angel code and found it missing one feature required for certification which they plan to add. I am glad I got to take a look early enough in the process to insure that it could be certified.

Looking at Market Adoption

Once Blackboard ships their CC and BLTI and since Desire2Learn and Jenzbar already have CC and BLTI the combination over 90% of the commercial LMS market share access to these two specifications. The open source offerings are a bit behind. ATutor offers the only shipping certified IMS CC Import and Export but ATutor has no Basic LTI support (I am working on that now). Moodle 1.9 includes IMS CC support that is not yet certified and Moodle’s BasicLTI support is a mod that must be added to Moodle 1.9. Sakai 2.7, Melete, and OLAT are shipping with out-of-the-box support for IMS Basic LTI but none of them yet have support for Common Cartridge nor any immediate plans to add support for IMS CC.

So the commercial folks are ahead of the open source folks in this particular standards support race. :)

Learning Impact

As Rob Abel of IMS is always quick to point out, “IMS does not build standards for standards sake, but instead IMS standards are successful when they have positive impact on teaching and learning.”

So it is important to look at how nearly 100% penetration of these two standards in the marketplace changes things in a very positive way:

  • When this feature is released, Blackboard’s ~40 million users will immediately have access to a top-of-the line tool to author Open Educational Resources that can be published and exchanged across virtually the entire learning spectrum. Since IMS Common Cartridge (unlike SCORM) is intended for importing, remixing, and re-exporting, it is the first widely used standard that allows teacher’s to use each other’s courses. And in particular, Blackboard’s IMS CC export works with already authored content in Blackboard. Teachers don’t even need to convert their content. As I have said in many talks, “exchanging course material should be like exchanging baseball trading cards”. In a sense, most of the current OER efforts are organization-centric – a widely available IMS CC authoring tool puts the distribution of OER materials in the hands of teachers. This changes the game significantly much like Cell phones with video capture and YouTube changed the nature of video production and distribution forever.
  • Publishers seldom take the lead in a new format for publishing content but publishers are eager to have a one-format-for-all LMS systems. IMS CC promised to be just such a format, particularly when IMS Basic LTI support was added in CC 1.1 that allows publishers to embed authenticated links into a common cartridge. Publishers are amazingly quick at producing new formats when there is a demand for the format (after all they have been supporting about 30+ different formats for many years now – so what is one more). Think of the timing for a moment. Lets assume that a BBLearn release with Basic LTI and CC 1.1 come out by early next year in a Service Pack. If that happens, it is probably a safe assumption that most Blackboard 9.1 sites will install that patch well before September 2011. This means that publishers are likely to have a flood of IMS CC 1.0 and 1.1 materials ready for September 2011. We have the first nine months of 2011 for publishers to (a) figure this out, (b) get it implemented in production, and (c) send their salespeople to the ends of the earth with this awesome new product with never-before-seen features and portability across LMS systems. Then take a deep breath and think about Fall of 2012 when all the open source LMS systems also catch up and support IMS CC 1.1 as well. The publishers will have a field day. But more importantly, the teachers and students will benefit greatly from unprecedented access to high-quality materials.
  • With IMS Basic LTI pretty much assumed in 100% of the marketplace in the out-of-the-box distributions, it makes it possible to produce a learning tool that supports IMS Basic LTI Provider and sell to 100% of the installed base of the LMS marketplace *the next day*. I foresee lots of companies like NoteFlight or LectureTools popping up and producing hundreds of learning tools to fill the largely unmet needs of the “long tail’ of teaching and learning tools. This will hopefuly spur rapid innovation, leading to a model much like the Apple App Store – but for education. In a a crazy version of this, teachers start buying tools hosted somewhere in the cloud for $0.99 for their course for semester. The opportunities for a clever startup company in this area are enormous. And what makes me particularly excited as a teacher is that fact that these tools will be more likely tools for Learning rather than tools for Learning Management. We already have lots of options for Learning Management Systems such as Blackboard, Sakai, Desire2Learn, Moodle, etc – as a matter of fact lots of campuses already have several LMS systems in production at the same time. But what we are missing are Learning tools – with the LMS market pretty saturated – the growth opportunities will be in these Learning Tools and investment and talent will flow toward building a whole new set of tools that will help us teach instead of just helping us manage teaching.


Many claim that “the end of the LMS is near” and I simply laugh when I hear that because the market needs what LMS systems deliver and is clearly willing to pay a lot of money to have LMS systems on their campuses. And lots of teachers and students find LMS systems quite useful making LMS systems the most-used IT service on most campuses. If you say, “The end is near” – I say, “Yeah right” or “Show me the money”.

I claim that instead of seeing the extinction of LMS systems, we are going to start to see an exciting evolution of these systems to a future where content and functionality move freely between the systems and we find our existing LMS systems doing far more to improve teaching and learning than we had ever thought possible.

The path we are on leads to an exciting and expansive future without leaving the comfortable and useful technology of the past behind.

There are two phases of a market – before and after it reaches the tipping point. It is a bit hard to detect when a market passes the tipping point, but I feel that once Blackboard ships the products they demonstrated this week, those watching closely will feel what it is like to go through the tipping point and experience a market beyond its tipping point.

I suggest that we all hold on tight – it is going to be a fun ride.

Replacing the Windshield Trim/Moulding on a 2002 Pontiac Grand Am

My daughter’s 2002 Pontiac Grand Am had a broken plastic trim / moulding piece covering the edge of the driver’s side of the windshield. About two inches had broken off and it made a nice little well where water could pool up and drip into the car on the driver’s side.

I think someone tried to improperly remove the trim and broke both the upper end of the trim piece off and then pulled so hard that they actually broke the part into two pieces. The fact that the windshield trim on the Grand Am is two pieces glued together and listed as a single part number really confused me for a while.

On the parts diagram below, it is part number four:

But in the photo below, when looking at the broken part (top) it looks very different than the unbroken part because it is split into two pieces at a glue joint – one that comes off the car and the other that stays on the car and since the two sub-pieces are joined with a hot-glue joint at the factory, when it breaks at the glue joint, it does not look “broken” – it looks like two parts meant to be glued together. The broken piece is the top piece.

I found the part number on the old part (22615173 LH) – I went to my local dealership with part in hand and they had no idea. They also found the above diagram – but since it did not look like the part I brought with me, I was unsure what to do.

I came home and using Google, I found some experts on a Grand Am Forum that said that the part number had been changed to (15241119 LH) for the driver’s side. I went back to the GM dealer and they had the part in stock at another location so off I went to take a look.

As soon as I saw the complete new part it all made sense that I was looking at a broken portion of a part and not the whole part. The part cost $65.00. There are online places that charge $40.00 plus shipping – but I figured a part in the hand is worth two one the web and there was some benefit in visually verifying the left hand side is indeed the driver (US) side.

Armed with part in hand, the repair was exceedingly easy. The weatherstrip comes off easily – thankfully it is not glued – the weatherstrip needs to be removed from the part next to the windshield exposing the three screws to remove the part. In the picture below, the “other half” of the part is what I will take off using the three screws.

After that is is a very simple task to put the new part on with the three phillips screws and press the weatherstrip back on.

All in all, about 15 minutes of effort – after about a week of running around to figure out the right part. But the windshield no longer leaks and it looks nice again so I am pretty happy. I kind of like a puzzle.

Reference Information:

Old part numbers (printed on the part):

22615172 RH  (Passenger / right hand side)
22615173 LH (Driver / left hand side) 

New Part Numbers:

15241118 RH (Passenger  / right hand side)
15241119 LH (Driver / Left hand side)

Sakai Board Elections – 2010 Edition

The Sakai Foundation has recently announced the candidates for the Sakai Board election.

While some people consider it quite tacky, I have a history of making election commentary on the Sakai Foundation Board of Directors candidates and making a recommendation for the voters. Perhaps it is because I secretly want to be a news anchor on television and this is the closest I get.

If you are interested, take a look at these historical posts:

I refrained from such commentary in 2009 as I was running for board myself and did feel it inappropriate to comment on my fellow candidates in the class of 2009.

Who You Vote For Matters

You may think that it really does not matter who is on the Sakai board and that you can just vote by name recognition and it will be OK. That could not be further from the truth. The Sakai Board is responsible for the long-term viability of the Sakai Foundation and this is no laughing matter and the wrong board could literally put the Foundation out of business, destroying something that we all hold very dear.

You may be saying, “Huh? – what could be simpler? We all send the Foundation money and have a nice conference each year – what is so hard?” The problem is that the Sakai Board is responsible for setting priorities, hiring an Executive Director, and deciding where to spend that money. The Sakai board is 100% responsible for the financial health of the Sakai Foundation.

Let me give you a quick score card on the Sakai Board’s performance from 2006 – 2008 from a simple finance perspective. You can look at all of these documents (thanks to Seth Theriault) at the following URLs:

2006 Form 990:
2007 Form 990:
2008 Form 990-EZ:

These are the tax returns that are filed by the foundation each year. The table below shows the excess of revenue over expenses and the “fund balance” at the end of the year from these 990 statements:

YEAR            NET CHANGE       BALANCE
2006            $111,453          $144,007
2007            $294,697          $438,704
2008            $-209,047         $229,657

Note that the expense costs for the December 2007 conference are 
shown the 2008 numbers so the gain in 2007 would be lower and 
the loss in 2008 would also be lower if this expense were moved 
from 2008 to 2007.

I would note that all of the financial data in this post is simply from the required public reports above. While the 2009 tax return is not yet filed, you should expect to see 2009 financial performance very similar to the 2008 financial performance (i.e. kind of depressing).

You can see that in 2008 (and 2009) the board pursued a strategy to expand spending, ignoring any need for reserve funds. They first spent the reserve built up during 2006-2007, and then added a three-year membership model, reduced the conference subsidy and other measures in order to improve cash flow so as to maintain high levels of spending to meet the board’s vision of what the Sakai Foundation should be.

People have raised the “financial red flag” from time to time – Seth Theriault sent this E-Mail message to the community so we only have ourselves to blame if we are in the dark:

Sakai Foundation governance links (November 24, 2009)

When I ran for the board in 2009, my promises to the community if I were elected were (a) bring a focus back to fiscal responsibility and balance the budget and (b) increase transparency of the board itself.

The Board in 2010

When I joined the board in January 2010, things were in pretty bad shape – because of incomplete financial reports, the board was barely aware of precise the detail of their financial situation and some board members were still defending the notion that continued high levels of spending was “worth the risk”. With the departure of Michael and the need to hire a new Executive Director, we were a bit distracted for the first half of the year and once we had Ian in place we could get back to the financial situation.

I am happy to report that the board (for the first time as best I can tell) had complete, detailed, and representative financial reports at its September 2010 meeting. There is no more talk of “deficit spending is worth the risk”. We have a plan in place to address financial issues that I am very optimistic will succeed and what is most important, the board is very focused on monitoring the financial plan as it unfolds.

Another important step that was taken in 2010 is a subtle change in the board’s thinking as to the mission and purpose of the “Sakai Foundation”.

I (and I think many others) see the foundation’s primary purpose to provide common services, a conference, and an intellectual property holder so the organizations and people around the various Sakai efforts (core, contrib, commercial, etc) can work more efficiently together. The board from 2006 – 2009 felt that in addition to this traditional open source enabling role, that the board was responsible for driving the Sakai product forward according to a roadmap that came from the Foundation.

This foundation-owned roadmap was to have times and dates and scope and the foundation was to manage the community to meet the roadmap. In particular, the foundation decided that Sakai 3 (Now the Sakai Open Academic Environment) as to be the next generation of Sakai and that the foundation in its product role was going to end-of-life Sakai 2 and move the community development resources from Sakai 2 to Sakai 3.

The 2008/2009 board of directors felt Sakai was “one product” that they owned, controlled, and managed as if the Sakai Foundation were an LMS vendor. But this was not what the Sakai *community* wanted to do. Some members of the community were deeply invested in Sakai 2.x and other members of the community were deeply committed to Sakai 3 (now OAE). Everyone loved the idea of Sakai 3 but since Sakai 2 was the production shipping software, it was hard to stop working on Sakai 2.

Thankfully at the June 2010 Board meeting in Denver, the board agreed that the Sakai Foundation really had two projects – both of which were wonderful and had strong support in the Sakai community. At the Denver meeting, the Sakai 3 Steering Committee was formed based on how the Sakai 3 community wanted to organize itself and the Sakai 2 Technical Coordination Committee (TCC) was formed to reflect the way that the Sakai 2 community wanted to organize itself.

While this may seem like a bit of a trivial change, it is a marked difference in the board’s view of its own mission. In June 2010, the board accepted the fact that Sakai was indeed a multi-project organization where projects had some autonomy. While this may seem as completely obvious to an outside observer, it is an important step to align Sakai’s general approach to building open source communities with the “lightweight board” approaches in used in Jasig and Kuali.

Now in all three organizations, the foundation board provides for the common good and the projects govern their own resources and roadmaps. This change in the Sakai board’s philosophy is what makes a Sakai-Jasig merger feasible. As of June 2010, the Sakai and Jasig Foundations are very similar in mission, structure and approach. Prior to June 2010, a Jasig/Sakai merger would be a culture clash that simply would not have worked. In June 2010, the Sakai Foundation structure and mission started to look a lot more like the multi-project structure and mission of Jasig.

NOTE: I do need to make one thing perfectly clear in case you mis-interpret this post as I am mixing a lot of things like finances, mission, and merging. The Sakai Foundation is on solid financial footing and so is the Jasig Foundation. The Sakai Foundation has solid revenue in the range of $700K and the Jasig Foundation is around $220K (This is from the Jasig public 990 tax return). The adjustments to stabilize Sakai are simply to reduce expenses and things should turn around quickly. Please do not think of the merger as a reaction to any of the financial concerns in Sakai. I feel that the merger will greatly strengthen the culture, projects, and communities of both Jasig and Sakai – and that is the motivation for the merger – period. Making the communities better, stronger, and more effective is the only defensible reason for such a merger.

Important Note

Also, please do not think that my comments in this article are intended to be critical of Michael Korkuska (the other member of the ex-Director club). He took over during a difficult time with a board that was bent on spending money and telling the community what to do. Michael did many great things during his tenure including several years cleaning up the financial aspects of the Foundation starting as a University of Michigan project and them moving toward an independent non-profit. Also, Michael got Sakai 3/OAE started and built a community around the effort. The OAE Steering Committee and the focus and approach used in that project can be directly traced to Michael’s influence and effort. I have considered Michael a good friend and fellow traveller from the moment I met him and am very pleased with his contributions to this community.

Michael was doing what any executive should do in attempting to implement the goals and objectives of his board of directors. As a former Executive Director myself, I am quite familiar with the danger of an Executive Director with a different agenda than that of the board of directors. This is exactly why who you elect to the Board election matters *so much*. No matter how talented nor visionary an Executive Director may be, they cannot cross swords their board of directors.

Board Elections

I give you all this back story to emphasize to the voting members of the Sakai Foundation that your vote is very important and should not be shrugged off where you simply vote for a name you have heard a lot over the years.

The Foundation Board is in the midst of several important transitions:

  • From risky spending driven by board agenda to close monitoring and wise financial oversight by the board
  • From a single-board, single-product, single-governance focus to a multi-project, multi-governance focus where the foundation enhances communication and relationships between members
  • Potentially becoming a much larger and more influential worldwide organization by blending the several Sakai projects with the multiple projects that make up the Jasig community to create an overarching organization with the scope of non-administrative academic computing

These are great developments but are very recent and my hope is that we don’t end up with new board members that will not be supportive of these directions. I want to see us solidify our financial oversight and commitment to the proper mission for the Foundation over the next year – not re-debate whether or not we should go back to the policies of the 2008/2009 Sakai Board.

Note to self: I do need to write that blog post about why the Jasig / Sakai Merger is so good for us all and why I am so excited about the prospects of a merged organization.

Board Candidates

I am not going to tell you who to vote for but I will give you reasons you might want to consider in making your choices. I give you some comments in no particular order.

David Goodrum, Indiana University

David has an excellent perspective and long history in the Sakai and other projects. Indiana as the single largest installation of Sakai 2.x and strong contributor to Sakai 2.x and a very strong supporters of Sakai OAE(Sakai 3) as well as involvement with Jasig and Kuali. David and Indiana are in the ideal position to see the entire scope of what the Foundation needs to consider. David has broad expertise ranging from IT to Teaching and Learning.

Seth Theriault, Columbia University

Seth is too quiet sometimes – but he has been an influential part of the Sakai Community since the very beginning and has been passionate about quality and attention to detail. He spends long hours poring over everything from code commits to governance documents to release notes. He is a quiet leader respected by all who have worked with him. He was the unanimous selection as the founding Chair of the Sakai 2.x Technical Coordination Committee. I can think of no one better to help the Foundation straighten out its finances and get things nice, clean and crisp and set up for long-term stability.

Josh Baron, Marist College

Josh works tirelessly in his role as Sakai Foundation board chair. He has an amazing ability to listen and guide conversations and then represent us publicly as the chair. His work on the Jasig merger was excellent and shows great leadership and dedication.

Commercial Affiliates on the Board

As I said back in 2008, I continue to be strongly opposed to the election of anyone from a Sakai Commercial Affiliate to the Sakai board. The individuals and companies that partner with Sakai are a highly valued part of our community – but they have different needs and often quite different priorities than the Academic institutions that founded and are the backbone of the Sakai community.

I could imagine a future where our mission, finances, and guiding principles are clearly articulated and we have stopped debating our approach and mission. But for me as long as we are in transition, it is important to keep our board focused on serving higher education’s needs while making our intellectual property available to our commercial partners.

Another thing to consider is to look at the Ohloh contributor lists for Sakai. While Ohloh is only one measure of contribution, it would be nice to see our commercial partners more directly involved in the production of the community release of our products before we start electing our commercial partners to board seats.

If you look at the uPortal Contributors, you see a very strong contributions to the community release of uPortal by several Unicon employees (4 of the top 5 worked at Unicon at one time or another) and quite appropriately, Unicon has a board seat in Jaig.

That said, both Unicon (John Lewis) and rSmart (John Bush) are participating fully in the TCC and we are working on ways to increase their contributions to the community release and staff from Longsight (Nicola and Sam) have been stalwart in their support of the release process of the community edition of Sakai. So the trends in this area are in the right direction.

So if all goes well, expect that I will alter my position of being opposed to commercial members having board seats in Sakai at some point in the future. My position will change when (a) I see a change in commercial member commitment to the community edition and (b) the board is more settled on mission and financial approach. At that point, I will retract my opposition to commercial participation at the board level.


Who you vote for in the Sakai Board matters – this is not a game nor is it a popularity contest – what we do represents 5-10% of the LMS marketplace and millions of daily users – we matter and we need to be careful not to lose what we have created.

At the end of 2010, I am very pleased with the progress the board has made since the 2008/2009 period – a renewed focus on financial responsibility and steps toward a solid long-term mission statement and nice steps toward creating a whole new organization if/when we merge with Jasig. Lets use this election to make sure we keep up the progress.

As always, comments welcome.