Leaving Blackboard

March 7, 2014 was my last day as a Blackboard employee. I will miss working closely with the talented people at Blackboard. The choice and timing of this decision was entirely mine. I just felt that my personal adventure was leading in a different direction and I wanted more time and range to work independently and explore those possibilities. That said I expect that I’ll continue to work with my Bb collaborators in many of the same ways I have been, just with a different perspective.

I am very proud of my two years as a Blackboard employee. Blackboard is a great supporter of open source, Sakai and open standards, and it’s investments helped move Sakai 2.9 towards its ultimate release. Sakai 2.9 was very important because it was the first release that included Rutger’s LessonBuilder that gave Sakai a structured content capability that most see as an essential feature for learning management systems.

Video about LessonBuilder from University of Michigan

I really enjoyed working with the Blackboard xpLor team in Indianapolis integrating xpLor into Sakai’s LessonBuilder using the Learning Object Repository Integration (LORI) API. I was so proud when the LORI code was deployed in production at Indiana for Fall 2013 and later made available to the entire Sakai community when it was included in Sakai 2.9.3. I was also able to invest time to build new portal navigation (along with many others) for Sakai 2.9 that nicely updated Sakai’s look and feel.

Arguably the most significant effort supported by Blackboard was my work on IMS LTI 2.0. Starting in early 2013, it was clear that we needed a reference implementation in a real LMS to compliment the rich tool implementation built by John Tibbets of VitalSource. When a standard is “almost done”, what is needed to push it over the edge into reality are solid reference implementations and a certification suite. So I threw myself into the task and by the end of last summer I had the Sakai LTI 2.0 code pretty much complete. All that was left was to argue through the myriad of tiny details that are exposed when real implementations are built.

Because of my support from Blackboard, Sakai 10 is the first officially IMS LTI 2.0 certified LMS.

Over the past two years, Blackboard has covered my to travel to IMS and Sakai meetings around the world. I greatly enjoyed picking up the tab for my friends Ruth’s Chris steak dinners and Karaoke nights. I am a firm believer that steak and karaoke are fundamental to community cohesion. Letting us have fun together was part of Blackboard’s investment in the success of the Sakai community.

While it is pretty cool to have a job with a company that pretty much pays you to do whatever you want to do, what was really cool was how much my colleagues at Blackboard embraced me and made me feel part of the team. I loved going to BbWorld meetings and just listening to so many smart people who thought so deeply about the teaching and learning marketplace.

That closeness is what I will miss the most as I shift my role from that of an “internal collaborator” to an “external collaborator”. I hope to continue (as I always have) to collaborate through IMS with Blackboard – and the rest of the marketplace – to truly revolutionize teaching and learning with technology. I think that the LMS vendors, working with IMS can craft a whole new world of easy-to-use and seamlessly integrated disaggregated learning functionality. I think that the LMS marketplace will see great change in the next five years. I don’t see the profound innovations coming from a bunch of small startups – but instead the major efforts like Blackboard, Canvas, Desire2Learn, Sakai and Moodle will lead from the front.

When you next meet me at a Sakai, IMS, Educause, SXSWEdu or some other meeting – I will be doing exactly the same thing as I was doing the last time you met me. Playing and exploring new ways to improve teaching and learning with technology and trying to bring people together to work collectively.

Comments welcome.