Monthly Archives: August 2006

Patent fight over online schooling


The patent, awarded to the Washington, D.C.-based company in January but announced last month, has prompted an angry backlash from the academic computing community, which is fighting back in techie fashion — through online petitions and in a sprawling Wikipedia entry that helps make its case.

Critics say the patent claims nothing less than Blackboard’s ownership of the very idea of e-learning. If allowed to stand, they say, it could quash the cooperation between academia and the private sector that has characterized e-learning for years and explains why virtual classrooms are so much better than they used to be.

Why are universities concerned? Many use off-the-shelf systems sold by Blackboard already. But others use rival companies like Desire2Learn, or mix and match to meet their own needs. Because universities are decentralized and have such varied systems, one size rarely fits all, says Feldstein. Many borrow from open-source courseware programs with names like “Moodle” and “the Sakai Project.”

The fear is that universities, afraid of being sued for patent infringement, would stop that mixing, matching and experimenting — and that innovation would suffer. Feldstein notes most LMSs started out as university research projects — including Blackboard itself, at Cornell.

http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D8JOUGO00.htm?sub=apn_tech_down&chan=tc

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Towards a universal online library of learning material

How much material has been lost through the years? Now the question is of course what do I mean by material. For example, do I mean the trivial stuff such as typed office memorandums or the less trivial—the missing live broadcasts of the early Dr Who. No, let me focus on what I consider to be the most important material of all, that which may have a positive effect on the next generation— the historical and educational material that helps our children form sophisticated models of the Universe around us.

What am I trying to convey is that we have an example of a Universal library and we have examples of potentially Universal content. What is missing at present is a link between the central repository of free educational material and the Individual learning systems. This is where free software players such as Moodle and Sakai can facilitate in this process by delivering tools that help export to the central archive. This would thus allow teachers and lecturers an easy root to agree to sharing. I’m not saying that these learning systems don’t have Scorm compliant tools. What I am saying is that we are missing a central repository. Perhaps not for the newest courses for commercial and competition reasons. However, what about the three year old courses waiting to be backed up one final time for prosperity. Surly educational establishments can give the courses away for the greater good if they are not already doing so.

http://www.freesoftwaremagazine.com/node/1732

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Campus to Expand Use of Online Class Portal

Management System bSpace to Replace Existing Web Sites, Link to School Registrar’s Database

A new Internet portal for students and faculty to exchange information is set to enter widespread use this fall, allowing students to access information for multiple classes from a single Web site.

UC Berkeley’s new electronic “collaboration and learning environment”-bSpace-will replace current class management tools Blackboard, WebCT and CourseWeb by the end of the school year, said Victor Edmonds, director of Educational Technology Services on campus.

The primary reason for the switch to bSpace from previous systems, according to Edmonds, was to give the campus more control over the software in use.

“The main reason was more control. We didn’t want our destiny in the hands of some other company,” Edmonds said.

Earlier systems were created and owned by separate companies, which charge the campus a licensing fee.

On the other hand, bSpace is UC Berkeley’s version of software developed by the Sakai Project, a group of universities who are trying to create an open-source class management tool. Because of this, the software is available for free to the university.

“We figured at one point that it would cost well over $1 million to use other commercial software for licensing, integrating, and support,” Edmonds said.

The Sakai Project was started by the University of Michigan, Indiana University, and Stanford University, with UC Berkeley joining the project early on in its development.

http://dailycal.org/sharticle.php?id=21096

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Blackboard: Bully or Misunderstood?

Al Gore has yet to live down reports that he claimed to have invented the Internet. Now Blackboard is facing criticism from those who say the giant of the course management industry claims to have invented chat rooms. (If you are wondering, Blackboard says it never made such a claim.)

On Thursday, leading advocates for open source systems of course management announced that they were linking up with the Software Freedom Law Center to try to prepare legal and other defenses for attacks they fear will be coming from Blackboard.

“The recent announcement by Blackboard that it is attempting to assert patent rights over simple and longstanding online technologies as applied to the area of course management systems and e-learning technologies, and its subsequent litigation against a smaller commercial competitor constitutes a threat to the effective and open development of software for higher education and the values underlying such open activities,” said the announcement from the Sakai Foundation, which helps dozens of colleges and universities run open source course management systems.

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/08/18/patent

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Blackboard Scribblings

I’ve got a patent, and I’m not afraid to use it
There’s a lot to like about Blackboard, and it’s one of the best performers on the Hidden Gems scorecard. But I do have one major beef with this company, one that just recently reared its ugly head. Last month, Blackboard sued the much smaller Desire2Learn for patent infringement, based on what looks like a very broadly defined patent on using online tools for educational purposes. Not only does this practice rub me personally the wrong way, but there’s a definite risk that the move could counter its own original intent and end up scaring potential customers away.

Plenty of competition

There are other free alternatives, such as the Sakai Project or WebTycho; smaller and still-private companies like ANGEL Learning and Desire2Learn; and even international competition from HarvestRoad, which trades on the Australian stock market. There’s a lot of competition out there, in other words, and Blackboard’s respectable stature in the North American higher-education market isn’t always applicable to other parts of the globe. Many schools prefer to develop their own solutions, and those projects sometimes grow to provide other institutions with free or cheap e-learning software. ANGEL, Sakai, and WebTycho all started from internal university projects, for example. And these are all just education platforms.

http://www.fool.com/news/commentary/2006/commentary06081803.htm

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MyUCDavis introduces SmartSite

Anyone who has recently visited MyUCDavis will have gotten a whiff of SmartSite, the new online course management section of the campus Web portal.

SmartSite is powered by Sakai, an online collaboration tool whose name might be recognized from Food Network’s “Iron Chef.” The show features Chef Hiroyuki Sakai as one of the competing chefs. The online system is making a name for itself on MyUCDavis.

In 2003, Sakai was developed by the University of Michigan and Indiana University when both universities were working independently to create an open-source course management and collaboration system. Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University heard of their efforts and joined the project as well.

Currently, over 100 universities, some located in Africa, New Zealand, Egypt, and Spain, and the United States have begun utilizing the Sakai software.

According to Michael Giardina, communications analyst for the Office of the Vice Provost of Information and Educational Technology, because Sakai is open-source software – meaning it can be distributed and used by anyone – universities can collaborate to create a system that can be customized and updated to keep up with constantly evolving technology.

http://www.californiaaggie.com/media/storage/paper981/news/2006/08/17/CampusNews/Myucdavis.Introduces.Smartsite-2221142.shtml?norewrite200609161418&sourcedomain=www.californiaaggie.com

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Blackboard wins e-learning patent, sues competitor

A patent infringement fight is on as Blackboard won a very broad patent on e-learning technology including “core technology relating to certain systems and methods involved in offering online education, including course management systems and enterprise e-Learning systems.” The company then immediately sued competitor Desire2Learn, a learning management system developer.

In addition, another player, the Sakai Foundation has retained open source attorney Eben Moglen and his Software Freedom Law Center to fight the patent. In a press release, the foundation said:

“The recent announcement by Blackboard that it is attempting to assert patent rights over simple and longstanding online technologies as applied to the area of course management systems and e-learning technologies, and its subsequent litigation against a smaller commercial competitor constitutes a threat to the effective and open development of software for higher education and the values underlying such open activities.”

http://education.zdnet.com/?p=417

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