To Slack, or not to Slack

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There’s been this debate growing in my office and maybe yours about whether Slack is the email replacer for team communications. Haven’t heard of Slack? It’s the instant-ish messaging platform being used by big and small teams for stream-like communications. You can dip in and out of a conversations. Messages live in threads that anyone on a team can read unless it’s in a private group or a direct message. No more flagrantly cc’ing mailing lists. If I need to know/read/act, you tag me. If your message is a FYI, I can catch up whenever (or get notified based on preferences). Context is baked in to the channels. #knowledge_share #work_around If you have a frequent topic, you create a channel so the sender chooses the context of the message when posting. Email has subject lines, sure, but there is not a pre-agreed upon lexicon of approved subject lines, making them at best summaries and at worst, meaningless.

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The LMS of the future is yours!

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Do you remember your very first LMS (learning management system)?

When I started grad school nine years ago, my classes all had sites on something called FirstClass. FirstClass was not modern in appearance or function, but the bones were good. It had integrated email, file storage, a listserv, and course sites for files and messaging. Everyone in the university system had and used FirstClass. There were even such useful features such as chat, online status, and email recall (what a life saver!). During my two-year masters program, FirstClass was replaced by Gmail for email and Sakai as the learning management system.  The community mourned the loss of our beloved FirstClass. Now, early adopters were on Gmail, holdouts on FirstClass email. Some courses used Sakai, but there was no standard look or placement of materials from class to class. The listservs, once a vibrant spot for idea sharing and debate (my first exposure to this was “Blueberry-gate” in 2007), were now defunct and replaced by some bulky mailing lists filling up your inbox.

When I started teaching college, I was handed Blackboard. I had to quickly shift and adapt my LMS knowledge as a student to developing a course site as an instructor. This was more complicated than I expected, and I was a frequent visitor of “open office hours” offered by the LMS support team. Did I set up calculating columns correctly in the gradebook? After a few semesters, Canvas offered a free trial to any faculty. I jumped on the chance to try this new LMS that seemed more intuitive. My students agreed. My view of the LMS shifted a third time when I became an instructional designer and was asked to helped the college consider switching to a new LMS: the requirements of institutions, the concerns of administrators, and choosing a technology for the common good (and hopefully lowest cost). Before that transition was complete, I took a new job at an institution that was launching a switch to Canvas, only its second LMS in 244 years.

As much as I’d like to think I’m a tech radical, I, like most people, judge the new system based on my experience of the last one. There are minor swings of the pendulum between feature-rich complexity or minimal simplicity. Sakai was not an email system. Canvas didn’t have a blog or journal tool. Now we have several bloated softwares with tools no one uses (Canvas chat, anyone?). These unused features are not just an annoyance, they pre-determine how learning should happen, wasting too much time and brainpower on opting-out. In What’s Next for the LMS? (EDUCAUSE Review 2015) Brown, Dehoney, and Millichap offer a framework of five functional domains and call for a “Lego approach.”

What would this LMS look like? In my view, it would have three things:

1) a course roster with stellar SIS integration

2) a gradebook

3) a rock-star LTI and API

That’s it! Oh, except it would also be open source, students would control their own data, including publishing any of their work or evaluations to the block chain, and you could host it locally, distributed, or in the cloud. Never mind the pesky privacy laws (or lack thereof) in the country hosting your server, because the LMS is back on campus. Not connected to the internet? That’s okay too, because there is a killer app that syncs like a boss (like Evernote. Has Evernote ever given you a sync error? No, I didn’t think so.)

Who wins with the new LMS? Students because they own and control their data and it costs less to buy and run. Instructors because they have a solid core with the option to plug any LTI into a class hub. Institutions because costs are lower and the system more secure.
Who loses? The EdTech companies. Or do they? Without standard wiki features and discussion portals, startups and the old standard barriers can invest their R&D and venture funds in really great tools.

So what about all the content? Have you heard of Domain of One’s Own (UMW, CI Keys, Davidson)? We’d all have places to write online, host video, discuss, play games, build games, and code. We’d chose the platform that works for us, agrees with our privacy requirements, and is priced for value (sometimes and hopefully often open source).

The LMS of the future is yours. It is light, simple, secure, and gives you all the choice of plug-ins. The time for the LMS of the future is now!

Horizons: Improve Digital Literacy 

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It is easy in our fast-paced and tech infused work and lives to be consumed by the daily barrage of information, problems, and requests. I recently was talking with some colleagues at another higher ed institution about the value of investing in R&D (research and development). I had always considered R&D to be a business term, referring to the secret lab in a drug company developing crazy new products that would be dangerous for shareholders or customers to even know existed.

R&D: My understanding of the value of doing R&D in higher ed was informed by the Three Horizons model for growth (developed by McKinsey & Company) and discussed in Kristen Eshleman’s post, Making Space for the Important. My summary of the horizons are:

Horizon 1 (H1): keeping the lights on and fixing problems 

Horizon 2 (H2): improving services and processes

Horizon 3 (H3): transformative experiments (R&D) 

You’ve heard the maxim: the immediate trumps the important every time, while H1 demands squeeze out the H3 (and often H2). In our lives and work, it is essential to make time for the important H3 stuff to remain innovative, engaged, and cutting-edge.

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The Value Problem in Digital Badging

The Value Problem in Digital Badging was originally published as a guest post on Joshua Kim’s Inside Higher Ed blog, Technology and Learning on January 5, 2015.

by Mike Goudzwaard and Michael Evans 

Digital badges are gaining traction in higher education. A learner might earn one badge in a traditional university classroom, another for participating in a MOOC, and yet another from a professional organization for completing a training course.

But now what?

In theory, badging empowers learners to self-direct their lifelong learning by combining badges from different sources and exchanging them for more advanced badges, credentials, certifications, or degrees.

In practice, this rarely happens. Most of the effort in badge ecosystems involves issuing and collecting, and most of the issuing happens within institutions like universities, museums, and professional organizations. The current situation is that digital badges are relatively easy to collect and display, but relatively difficult to assess and exchange, especially across different organizations and institutions.

The core problem is what we call the “value problem” in badging. Which badges are valuable? Who recognizes and accepts them in exchange for more advanced badges, credentials, certifications, or degrees? What badges will actually help you progress toward lifelong learning goals? How can one organization determine the value of a badge issued by a different organization?

The typical response to the value problem is that badges, unlike grades or other traditional credentials, carry metadata that links to evidence of the underlying accomplishments and skills. You can value a badge by looking at the attached evidence.

Badges do carry evidence. But in practical terms, evidence takes time to assess, and time does not scale. Few evaluators, whether they are employers making a decision about accepting a credential, organizations making a decision about issuing a more advanced certification, or learners seeking to find the right path to advance their learning goals, will be able to spend additional time on badge assessment without significant extra cost.

Evaluators need a better, faster way to value digital badges. Until this value problem is solved, the potential for digital badging in higher education will be limited.

To address the value problem, we recently started a project called Open Badge Exchange designed to provide a public, distributed, and shared badge transaction ledger. When badges are successfully exchanged for other badges or digital credentials, a transaction record is written to the shared ledger. Anyone can look up successful transactions for a given badge in the shared ledger, drastically reducing the evaluation time required for digital badges that have previously been exchanged.

Say, for example, that a university accepts a badge in partial exchange for a certification credential. Learners seeking that certification credential can see the successful transaction and choose to pursue the badge that is consistent with their learning goals. Likewise, peer institutions can see the successful transaction and choose to accept the badge into their own credential program with confidence that it has value.

Making transactions visible also creates entrepreneurial opportunities in the assessment of badges. The recent explosion of MOOCs, the rising cost of traditional degrees, and the need to build skills in a rapidly changing workplace challenges universities to “unbundle” the degree into agile learning experiences. But bite-sized learning on its own lacks the narrative of a traditional degree program. Opportunities exist for a trusted institution to bundle and credential a learner-driven, synthesized narrative of lifelong learning achievements. (See, for example, the “credentials for your career” offered by Deakin University sponsored startup DeakinDigital.

Digital badges can empower lifelong learners, but they are most powerful when they connect learning opportunities to valued recognition. Open Badge Exchange seeks to address the value problem by opening up the badge economy, connecting learning opportunities to the assessment of digital badges, and supporting issuing of credentials based on actual exchanges. Whatever the ultimate solution looks like, solving the value problem requires connecting the learners and institutions that give digital badges their value, allowing all participants to collaborate based on real-world information.

What do you think about the idea of Open Badge Exchange?

How is your institution addressing the value problem in digital badging?

Would you participate in Open Badge Exchange?

What do you think is the right way to value digital badges?

How might badge value rankings help learners to set and achieve their learning goals?

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