ATutor 1.4 soon to be released

ATutor has announced the latest version of its open source, standards compliant LCMS, which should be available in a couple of weeks. The new version 1.4 includes:

Templates for creating your own custom look-and-feel
Roles & Privileges for students to create teaching assistants or additional instructors
Automatically marked tests
Search the TILE learning objects repository, and import content packages directly into ATutor by entering a URL
Evaluate content with the content editor accessibility checker to ensure learning materials conform with international accessibility standards
Visual Content Editor (currently disabled) format content without knowing any HTML
ACollab Groups for running group activities within ATutor courses, as well as file sharing, managing assignment submissions, collaborative document authoring and archiving, and more (also available as a standalone)

I will be putting the standalone version of ACollab through its paces in a short while, and will provide a detailed evaluation of this platform as we go along.

Moving soon

This blog will soon be moving to the LearnNB site. This site is hosted by the NRC and will be an excellent portal for learning in the region. Unlike TeleEducation, which no longer exists, the LearnNB site will not be linked to any specific organisation. This means that if this community closes, the LearnNB site will remain for new initiatives and groups. It will be our “one stop shop” for the long run.

My intention is to start our community web presence with a blog, and very quickly add a collaborative work space, including access to a wiki. If you haven’t used a wiki, let’s learn together.

Stay tuned here for further announcements.

Brainstormimg

While I was in Fredericton this week, I started some conversations around the focus of this community. One area of interest is around the sharing of technology. The idea being that the use of common platforms would facilitate collaboration. For instance, if everyone used the same LCMS, then it would be easy to develop a single solution using multiple suppliers. The R&D focus would be to determine what kind of technology would be suitable for co-operation. Simulation tools probably would not be suitable, as they can give a company a competitive edge. Content management platforms might be mnore suitable, as most companies need one, and one does not provide a significant competetive advantage over another. Sharing in the development and implementation of open souce platforms for multiple organisations received some interest (e.g. see this model. For instance, Engage Interactive has developed some add-ons for the open source CMS, Mambo. If other learning companies wanted to use a CMS, why not choose Mambo, where we already have some expertise in the region? Some people even suggest using a CMS instead of an LCMS. hmmm?

Another suggestion, from John Heinstein:

I was thinking about our conversation today and the question of settling on a small-scale project that could bring together members of the eLearning community, and which also championed Open Source as a low-cost and effective alternative to commercial software. I think that one good candidate is: a SCORM test-bed.

This would be an extremely useful service for NB eLearning companies. After having been through the painful SCORMization process ourselves, we can testify to the difficulty of comprehending the SCORM spec, much less implementing it. In fact, I’m still not sure exactly how conformant we are. Having an easily accessible SCORM test bed would enjoin NB companies to marshall around an international standard, emphasizing the importance of interoperability, and provide direct evidence to eLearning consumers that NB is on the leading edge of the courseware industry.

It would demonstrate the feasibility and advantages of integrating Open Source software with commercial software. It would provide a model of how collaboration can be achieved within an industry that is highly competitive. Companies could promote their SCORM-conformant courseware by displaying demos on the website; NB [and the region] could better sell itself as having a coherent approach to eLearning. Wikis, forums, chats, papers, newsletters, blogs, etc. could provide support services for participants.

Commercial consulting services for SCORM-related matters could be offered. Eventually services like EduSource and Knowledge Agora could be integrated into the system. The SCORM test-bed could also be used by schools with eLearning curricula.

KIRA Awards

I attended the New Brunswick knowledge industry’s KIRA awards in Fredercton on Thursday evening. It was a a well-organized event, with comedienne Bette MacDonald as MC, which was a rare treat. There were many deserving recipients, including export category winner Engage Interactive, an elearning company; most promising start-up Ensemble Collaboration; and Christian Couturier, of the National Research Council, who is also responsible for the elearning research group in Moncton.

I still have some difficulties with the term "knowledge industry", especially as it’s used in this region. It seems to be interchangeable with "information technology sector". Many of us can honestly say that we are knowledge workers, and work in a knowledge-intensive industry, without being in IT. Our fascination with technology may take us away from the real task at hand – innovation for the betterment of society.

The inevitability of Laptops

Via Stephen, is this article from USA Today on the use of laptops in schools. It’s getting to the point where the the conservative majority will not be able to argue against students being connected with information technology. In a short time, using laptops will be more economical.

Back in the Dallas suburb of Forney, Superintendent Smith doesn’t know what he’ll do after the experiment with textbook-loaded laptops next year. It all depends on the price, he said.
"A child’s set of textbooks costs $350," Smith said. "If they can get these notebooks down to $500, it gets cost-effective in a hurry."

Global Entrepreneurship

Knowledge@Wharton [requires free subscription] has an article on global entrepreneurship as discussed at a recent panel discussion at the Lauder Institute Alumni Association Global Business Forum in New York.

So what makes an entrepreneur? It seems to boil down to these basics:

Panelists emphasized less the solitary aspects of the entrepreneurial life than the social ones. Forget genius, they said; what really counts most is building a strong network to turn to for help and advice, treating people with dignity, and serving your customers well.

So keep building your network, through personal contacts, work, socializing, writing, blogging, etc.

Another interesting comment, from one of the panelists, especially for those in elearning:

Sectors that are in flux are often particularly rich in opportunities, he advised. “When there’s chaos, the existing relationships are in turmoil. In a slow-growth setting that’s been stable for five years, it’s hard to get a fresh idea to penetrate the existing structure.”

eLearning in Quebec

A recent report, on the state of the elearning industry in Quebec was commissioned by Alliance numeriQC and conducted by Amelioraction. The executive summary, in French only, is available for viewing and the entire report will be available for purchase soon.

Here is my quick translation and summarization of the executive summary.

The report’s authors describe the Quebec elearning industry as comprising about 60 companies, with a total of around 600 people. Most of these companies have fewer than 15 employees. During the past two years, many of these companies have seen 30 to 35% reductions in their annual earnings. These companies do not have the necessary resources to bring their products to market, especially since the elearning marketplace requires a complex “go to market” strategy.

Using Moore’s “chasm” model, the report states that Quebec companies have done a good job of attracting the early adopters, but are failing at convincing the more conservative buyers about the merits of elearning. In Quebec, most executives believe that classroom training yields better results than elearning. For this reason, the authors suggest that blended learning may be a better strategy for Quebec elearning companies. They also suggest that the elearning industry look at creating complete, or end-to-end solutions, in order to compete in an industry that is witnessing major mergers and acquisitions. They see fragmentation as the major obstacle to their industry’s growth.

The authors suggest that the industry look seriously into partnerships and collaborative models. They see Alliance numeriQC providing a provincial industry focus, and mention the national role of CeLEA for industry and CSTD for professional development.

Some of the 33 proposed actions include reinforcing the role of Alliance numeriQC; increasing the business competences of business leaders – especially in marketing, exporting and partnering; and identifying events to educate major potential clients about elearning. They recommend that the markets to be addressed should be, in order – Quebec, Canada, USA.

This is an interesting report, particularly for its similarities to other Canadian studies. There are some unique Quebec perspectives, and I hope that the spirit of co-operation will go far beyond the provincial borders. Obviously, when you add the figures from the elearning industries in BC, Ontario, Quebec and NB, we’re still only a few thousand people, and it’s a big world.

Innovation for Entrepreneurs

One of the issues that surfaced during the industry capacity initiative this Winter was a lack of high-level business skills in the region. We do not have enough experienced people, especially those with a tech start-up background. Dave Pollard, a fellow Canadian, has a couple of interesting articles focused on business skills. The first is on Avoiding the Landmines in the Entrepreneurial Business. Since most NB learning companies are private, Pollard’s advice is pertinent. I’ve been hit by some of these landmines – biting off too much; being too far ahead of the market and copycat businesses. I’m sure that many of us can relate to this post.

Pollard’s other article, The Caring Enterprise Coach offers a new service to small and medium sized companies. This service is not what you get from the Big 5 consulting companies; it’s focused on entrepreneurs:

The Caring Enterprise Coach is a collaborative enterprise of independent consultants, technologists, trainers and retired entrepreneurs. Our members are equal partners, each with unique and specialized skills essential to the delivery of our offerings. We have no hierarchy, no physical assets, no front or back office, no overhead, no bureaucracy, and no employees. Our assets are the shared intellectual assets of our members’ expertise, skills, experience, networks – and the leading edge tools and technologies that they have developed and contributed for our collective use. We bring agility, economy, efficiency, and, through our powerful independent networks, reach and depth, that no limited, hierarchical, traditionally-trained professional services firm can match.

These articles are worth a read, and may provide food for thought on how we can develop a community model to foster innovation and sustain our businesses.
Harold

Lean, Six Sigma & HPT

Mark Lauer explains in May’s PerformanceXpress how human performance technology (HPT) is closely linked to Lean Manufacturing methodology. He shows the direct connections between Lean’s six elements, and the performance standards for HPT professionals.

We are all fellow travelers on the performance improvement road. We bring to the table a long dedication to human performance improvement and expertise that is not at conflict with theirs but is a perfect complement to it. We are all comrades in arms.

Whether it be Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma or HPT; there are enough similarities in methodologies that we can easily work together. Another comparison, between HPT and Six Sigma, was recently published by Darlene Van Tiem, of the University of Michigan.

Six Sigma can benefit from HPT’s broader approaches incorporating theory and practice from a wider variety of fields. HPT, on the other hand, can benefit from Six Sigma’s commitment to decisions based on evidence and its involvement with senior management.

It’s not how we help to improve organizational performance that’s important, it’s about making lasting changes that are important to our clients. A multidisciplinary approach makes more sense, and I will continue to learn from other methodologies.

Understanding DRM

Digital Rights Management (DRM) and copyright are all in the news today. I’m not a lawyer, and haven’t studied the legal field, but it’s becoming obvious that we all have to understand the impact of DRM on our lives. It’s no longer enough to be legal, as the laws, and their digital applications, keep changing. From The Shifted Librarian:

So in summary, iTunes, MS Reader, and Palm Digital Media DRM: bad.
This is what really scares me about libraries getting into the digital files business, even outside of all the issues surrounded subscription-based access versus ownership. When terms change on a whim, upgrades take away existing rights, and files become locked and inaccessible, how is this going to affect how we circulate titles to our patrons? It’s not like libraries have any leverage in this situation since publishers and Congress are doing their best to eradicate fair use rights, including the right of first sale.

These are the same issues that keep coming up with academic clients who are looking at selling learning content. Do you need to control content? How are you going to control content? Are your partners controlling content? What are the effects of controlling content? How will this influence your business model?
I should have followed my mom’s advice and become a lawyer 😉