LMS | Viewpoint
An Island No More: A Game-Changing Application Suite for LMS
The LMS (Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Moodle, Angel, Sakai) is
an enterprise-wide and critical platform, but has mostly remained unconnected
to the cloud and to the social Web. Not any longer. A new major management
platform, plugjam from CommonNeed, makes the LMS into a truly seamless member
of the Web while retaining LMS security.
People complain about the learning management system (LMS)
used at their campus the way they complain about flying: lots of hassles but
essential to their lives. I have been watching plugjam develop for a couple of
years and was excited about it a year ago, but when I reviewed its new
capabilities this past week, I was stunned: The suite of modules in plugjam brings
so many new capabilities to the major LMS platforms--Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai,
Desire2Learn, and Angel--that my own view of LMSes went from the ‘airline-complaint’
category to the ‘wow’ category.
Consider the modules, or sets of functionalities in plugjam:
- Business intelligence reporting of data in the LMS--a way to see usage trends and
indications of engagement and other important metrics reported to you
graphically (in visual displays of the data). It provides a “Google Analytics”
for the LMS.
- Open education resources--perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of plugjam, allowing
both students and teachers to intelligently search open educational resources
(OERs) maintained by Merlot and 10 colleges and universities through the new
OER Global Consortium inspired and supported by MERLOT, including Johns Hopkins, MIT, Notre Dame, The
Open University, Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Stanford University, Delft
University, University of Massachusetts Boston, The University of Tokyo, and Yale
University. Other institutions offer additional OERs, such as Carnegie Mellon,
Rice, and others.
- LMS mashups and social network integration--essentially allowing faculty and
students to create a portal with a live instantiation of the LMS interface on
the same page as social software and other functionalities, literally putting
your LMS into the social Web.
- Developing applications from your LMS--for the more technical faculty or students, a way
to add widgets and gadgets and other functionality to enhance the LMS.
- Open standards and data portability--plugjam uses a representational state transfer
(REST) architecture API.
Plugjam can do all these things through a secure plugjam server that interfaces through its secure API with SIS data, ERP data, LMS content, and Web 2.0 resources.
I don’t normally write just about one application, but
because this technology offers the potential for a quantum leap in LMS
functionality that would add such amazing new dimensions to the most common
academic software in higher education, I felt I needed to make a stronger
endorsement than usual.
More about the OER functionality: open educational resources
burst onto the scene in the past decade with the advent of the Creative Commons
(through the vision of Lawrence Lessig et al.) and a set of new Creative
Commons IP licenses emphasizing attribution and not ownership. Out of this
“information must be free” impulse that is native to the Web, free software and/or
open source software proliferated and now provide much of the important functionality
of the Web. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_free_and_open_source_software_packages
to get a sense of the vast scope of open source and free software.
For a small subset of this list of open source and free
software, a foundation exists, or an official set of developers manages the
application, or commercial companies sell services--that is, support--for the
software and sometimes help manage the ongoing development of the software.
Of course, we also saw a rapid growth in open content: At
the same time that open source was proliferating and becoming an important part
of the Web 2.0 landscape, MIT surprised academia by stating that its course
materials would all be made available on the Web for free. The MIT OpenCourseWare
(OCW) initiative began and soon other universities followed suit. OCW describes
itself this way:
“MIT OpenCourseWare is a free publication of MIT course materials that reflects
almost all the undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT.
- OCW is not an MIT education.
- OCW does not grant degrees or certificates.
- OCW does not provide access to MIT faculty.
- Materials may not reflect entire content of the course."
This OCW movement is gaining momentum and getting organized
to be more easily searched, thanks to the encouragement of MERLOT. MERLOT defines itself:
“MERLOT is a free and open online community of resources
designed primarily for faculty, staff, and students of higher education from
around the world to share their learning materials and pedagogy. MERLOT is a
leading-edge, user-centered, collection of peer reviewed higher
education, online learning materials, catalogued by registered members and a
set of faculty development support services.” (from the MERLOT Web site)
Why is all this important? The campus book library of 10
years ago has changed radically: It is now augmented (and perhaps surpassed) by
the library on the Web, more easily searched, portable to any Web site, and
potentially a broader-based, more up-to-date set of resources than was ever
available before to the campus community. With many more Web academic resources
becoming available everyday and the LMS, with plugjam, capable of becoming its
own “lending library,” each course can be content-rich beyond imagination.
For several years, campus IT leaders have dealt with the
challenge of how to protect the privacy of data on campus, as required by law, while
at the same time being open to the most dynamic new options emerging on the
Web. As a result, Web 2.0 energy and creativity has often been stopped at the
campus border. Campus-based software, therefore, has often seemed pale in
comparison to sites on the Web.
But, now a perfect good
storm is underway: a combination of academic Web-based resources becoming
organized and searchable while at the same time, a new technology emerges to bring
these riches to the LMS.
CommonNeed was formed by former senior staff at Sun
MicroSystems (before it was acquired by Oracle) who wanted to get serious about
academic software. I understood their commitment when they were at Sun, and
now, a few years later, I can hardly believe what they have created.
Plugjam is being deployed at several institutions. Those
campuses that hold an annual review of their LMS--the cost of LMS software generally
makes an annual review wise--might consider not just the major 5 platforms
(Angel is, for the moment, still maintained by Blackboard) but also the
possibility of an LMS+plugjam option, adding so many new features that faculty
and students may once again get excited about the campus LMS.
To learn more about plugjam modules and functionalities, see (videos):
- Business Intelligence Reporting
- Open Education Resources
- LMS Mashups and Social Network Integration
- Developing Applications from your LMS
- Open Standards and Data Portability
[Graphics used with permission from CommonNeed]