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Blackboard Buys Out Moodlerooms, NetSpot

Blackboard is buying out two major players in the open source services space: Moodlerooms and NetSpot. Blackboard has also brought onboard Sakai Project founding architect Charles Severance. With these additions, the company is also launching its own open source division: Blackboard Education Open Source Services.

Moving into Open Source Services
Teams from both Moodlerooms and NetSpot will make up Blackboard's new open source group. Both of those companies provide commercial services for institutions that use Moodle, including support, consulting, installation, and hosting services.

"Both Moodlerooms and NetSpot have built strong reputations for high quality service and support, which aligns with our deep focus in these areas and our overall commitment to providing LMS services and hosting globally," said Henderson, CTO and president of academic platforms at Blackboard, in a prepared statement. "This direction allows us to provide the choice of an open source alternative with the benefit of a team of leaders from the open source community to guide our sustained contributions and citizenship in that community." 

"This partnership is an historic moment for our company, our clients and the open source community," said Pugliese, CEO of the Moodlerooms, also in a prepared statement. "Our company organizes around the principles of affordability, openness and sustainability. Working with Blackboard means that clients using one or more LMS systems can do so more affordably, with greater investment in interoperability and deeper integration between products. Our work will also continue to send a significant portion of revenue directly to Moodle's core team to help support the improvement of a free and open product."

According to Blackboard, "Leaders from Moodlerooms, NetSpot and Blackboard signed a Statement of Principles affirming that their work will continue to include regular contributions to the open source community in the form of code contributions, financial support to the Moodle Trust, and support for community gatherings including Moodlemoots."

"The decision of Moodlerooms and NetSpot to work under Blackboard may sound very strange at first to anyone in this industry," said Martin Dougiamas, founder of Moodle and managing director of Moodle Pty Ltd., in a statement released today by Blackboard, "but it's my understanding that these three companies have some good plans and synergies. I'm happy to say that Moodlerooms and NetSpot will remain Moodle Partners, and have promised to continue providing Moodle services, participating in the community, and contributing financially to Moodle exactly as they always have."

Not everybody will be thrilled by the news that Blackboard has bought Moodlerooms. Keystone College is just now completing its transition to Joule, Moodlerooms' online platform. "I have mixed feelings on the acquisition of Moodlerooms by Blackboard," said Kurt Sussman, director of educational technology. "While I feel that having the backing and resources of a large educational service provider could be beneficial to Moodlerooms and ultimately its customers, I am also concerned because dissatisfaction with the product and less-than-optimal customer service and support is why our institution moved from Blackboard to Moodlerooms in the first place." The Pennsylvania college reported it expects to shut down its Blackboard server "for good" May 31, 2012.

LMS competitors are also assessing the move by Blackboard into the open source space. Josh Coates, CEO of Instructure, which develops the Canvas LMS, said he views the acquisition as Blackboard's decision to "give up on innovation" and focus on the commoditizing of the LMS. "Moodle, Sakai, Angel, Blackboard 9.1--it's all the same to them now," he said. "They want to make their money by offering generic IT service and software. Given Blackboard's decline in LMS market share, I suppose it's the only option they had."

Blackboard Looks to Sakai
Blackboard is also eyeing the Sakai marketplace, although Henderson declined to provide specifics. The company has appointed Charles Severance as chief Sakai strategist to head up its Sakai initiatives. Severance previously served as executive director of the Sakai Foundation and was the founding chief architect of the Sakai Project. He's currently a board member of the Sakai Foundation, and he serves as clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan's School of Information.

Referring to Severance as a "cultural ambassador," Henderson said he would act as a "guide" into the Sakai community and help Blackboard assemble its technology team "as we plan our investment and future offerings."

"We're excited to welcome Chuck to our team," said Blackboard CEO Michael Chasen. "He's been a tireless leader in the learning technology and standards communities, and he brings a tremendous amount of expertise and insight that will be critical to our support for institutions using Sakai."

Severance has been an advocate for open standards in education technology and has worked closely with the IMS Global Learning Consortium as part of that work. The Consortium, which promotes open standards in education technology, was the primary client of Blackboard in its earliest days. Since then, the company has participated in multiple standards initiatives managed by the Consortium.

"Blackboard is doing some extraordinary work and challenging preconceived notions of how companies can add real value to the industry," said Severance. "I'm looking forward to leveraging Blackboard's new focus and investment in open source to bring new value to institutions using Sakai."

Editor's note: This article has been modified since its original publication to include additional details and quotes. [Last updated March 26, 2012 at 9:15 p.m.]--David Nagel
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