SmartClassroom :: Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Open Source Software: Should You Bet Your Career On It?

By Stephen R. Acker, The Ohio State University, and Peter E. Murray, OhioLINK

At any point in time, there is a college IT director trying to determine whether to upgrade, migrate away from, or stay the course with some software package that the faculty and students rely on to meet their instructional needs. A campus may have outgrown the basic CMS, and the Enterprise version is now needed to bring system performance back to an acceptable level. The CMS provider may have changed code base, requiring major staff retraining to follow the migration path. Costs could be up, service could be down, and new third party tools may not easily integrate. Yet even faced with all of these potential reasons to change, making the decision to do so is never easy. User communities hate change, hate training, and hate repurposing earlier content to work in a new environment.

For most universities, a decision to introduce new software should be made with the expectation that the choice will hold for three to seven years – until the campus again finds its groove. So change is not taken lightly, and the risk of change must be projected over time and discounted back to the present. Then just when you’re about to make your decision – having done focus groups, cost analyses, technical stress tests, and due diligence – someone mentions “open source software,” and new dimensions of system adoption and environmental risk are brought into the mix.

What is the value to your organization of being able to separate software support from software licensing? What is the value, if any, of being able to customize at your discretion the underlying code that runs your campus eLearning system? What could it mean to your campus to join a software cooperative – a community that shares software development and support costs, training resources, and possibly hardware infrastructure? And if some of what you’ve been reading about open source sounds encouraging, should you “bet your career” on this promise and potentiality? Maybe and maybe not. Read on for some background on open source, or just skip to the last section and enter the debate...

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Case Study

Interactive Flash Learning Games and Engines

By Dan Lim, Southern Adventist University

For the last seven years, I’ve been developing games for learning. The development process has been a lot of fun, and I’ve learned three big lessons: students love to learn by playing games almost as much as I enjoy developing them; game structures can be repurposed for different disciplines if the right “hooks” are built into the game platform; and mobile games are the next big thing. Cell phones offer a lot more than text messaging!

Two years ago I moved to Tennessee, where I now serve as the dean of the Virtual Campus and director of Online Learning and Faculty Development for Southern Adventist University, a faith-based private Christian university operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The University is located in Collegedale, Tennessee (seven miles from Chattanooga) and enrolls about 2,500 students, of whom 75% reside in campus housing. I came to the job knowing that to build an online program would require attracting more students to the online environment and encouraging more faculty to prepare courses for this form of delivery. To succeed at both required “systems thinking” – establishing replicable course development processes that would reduce faculty and support staff efforts to build online courses, and engendering a reputation among our online students for teaching content in a challenging, but enjoyable way.

The strategy selected revolved around the work I had begun at the University of Minnesota, Crookston. For what seems like a very long time, we had been working on developing learning games that “addicted” students to learning, while realizing that deep learning required the complex understanding of knowledge that resides within discipline-based faculty, not the game developers. What we did, and what I have continued to do at Southern Adventist University, was to build exciting learning patterns – structures for engagement, reinforcement, and remembering – into a flexible game programming environment. We then identified interested and able faculty to provide the learning content delivered through our gaming engine. By thinking of engaging the student in learning and giving faculty templates and other support systems for developing their content, I have discovered that faculty course development and engaged student learning can be accomplished at the same time. It’s all in the game...

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Tech Notes

Rearchitecting IT: Simplify. Simplify

By Joseph C. Panettieri

When university CIOs look back on 2006, they will likely deem this “The Year of Simplified IT Infrastructure.” From Alaska to New York, universities are overhauling their IT infrastructures to include fewer standards, fewer vendors, and fewer potential integration issues. The goals are clear: Even as IT departments strive to improve student, faculty, and benefactor services, they must also squeeze hidden costs out of their infrastructures.

By leveraging fewer vendors and standardizing on a core set of products, universities can gain economies of scale in terms of IT acquisition and support costs. “It’s simple math,” says Cheryl Currid, a former CIO who now runs Currid & Company, an IT consulting firm in Houston, TX. “When you deal with fewer vendors, you can negotiate better licensing terms and reduce your organizational training costs. The trick is making sure you standardize on an infrastructure that truly meets your current and future needs.”... (Campus Technology)

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Reader Response

From the Reader Response Forum

"Smart" Classrooms
Posted by: Carine


I read with great interest this blurb in your May 24 piece in Campus Technology. We are preparing to build 13 "smart" classrooms and were looking for a solution that would let instructors access the DVD/VCR, but not the rest of the AV equipment. You read our minds! In perusing the Middle Atlantic Web site, however, I wasn't able to come up with a picture of a cabinet put together as described here. Might you know where such a photo exists?


Photos of the cabinet in question can be found here. Model numbers are available as well.

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