Friday, November 15, 2013

Google Glass

Photo Credit:  Ted Eytan
ATSU and I will soon officially join the ranks of Google Glass Explorers.  I found out I was fortunate enough to have my proposal selected by MOREnet to get an invitation to the second round of this project.  MOREnet was looking for "highly motivated people" within the MOREnet membership who can contribute and share ideas on how Google Glass might be used to improve teaching and learning. I'm pretty excited to be able to participate.

For those of you not so tuned into the tech world, Google Glass is a very ambitious project from Google to develop wearable computers in the form of eyeglasses.  The initial group of beta testers, affectionately known as Glass Explorers, started back in February 2013.  Approximately 8000 people shelled out $1500 to try these miniature computers on your face. The original group was heavily weighed toward developers. The thinking was that developers could help expand the number of applications before additional rounds of testers had a chance to try the product.  This next round of invitations is thought to be significantly greater in number than the original 8000 and Google is expected to be ready to roll out the first widely available consumer version sometime in 2014.

To be selected for the explorers program requires a willingness to share thoughts and ideas about how this type of device can improve people's lives.  My list includes a variety of use cases.I'll share a couple now and others as I get to better know the capabilities and limitations of the device.

There were two use cases I submitted in my proposal to MOREnet.  First is a project that was suggested by KCOM OMM staff and academic technologies staff.  The idea is to record the delivery of OMM through a first person view using the video camera in glass.  The hope would be that this view would make it easier for students to see the hand and finger positions, and any movement during techniques.  An similar but alternative idea is to have students wear the Google Glass and use it to record their execution of various OMM techniques.  Faculty could then view the recordings and provide feedback.  The second use case is very similar tho the first.  In this case however, Glass would be used by Dental faculty and/or students.  The goals of the two use cases would be similar; namely improving existing instructional video and providing more detailed feedback to students.

I am very excited to experience Glass first hand and investigate its applications to healthcare education and even to administration process improvement.  As a true believer in technology, this is an exciting start to a whole new world of wearable technology.  Stay tuned for more.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Forecasting for 2013

Happy New Year!!

The new year is a good time to practice prognostication, so here are a few thoughts on concepts, tools and topics that I believe will be important to the world of technology over the next year.

1) Enterprise Social Networking - Social Networking tools and concepts have matured quite a lot over the past couple of years.  The practice of social networking, however, is still heavily rooted within the consumer  side of technology.  While there are a few notable organizations that have adopted internal social networking tools, I believe that 2013 will be a watershed year for enterprises to grasp the power of using social network tools to enhance workplace productivity.  Get your business profile posted soon.

2) Windows 8 - Desktop operating systems are no longer hyped in the press as they once were, but the reality is that most organizations still rely on the desktop computer as the primary tool for getting work done. Microsoft has invested a ton of resources in trying to consolidate the next generation operating between desktop, tablet and smart phone devices, and Windows 8 is at the core of this effort.  No doubt that tablets and other mobile devices will continue to sell more and desktops will shrink, but in 2013 I still believe a large portion of high end workers will be experimenting with and adopting Windows 8 on their desktops.  I'm not, however, as confident that this desktop experimentation will carry over to Microsoft's mobile device operating systems.  I'm watching Microsoft this year as an indicator of broader shifts in the overall OS marketplace... or perhaps a better term would be Ecosystem.

3) Analytics - Data will soon (if it is not already) be considered a commodity.  Everyone will have it, but not everyone will be creative and pro-active in turning it into actionable information.  Using data may sound simple, but it is deceptively difficult.  There is a steep learning curve to filtering, massaging, and formatting data to make it useful.  Analytics tools will help this process along, but human skills will need to expand faster to keep up.

Twelve months is a good time frame for these types of trends to play out.  We'll come back in a year and see how deeply these concepts have changed the organizational and technology landscapes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Blackboard World #2 - Blackboard Mobile

One of the really exciting topics at Blackboard World 2011 is Mobile.  This is an area where Blackboard has invested and is showing early returns in the form of great functionality and even greater promise.  The Blackboard Mobile Platform is made up of two modules;  Mobile Learn and Mobile Central.  The company presents lots of (probably unnecessary) evidence that the mobile space is taking off rapidly on college campuses.  There are already more smart phones being sold than workstations and laptops.  Moreover, the evidence is mounting that individuals spend more time connecting to the internet on their mobile devices than they do on other land-based devices.  There is no doubt that mobile will make a major impact on how educational content and student services are delivered to and consumed by learners.

The Mobile Learn module is in many ways simply an extension of the Blackboard Learn Platform.  The tool provides access for students as well as faculty and designers to their Blackboard course content.  While not all content can be automatically formatted for mobile devices, (and some content, like large charts or tables for example, lends itself to small screen real estate), a surprising amount of content and course features have been adapted from the traditional blackboard course.

At ATSU, we have installed a free version of the Blackboard Mobile Learn module for testing on our Blackboard Learn 9.1 environment.  It includes all of the same functions and features as the paid version, however, it can only be accessed on Wi-Fi or via the Sprint network.  Faculty and students who have courses on 9.1 are welcome to try it out.  You can download the app from either the iTunes App Store or the Android Market.  After downloading, you will need a special code (use 5DJZWX) in the search area to access A.T. Still University.  Remember though, this tool is still in test mode at ATSU.

The Blackboard Mobile Central app may prove to be even more exciting than Learn over the long term.   This tool allows Universities to develop their own mobile content.  While many schools rave about mobile campus maps and smart phone links to athletic information, these applications don't have much appeal for the ATSU community.  The tool, however, can be used to link to institutional systems outside of Blackboard to create features like student directories, access to library resources, or student grades.  As other third party systems like Google Apps for Education also expand into mobile formats, this tool may be a way to organize mobile development and official apps.  As an example, take a look at what the Medical College of Georgia has done with their mobile app.

I believe these tools have significant potential for ATSU and we are gathering information on how both tools can be implemented with our systems and how they match up with the mobile application strategy under development.  Let me know what you think and what features you would like to see in the mobile space.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Blackboard World #1 - Blackboard Analytics

I am in Las Vegas this week participating in Blackboard World 2011, the Blackboard User Conference.  I should have several posts this week about the conference and the various product announcements by Blackboard, not to mention the miscellaneous rumblings related to the announced purchase of Blackboard by Providence Equity Partners for ~$1.6 Billion.

On Monday and Tuesday, I am attending a Blackboard CIO Symposium event.  This event is targeted to CIOs and allows for some candid conversations about where Blackboard and the education software industry in general are headed.  The first session on Monday was about the Blackboard Collaborate Platform and the recently purchased iStrategy product.  This product is a BI (Business Intelligence and Analytics tool) that I have previously blogged about.  Not a whole lot has changed, so I won't say much more other than the fact that Blackboard has formally announced the addition of a Blackboard Learn Analytics module to this platform.  This module is the 6th module within the Analytics platform.

There session contained a very interesting conversation around the entire Analytics and Business Intelligence areas for education.  Several comments revolved around how the barriers to better use of analytics within our industry are not simply technical.  Many of my peers felt that administration within higher ed have been cautious about sharing data with faculty and other stakeholders and the culture in several organizations was perceived to lack transparency.  Thus, a culture shift may be needed as part of an Analytics and BI implementation.  Another barrier to immediate use of metrics is the fact that many organizations have not contemplated what data structures are necessary to get the desired metrics.   And for those organization which have defined their data, it was noted that there is a significant lack of expertise and even training for the types of skills needed to make analytics a fundamental part of the culture.  The best advice was to get data in many people's hands and then iterate repeatedly to improve both the usefulness and the skills.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Is Blackboard for Sale?

This week Blackboard, the LMS/CMS used by A.T. Still University, announced the company had retained  investment banking firm, Barclays Capital, as an advisor regarding an unsolicited proposal to purchase the company.  So does this mean that Blackboard is for sale?  Absolutely, it does.

To be fair, businesses are always for sale, but the receipt of an unsolicited bid puts the company "in-play" and sets some structure around the timing and pricing of any possible sale.  The fact that a purchase offer has been made is evidence that some outside party believes they can manage the assets of the company to provide more value (i.e. they can make more money) than the existing management is currently providing.  The consequences of this scenario are difficult to avoid, because an unsolicited offer changes not only the company, but also the company's industry.  Rarely can companies go back to business as usual after this type of development.  I suspect there will either be a change of ownership within 6 months, or the company will begin a slow and long downward spiral.

As a Blackboard customer, ATSU has first hand experience of the pain associated with the company's growth.  Our history includes a very difficult transition from WebCT after Blackboard acquired the company in 2005.  As the two companies merged, there was a great deal of product confusion and precious little product support.  Frustration was high.  That said, Blackboard was able, over time, to execute on their vision of integrating the Blackboard and WebCT LMS/CMS products.  The current version of the Blackboard Learn Platform includes many of (but not all) the best features from both products.  I would say that it is now a mature product.

But that may just be the problem.  Blackboard matured during a period when the education "business" was able to spend a lot of money on the promise of new technology.  Its business model depends on the revenue generated from sales of license rights and annual maintenance for the software.  The mature nature of the Blackboard product and its related business model may make it difficult for the company to compete with open source projects and cloud based software initiatives which many students and faculty increasingly see as more intuitive, responsive, and cutting edge.  To continue to grow and to be relevant, Blackboard needs ownership that constantly delivers new functionality in a way that customers can instantly experiment with, at no cost, and with no negative impact to existing features.  While Blackboard has shown signs of recognizing this need, so far they continue to expand and sell software features via a traditional platform model.

Perhaps new ownership (or simply the threat thereof) will be exactly what the company needs.