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Category: Tech Tools (Page 1 of 2)

What’s the (OER) Story Morning Glory?

OER World MapThis is not a request you get everyday: the creators of the OER World Map, a new project to “share information on behalf of the worldwide OER community, using local knowledge to describe the OER ecosystem” have extended an invitation to this community to share your OER story. From the website:

We invite you to share your OER story with the community and tell others about your OER activities! These could be OER projects or initiatives, Open Educational Practices like generating OER or teaching with OER, the development of guidelines & institutional policies on OER, new insights and research on OER, as well as the development or use of helpful infrastructure tools for OER. Please include a title and a text no longer than 5000 characters that describes the who, what, when, where and why of the activity. A photo connected to the story would also be great. Please note that stories will be published under CC-BY.

Built withopen data technology, OER World Map is attempting to use data visualization to represent OER projects and use as they spread across the globe. The OER World Map also supports a range of widgets and tools through powerful statistical analysis. OER World Map is built by hbz and graphthinking GmbH with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

To share your or your institution’s OER story, send it to


ICE ICE, baby: Innovation Community Exchange

Innovation Community ExchangeOne of the first Reengineering efforts I was part of at the VCCS was serving on the Innovation Through Technology Task force. The stated goal of this group was to “support the creation of high performance systems that utilize fully the talent and potential of our people, leverage the power of technology, enhance productivity, and produce better outcomes for students.”  The ITTF group quickly agreed that one major barrier to reaching this goal was, broadly, communication. On the one hand, there was too little communication among faculty and staff across the VCCS, leading to the age old problem of reinventing the wheel.

On the other hand, there was also too much communication. Throughout the VCCS faculty and staff communicate with email, discussion lists (d-lists), listservs, and online forums. We have an intranet, Buzz, and our various college and system websites. We have Blackboard announcements, RSS feeds, and digital newsletters. There is Twitter, Facebook, Yammer, and Google+. We can connect via videoconference with Collaborate, WebEx, Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, and Skype. I could go on and on. The information is out there, but on which channel? Overall, whether too much or too little, communication across the VCCS has been ineffective.

You could say that this problem is endemic to our information age: the belief that more communication is inherently better. Blast out your announcement on every platform you can in order to reach the most eyeballs. I am guilty of this. But I am also guilty of ignoring a large amount of information I receive. My Twitter feed speeds by unread.  One third of my emails are vendor spam or electronic newsletters. Probably like you, I receive way too much information that I can realistically absorb and have few tools to sort the more important stuff (email request from my boss requesting materials for next week’s meeting) from the trivial (50% off Groupon for a hot air balloon ride).

That brings us to ICE. The Innovation Community Exchange (ICE) is an online system developed by the folks at New River Community College as an outcome of the Innovation Through Technology Task Force. The intent of ICE is to help solve the ineffective communication I described by linking people, technology, and information in order to promote college innovations. ICE is an online innovation space where VCCS “makers” can to share ideas, promote products, and search for collaborative partners. Users can use the platform to search for an idea, an individual, a software package, or a learning opportunity. Users can also participate in discussion threads or training sessions, or download available products to try for themselves. RSS feeds and email notifications allow users to track developments.

A system like ICE could be a powerful tool for the VCCS to effectively share innovative ideas, services and artifacts, allowing colleges to accomplish things together that may not be able to individually.

That said, I wonder if ICE is going to be yet another communication platform to add to my list above, or if it will be perceived as useful enough to get some significant use across the VCCS? We built it–will they come? And if they don’t, what will we have learned?

Perhaps the Rambling Professor can convince you to give ICE a try.

A Plug for the BUG

The 2014 VA Bug Conference will take place on Friday, October 24, 2014 in Roanoke, VA at the Holiday Inn at Valley View. No, it is not a conference for Entomologists or Pest Control Professionals. It is the 5th Annual conference for the Virginia Blackboard Users Group, a ragtag team of rogue LMS users meeting in secret to share knowledge and ideas with Blackboard users from across the Commonwealth. 2014_VA_bug

Of course, you probably know this already but October in the Roanoke Valley is simply exquisite, with the luminous fall foliage at its peak. The Holiday Inn at Valley View is located just a few miles off of Interstate 81 and is short distance from Roanoke’s historic downtown market area. It is also just a short drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you can take in the beautiful fall colors.

Registration is, ahem, FREE.  The call for proposals will go out soon for presentations in the following areas:

  • Blackboard administration
  • Instructional design
  • Faculty best practices
  • K-12 best practices

You can find out more at the VA Bug website:

Escape from Blackboard World: The Canceling

airport_sleep_223295627_3a160199cf_zA few posts back I promised to share my open-minded and objective thoughts on Blackboard World 2014, now currently underway in Las Vegas. From the beginning this trip has been fraught with technical glitches and outright screw ups.  Due to a hung authorization page, my hotel’s website booked 5 hotel rooms for me instead of one (charging a $100 deposit to my credit card for each). I had planned to take a redeye on my return flight but booked it for the wrong day, necessitating a change and its accompanying fee. There was something else, but I’ve blocked it out. Finally, with all my travel difficulties smoothed out and my boarding passes snug in the digital ether of my smartphone, I showed up early at the airport for my flight.

That was yesterday. I am still in Richmond, VA. My reflections on the conference are going to be fairly brief.

Long story short: after two canceled flights, a full day waiting at the airport, and a flight rescheduled for the next day (today), the time I was going to be able to spend in Vegas became extremely brief as I had already scheduled a short trip. The airline offered me a refund. The hotel returned my deposit. I emailed my apologies to the various people who were expecting to be at the conference. I’d say I broke even.

There’s always next year.



I just returned from a weeklong professional development program and one of the many things I took away from the experience (a more substantial post about the program can be found here) is that, for a blog like this one to succeed in reaching an audience, I need to post more. Nix that. Not just more. I need to post every day.

I know this blog is of value to me, simply for forcing me to reflect on the day-to-day challenges, trends, and happening regarding educational technology at the VCCS and beyond, so I am going to( try to) commit to a daily blog post. So, there’s that. Also,  if you find this site of value, then there is one simple thing you can do to motivate me to post more and build an audience for this blog: subscribe. When you subscribe, you receive an email with the subject of the post and a link to the full post. It is a handy way to be informed of new content without having to remember to visit.

Subscribing is easy: just scroll down the column on the right. Right below Events is a Subscribe box where you can enter the email address where you want notifications of new blog posts to be sent.


Blackboard’s World

death_starI have just finished making my flight and hotel reservations for Blackboard World 2014. I finalized these plans with a somewhat troubled heart, loathe to participate in an event that to me is a frenzied celebration of the commercialization of education,  couched as a probing, open, academic conference. Let me just come right out and say it: Blackboard®, Inc. is an easy company to hate. Once an inferior product with a sizable market share, Blackboard went on a buying spree, gobbling up smaller web service companies and absorbing them into their product ecosystem. Angel integrated with Learn. Elluminate and Wimba became Blackboard Collaborate. TerribyClever Design became the platform for Blackboard Mobile. iStrategy became Analytics. Presidium was transformed into Blackboard Student Services. Moodlerooms. The list goes on.

Over the past year, Blackboard has been civilizing the Frankenstein monster they’ve created from the spare parts of other companies, trying to build an integrated product line that can compete with some of the new upstart in the LMS market, notably Instructure’s Canvas. I’ve generally liked the direction Blackboard is headed, and how much more responsive they have been to both customer and user feedback. But, like all LMSs, no matter how good Blackboard is or becomes, it will still be a problem disguised as a solution. More on that later.

The VCCS is a big customer of Blackboard, Inc., and part of my job is to oversee our LMS, Blackboard Learn, including xpLor, and Blackboard Collaborate.  It makes sense that I should go despite how uncomfortable I feel about attending. Appropriately, the conference is being held in Las Vegas, the City of Mammon, which only adds to my sense of loathing (to reference Hunter S. Thompson). Any fascination I had for Vegas has long worn off. Regardless, the die has been cast. It’s Vegas or bust. I have been to Bb World once before, in New Orleans in 2012. I  spent most of the conference agog at the sheer monumental size of everything:  from the clamoring hordes of badged participants to the soaring spaces of the  Convention Center that seemed to stretch on for miles. I felt I was strolling through a gigantic product placement. For 2014, I have been invited to be on a panel titled Instructional Content & the LMS in which the moderator, a Bb employee, offers a rather vague description of the session: “The LMS has transformed education. It has brought traditional teaching online and has enabled a level of experience in education that was not previously possible.” You could read this in a number of ways, depending on how you define traditional teaching and level of experience.

I will use this blog to reflect on my experiences at the conference, and report on any notable announcements that Blackboard inevitably makes at these events. Until then, what are your thoughts about the various products Blackboard offers? About the LMS in general? Have you been to Bb World before? Was it a valuable experience?


Hit the innovation bullseye, get $5 million


Pull your best arrows out of the quiver, take careful aim,  and hit the innovation bullseye and you could steal away with up to $5 million in  booty from the Robin Hood organization. Robin Hood’s “College Success” Prize  is a jackpot of $5 million that will go to the individual or team that develops a scalable technology solution to help community college students stay on track to a timely graduation.

The  goal of the organization is to alleviate poverty.  Robin Hood believes that developing innovative, scalable, and technology-enabled tools that improve the academic performance of underprepared college students can help achieve that goal.

Here is a description of the competition from the Robin Hood web site:

The competition is open to individuals and teams that develop scalable solutions that will help more community college students graduate within 2-3 years.  Competitors may address whichever set of student skills they believe will produce the greatest success. These may include math, reading, or writing, as well as behavioral, non-cognitive or non-academic factors.

The Prize will reward successful interventions – such as smartphone apps, computer applications, and web-based tools—that are aimed at the individual student and will supplement existing curricula and supportive services such as tutoring.

The competition launched in March 2014 and continues through October 2018, with the prize money distributed incrementally based on results.

Microsoft Office Now Available for the iPad


From LifeHacker:

At long last, Microsoft is bringing its Office suite to the iPad, and you can download it today. The Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps are specifically designed for the iPad’s touch environment and will sync, via OneDrive, to other Office apps on other devices.

In today’s demonstration, Microsoft showcased how formatting is consistent between the iPad apps and desktop versions, as well as some nifty touch-only formatting and editing capabilities. Some of the more interesting features include previewing charts in Excel before you insert them, laser pointing with your finger in PowerPoint, and very flexible Word layouts.

The full version, with full editing capabilities, is free for Office 365 subscribers. For everyone else, you’ll be able to use Office for iPad at least to view or present documents.

You can download the apps today in iTunes via this link.

Google Mid-Atlantic Users Group

Google Apps for EducationA group of folks on the Google North America Apps Users Group are organizing a Google Apps Mid-Atlantic Users Group Meeting, also known by the abrasively gutteral-sounding acronym (MAGUG). The event is free and will be held on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at Dominion Enterprises in Norfolk, Virginia.

To learn more or to register, use the following link: le-apps-mid-atlantic-user-group/. Also, to learn more about other national and regional events and receive helpful information about Google Apps, consider subscribing to the Google North America Apps Users Group.




Get a free domain from Reclaim while they remain

Reclaim the WebIf you don’t know about the University of Mary Washington’s A Domain of One’s Own project, get thee to this Wired article from July of 2012,  this Tech Therapy podcast on the Chronicle site, or go straight to the source at UMW’s to find out more.

UMW’s IT crew–Tim Owens, Jim Groom, and the rest–are true technology innovators: starting this Fall, all faculty AND students at UMW are being offered their own personal web space, for free, allowing them “reclaim the web” and “take control of [their]digital identities.” It’s such a simple concept really, so simple it’s genius, and easily untangles the Gordian knot of the  LMS “walled garden” that has made the software, not the student, the center of learning.

Now, as recipients of a Shuttleworth Foundation “flash” grant, Tim Owens and Jim Groom are offering this free hosting to any faculty or educational technology staff who want to experiment with having a domain of their own. Jim and Tim will even help you get it set up and working.If you’re interested, go to Reclaim Hosting ( to sign up. You’ll need to have an idea of how many accounts you need and  pay about $12 each for domain names.

*Correction: an earlier version of this post identified UMW as the recipient of the Shuttleworth grant and  the sponsor of the Reclaim Hosting project; in fact, Tim Owens and Jim Groom are the grantees supporting this project.

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