Beware of giant publishers bearing gifts.

13 10 2011

I’v spent a fair bit of time today reading about OpenClass, Pearson’s new free learning management system for non-profit higher education. Even at this early stage, there’s still one thing I know about it now: it’s got to be better than Blackboard. Of course, that’s a very low bar, but the fact that Pearson has Google working on it gives me some hope that it won’t merely be less awful than the most common alternative.

From what I can tell, the best thing about OpenClass (other than avoiding obscenely high licensing fees) is that it’s something being marketed directly to faculty, which prompted a quote in the Chronicle from a Blackboard honcho that I’m sure will be the funniest thing I read all day:

Matthew Small, Blackboard’s chief business officer, points out that this cloud-based service can’t be deeply integrated into a university the way his products can. “Most faculty want LMS that connect to the student-information system, the calendar, and conform to college-specific privacy and legal policies,” he says, and he doesn’t think OpenClass can do this. “It’s really something that’s being offered to the faculty, not as something that’s connected to the enterprise,” he says.

Does this guy even know what the difference is between faculty and administration? Show me a faculty member that’s worried about college-specific legal policies and you’ll see that their current title is Interim Provost.

That said, there’s always a catch with a free-but-still-commercial product like this one. This is from the IHE coverage:

Like Google with its Apps for Education — with which Pearson has partnered for its beta launch — the media conglomerate is hoping to use OpenClass as a loss leader that points students and professors toward those products that the company’s higher ed division sees as the future of its bottom line: e-textbooks, e-tutoring software, and other “digital content” products.

Yes, they’re giving away one thing for free in order to sell something else. Yes, you can upload your own content to accompany what Pearson supplies, but what’s unclear to me as of yet is who controls the keys to the kingdom: the professor or the institution where he or she teaches. We may pick what goes up there, including the non-Pearson content, but if we have to go through our universities to reach OpenClass would simply be a cheaper way for administrations to insert themselves between professors and their students.

Even if this system is ultimately under the control of individual professors, the IHE piece subtly suggests that the ultimate purpose of this program is to take professors where they don’t really want to go:

While students and professors have thus far resisted abandoning print textbooks, all the major publishers have invested heavily in “smart” software designed to respond to students’ individual needs and shepherd them through each lesson. The companies generally agree that the future of textbook publishing lies in sophisticated course modules that combine traditional textbook content with interactive software designed to help students master concepts.

[Emphasis added]

That’s funny, I thought shepherding students through each lesson was the professor’s job.

I say defend your prerogatives. Be your own learning management system.

Update: EDTECHHULK says it all in less than 140 characters:

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3 responses

13 10 2011
Jonathan Dresner

I like EdTechHulk!

I’ve said it before, probably, but I’ll say it again: almost everything which my colleagues do on the LMS, I do at http://dresnerworld.edublogs.org and http://dresnerjapan.edublogs.org, etc. Media hosting? Flickr, Slideshare…. Only thing I can’t do as easily is closed discussions. And gradebook, but I won’t use our current LMS gradebook anyway.

16 10 2011
Waiting for disruption | Music for Deckchairs

[...] much more closely at the small print.  Jonathan Rees is more blunt, when he says that we should beware giant publishers bearing gifts.  Certainly, we’re all wary of the free [...]

27 10 2011
Trust wipeout | Music for Deckchairs

[...] this we can now add the growing culture of mistrust between educators and educational technology vendors.  Is online learning the cunning plan to enable us to teach more students without more staff or [...]

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