As it sometimes happens with startups, things may end, evolve, or simply move into a new direction. Last year when I wrote an article about TokBox named “Assets for Distance Learners: TokBox”, I did not know what the future would hold for this company. Certainly at that time the company showed a lot of promise with the product they had already developed. I described the product as a decent alternative to big web conference rooms when the need was for short office hours, or simple one-on-one interactions with distance students.
I learned this week that the TokBox product itself is being discontinued, but the technology that they developed is evolving into a new platform that shows new promises and greater flexibility for future applications. As we see TokBox Video Conferencing leave us, we are introduced to the free OpenTok API that allows developers to implement this live group video technology into any web application site with complete control of the experience for their users.
Don’t think that this free video chat platform and video conferencing application is now only available to developers. The basic embed option can be just what you are looking for if you don’t have a team of skilled designers and developers working on a custom solution for you. As a basic embed object, the video chat platform hosts up to 20 participants on-screen, and an unlimited number of viewers. The host/owner of the chat can activate the object to turn on and off, and even terminate video privileges or “ban” participants from the session.
When I attended a session of the new Zipcasts on Slideshare’s website, I had no idea that they were using the new OpenTok API. The live streaming experience with Zipcast was sharp and seamless, even though it was only a one-way live video stream. Well, the OpenTok API is flexible and also allows multiple live streams; it would be great to see examples of educational applications using the platform. How would you envision this technology working with your existing online instructional content outside of the traditional CMS and enterprise web conference solution?
With a tagline like “cultivating Purdue’s web expertise”, I don’t need to say how the annual BoilerWeb conference will benefit anyone at Purdue with an interest in web technologies. This networking and learning event will take place this year on April 7th, and it is open now for proposal submission by any Purdue web professional through tomorrow February 18th to have the schedule ready by March 1st.
My experience at BoilerWeb was very positive last year. I learned some things I didn’t know about managing the social web, web project management, source control methods and software, and other interesting web development tips and tricks. I also presented with one of our student developers and talked about our implementation of the Layar mobile browser on campus.
I imagine that this year we will continue to have great in-depth web topics that will make you a productive web technologist. The BoilerWeb conference is only open for Purdue staff, faculty, and students.
Last week I came across a new platform that intends to compile learning resources for students through a social teaching and learning system called Sophia. The concept is that teachers from anywhere in the world who join this social teaching platform are able to deploy “learning packets” on the subject of their expertise, and distribute free of charge to any student not necessarily associated with a specific course or school.
Eventually, and according to Josh Fischman who wrote about Sophia for The Chronicle of Higher Education, private versions of the platform will be licensed to colleges. For now, the company is in private beta and instructional materials that are uploaded to the site are released under a Creative Commons license.
I already have my opinions about Sophia, but I will be waiting to give you a complete review when I have given my feedback to Sophia learning about their current implementation during this private beta. If you are curious about this social teaching and learning platform, and would like a chance to see the system and provide feedback, visit the Sophia website and request a beta test invite.
First, let me clarify that this article is not about advocating the replacement of enterprise learning or course management solutions with SharePoint 2010. I will focus on SharePoint 2010 and its features to deploy e-learning in ways that are effective and comprehensive to meet very specific needs.
At the time of this writing, SharePoint has been playing an integral role as an enterprise business document, content management, and web collaboration solution for many administrative and academic departments at Purdue. The collaboration and ease of web publishing features makes SharePoint 2010 a very attractive choice for e-learning solutions compared to the previous SharePoint 2007 version. Executive programs have recognized that to present and deploy e-learning in this rich platform is easier than other established and robust learning management solutions available. Plus, the added value also relies on the flexibility of the content to be shared for learning in that case, and its integration with the program’s administrative business features. This marriage makes the use of SharePoint 2010 a definite win for the students, faculty, and the program administrators. Additionally, young executive students enrolled in these programs have the opportunity to take advantage of familiar Microsoft technology.
For those of you thinking about SharePoint 2010 for e-learning, consider that even though this may seem like a possible option to fit your needs, there are many compromises that you must be able to accept. Some key functionality of learning management systems such as a comprehensive and flexible gradebook, instructor ability to export and archive course content, graded discussions, peer review assignments, built-in communication tools (whiteboards, chats), assessment and survey question pools, plagiarism detection tools, etc. is simply not available in the out-of-the-box version of SharePoint 2010.
Third party tools may offer only some of the course management system functionality that I mention. Shareknowledge-lms for SharePoint, for example, claims that their system design has “deep roots in academia”, and they offer a nice comparison over other SharePoint solutions for e-learning in the market: http://shareknowledge-lms.com/solutions/lms-for-academia/ . This is one third-party add-on that comes close to offering a solution that closely fit the needs that integrated CMS would address. Another solution to adding e-learning capabilities to content in SharePoint is using a flexible open source web part add-on such as the SharePoint Learning Kit (http://slk.codeplex.com/) which has assignment dropbox capabilities.
In any case, it is important for me to point out that the SharePoint 2010 platform can be adapted to function as a light and elegant e-learning solution, but it cannot be a complete course management system offering all the out-of-the-box components necessary for teaching, learning and performance management.