Archive for category Innovation

The Death of Google Reader: A New Beginning

A gravestone with the Google Reader Icon on it.

Image Credit – Source Google Reader icon: from Matt Galligan Tombstone: Public Domain at

The recent announcement about Google killing its Reader product had me depressed for a few moments.  RSS still forms the core of my daily intake of journals, blogs, and news sources. Twitter and G+ have their places but there are certain sources I want to make sure I see each day. Luckily, my PLN was also abuzz with the Google announcement and options began surfacing almost immediately.


The first recommendation came from a G+ comment: Feedly. I grabbed the Chrome version right away and then downloaded the iOS version. Slick interface, clean, and the makers claim they will seamlessly transition my Google Reader feeds to their platform when the execution occurs July 1. Fantastic! But, then the first little issues began to appear: 1) Feedly’s Chrome app took over my browser when I would click on a Feedburner feed (attention web app makers: do not take over my browser without asking). 2) I then began to look at whether I could see the RSS source links so I could copy them into other Reader replacement options. I could not find a way to expose the original links. Perhaps you can but, it is not obvious. 3) This led me look for export options. Even though they are killing Reader, at least Google allows you to export data. This post indicates that it is not even on the radar.  Locking my feeds into a platform when a simple export function is so easy is not acceptable. So, scratch Feedly.

The Old Reader also looks like a viable product and it seems to be supported by folks dedicated to keeping your data accessible but, in the rush of folks leaving Google Reader they were having scalability issues (since resolved). So I noted this option to try again later and kept looking.

Then I read the post by D’arcy Norman about the feed reader called Fever (D’arcy gives a great description – read it).  Fever is a paid product and you have to install it on a web sever. I have a hosted server space for this blog so I thought I would see if it would support the install. After running the package, it worked like a charm. I paid my 30 bucks and began to get it configured.  Wow, what a difference. In many ways it is superior to Reader.

Fever has a typical folder structure but it also shows what’s hot based on inbound linking to an article or topic. I have a love-hate relationship with aggregator sites because they often surface interesting articles but they also fill my unread count. These can be labeled “sparks. ” Labeling a feed as a spark means that it does not show up as unread but it contributes to the “heat” that topics have.


Those who follow me on Twitter know I share a smattering of what I read about technology, learning, education, and other random assorted odds and ends. I typically send these to Twitter from Reader while I am on my iPad. I really dislike the Twitter integration in iOS. Like the Feedly browser takeover issue with RSS, it does not let me see the link and I cannot copy Tweets with links into other programs. More iOS  apps are now defaulting to this internally integrated Twitter function. The iOS app that best supports Fever (Reeder) defaults to the iOS Twitter integration so I needed to make a change to continue to share in the same way. I use a couple of different Twitter programs but I tend to post articles through the free version of Hootsuite. On Chrome I use the Hootlet extension to post directly from a story to Hootsuite. iOS Safari does not allow extensions and plugins so I wanted a “Hootlet” for iOS. I found this very helpful article describing how to set this up using a bookmark with a little Javascript.

The way I read and post articles is actually now more efficient than it was when I was in my Google Reader rut. So, I want to personally thank Google for getting me out of my comfort zone to look at new options.  This change has me thinking again about all of my posts across various sources and whether I should be pulling it all into one place that I “own.” That’s a project for another time…


, , , , ,

No Comments

Disruptive Innovation: Breaking News in 1981

I will give the closing keynote a the Adult Student Recruiting and Retention Conference next week in Madison. While the talk this year is new, those who were there last year might remember this video.

I like videos that show early stage technological innovation.  This 1981 KRON news clip is one of my favorites because in 2 minutes and 17 seconds it captures the essence of disruptive change.  The visionaries were right about the big picture (that people could one day receive all their news over the computer) but they underestimate the how disruptive the technology will be (“we will not make much money but we will not lose much either”).  You can almost hear a slight tone of sarcasm in the newscaster’s voice as she wraps the story by describing the cost of the internet.

“Of the 2000-3000 computer owners in the Bay area…”

Many technology enthusiasts were likely predicting the end of the papers as we knew them even in 1981. They were right, of course, but not for almost 30 years. Many elements had to be in place before the technology had a systemic impact. Beyond just access to low cost internet and the need to have computers in millions of homes, new modes of publishing, blogging, citizen reporting, and an information sharing ecosystem had to have time to develop.

Tough changes

When disruptive change happens, it takes a relatively long time. When that change results in a pink slip for your position, however, it can seem like it happened overnight.  Evidence of the disruption that has hit the news industry is now in the (electronic) news almost every week.  New Orleans recently became the largest U.S. city to lose daily newspaper service. It took many years for disruptive change to play out and, while this video might seem quaint in 2012, it makes me wonder what changes are happening in our own higher education backyards that will seem obvious in 2042.


No Comments

MASLO: An Open Source Mobile Learning Platform

Official MASLO logoThe unofficial MASLO post – we are getting a new site up over at the Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Lab so this post will help people to learn more about MASLO until the site is ready.

The Academic ADL Co-lab (at University of Wisconsin-Extension) is continuing to build a new open source mobile learning platform called MASLO. MASLO stands for Mobile Access to Supplementary Learning Objects, which was not meant to be a permanent name  but these things have a way of sticking around.  If you want to follow MASLO development and be notified when code updates are available, head over to the Co-Lab MASLO page to get on the mailing list.

MASLO is an authoring tool (built with Adobe AIR), two mobile player applications (Android and iOS), and a separate storage mechanism (we are using Amazon S3 but any web host will work).

The basics use of MASLO is simple enough: plop content into the authoring tool, preview it, and then upload it to the Amazon host. The content (images, text files, audio, simple quizes, and video) is stored in raw form on the web host.  The device players download the packets and format the content to fit the phone.

Note: MASLO is not a specific mobile application but it is an open source system for creating mobile learning applications.

Some key features:

  • The authoring tool allows a preview of what the content will look like on a mobile device.
  • Authoring tool runs on Mac, PC, Linux
  • The system supports free content packages and in-app purchasing for content you might want to sell.
  • Content packages are fully donwloadable to  the device.  No internet connection is required after the content is on the device. This is very helpful in situations where constant wireless connectivity might be a problem.
  • The code is open and you can modify it to meet the needs of your organization.

 Authoring Content

The goal of MASLO is not to be the most sophisticated mobile authoring tool, it is to be extremely simple. We have sacrificed more sophisticated authoring options to keep the barrier for entry to creating mobile content as low as possible.

See this very quick and dirty 3 minute 45 second authoring tool walkthrough video:

The authoring tool is available for download now at the official MASLO page but here are direct links to Mac and PC versions. Note: This will not publish anywhere because you need to have apps and storage setup but you can create mobile learning content and preview it in the tool. If you are especially adventurous, you can get the authoring tool code on the MASLO Github page.


We chose Amazon’s EC2 because it is inexpensive, scalable, and flexible. If you decide to download and use the MASLO authoring system, it is storage agnostic but we are building some admin tools to support EC2.  EC2 has some other advantages when it comes to having paid in-app content packages but, if you only plan to distribute free content, then any web storage solution will work fine.

Documentation on how to set up the Amazon EC2 will be available at some point in the next 6 weeks.

iOS and Android Mobile Applications

We have built two mobile application players: 1 for iOS and one for Android.  Other operating systems can be added later.  The first application to be published using the MASLO system will be called the ADL MASLO Setup Guide.  As soon as it is available through Apple, I will link to it from this post.  In essence, we are dogfooding by creating an application to teach about how to set up apps with the system. This set up guide will launch with the most stripped down version of the interface (see screenshots below).  Modifications to colors and logo are easy for anyone with iOS and Android experience.

In the application, there a list of packs on the device, a link to a store to download or purchase new packs, and context-aware search (e.g. when on the store tab, it searches all packs in the store, when on the device tab it searches just packs on the device, when inside a content pack it searches text within that pack).    There are few user settings at this time but we have a tab for that as well.

Home Screen (shows packs on the device):

MASLO iOS Home Screen

Screen capture of the MASLO iOS Home Screen with two sample content packs.

Store Screen (shows packs available for download):

MASLO iOS Store Tab

Screen capture showing all available content packages from the store.

Example of a quiz question screen:

iOS MASLO Quiz Question Screen

iOS MASLO Quiz Question screen example

These are just a couple of quick screen shots of a minimalist version of the iOS MASLO app.  Customizations are easy and a much more sophisticated look and feel is certainly possible.

We are at the beginning of creating this platform.  More than 80 people have signed up to the MASLO mailing list and several folks have already voiced interest in contributing to the code.  If you would like to follow our progress or contribute, please join us!


, , , , , ,

1 Comment

Reflections on the OpenClass design partner meeting Part 2: Features

A screen shot from the LMS OpenClass
I mentioned in a previous post that there are a couple of key features that make OpenClass a potentially disruptive learning platform. One is the social element built into

the platform. The simple ability to “follow” fellow students and faculty even after a class semester ends opens many new learning opportunities. Pearson gave a few new details about the social elements during the design partner meeting, including taking steps to integrate with Google+.

Examples of how to build on social

Pearson developersshowed off some nifty innovations created during a previously held two-day internal hackathon. While these innovations may or may not make it into the formal OpenClass product roadmap, a few were notable and showed the potential of platform: 1) An integration of Google+ Hangouts to create video office hours from within OpenClass (very slick) 2) a collaborative multiple-choice test-taking tool that requires students to work in teams to answer questions 3) a badge system that gives rewards for a variety of activities (e.g. % of people you have interacted with in the class).

The Exchange

The other major feature is still in the works and is currently called the Exchange. An over-simplified view is to think of the Exchange as an app store for learning content. As design partners, we got to see some Exchange wireframe mockups. Creating a one-stop-shop for learning content is far more complex than creating an app store for a monolithic software platform. The vision is that it will provide a simple interface across open source and paid repositories of content. As faculty build their courses using content from the Exchange, they will see a running tally of what students would have to pay (if they select any paid resources). Students will have options on whether to pay for content when they login (e.g. I own the paper text and do not want the digital one in the course).

Pearson knows that gaining and maintaining trust in the Exchange means that they must be egalitarian and transparent in how content is listed. This is a tricky line to walk because, unlike Apple and iTunes, they also own a content business. Faculty ratings of content and open discussion forums will help build trust but attempts to highlight content (like most other digital stores do) will be difficult to navigate while avoiding the appearance of bias. Other design-related challenges include how much information to include for each offering (peer-review status, device compatibility info, evaluation data, etc.), what types of media to include (e.g. video file formats, proprietary players/readers, Flash), and rights management.

Beyond the technical and design questions, there are also potential institutional challenges.  The long-term vision of the Exchange includes the ability to accept content submissions from any individual. Similar to the Apple App Store, each person can determine whether he or she will charge for the materials on a per student basis. I suspect this will bring many long-simmering questions about digital course ownership to the fore – especially the first time a faculty member creates a 99¢ math video that a giant community college system decides is a part of their core curriculum.

I think OpenClass is a bold product. In an area where innovation has been very slow and incremental, it offers a chance to rethink the LMS. The challenges are immense and there are no guarantees they can all be overcome. In these two brief posts, I did not touch on the possibilities of global scale and analytics, the host of open APIs, and the deep integration with Google (and soon other providers) but the social features and Exchange lead me to believe that investing time in a robust pilot is worth it to see where this goes.


, , ,

No Comments

Reflections on the Pearson OpenClass design partner meeting: Part 1: General thoughts

Note: I do not promote or endorse any product on behalf of my employer. These are my own opinions.
Last week I was fortunate to participate in the design partner meeting for Pearson’s OpenClass LMS. At the University of Wisconsin-Extension, we are early in our OpenClass pilot but I was interested to hear what others had experienced.

It was a remarkable couple of days. Putting more than 20 people from different types of institutions in the same room to have in-depth conversations about what next generation learning technology infrastructure should look like was worth the trip to Denver. Conversations ranged from high-level technical (what should the SIS API enable?) to more broad philosophical issues (should the system encourage a move away from rigid course structures?).

I was impressed with the candor from everyone about the potential and the challenges of building a globally-scalable learning technology platform. OpenClass is available but still in beta and has some kinks to be worked out. Everyone agreed that the basics needed to “just work” before a more substantial rollout could happen at their institutions. What constitutes the basics, however, was different depending on partner needs.

I believe Pearson is facing a classic “Innovators Dilemma” (Christensen) as they launch OpenClass into a mature market. Mature markets have developed expectations about how products should function. The power users of mature technologies expect products that offer rich features that have grown over time. As these products add more features, they also become more expensive and harder for novices to use. This is generally the case in the LMS/CMS market. A disruptive innovation often offers less or different functionality but can be significantly cheaper than the more mature products. In the case of OpenClass, the cost drops to zero (at least in terms of licensing and hosting).

OpenClass does not have the feature depth of more mature learning management systems (at least the features we have come to expect). For example, there are fewer quiz options, the forums are not as robust, and the ability to customize roles is limited. This is not to say that the OpenClass features are not capable but, if you are used to being able to configure each role in 100 different ways, OpenClass does not have that kind of flexibility out of the box. The key is to look at how OpenClass is different and where it is better than current LMSs. What does it offer that other LMSs do not? It uses a much more social approach to learning, has a fantastic interface, and the potential for content sharing on a global scale (I will talk a bit about the Exchange in Part 2).

The big question is whether Pearson can capture enough of the mature market while pushing into new directions. Given that 3000 institutions/organizations are at least kicking the tires, it seems like they have a good shot at getting a solid user base.

We are continuing to move forward with our pilot at UWEX and are challenging ourselves to think different about course design and structure to take advantages of the platform’s strengths.

I split this reflection into two parts and I will talk more specifically about the current and future capabilities that are reasons we are moving forward in Part 2.


, , , ,

No Comments

New credentials for OER?

NOTE: This post was originally shared to my Google+ stream as a part of an ongoing conversation. Head over there to comment.

I have been thinking about the ongoing conversation related to the $10K Bachelor’s degree that Myk Garn held at the SREB Technology Cooperative and Barry Dahl has continued on G+ over several posts. The higher ed value/cost proposition conversation is also going on in many other contexts.

One problem we have is the fixation on a bachelor’s degree. Universities are right to protect the meaning of a degree to include all of the associated experiences that people expect from college. I think this justified protectiveness is a part of the problem when we start talking about “cheap” degrees. Most everyone would agree that bachelor’s degree represents more than a simple assessment of skill level.

My question is this: we have a GED for high school. It does not imply that the person went through the whole high school experience but shows that they have certain, specific knowledge outcomes that might be expected of a high school graduate

What about a BDE? A BDE is a Bachelor’s Degree Equivalency assessment program that demonstrates an expected college knowledge competency level without implying the rest of the college experience. Such programs might open doors for adults, AND protect the significance of earning a bachelor’s degree.

Perhaps the BDE is combined with other micro-certifications or industry-specific credentials to help people show they have a baseline technical knowledge level and also have the general ability to write, think critically, etc. at a college level.

To be successful I think a BDE would have to be:
Valid and reliable (no small task)
Extremely inexpensive
Delivered by reputable organizations/universities
Accepted by employers (this would take time to happen – just like the GED)
Transparent in every way it is designed (both to those taking the assessment and employers)

Are there states/institutions with similar programs today? Would this concept make a difference in the ongoing conversation? Interested in Friday out-of-the-box thought…


No Comments

My “new” blog

Welcome to the new version of my blog.  After more than five years of blogging with Movable Type, I decided to switch to WordPress.  MT is a great product but the functionality of WP is a more natural fit to how I like to post, write, and experiment with web technologies.  I have also pulled the plug on my Feedburner feed and now have a combined feed using FriendFeed.  For those who would like ALL of my tweets, pics, Youtube posts, Facebook entries, LinkedIn, and more, subscribe to the FriendFeed RSS.  If that is too much of me, you can subscribe just to this blog.

The old version of the blog is still available.  If you are looking for some of my older posts, you can find them here.  Some links from archives back to the homepage of that site might be broken.


No Comments