Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tips & Tricks By Devon Taylor

Guest Blog: Devon Taylor is the Technology Development Coordinator within the Institutional Computing Department at Shenandoah University (SU). One of the things I will miss next week when I am not longer employed by SU is Devon's weekly Tips & Tricks email. That is why I select this weeks email to share on my blog.

New Google Drive UI to Become the Default Experience

If you haven't manually switched over to the New Google Drive UI, you will be switched over automatically by Google very soon.  With the switch comes a slightly changes users interface, more advanced editing and sharing features, easier file management and much more.  If you want to go ahead and make the switch yourself, follow the steps below.
1. Click on the gear in the right hand side of your Google Drive
2. Select "Experience the new Drive"
3.Drive will reload and you will be using the new user interface
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For a short period of time you will be able to revert back to the old version, but it will be a brief window that prolongs the inevitable shift to the new interface.
The link provides an overview of the new features/changes that will take effect. 

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Trello - Project Management / Collaboration Tool

Trello is best described as a list of lists that has everything you need to manage projects.  Your projects are separated into boards, which are then separated into lists.  Individual tasks on each list can be commented on by collaborators, as well as have attachments added, videos inserted, to-do lists, labels, due dates, etc... There are too many features to describe here.  If you are looking for something to help you manage a project or collaborate with others on a project, give Trello a try. You may find that it has everything you need. Trello is also cross platform with apps on iOS, Android and the web. Click the link above to see an overview and then give it a try!
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Add Captions to Videos in Drive and YouTube


Adding captions to your video files is a great way to ensure your content is accessible to a broad audience. If you want to reach deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers, or speakers of different languages, captions allow these users to understand your videos. Captions can be added to videos stored in your Google Drive as well as added to videos that you may have on YouTube.  Follow the links below to see how to add captions to your videos.




Tuesday, December 23, 2014

New Year Brings Changes

Graphic from tweakyourbiz.com
We all know that New Year's resolutions are easy to make, but difficult to carry out. With the start of the new year, approximately one in three Americans resolve to better themselves in some way. Only about 75% of people making a New  Year's resolution will stick to their goals for at least a week, less than half (46%) are still on target six months later according to a 2002 study (Sparacino, 2014). According to the University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology the most popular resolution is "Self Improvement or education related resolutions" at 47%, weight related resolutions comes in second at  38%, money related resolutions is at 34%, and relationship related resolutions is at the end at 31%. 

Those who know me, know that for the last several years I have been working in an atmosphere of stress. Because I tried to do what was best for the learners I supported, but I was being blocked by those who only wanted their way and a feather in their cap.  After reading Reese's "A professional Wake-up Call" article, where she said "The lessons would appear in much larger ways like when it was shared with me what someone thought of me. That thought had been shared publicly. My first reaction was to run (flight). Then to stand up for myself (fight). Next came paralysis because I didn't know what to do so I did nothing for a night. Finally came surrender. What happened, happened. I started to evaluate it as objectively as possible".  I had received a multiple Blackboard Cataylst Awards, started blogging, been selected as a Blackboard MVP, received one of five Blackboard Key to the Community awards, an early Google Glass Explorer, earned my PhD during this time and yet I was doing less at my local university then I did before all this. Than I read Doug Snadler's article on how not to quit on your goal and dreams. I realized that working in this environment was not healthy and it was causing me to give up on my end goal to make a difference in the world as an educational technologist. At the same time, my immediate supervisor informed me that my position was evolving into a business IT position and leaving the educational environment. 



So...my 2015 resolution was to find a job that respected by skill set, challenge my knowledge, and provided me an opportunity to make a difference in the field of education. Thankfully, I have been given that opportunity with Lord Fairfax Community College (L:FCC). I have been given the chance to work on their Knowledge to Work (K2W) grant team to develop an educational search engine and online portal designed to help workers find free and low-cost learning resources tied to competencies and credentials, including badges, certificates and degrees. You can read more about the grant here

It appears to be the perfect job! I am able to make a difference in Higher Education, while hopefully improving the lives of the learners that participate in the Knowledge to Work program. I will be able to use the knowledge gained during my work on the Virginia Community College System's (VCCS) Chancellor Open Educational Resources (OER) grant last year and my knowledge of Blackboard's xpLor learning repository. I will be experimenting with badges in my Introduction to Computers courses at LFCC during the Spring semester in which the findings may carry over directly into the K2W program. Finally, I will also get to apply my curriculum design knowledge from my dissertation to real life. 

As we always need to have goals and  and the willingness to change! So I hope everyone makes and keeps a resolution to make 2015 the best year possible. Will you make a resolution? Why or Why not?


References:
Sparacino,  Alyssa (2014). Top 10 Healthiest New Year's Resolutions. Retrieved on December 20, 2014 from http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20452233,00.html

Reese, Wendy (2014).  A Professional Wake-up Call. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wendy-reese/a-professional-wake-up-ca_b_6365494.html

Sandler, Doug (2014). 10 Ways to Avoid Quitting on Your Goals and Dreams. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/doug-a-sandler/10-ways-to-avoid-quitting_b_6366716.html

University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology (2014). New Years Resolution Statistics, Retrieved December 21, 2014 from http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/

VSU, four community colleges receive work-force training grants. 2014. http://www.virginiabusiness.com/news/article/vsu-four-community-colleges-receive-work-force-training-grants

Lord Fairfax Community College (2014). http://www.lfcc.edu/about-the-college/grants/k2w/index.html

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Technology Women Are Needed, But Not Accepted As Equals

For years, we have heard about the struggle to get female students to stay interested in the STEM fields and that women get paid less than men doing the same jobs in jobs. So why are we surprised when we hear the technology field is one women are leaving or not selecting as a career?
  • Women in the labor force accounted for 57.2 percent of the working age (16 years of age and older) women population in 2013, compared to 69.7 percent participation rate for men (Bureau of Labor Statistics). 
  • There were 127.1 million working age women,in the U.S. in 2013 – 72.7 million were in the labor force. Acoording to the Women's Bureau women’s to men’s earnings ratio is only 82.1%. 
  • A median annual salary of $37,791 for women working age women who worked in a full-time year-round in 2012. In comparison, to the median annual earnings of working age men which was a $49,398 (Women by the Numbers). 
  • Education and Health Services industry has the highest percent of women workers at 36.2%, while Information Literacy had the lowest percent at 1/7%. (Bureau of Labor Statistics). 
  • Men are employed in STEM occupations at about twice the rate of women with the same qualifications (U.S. Census Bureau)

With working in the tech field since 1989, I can say that it is true that there have been less females at the companies I have worked with or they are held to the lower position jobs. Strangely though at the technology conferences, I see lots of women and many of these women have advanced degrees. I have often heard males in the technology field say "be lucky you have a job" or "your voice is to high pitch to advance, try sounding more like a man" or "you cannot bet the Good Ole Boy network" and I was even told once "Do remember the saying 'behind every good man, is a women? That is where a women belongs, behind the men in the department".  I have watched male peers be promoted, even though they were less education, less knowledgeable, and had less passion for success. It is frustrating, but something I had convinced myself that I had to accept to work in the technology field.

After reading about the stories from 716 women who left tech show that the industry’s culture is the primary culprit, not any issues related to science education, I started to re-think my decision of working in the technology field. I could relate to Sandhya, who was asked my her manager to come back early from leave. In fact, in the past five years I have only had one 4-day period where I was actually able to take vacation without having to work 50% or more of the time and that was when I traveled outside of the U.S.
"Of the 716 women surveyed, 465 are not working today. Two-hundred-fifty-one are employed in non-tech jobs, and 45 of those are running their own companies. A whopping 625 women say they have no plans to return to tech. Only 22—that’s 3%—say they would definitely like to" (Snyder)
 It is sad to see numbers of women that are leaving the tech jobs, specially since it appears that most of the women leaving enjoyed the work itself (Snyder). As Synder concluded, "Women are leaving tech because they’re unhappy with the work environment, not because they have lost interest in the work." This is expensive for organizations not just because of the cost of hiring and retraining, because of the lost of revenue via missing knowledge and the cost of time reassigning projects. Brown quotes Laura Sherbin, Director of research at the Center for Talent Innovations as saying “It’s not just about getting women in the pipeline. It’s about keeping them,”

The reasons women are leaving technology are not always lack of respect, promotion, or pay as most suggest. Sometimes the issues is one of the oldest reasons, since women entered the work force 'sexism'. I am not just talking about being hit on, but not being included in decision making meetings that directly involve the female or her position, or forced to listen to inappropriate sexual jokes.  Another example of the sexual discrimination in the tech industry when men were reward for creating the app "Titstare" during a hack-a-thon at TechCrunch Disrupt (Miller). While TechCrunch later publicly apologize, why did they let it happen in the first place? "The parade of offenses continues: the social coding giant GitHub came under a firestorm of criticism earlier this year after one of the company's few female developers quit, alleging a pattern of sexual and gender-based harassment. And a website called "CodeBabes" launched, offering to teach bros how to code under the tutelage of virtual strippers. It seems there's no end to this type of news; in fact, there's a whole site devoted to tracking these flareups" (Liebelson). 

Model View Culture published a open letter about how women are treated in tech companies and provided suggestions on how to improve. Click here to read the full letter.  According to the Business Insider, women employees at Adobe Systems (ADBE), BuzzFeed, Kickstarter, Stripe and Mozilla, as well as software engineers and designers and technology journalists "are angry and that things have to change" (Peterson). Sue Gardner has been doing research on the matter and found that tech women report "23% to 66% report experiencing sexual harassment or seeing it happen to others. Half the respondents to my survey said they've been treated in a way they find hostile, demeaning or condescending, and a third said their bosses are friendlier and more supportive with their male colleagues. Women report being encouraged to move out of pure tech into support functions, which offer less pay, are less prestigious and have limited upward mobility" (2014). Other facts found were:
  • 41% of  women in tech leave the industry, compared to the 17% of men leaving
  • Women at their mid-career point is in the most dangerous time and when their career starts to stall with those who have reached the beginning ranks of management. 
  • Women who leave are 165%  more likely have an advanced degree than those who stay
  • Tech women are not leaving the work force, just the tech field. 
Lauren Weinstein who is co-founder of PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility, co-founder and moderator of NNSquad - Network Neutrality Squad, the founder of the PRIVACY Forum, and now a Google consultant ask  "Why aren’t there more women in computer science and engineering?’ and there’s all these complicated answers like, ‘School advisers don’t have them take math and physics,’ and it’s probably true, but I think there’s probably a simpler reason, which is these guys are just jerks, and women know it”  (Miller). The parade of offenses continues: the social coding giant GitHub came under a firestorm of criticism earlier this year after one of the company's few female developers quit, alleging a pattern of sexual and gender-based harassment. And a website called "CodeBabes" launched, offering to teach bros how to code under the tutelage of virtual strippers. It seems there's no end to this type of news; in fact, there's a whole site devoted to tracking these flareups.As Brown points out in her article we starting to hear more about women being discriminated because of their gender, as in the case of Whitney Wolfe. Is the culture shifting, are more women speaking up, or something else? 

It is not all bad, top schools like University of California, Berkeley Campus and Stanford University are seeing female enrollment in their computer science programs. There are a few women you have managed to break through like Danese Cooper at PayPal or as Forbe's points out "Among the 100 World’s Most Powerful Women, 18 on this year’s ranking have reached some of the highest positions in the world’s largest tech companies" (2014).

Sources:

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Current Population Survey http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat03.htm
  2. Women’s Bureau calculations from data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics- Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey http://bls.gov/cps/cpsaat37.htm (2013 annual averages)
  3.  Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics- Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat14.htm (2013 annual averages)
  4. Women by the Numbers. http://www.infoplease.com/spot/womencensus1.html#ixzz3LVM3UwlU
  5. Why women leave tech: It's the culture, not because 'math is hard' by Kieran Snyder. http://fortune.com/2014/10/02/women-leave-tech-culture/
  6. US Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acs-24.pdf
  7. In a First, Women Outnumber Men in Berkeley Computer Science Course By Klint Finley. http://www.wired.com/2014/02/berkeley-women/
  8. Tech companies haven’t gotten past sexism 1.0 By Kristen V. Brown. http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Tech-companies-haven-t-gotten-past-sexism-1-0-5845691.php
  9. The Truth About Tinder and Women Is Even Worse Than You Think  By Nick Summers. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-07-02/tinders-forgotten-woman-whitney-wolfe-sexism-and-startup-creation-myths
  10. Technology’s Man Problem by Claire Cain Miller. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/technology/technologys-man-problem.html?_r=0
  11. These Women Are Tired of Being Nice. Read Their Badass Letter About Sexism in Tech By Dana Liebelson. http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2014/05/read-letter-women-tech-industry-sexism
  12. Women are getting fed up with sexism in tech By Kim Peterson.  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/women-are-getting-fed-up-with-sexism-in-tech/
  13. Op-Ed: Why women are leaving the tech industry in droves By Sue Gardner. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-gardner-women-in-tech-20141207-story.html
  14. The Most Powerful Women In Tech 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/zheyanni/2014/05/28/the-most-powerful-women-in-tech-2014/

Friday, December 5, 2014

Should big data analytics be used in conjunction with opinion surveys in Education?

In a world filled with data and most companies starting to realize the possibilities of what can be done with big data analytics. Why is higher education and others still solely making decisions on "client opinion surveys"? Why not at least support client survey results with big data analytics?

Webopedia defines big data analytics as "the process of collecting, organizing and analyzing large sets of data ("big data") to discover patterns and other useful information. Not only will big data analytics help you to understand the information contained within the data, but it will also help identify the data that is most important to the business and future business decisions." According to the SAS Institute Inc "big data analytics is the process of examining big data to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations and other useful information that can be used to make better decisions. With big data analytics, data scientists and others can analyze huge volumes of data that conventional analytics and business intelligence solutions can't touch". According to Margaret Rouse (2012) big data can show true "customer preferences" and that one of the goals to using big data is " to help companies make more informed business decisions".  TerraData states that when big data is done correctly "it is the coming together of business and IT to produce results that differentiate, that power you forward and reduce costs. Big Data is less about the size of the data and more about the ability to handle lots of different data types and the application of powerful analytics techniques" (2014). This means "smarter decisions cut costs, improve productivity, enhance customer experience and provide any organization with a competitive advantage" (TerraData).

So why isn't everyone using big data? Rouse (2012) suggest that it is besause they have "a lack of internal analytics skills and the high cost of hiring experienced analytics professionals" who know tools like Hadoop, Pig, Spark, MapReduce, Hive and YARN. ThoughtWorks Inc. point out that companies need to shift their thinking from the actual data to insight and impact thinking and trying to address unanswered questions. Schmarzo acknowledges that educational institutions are interested in using big data for showing ways to "improve student performance and raise teacher/professor effectiveness, while reducing administrative workload" and to compare one institution to another, but no mention of us on the business side of the house or to learn current LMS usage to compare against a possible replacement. van Rijmenam's infographic shows the benefits on learning, but still no mention of using it for software changes. Fleisher, explains that some institutions are not using it because they have a concern that acknowledging that they recording all learning activities and releasing results may harm students if this data got into the wrong hands.  Guthrie points out that big data in respect to education needs to go"beyond online learning, administrators" need to  "understand that big data can be used in admissions, budgeting and student services to ensure transparency, better distribution of resources and identification of at-risk students." (2013). Perhaps one could classify technology application purchases as a student service, but I do not think that is what Guthrie is referring to.

Coursera was the one place that mentions the use of big data in education for more than learning. Their course description says includes the statement: "to drive intervention and improvement in educational software and systems". So way aren't leaders doing software comparison, including LMS reviews required to learn big data techniques? I think it is because the top academic administrators are afraid they would find out that some of their decisions based solely on "pilot survey results" were made based on inaccurate data.

For example, Lets assume a institution was currently trying to decide between two LMSs, "The pilot consisted of 11 courses and 162 students. With 39 students, 5 faculty and 1 TA responding to a survey, when asked whether LMS2 or LMS1 was better for teaching and learning the results were":

LMS2    30/4567%(Faculty only 5/7)
LMS1  4/459%(Faculty only 0/7)
Same  5/4511%(Faculty only 1/7)
n/a - unsure 6/4513%(TA only 1/7)

Additional Notes: that there were only ll courses for this single semester to use LMS2, out of a total of 2,094 courses. Only 162 students were included in the LMS2 test, out of the total 3,991 students enrolled and only 5 faculty and 1 TA was included in respect to the 780+ faculty on payroll.

At first glance, the 67%  sticks out and some may say that is a strong indicator that an institution needs to switch to LMS2 because only 33% wanted to stay with LMS1 or were not sure LMS2 had an increase benefit to change. But that 67% is a percentage based on those that responded to a survey not the number that want to switch. The table says out of "7" faculty yet in the text the person stated that only 5 faculty and 1 TA responded, and the last I check 5+1 is 6 not 7. If you take the total number of participants compared to the number of surveys completed, the 67% is really only based on approximately 27% of those who participated in the pilot. The student population is only represented by ~0.04% and the faculty population by ~0.007%.  What about Staff or business entities that use LMS1, they were not represented at all in these results. Other questions that come to mind and decision makers should be asking are: (1) did the faculty who's courses were included actively uses LMS1 to the fullest?, (2) Were the faculty included tech savvy?, (3) Did the included faculty have a personal issue with LMS1?, (4) What actual course included? Were they freshman courses or senior level courses?, (5) what is more important ease of use for faculty or better learning engagement options for students?, (6) Had participants been properly shown how to use LMS1 as they were LMS2?, and (7) What were the features of LMS2 used compared to the used features of LMS1?

I this basic example shows that survey results alone allow for skewed reporting, but add big data analytics to opinion surveys and education decision makers would have a more realistic picture and better decisions for most important stake holder, the student. Garber provides other examples how people are spinning survey results to get their way. In his examples he talks about how some people cherry-picked a statistic describing just a small percentage of a population to make things look better than they are and decision makers need to ask "What did the rest think?" (Garber). In a 2012 paper talk about the need to develop an approach to detect research interviewer falsification of survey data. But that the detection approach was not limited to interviewers and could be applied to basic survey analyst. Robert Oak points out that falsification of figures is more common place in his article about the New York Post claim of falsified unemployment figures.  Johnson, Parker, & Clements stated in their research "Likewise, satisfaction that little or no data falsification has been detected previously should not serve as an excuse for failure to continually apply careful quality control standards to all survey operations" (2001). Fanelli's 2009 research showed that "scientists admitted to have fabricated, falsified or modified data or results at least once –a serious form of misconduct by any standard– and up to 33.7% admitted other questionable research practices. In surveys asking about the behavior of colleagues, admission rates were 14.12% (N = 12, 95% CI: 9.91–19.72) for falsification, and up to 72% for other questionable research practices" which would make one think that there is a prevalence of researcher misconduct or did Fanelli mislead us with these results?

Schmarzo states "In a world where education holds the greatest potential to drive quality-of-life improvements, there are countless opportunities for educational institutions to collaborate and raise the fortunes of students, teachers, and society as a whole" (2014) by using big data along with old fashion surveys. The benefits of big data can be felt by all organizations.


Resources:

Monday, December 1, 2014

Google Add-on Tidbits

There is an easy to use security checkup allows you to see what devices have been logged in using your account as well as what applications are using your account credentials. Follow the step by step instructions and see if your account is as secure as you think it is. This is a great new tool to check all your Google email accounts. https://security.google.com/settings/security/secureaccount

  Ever wanted to mail merge from a spreadsheet in Google Sheets?  How about sending an email based on Google Form responses?  If so, this Google Drive Add-on is for you!

FormMule is one way to perform unique mail merges from your spreadsheets. With the ability to set up 15 different email templates. Check out the link to video showing how it works.  http://youtu.be/KhxmvoBUC68.

If you already make heavy use of Google Translate, this add-on can save a lot of time. Instead of having to open Google Translate in a new browser window, you can just highlight some text and translate it from inside the document. On the downside, the add-on currently supports only five languages—English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish. You can find the source code here: https://developers.google.com/apps-script/quickstart/docs.

Need to print out form letters with people’s names and other personalized details? Check out DocumentMerge, which lets you generate multiple Google Docs based on personal information in a corresponding Google Sheet. This add-on includes a helpful wizard to guide you through the process.

Do not like FormMule than try Yet Another Mail Merge. Much like DocumentMerge, it lets you generate form letters from a spreadsheet. But while DocumentMerge is for printing, Yet Another Mail Merge is for emailing. After you have created  a message in Gmail and inserted some syntax, use the add-on in Google Sheets to select the message and mail it out. The add-on itself isn’t intuitive, but the store listing has a straightforward walkthrough. Yet Another Mail Merge lets you send up to 99 messages per day for free, which should be just fine for personal use.

AbleBits Suite, which is actually five separate add-ons, but together they give you more editing power. Remove Duplicates scans and highlights duplicate cells and provides an option to remove them. Advanced Find & Replace lets you search across spreadsheets and much more. Split Names separates values in a single cell into individual cells, and Merge Values combines multiple cell values into one cell.  Find Fuzzy Matches looks for spelling variations on a given word search.

Mapping Sheets takes a list of addresses and plots them onto a Google Map. You can filter the map data by category, as specified on the spreadsheet. It may not seem like a useful tool, but all kinds of potential uses come to mind, from allowing online students a visualization as to where their classmates are located, to all the places one might want to visit.

If you have your students use Google for papers, you will for sure want to have them add-on EasyBib. MLA, APA and Chicago Style are available. This add-on allows you to insert citations directly into Google Documents directly within the Document.

If your up on educational technology, I am sure you have heard about mind mapping and the importance of visualization to some learners. Mindmeister lets you take bulleted lists and convert it into a mindmap for a graphical depiction. This would be a fascinating way to convert a table of contents or outline for a paper into something easier to read. I’d really like it to go the other way and let students create a mind map and convert to a traditional outline, it is a very cool tool that will be useful for education. The Mindmeister Google Drive add-on gives a powerful punch to organizing your writing.

Like how Microsoft provides a Table of Content tool in Microsoft Word? The good news is Google Drive can also insert a Table of Contents inside the document. The Table of Contents add-on puts it in the sidebar. You can use it in Google Docs to create the scripts and plans for an online presentation and the table of contents side bar will make the document much easier to navigate.Remember just like in Microsoft Word, for it to work, you have to make things as Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.

If you have dyslexia like I do or just are a bad proof reader, you may want to check out the Consistency Checker add-on. This one is very useful for those long documents or other documents that have to be consistent. This add-on provides an extra check for spelling and also looks to make sure numbers were handled properly, hyphenation and other types of writing mechanics were used in a consistent way. For college students writing project documents together, this is a great tool.

Do you use Storify? If so the Twetter Curator Google Doc add-on could be a way to pull in tweets from your class Twitter account or another source as you annotate and discuss them. The purpose of Kaizena is to help teachers give better feedback to students. The teacher just pulls the document into Kaizena with one click and easily add voice comments and thoughts on student work.

So you want to include clip art and not have to worry so much about legal usage issues? The Open Clip Art add-on has 50,000 thousand pieces of clip art. It is nice that these graphics include icons so it is easier to navigate to other sites by making buttons. Music teachers will want to check out Vextab Music Notation.
 Just like Microsoft Office, you can use Google to create relaxing Sudoku. The Google Sheets add-on Sudoku Puzzle can generate puzzles at four difficulty levels and helps you create your own. You can also check your answers from within the sheet or insert the solution in a separate grid.

If you know of a great Google add-on that is free and please share it with me.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Are there more technology break-ups coming?

The technology field has a long history in acquisitions and mergers. Savvy business people have become wealthy by purchasing competitors and young products at just the right time. Sometimes this is done to add the "wow" to a new version of an old product or save them valuable programming time.  Over the last 20 years in technology, I have often heard people use phrases like "don't recreate the wheel" or "hear today, gone tomorrow". 

Through the years as mergers and acquisitions continue and companies grown, we often heard their CEO's say that they would continue to support of these products or would even promise customers to be a larger and better company. Yet, during this second half of 2014 several technology companies stopped us in our tracks and made us start to wonder, if companies should try to do everything or is it better to focus on just one product. Or are these changes to secure financial footings?

Following Cisco's 2013 move to of selling its Home Networking Business Unit, including its Linksys line, to Belkin. IBM sells its x86 server business To Lenovo. Juniper Networks sold its Junos Pulse to Siris to form Pulse Secure. CA Technologies ditched its Arcserve data backup and recovery software to a private equity company, only months after selling their ERwin data modeling software to Embarcadero Technologies. Following Motorola's 2011 split into two companies (Motorola Mobility &Motorola Solutions).  HP is divides into two business: one consisting of the PC and printer portion and the other will be a software, hardware, and service business. Symantic is spinning off the well-known security business from it's storage software. Ebay is scheduled to finalize their dump of PayPal. There are rumors that EMC is exploring breaking away from its RSA Security business (Westervelt, 2014). Yet, Dell and Oracle seem to be operating a full speed to to expand and grow. Alcatel-Lucen was open about their "Shift Plan" to get back onto financial footing, and part of that plan was selling assets (Burt, 2014).  Microsoft is another company that publicly claims to support the concept of "ONE" for many areas, yet there have long been rumors that it could at anytime drop several of it's business units (Schwartz, 2014). 

Often we see technology industry trends being followed in the education technology arena. For example, Desire2Learn (D2L) seems to be on the side of acquisitions. They have purchased Degree Compass, Wiggio, & Knowillage to expand their footing against giant Blackboard Incorporated (Bb). Does this mean they are strong or their base product is not good enough? Blackboard Incorporated (Bb) has a long history of scoping up products and competitors to build the LMS empire of today. Like WebCT, Angel, Edline, Collaborate, Elluminate, NTI Group, MoodleRooms, etc. That buying surge does appear to slow have slowed under CEO Jay Bhatt. Mr. Bhatt promised to focus on their base product, move into the cloud realm, to build "one Bb", yet still purchased MyEDU. But there have long been rumors that Blackboard Inc is considering selling off their Transact and Mobile divisions, as these groups appear to operate independently from the education group in sales and support methods. Instructure Canvas, seems to want to operate in the play it safe area according to  Joshua Kim's 2013 article $30 Million for Instructure. 

Companies change directions all the time and refocus when they get into financial woes. But those of use on the sidelines have to wounder if it is really worth spending millions or billions to purchase another product, take what you want from it and either dispose of it or sell it off for pennies on the dollar a year or two later. Does immediate selling or freezing acquisitions mean the company will be here today and gone tomorrow? Some will say yes! Others may say it is just a side affect of management changes. Is it better and cheaper to "recreate the wheel" or maybe actually use some good old creativity to be a leader instead of a follower. 

Resources:
Silicon Splits: Symantec, HP And Five Other Big Tech Breakups
FireEye's DeWalt: Symantec, HP Almost 'Choked' On Their Acquisition Models
Splitters! First HP's cut in two, now it's Symantec’s turn – report
Managing A Divestiture. IBM Sells x86 business To Lenovo
For HP, Symantec, Others, Breaking Up Can Be Hard to Do
Flush With $80M, Desire2Learn Buys ‘Anti-Sharepoint For Students’ Platform Wiggio, Its 2nd Acquisition In 2 Months
Exclusive: Desire2Learn buys Bill Gates-backed ‘virtual guidance counselor’ Degree Compass
Desire2Learn acquires Knowillage to bring personalized learning to classrooms
Desire2Learn acquires Degree Compass
Blackboard: With Both Co-founders Now Gone, It’s The End Of An Era For The Education Software Giant
Blackboard makes another acquisition, says it will make good on past acquisitions
The Download: Blackboard makes first acquisition under CEO Jay Bhatt
$30 Million for Instructure
Jeffrey Schwartz. 2014. Breaking up in IT is hard to do. Readmondmag.com November 2014 Edition.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

One Clients 2015 Bb Wish List

With the recent announcement of the general availability of Blackboard (Bb) Learn, Release 9.1, October 2014 on November 5.  I decided it was time to start thinking about all the changes in 2014 and the enhancement my peers and I have submitted throughout the year to create my annual Bb wish list. In previous years, I did not complete the list until January. Maybe doing it in November will give Bb management more time to reflect.  You can see my 2013 post by clicking here and my 2014 post by clicking here.

Let's take a moment to reflect on some past wishes.
  • In 2013, I wished for a single support location for all Bb products. Well blackboard has almost done this. Bb Mosaic (formerly Bb Central) is still has a stand alone ticket system. They have moved Bb Collaborate under the "Behind the Blackboard" (BtBb). Bb Connect is still a separate support location and one that needs a lot of improvement. 
  • In 2013, I wished for Bb to use their own products, specifically use Collaborate instead of Webex for webinars and support. In the past year, I have only seen Bb use Collaborate or in conjunction with Coursesites. So I would say this is now a granted wish. 
  • In 2013, I asked for Bb quality assurance team to make sure that one Bb product did not break another Bb product. This came specifically when Learn or Collaborate was updated and it broke Mobile Learn. While that does not seem to happen now that Bb has integrated their staff more. But they could improve on getting all features in Learn to work on Mobile Learn and having all Collaborate features work with in the mobile Collaborate app. Like Web tour and whiteboard in the mobile version. 
  • In 2013, I asked for Bb to learn more about the community that was using their product. As I said in January 2014 I think Bb is doing this via the MVPs, BIEs, PDPs, Betas, Usability (UX)  visits, surveys, and focus groups. I like that the usability visits usually include not only UX folks but a developer. I do however think that this could still improve by actually partnering with client developers and/or by getting more feedback from clients before rolling out. For example, the Bb Grader App. It is great but initially it didn't work for support stuff who were faculty. It is still limited by the number of courses on can be enrolled in and does not provide a means for grading anything other than Assignments. 
  • In 2013, I asked for a secure testing feature and Bb delivered "Restricted IP feature" This is a major step for institutions that have wired computer labs still or wired classrooms. But when you are a totally wireless institution the IP feature is not usable if you have a student get their IP in their dorm and keep it all day long in classes. Instead Bb pushes us to their partners Respondus, Examsoft, Software Secure, etc.. While some work well with wireless and some do not, some integrate with Blackboard test managers and some do not, some don't allow multiple instructors, or continuous courses.  The problems with this approach, is (1) Bb Support says the building block (B2) is not written by Bb Inc so it is not supported if you are hosted, (2) Some of these vendors do not use the B2 update tool, so the client has to continuously manually check for updates or depend on salesman to email them, and (3)it adds to the client's cost and the overall budget cost of running Bb Inc.  Yes, I know other LMS competitors for clients to use 3rd party tools, also but if Bb wants to shine above them instead of being like them, they need to step up and include secure testing in their product. The dream tool would use Bb Test/Pool Manager, Bb Item Analysis, and download the test and launch in an environment that is locked until submitted and no Internet connection until submitted. Maybe Bb's Offline content will be a step toward this. 
  • In 2013, I asked for bundled pricing and inclusion of training. This one happens when a client  moves to the Learning Essentials bundle or higher. Thank you for listening Bb. 
  • In 2014, I asked for Improving client communications. I believe that Bb has done that and continues to work on this item. For example, in the past they hired students to promote publisher B2's to faculty without talking to clients first. This year they sent out example marketing emails BEFORE they were sent and explained the emails. Though I believe marketing may still be using an out-of-date database for some institutions. Maybe each institution system admin could clean up the database annually for them. Another example is the new Learn user interface, there still is confusion is that just for the SaaS clients or will all Learn customers get it. Another example is graphic size for badges (Read more here) I got one answer from support and a different answer from an onsite trainer and there is nothing on help.blackboard.com.
  • In 2014, I asked for Bb to focus on the current application and less on new bells and whistles. I still personally have this as pending. They haven't made their product device responsive, added  tools like printing a test for student who has 504 accommodations, or even basic online attendance reporting. But they have improved the calendar, grade center, add more reporting, and some other things. Bb still has some room to grown in the area of better quality testing before roll out.
  • In 2014, I asked for integration with other SIS systems like Peoplesoft and Colleague.  Bb still only focuses on the Banner system. I will just keep hoping these companies can put aside their differences and work together for their customers. 
  • In 2014, I talked about follow announcements through timely. This is getting better, but what I think Bb still does not understand is when they show a shinny new feature like the new Collaborate UI at BbWorld, we do not expect to wait a year for it. 
www.smartambala.com
We know their are millions lines of code and thousands of customized options at each role level within the Bb Academic products, it is no small feet to change a Bb product each year. Yet Bb developers have done it for years and why their clients hold them to such high expectations. With that said, here are my top 20 things I would like to see in 2015..
  1. Ability to print test in a usable format without dependency on browser tools for Bb Learn. This will make Bb Learn complaint for student who have 504 accommodations.
  2. Basic online attendance tools within Bb Learn. Where either the faculty enter (make default present) or students use their mobile device to post attendance. 
  3. Have Bb Learn display times in user time zone, instead of system default. 
  4. Have all gradable Learn items available within Bb Grader
  5. Have the BbWorld demo'd Collaborate UI by the end of February 2015
  6. Slow down focus on making Bb Learn look like Canvas, and increase focus on current features
  7. Bb Learn system reporting to provide statistics on all tools. For example how many submissions were done to safeassign in a given time period or semester
  8. Provide managed hosted clients read only access to their full database, ASR is very limited. This may mean stop up charging for an open database. 
  9. Provide an Ad-Hoc report writer for system admins to query the database for basic information. 
  10. Improve Test Access Log reporting to Bb Learn. If a question is skipped say "skipped" don't just not show in log and put "none given" for answer. Or if impatient student double clicked on next  button causing a question skip say that clearly to assist faculty in stopping the student blaming Bb for their test failures. Or if they had one answer then changed it, why not record an answer change, so when students say "Bb changed my answer, we know they did it". 
  11. Sub-tabs to be role based like top-frame tabs in Bb Learn.
  12. Add a photo roaster tool to Bb Learn that would allow institutions the option to use photos from SIS within the courses/organizations instead of picture control being done by user. 
  13. Allow faculty to control release of information to students more. Notifications are great, but some faculty do not want student told when they are uploading items until it is released to them. 
  14. Provide clients a list of all "Bb Product Enhancement" request submitted and allow clients or BIE members to vote on them. Similar to old bug squad, but make a client promise that the top 5- 10 will be included in next release. 
  15. Add more versatility to Domain collections. Maybe add the ability to select by term or multiple terms, without having to manually select all courses or require additional categories added to courses. 
  16. Force all partners to use the B2 update tool. This will help clients and force others who claim they are partners stay current with Bb's ability. 
  17. Rethink B2 dependency. At least the code was changed so if you don't have a dependent B2, the updater would automatically install for you. However, with so many dependencies, Bb Inc is taking more customization away from clients and forcing them to turn on things they may not want to. 
  18. Big Data sharing. Bb Inc is probably collecting data on all it's clients, I know it can managed hosted ones. Why not share that with the clients or provide a place for clients to share it with each others securely. Include GUI tools for institutions to produce their own big data reports. 
  19. Expand the client success group, this is an awesome group and should be the ones that support directs clients to not their account rep all the time. 
  20. Have more BbWorld input from clients.  It is a users conference, it should be coordinated with users, presentations selected by users, as it was in the past and the way most other user conferences are done. 

I know Bb has focused on their SaaS platform, Ultra, and some other big things but they must not lose site on the needs of clients while developing these items. Yes, Bb is hearing from clients they are losing to Canvas, it is because of price, simple usability, and modern look. But if that is the primary focus they will miss what their loyal customers are saying "we want quality over quantity and we love the academic freedom Learn provides.