fight the blackboard patent

23 08 2006

harold jarche provides a concise yet powerful defense of the against the 44 provisions of the blackboard lms patent. in his post elgg and the lms patent.  his analysis from a learning professional’s viewpoint is critical.
this post is a call to action to any learning professional who wants to preserve open and complete competition amongst vendors (for profit or open source) seeking to assist in the learning process.  please write a post on your blog (feel free to copy this post if you’d like) with a link to harold’s post and create a trackback to it as well.
we all know how google and the other search engines determine what sites to present first in their listings.  let’s make sure that any attorney who searches for information regarding this case finds harold’s post.

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blackboard patent poll results

21 08 2006

thanks to everyone who participated in the flash poll regarding the granting of a broadbased patent to blackboard who then in turned filed a patent violation lawsuit against desire2learn. in my post blackboard’s patent, i argued that while blackboard’s ethics might be in question, technically and legally that had acted within their rights in both filing for a patent and, one granted, seeking to defend their patent against infringers. i further argued that it was the patent office who bears the blame in this circumstance for granting a patent that is far to broad and clearly has no understanding of software or learning products and processes.

as you can see from the summary, a large majority of the respondents (63.3%) concur that the patent office is the real scoundrel in this case.  from what i’ve read in the blogosphere regarding this patent and lawsuit, Id say this is pretty representative of the general attitude amongst learning professionals.

14.3% of the respondants were most concerned about the impact on elearning when they marked "whether or not it’s good for blackboard, it’s terrible for elearning."  10.2% agreed with me that "whether or not I like it, it’s good business for blackboard.

i find it interesting that no one felt this issue has grey areas ("there’s some good and some bad in it"). although 4.1% indicated that they were still waiting to learn more about the situation.

8.2% of the respondants feel that this situation is great all around.

perhaps the biggest statistic is that 95.9% percent of the respondants had very quickly come to a decision about whether this was a positive (18.4%) or a negative (77.6%) situation. 

thanks to everyone who participated in this poll.

come on in, the web 2.0 is just fine

14 08 2006

i just stumbled across a relatively new blog by dawn m. foster named trends in web 2.0, i like her perspective on web 2.0.   on comment in particular caught my eye.  dawn says, "you will not truly understand web 2.0 unless you participate in it."  i totally agree.  the participation may be with other people or just with the databases and interfaces of some environments.

this is key to remember when we talk about web 2.0 with newbies.  as web 2.0 goes mainstream, those of us who have become enamored with it are going to have to be the guides as more and more people want to be involved.

my friends are constantly wondering what i’m up to and i used to make the mistake of talking about my latest discoveries.  "oh, i found this great new chat environment.  it let’s me access all my accounts – yahoo, hotmail, blah, and blah, blah, blah……"  zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

now i won’t talk about web2.0 unless we’re at a computer and I can show them.  watson is so much cooler when you see it working than when you read or hear about it.  show them jon udall’s heavy metal umlaut movie about wikipedia and just wait for the questions.  don’t expect to get them off the computer if you take them to YouTube or 43places.  i’ve even had one friend vow to start blogging because I showed him how cocomment works.

what drew me to dawn’s blog in the first place was a reference by brent schlenker to her "web 2.0 starter kit" this is a simple but thorough set of activities to help get a newbie up and running in web 2.0.

the advice I give newbies to web 2.0?  dive right in.  the water is just the right temperature, it’s never so deep that you can’t stop and rest, and if you somehow have any problems, there are lifeguards (other web 2.0’ers) all around.  a big part of what makes web 2.0 so web 2.0 is sharing and helping each other.  so if you get confused or lost, find an faq, a forum, a wiki, or a blog comment and ask for help.  you’ll be surprised at how fast so many hands will reach out to help.


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yet another wake up call

13 08 2006

in his blog e-clippings mark oehlert mentions an article by david maister entitled why (most) training is useless  in which maister says that most training is poorly planned, irrrelevant to employee’s current work, and seldom tied to corporate startegy.  mark is right in his assessment that it’s sad that the blackboard patent issue over shadowed this honest and confrontational article.  please read the article in it entirety.  i’ll summarize the three of is major points.

0 of 3 isn’t good, is it?

Maister shares three questions he asks potential clients to determine whether he’ll take on the challenge.>

a good example of ill-conceived (and premature) training approaches is seen in the many calls i get to put on training programs to help people become better managers. i put my callers through a standard set of questions:

  • did you choose people for managerial roles because they were the type of people who could get their fulfillment and satisfaction out of helping other people shine rather than having the ego-need to shine themselves? (no!)
  • did you select them because they had a prior history of being able to give a critique to someone in such a way that the other person says: “wow, that was really helpful, I’m glad you helped me see all that.” (No!)
  • do you reward these people for how well their group has done, or do you reward them for their own personal accomplishments in generating business and serving clients? (both, with an emphasis on their personal numbers!)

so, let’s summarize, i say. you’ve chosen people who don’t want to do the job, who haven’t demonstrated any prior aptitude for the job, and you are rewarding them for things other than doing the job?

thanks, but I’ll pass on the wonderful privilege of training them.

to me, this so clearly points to the need for the learning/training function and the performance management function within a company working in a very coordinated fashion if not merged into one business process.  learning is the means by which an employee, guided by their managers, can understand the performance changes specified in the performance evaluations and goal setting of performance management.

well i was only following you

after all, with learning interventions, we are seeking a change in behavior, attitude or skills in the targeted members of our workforce.  the second key point that maister makes is regarding the role of the manager.  he says there are four key areas that managers must attend to if they are going to affect change in an organization:

systems: does the company actually monitor, encourage, and reward this (new) behavior?
attitude: do people want to do this? Do they buy in to its importance?
do they know how to do it?

skills: are they any good at implementing and executing what they know?

…the importance of the attitude questions is often underestimated. It is management’s job to make people want to learn things by managing the “why” — helping them understand why this is important, why it is exciting and fulfilling, why people should sacrifice their time and attention

i like that he includes systems as the first variable in this list.  so often the systems effects are ignored because they are either too daunting in magnitude or because they are outside the scope and/or capabilities of those involved in learning to effect change.  This is why active and continuing executive sponsorship must be maintained for any key projects.  inevitably there will be a cultural or system resistor to the change involved in a project.  the executive sponsor’s job is to anticipate and clear the way for the project team.

finally, maister’s point regarding the role of the manager is dead on.  in fact, it may be the most important role in any change effort.  research has shown that employees depend on their manager to provide them with direction and insight into what they are to do.  without the active participation of the managers in the organization, you’ll have a hard time directing the employees’  learning every step of the way.  it’s essential that every learning department build a campaign to win over the managers within their organization.   because you may think you are leading the parade, but that’s only the case when the manager is right beside you.  It’s the manager they are all following.

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blackboard’s patent

9 08 2006

i’ve been reading through all of the coverage and commentary regarding blackboard’s being granted a patent for elearning processes and methods.   having been amongst the team that drove webct into leadership in the


what’s your opinion?

is blackboard evil?  or just doing good business?  is the patent office to blame?  or is it all just part of the capitalist game?   check out the instant survey at the top of the left sidebar and voice your opinion.  

higher education marketplace, i’ve never had much of a soft spot for
blackboard, nor their business tactics.  and their immediate lawsuit
against a competitor only hardens my heart towards them.

however, i also do believe in looking at issues from all perspectives.  a us corporation has one primary responsibility – to serve the best interests of the companies shareholders.  the only caveat to that prime directive is that they must do so while remaining within the bounds of what is legal.   as well as I know blackboard, they crossed every "t" and dotted every "i" to make sure their filing with the patent board was legal and above board.  cornering a sector of the elearning market with a patent, at least initially, can only be good for the shareholders of blackboard.

every american and every american corporation has the right to file for a patent for something they feel qualifies for protection under the patent laws.  so i have a hard time saying blackboard was wrong for filing.  there are a myiad of companies out there trying to patent pieces of the internet.  (aol granted patent on instant message technology in 2002balthasar online, inc. granted 180 patents in february 2006 related to rich media on the internet,  or landvoyage for mapping technology in july 2006.)  it’s an easy argument to make that if blackboard didn’t grab these patents, a competitor might beat them to the punch and leave their shareholders with a much less valuable company.

as tim o’reilly pointed out in june 2000,  the problem isn’t with the company’s who are filing and winning the patents.  while some may feel that these corporations have a moral or ethical duty to leave these supposed assets in the public domain, in a free economy like ours, that’s just hogwash.  someone is going to claim that patent if it’s claimable. 

the finger has been pointed at the patent office for a very long time now.   why hasn’t that agency moved to reform their standards to deal with the issue of granting nebulous patents that are clearly going to restrict competition?   why, in lieu of the patent office not acting as congress seen fit to stand by and let this continued land grab of technology go unabated over the past decade?  ultimately it is congress’ responsibility to assure that free markets are free, not slowly gobbled up by owners of assets that can’t be easily defined.  and as of a few days ago, orin hatch and patrick lahey have put forward an new proposal to be considered by the senate..

there are a few other potential venues for these patents to be rendered invalid or useless.  the first are the courts.  historically the courts have tended to rule against patents which were too broad in scope (lotus’ suit against microsoft for excel’s violating the "touch and feel" of lotus 123 is an example).  however the courts were indecisive on the blackberry case last year.  leaving their future role in limbo.

the final hope is in the creativity of programmers to out maneuver the patents and render them useless before they can do harm.   aol currently doesn’t have a monopoly on chat applications due to their patent granted in 2002.   this is likely due to new technologies displacing old technologies rendering the patented somewhat harmless.  but this puts a tremendous burden on our ability to invent then reinvent faster and faster.   let along consumers needing to adopt the new technologies, forking out more money each time.

so as much as i’d be happy to see blackboard take a swift pipe to the knees, i have to say, i don’t think their the bad guys this time.   what do you think.  check out the poll in my left sidebar and we’ll see how everyone’s opinions roll up!

jay cross on informal learning

1 08 2006

jay cross hits on some key themes for moving informal learning forward in an interview with elearning america latina – which jay has published the translation of on the informal learning blog.

in this short interview, jay advocates for training departments taking responsibility for learning, not just training.  nothing new there, but he does go further by offering concrete ideas for demonstrating, in real business terms, the power of attending to informal learning.

he also advises training professionals to begin experimenting with the new web technologies. this i couldn’t agree with more.  if you are an instructional designer and you don’t know how a wiki works or the various uses of tagging systems, you better find a class soon (jay’s unworkshops for example).  it won’t be long until literacy in these tools will be requisite to do your job.

i’d add a tangential comment to hr executives and senior managers of learning to take a look at their job descriptions for leaders and managers of their learning function.  are you looking for people who have an understanding of the new technologies? 

  • do they maintain a blog? 
  • have they read one? 
  • can they explain how a wiki can be used to enhance learning?
  • do they understand social networking tools? 

do you expect that someone who’s 15-year experience has allowed them to perfect building facilitation schedules in excel will come up with the viral learning campaign using podcasts and an expertise location database that you really need?  this is an new world that has some very new skill requirements.

in the last question of the interview, jay is challenged regarding the ability to measure the impact of informal learning.  while a bit general in time, i think his answers are a great starting point for us to really start defining how we can and should be judged by the organization.

maybe a bigger point in all of this interview is that learning professionals have got to learn how to market what we do.  figure out what our customers (the rest of the enterprise) want, how they talk about it, build our solutions to meet their needs, and package it in a way that makes sense to them. 

i’ve been a fan of jay’s for a while and it’s been an incredible opportunity to watch as he’s taken on the task of figuring out informal learning.  i’m happy to see him pushing for practical applications linking them to real performance objectives.  his forthcoming book on informal learning should be on every learning professional’s must read list.

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