Blackboard-Sakai Connector

Well, I’m sure you’ve all seen the article about the Bb-Sakai connector in Inside Higher Education. Both Chuck and I were quoted and Chuck has since blogged about it.  I have a bit of additional perspective of my own I thought was worth sharing.

One of the questions on the email lists was “Is this a good thing for Higher Education?” There are a variety of ways to answer this question but, as you can probably guess from the quote selected for the article, a lot of it depends on why you think Blackboard is doing this. Do they really mean to be more open/interoperable than they have seemed to many in the past? Or are they again trying to wear a cloak of openness while really meaning to keep everyone else out?

Basically, Blackboard is interested in maximizing the value of its shares over some period of time (this latter is always tricky to guess at…given the incentives and motivations of the management team, which I don’t have any insight into, this can be very short term in some cases). On the assumption that profit growth is the general motivation for Bb decisions, it is instructive to notice that their stock price has significant revenue/profit growth built in (just check the P/E ratio).  Where will this growth come from? With such significant market share in HE teaching and learning, it is hard to see enough of it coming from that sector, even if you factor in potential growth outside of North America and Europe.  K-12 is an obvious “green field” that Bb is aggressively pursuing.  In addition, Bb has, cleverly in my view, been consistently diversifying its business away from teaching and learning technology. So you see the acquisition of NTI and the commerce system and the transaction system and who knows what next.

It is apparent to me that Bb is trying to move beyond the T&L silo and by moving up the administrative and IT hierarchy, eventually running into Oracle and Microsoft. The connector product is consistent with that strategy: “Hey, run multiple systems if you want. We’ll be the container and try to aggregate the results for you.” The connector product is also consistent with the interpretation that Bb is looking for a veneer of openness/interoperability without really being committed to either–once can see this as Bb wanting to “own” all the data. You’ll have to be your own judge. Or, as others have suggested, see if they are as eager to connect with Sakai/Moodle in the other direction or to implement and drive standards like Common Cartridge and Learning Tool Interoperability.

And, FWIW, the lack of revenue growth in HE teaching and learning (and likely corresponding reduction of R&D in that area) is why I think, in the long run, innovation in HE teaching and learning will come from open source communities and, therefore, why the success of Sakai is so critical.

Finally, what should the Sakai community’s attitude be to announcements like this? Bb asked me for a quote to include in their press release. I declined. But that doesn’t mean I have a bad attitude about this. First,  I’m not sure it is a good idea for Sakai to be in the business of endorsing the moves of commercial LMSs, regardless what we may think of a particular organization or its actions. More specifically, though, this is a product announcement timed to coincide with their annual conference. As far as I can tell very little work has happened yet (correct me if I’m wrong…the brief demo I saw was static HTML files). Before we make up our minds about whether this is a “good thing” or a “bad thing” we should, in the spirit of Sakai’s “do-aucracy,” see what happens and see how useful it is to the Higher Ed community. And if Syracuse and Blackboard need help making it work, we should by all means jump in and help them.

I’d also love to see the press follow up on this in 6 month or a year to see what’s happened. I think there is likely to be some interesting and meaningful things to say at that time.

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2 Responses

  1. […] keep asking me what I think, so I guess I need to get something up. For starters, you should read Michael Korcuska’s post on the subject. I agree with everything he says. Beyond that, here’s what I […]

  2. […] keep asking me what I think, so I guess I need to get something up. For starters, you should read Michael Korcuska’s post on the subject. I agree with everything he says. Beyond that, here’s what I […]

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