Forum .LRN Q&A: .LRN, OCW, CMS and MIT!

Posted by Venkatesh Goteti on
Okay, I'd like to admit, I didn't know where to post this comment, so I chose the .LRN forums, for it's MIT connection :). I just happened to look at PhilG's new posting on his blog, where he comments on the Business Week article 'Rise of India' and about outsourcing at MIT. Illustrating an example with it's OCW initiative, he states...

"The more sophisticated portion of is a 100 percent Microsoft show. A student asks the speakers why they chose Microsoft Content Management Server, expecting to hear a story about careful in-house technical evaluation done by people sort of like them. The answer: "We read a Gartner Group report that said the Microsoft system was the simplest to use among the commercial vendors and that open-source toolkits weren't worth considering."

I remember some postings about 'Sloan and .OCW. working on IMS Content Packaging based data transfer' and stuff. Maybe that is where I remembered about stuff being done to have these two systems work together (!).

Call me a random striker, but I started to think how sound is .LRN's agenda within MIT? What if another Gartner group's report comes by suggesting folks at Sloan MIT to dump .LRN in favour of a Ms solution! Is that absolutely inconcievable? Maybe my question is not rightly phrased, but I hope, there are people out here thinking about this all the time, beyond code and cyberspace, and with an agenda for promoting .LRN right at home, even as the rest do it elswhere. Evangelism apart, for most if not all of us here are already-converts, are there any discussions happening beyond software quality and opportunities to promote it, where members amongst the community are thinking about threats and the politics of promoting what many here are striving to build together! Or is my posting way off the mark :)!

Posted by Talli Somekh on
i'm tempted to mention the inverse proportionality of the veracity of philg's blog to his bloated ego, but will refrain just this one time.

instead, i will note that it was Gartner that provided aD with the "Go Java or Die" mantra, so take what those nitwits say with a grain of salt. (of course they were right about the die part...) ask enough people about Gartner's reputation and you probably will get the sense they ain't the industry seers they are presumed to be.

or maybe the industry is just dumb.

one should also look into how much money MS promised would go into the OCW project from their own deep, monopolistic coffers. i don't think they were disinterested participants in the OCW architectural decision process.


Posted by Alfred Essa on
In some ways I have the inside scoop on MIT, in other ways I don't. Take what I say as one data point and build your own picture accordingly. It will take several postings to answer Venkatesh's questions, so bear with me.

MIT is a diverse and complex place. It's also a very successful institution because it encourages people to think for themselves, while also granting tremendous autonomy to individuals and LDCs (Laboratories, Departments and Centers for Research).

Here is the story as I know it behind OCW and Microsoft. OCW is to content what open source is to code. There is a genuine and widely held belief at MIT, starting from President Chuck Vest and with many faculty, that all course materials should be made freely available to the world.

When the OCW project began, a new unit was spawned at MIT to make this happen at an extremely aggressive pace. MIT hired Ann Margulies, a brilliant woman to lead the overall OCW effort, and Cec d'Oliviera, another brilliant woman to lead the technical effort. They hired Sapient initially as a consultant. You have to remember that the technical goal for OCW was and is very narrow and focused: have an input system for the most current course materials and an output publication mechanism to the web. The looked at all the available systems (including SloanSpace/.LRN) and chose Microsoft Content Management Server. .LRN is not a content management system and given the time pressure and scope of their project, I probably would have chosen the same thing. I don't know this for sure but I am fairly confident that Microsoft gave them the CMS product and most of the consulting support for free. If I were in their shoes, I probably would have made the same choice. But their needs are not our needs.

Two things to note. First, the folks who run OCW at MIT are smart, experienced, and savvy people Ann Margulies used to be the CIO at Harvard. Cecelia d'Oliveira was an instrumental player in Project Athena at MIT. These guys don't make decisions based solely on reading Gartner studies. They also don't "sell" out. Second, and this is the point about autonomy, the decision to go with Microsoft by OCW was a decision made by the OCW team based on their needs and analysis. But their needs are not our needs.

Several months ago, I posted a diagram showing the relationship among some of the initiatives at MIT. Each of these is a separate project with a different history, motivation, and result.

I am not sure what PhilG's point was. Is it that programming jobs are going off shore? That's not new or news. Is it that fact that he is peddling .NET? That's not new or news. Is it that fact that he no longer believes in open source? I suspect, though I am not sure, that PhilG believes that open source is a passing phase, not unlike the pangs of first love and acne, which we eventually grow out of. Real men and women, and real companies, don't do open source.

Whatever PhilG believes, the commitment to open source is alive and well at MIT. The principal premise of .LRN is that the infrastructure for learning applications must be part of the commons, owned by no one and available to all. Here I am not speaking for MIT but nonetheless the sentiment is I believe widely shared.

More later.