Forum .LRN Q&A: Towards eCampus

Posted by Nima Mazloumi on
I attended the Campus Innovation Conference in Hamburg [1] with speakers from all major companies as well as from universities. Please let me briefly summarize what my impression of the development is and which role e-learning plays in the big picture.

Currently there are several standard activities like Learning Design, SCORM, IMS QTI, Dublin Core and the like keeping us busy. Most of them deal with learning material, content and scenarios. On the other hand universities currently use their platforms for communication, groupware functionalities, upload of learning materials and tests. Real intelligent tutoring systems and simulations are and will be expensive thus most of the material follows a book paradigm with some addaptive elements.

Now due to the fact that universities are entering a competitive market in europe and specially in germany, and because of budget cuts, the bologna process and the like universities start to move from public institutions to businesses.

Now everybody talks about business processes, CIOs for universities, process optimization, business plan, integrated system architectures. Basically all you hear is all that companies gone through the last decades.

So learning and content management systems are seen as part of a much larger system called the eCampus. This system should do and does all what a university regards as its day to day business and which is in many parts similar to what companies need:

- human ressource management for students, employees, professors
- finance and controlling
- facility management
- identity and security management
- document management
- event management
- room reservation
- application process
- public relations
- groupware
- communication

Also there are some more university specific requirements:

- alumni
- evaluation and grading
- assessment
- curricula management
- publications
- library

Based on in best cases an instiution wide identity and security concept all other functionality is provided on top. The architectures go from single integrated systems to several integrated applications.

The most impressive identity solution I saw was based on OpenLDAP and had support for linux, unix, windows in any flavour and version as a pendant to active directory for windows on a very federated organisational structure which is an element of universities in germany. The system was able to move organisational structures with drag and drop. All rights, roles and permissions where adjusted on the fly.
Other applications where plugged to this system via an LDAP interface. The OpenLDAP solution was able to define so called workflows that allowed for instance to create all required parts and pieces neccessary for a new user like all the required accounts, permissions, directories, access rights and so on to what every system that is plugged to it.

Now here is my question: Which role will OpenACS play in an eCampus? From the architectural point of view it could be much more. From the functionality OpenACS provides with .LRN a communication and groupware solution with evaluation, assessment and lors central.


2: Re: Towards eCampus (response to 1)
Posted by Malte Sussdorff on
I think eCampus is the *only* and *last* chance .LRN will have in succeeding if it *quickly* points out it's strength due to package like Event Management, Customer Relation Management (read alumni connections), simple room reservation and so on. OpenACS has all these modules and the benefit that they have been developed for a whole genre of organizations (take Mailinglist Manager for Greenpeace, which makes a wonderful Alumni Attraction System, or Contacts, written for a high school being used by translation agencies and so on).

But this involves a total *rebranding* of .LRN, maybe even with a name like .CAMPUS. The chances of .LRN surviving as a plain LMS are gone and better competitors have taken the LEAD (look at Moodle and Ilias). The chance for .LRN lies in OpenACS and diversity of applications. If it can leverage that chance, then there might be a good possibility to outperform Moodle et al. for full university solutions. But the competition is fast and actually very good in integrating existing applications.

3: Re: Towards eCampus (response to 1)
Posted by Alfred Essa on
Nima, you open up an important thread and I hope it will invite some good discussion.

My opening comment:

An important theme, which is only implicit in your posting, is that in this competitive market the products that will survive are ones that fit in well and easily into the overall campus *enterprise* architecture. This is a critical strength of OpenACS and we need to leverage that more and more, especially compared to other open source frameworks and products. As you correctly point out, the Ur-metaphor is "eCampus". We need to deliver products and solutions that fit into the campus infrastructure in a seamless and elegant way.

Why are people dissatisfied with Blackboard and WebCT? Yes, their enterprise licenses cost and arm and leg. But many CIOs are willing to pay this if they have some measure of control over how these products fit into the overall architecture. TCO is important but I think largely a red herring. CIOs go through the exercise because they have to for buy-in. What's more important and critical is integration and control over their infrastructure.

This brings me to a second point. Here I disagree somewhat with Malte's point about branding. I say somewhat because there is a germ of truth in his point. There's more to branding than the name. An astute customer also wants to be convinced that there is something solid and reliable behind the brand. And that's what we are trying to do with .LRN consortium. So, there are three questions here related to branding.

1. What is the name of the product?
2. What does it do (i.e. functionality, integration)?
3. Who stands behind it?

There are all types of opportunities for product suites, solutions, and combinations arising from OpenACS. It's an incredibly fertile project. But none of these efforts, including .LRN, will gain significant traction until there is a strong organization that customers can look to and trust.

My own view of .LRN is pretty simple. It's not an Learning Management System!!! It's intended to be purely a subset of OpenACS that has reached a certain maturity level and is ready for deployment in an enterprise setting. LMS just happens to be an area that we have gone after first.

My main point is this: whatever solutions and products come out of OpenACS, they won't gain traction in an enterprise setting unless there is a significant and credible organization standing behind it.

4: Re: Towards eCampus (response to 1)
Posted by Erik Valevatn on
This is something we at the University of Bergen are also very interested in. Our implementation of .LRN is a bit different from many others, being a campus wide system that encompass all subjects, all students, available to all faculty and staff, and mainly an administrative system (but expanding to LMS-functionality).

Our .LRN-system is slightly integrated into the Intranet for staff, being the forum for cooperation for groups. The news from subjects and groups are shown in the intranet. We are also thinking of LDAP with Active Directory as an inspiration for or even the solution for permissioning for the services we offer.

Let me mention something about our plans for LMS-systems. We will use the LMS-abilities which will be made available in .LRN, if they are satisfactory. But we also have more dedicated systems (for cooperative compositions, language learning, etc.), where we plan tu use .LRN as the administrative part and to keep track of the students for each subject, and guiding the users over to the specific system seamlessly. We do not believe that one system in best in everything when it comes to learning.

To make this work, we need a common Learning Objects Repository and Protfolio that is integrated with all the systems.

Another matter is a common CMS for the university, when it comes to storage and retrieval of information that does not fit in a regular database. This is a typical example where integration should take place, and include .LRN and the Intranet solution.

The keyword is of course open protocols, XML and standardisation. I guess it would be possible for the University of Bergen to participate in a project in these line.

5: Re: Towards eCampus (response to 1)
Posted by Rocael Hernández Rizzardini on
>"The most impressive identity solution I saw ...... The system was able to move organisational structures with drag and drop. ....."
This is the key, User Interaction Design. The whole long-term-success lies there.

A campus enterprise architecture is the right approach for OpenACS/.LRN, since we are actually the only real web development framework out there that has a vertical application for the educative market, which is .LRN. I've been pretty much thinking and researching about this for a while, and yet, nowadays we are quite in real advantage to other solutions, but first of all, no body knows that, and worst than that is that no body does anything significant to make the things happen. Probably the worst mistake that .LRN and any other open source project might do is to invest in development, but leave no resources for project management and marketing.

If we ever deliver a product that is a pleasure to use by the administrators, deans, students, professors, teachers (and not to the *users* without a deterministic profile), then we have excellent chances to grow the adoption.
The product is already there, the organization is already there, the excellent developer community is here, what we need is to expose that, the obvious step is to do real marketing pretty fast. Improvements to the actual core can go in there while we market.

I agree with the last-chance comment, but probably marketing, project-management and user interaction design are the real priorities, while ensuring to create a real process for supporting innovation in a consistent manner.

6: Re: Towards eCampus (response to 1)
Posted by Nima Mazloumi on
Today, we had a presentation here at the university of a platform called HIS LSF. This platform can provide the whole webportal of a university and does everything needed:

- course management,
- room reservation with conflict resolution,
- organisational structures (departments, lecturer index...)
- timetables for students

You can find a beta release 8.0 installation for the pedagogical university here

The software is partically internationalized.

There are also some group ware functionalities like forums, file-storage, calendar.

And now check this out. You may license it for

Students License
< 4000 500 EUR/p.a.
... ...

12.000 2.500 EUR/p.a.

4 large universities and 11 middle size institutions use the software productively.

The license contains 8 working days of on campus support p.a.

Isn't this incredible.

7: Re: Towards eCampus (response to 1)
Posted by Nima Mazloumi on
And what I forgot: LSF is part of several systems from HIS that are now around for more than a decade (company was founded in 1969) that manage everything a university needs:

- student management
- finance and controlling
- inventory
- grading
- facility management

All systems are available at very low prices. This is because financially the company is sustained by the german government.

8: Re: Towards eCampus (response to 1)
Posted by Nima Mazloumi on
Just for you to see how this leads to market distortion: companies like SAP, IBM, Siemens and EDS who try to enter the market have have prices up to several 100.000 EUR.