When UBC transitioned from WebCT/Vista to Blackboard Learn in 2012-2013, many instructors noticed usability issues with the new platform including a non-intuitive interface and high click-rates to access features and settings. In addition, because of FIPPA restrictions, UBC had to self-host its on instance of Blackboard Learn. Performance issues and frequent crashes in the first few months of full deployment, along with the UI issues, led some instructors to consider other ways of creating and publishing course content online.
Hence the idea of integrating WordPress blogs with the LMS via a BasicLTI tool integration. UBC already had its own self-hosted WordPress instance for student and instructor blogs at blogs.ubc.ca. So all that was left was to create a means for the Tool Provider (Blogs.ubc.ca) to communicate with the Tool Consumer (UBC Connect LMS) and vice versa, via a customized BasicLTI tool. The result is that an instructor can have a private, subscriber only WordPress blog that only students from a particular course in UBC Connect can have access to (see diagram below).
In this way, an instructor is able to update all her content using the WordPress CMS which then seamlessly integrates with her Connect course which houses all the assignments, asessments and Grade center tools. Here is a breakdown of how each platform would manage the specific educational technology pieces:
|WordPress CMS (Blogs.ubc.ca)
||Blackboard LMS (UBC Connect)
||Assignment Submission areas
|General course content (WP pages)
||Informal Assessments (Quizzes, Surveys, etc.)
|Slides (.ppt, .pdf)
||Groups and group-related tools
|Documents (.docx, .pdf)
||Formal assessments, including midterm and final exams
|| Grade Centre
Learning Ecosystems has become a bit of a buzzword in the Ed Tech corporate eLearning and Higher Ed spheres, with whole conferences now being dedicated to the topic. Marc J. Rosenberg and Steve Foreman, in
Learning and Performance Ecosystems: Strategy, Technology, Impact, and Challenges (2014), suggest that “we must move away from individual, siloed, ‘one-off’ solutions to an ecosystem comprised of multi-faceted learning and performance options that enhance the environments in which we work and learn.”
Often the one-off, siloed solution is the Learning Management System (LMS) such as Blackboard Learn, Canvas, Desire2Learn or Moodle, among others. These systems try to offer everything in a one-stop shop but fail to do everything well and are often a victim of “feature-creep”, continually adding new features that don’t necessarily integrate very well into the whole and often slow down the system.
What’s nice about an ecosystem approach is that the entire online learning environment of the student is considered: everything from discussion forums to blogging sites, social media to mobile apps — basically everything that the instructor expects the students to digitally ‘touch’ in addition to the sites, apps and tools students themselves use and promote amongst themselves.
The key with good Learning Ecosystems management is to be able to link all these desperate platforms (especially the ones supported by the service unit) in an integrated fashion. Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) is one way to do this, allowing a tool provider (such as a 3rd party survey tool) to interact with a tool consumer (such as an LMS). Here we use BasicLTI tool integration with a variety of platforms linking into our core LMS, Blackboard Learn: Piazza, WebWork, WordPress blogs, various Publisher applications, etc. Here is a diagram to illustrate those integrations: