Earlier this Summer Blackboard hosted the 4th Annual Blackboard Building Blocks conference. More than 150 attendees enjoyed the 40+ sessions and opportunities to connect with other developers and system administrators, and have fun. Following the conference we hosted the first Blackboard Open Source Day. We asked Neal Caiden, Head, Applications, Center for Instructional Technology at Duke University, one of the organizers of the event to tell us more about the Blackboard Open Source Developers Group, its mission and why he is excited to be part of this growing community.
Blackboard: What is the Blackboard Open Source Advisory Group? When and how did it form?
Neal Caiden: It is a grass roots group, representing different institutions, that periodically discuss the state of the open source community and ways to provide opportunities for growing this community.
It started with discussions between Sue Polyson Evans (formally of Virginia Commonwealth University) and me, early on when Blackboard Building Blocks had just started. We both were excited about the possibility of an open source community around the development of Blackboard Building Blocks. Sue created the Blackboard open source listserv, which is very active today, and a major focal point of communication in the community. We also formed the Blackboard Open Source Advisory Group to keep the discussions and ideas flowing.
As our web site, http://www.bb-opensource.org says, we started in an
"… effort to support the sharing of information and resources among those institutions interested in the development and use of Blackboard Building Blocks software."
The Blackboard Open Source Advisory Group believes now is the right time to evolve beyond the sharing of information and resources into a community that collaborates. We want to provide the support needed to make this happen. That said, the Bb Advisory Group needs support back from the community. We welcome your feedback.
Blackboard: Why did you become a member of this group and what kinds of projects have you worked on in it?
Neal Caiden: For me, the motivation to participate in this group stems from a deep connection with community. I believe in the power of communities to actualize things that individuals, by themselves may not have the power to do. Community is an important value to me. Of course, there is also the possibility that really cool things will get created that will benefit my institution, and the nature of being able to share learning objects is attractive too.
I’ve written a couple of relatively simple Blackboard Building Blocks. One integrates our Library e-reserves into our Blackboard Learning System. The other, enables our Help Desk to create user accounts on the fly that are tied to our identity management system, which in turn, helps to keep our system better integrated with other campus systems.
Blackboard: What are the goals of the group?
Neal Caiden: The goals are evolving. Discussions which occurred before the Blackboard Open Source Day among the group, and lessons that we learned from that day will help guide us in the direction of the group and the community. There is a concept in Theater Games/Improv, one of my hobbies, called "Follow the follower". In the context of a Theater Game or Improv scene, the idea is to take what is going on with the other players and the environment that you have created, accept it, and then explore it, heighten it and transform it: make it your own. I see this interplay between ideas of the Blackboard Open Source Advisory Group and the community at large as an interchange, a reflection, and a transformation into something new.
Blackboard: What do you envision as the path of this group – where is it headed in the next year to five years out?
Neal Caiden: The old five year out question, eh? For our 3 and 3/4 year plan, I envision the path of the community, not just the group, to be one that is focused on standards that can make tools that operate with Blackboard technology and with other tools and course management systems. Ideally, tools would be created that would work with any other tool that plays in the space of interoperability. The other 1 1/4 years will be devoted to jetskiing and world travel.
Blackboard: What do you see as the relationship between open source and commercial software?
Neal Caiden: I see the relationship as being symbiotic. I don’t see the need to make a hard-line choice between open source and commercial software. For any given institution the choice of software depends on a number of factors that include, but are not limited to, business case (cost/benefit and requirements), strategic direction, support needs, resources available, and individual and institutional values. Values are easy to overlook or underestimate, but they are always there, and often play an important part in the open source vs. commercial software debate.
Open source and commercial software and processes can, and do, play together all over the world, every day. The glue that holds disparate software together, regardless of whether it is open source or commercial, is standards. Standards serve to widen the playing field enabling new and creative options for solving problems to emerge.
My opinion is that there is plenty of space for both types of software to contribute to individual and institutional needs and I don’t see why that would need to change. That’s my 2 cents.