On Wednesday March 3 I had the opportunity to attend the Software and Information Industry Association's, Ed Tech Government Forum.  The keynote speaker was current US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  Joining our gathering was the annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers.  The Secretary laid out an impressive vision for using technology in education based on three attributes mobile accessibility, digital content and social networks.  The technology plan was published and made available for public comment at The Department of Education's website.  The Secretary talked about the importance of creating new open educational repositories that would allow instructors and learners to personalize and remix learning.   At the same time he called for research and experimentation that would use evidence based methods to weight the improvements in productivity and outcomes against the costs.  Secretary Duncan articulated a vision that demonstrated a good understanding of the ongoing transformation of education happening in the context of web 2.0.

I'm happy that Blackboard and its customers are demonstrating leadership in the areas that the Secretary mentions.  When I think of mobile accessibility, I consider the power of the Blackboard Mobile Central solution. This product easily allows institutions to make information like podcasts, campus directories and maps available to students through their mobile devices.  As we combine our growing expertise in mobile application development with our deep experience with teaching and learning I think we will be well positioned to support the Secretary's technology vision.

Consider also the growing role Blackboard Learn is playing in digital content.  We have been working on digital content management for many years now and offer a comprehensive a set of comprehensive content management solutions, to provide solutions for organizing and sharing digital content such as documents, eReserves and learning objects.  As we build out our NG vision, we are exploring mashups, blogs, wikis and other capabilities to bring web 2.0 content into learning.  Explore some of those ideas on our Project NG Playground.  You may also wish to look to the Blackboard community's creations like the Merlot Search building block for accessing the Merlot repository and Federated Repository Search building block that connects to any OKI compliant repository.  Finally we committed to Common Cartridge as a mechanism to allow the movement of digital learning content between systems.  This standard will simplify the distribution of digital materials between virtual learning environments.  At the last IMS quarterly meeting Blackboard demonstrated its commitment to integrating Common Cartridge by showcasing a building block that imported common cartridge data to a Blackboard course.

Blackboard is also connecting to social networks.  Blackboard delivered integration with Facebook two years ago.  This tool notifies students of grades, course materials and makes it easy to send a friend request to anyone in your class.  Blackboard's community is innovating as well.  Two weeks ago Dr. Malcolm Murray from University of Dundee in the UK posted a Twitter building block to the OSCELOT organization's website.  I hope that others interested in building innovative social media integration with Virtual Learning Environments will collaborate with Dr. Murray. 

The Secretary also mentioned the need to not just have the latest gadgets in the classroom but to show real productivity gains and outcomes using evidence based practices.  The VLE / CMS has made an impact which is real and measured over the last 10 years.  My college Dr. Demetra Katsifili recently published a detailed summary of 10 years of research into the impact of the VLE on Higher Education.  This survey summarizes the strong evidence that the VLE / CMS is making a significant impact on education.

Overall I was very pleased to hear the Secretary's remarks.  I was left with one question, which I had the opportunity to ask the secretary during the Q&A.  Specifically the secretary outlined a $500 million dollar program to free create digital content for skills development.  I am very excited about this idea and I hope it is supported.   The question I had is: How will the Secretary ensure that content developed under this initiative will survive the rapid change in digital content formats and devices? How will we make sure that these investments in content don't end up like the stack of 8-track tapes sitting in a box in my garage?

The Secretary indicated that durability would be an important goal and that he would work to ensure that materials created were durable and reusable by publishers and information systems.  I hope this will be the case.  I encourage the Secretary to look at initiatives like the UK Government Open Data Repository that leverages the semantic web to make published government information accessible to both human eyes and other applications.  I also encourage the Secretary to ensure that materials are created in open formats governed by the educational community like Common Cartridge.  To make this vision a reality we will all need to become educated on these new standards and inform our leaders like Secretary Duncan and members of congress about the importance of these new standards for education. 

If you are interested in learning more about how Blackboard and its community are innovating in the spirit of these goals consider joining me at DevCon on July 12 and 13th in Orlando Florida.  We will have a comprehensive program teaching you to integrate your innovative ideas into the Blackboard Learn environment.  We will also share the latest innovations in our APIs and showcase the best creations of our partners and customers.

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