University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Lanny Arvan discovered Educate/Innovate just recently via the latest WebCT Newsletter. Lanny wrote up his thoughts about Educate/Innovate on his own blog, Lanny on Learning Technology. He’s got some good things to say about Educate/Innovate, some questions, and some critiques. In fact, his post got forwarded around to a number of Blackboard staff and execs over the weekend. I thought it would be worthwhile to address some of his questions here, since I’m guessing a bunch of our readers have similar questions on their minds.

I was glad to hear that Lanny’s happy to see Blackboard "with an open space like this that is distinct from the corporate site, where individual posts can be attributed to specific people and hence so the views expressed are more personal." That’s part of our intent.

While he’s just getting to know the original Educate/Innovate bloggers (yours truly included), he was excited to see the recent post by Karen Gage, our first blogger from the WebCT team. We are excited about adding Karen, too; her post is just the start of expanding the voices on Education/Innovate. Watch for more new voices on the blog in the coming weeks.

Getting into the swing of blogging isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world, especially when you’re trying to pull it off with a team that are mostly blogging novices in a relatively young public corporation that’s new to blogging. I’m not going to pretend it has been without its bumps and arguments, but I can assure you there’s not a "Dark Side of the Force," as Lanny implied, out to conquer The Republic via the blog. Lanny points to the copyright notice as an indicator of a Dark Side. Though it’s not a Creative Commons license, it is just the standard copyright notice that appears at the bottom of every page of blackboard.com. Since Educate/Innovate is also available at http://blog.blackboard.com, it needs to be there. No ulterior blogging motives; just boring corporate policy.

The somewhat strange location of the copyright notice that Lanny notes — the bottom of the right hand column, instead of in a footer — is a by-product of us not having mucked about with the default TypePad page layout template. Easier to just stick the copyright notice at the bottom of a column than to change the template. We’re not TypePad pros! Like a lot of bloggers elswhere, we’re doing this by the seat of our pants here, folks, in between our regular Blackboard responsibilities. So sometimes the quick and dirty way is the only option. (Maybe if we do a good enough job with the blog, we’ll get a dedicated blog support resource. Michael, Tim: hint, hint! :-)

That also answers Lanny’s question about what software we’re using to power the blog: TypePad from Six Apart. The Blackboard Academic Suite and WebCT Vista don’t have native blog features, although some third-party vendors provide blogging tools that integrate with the Blackboard Academic Suite through Building Blocks or with WebCT Vista through PowerLinks. Although we don’t use our own software for blogging, we do eat our own dog food quite regularly; we’ve been using the Blackboard Academic Suite as our corporate intranet for years.

Probably Lanny’s most important question is the one I can only answer indirectly. He writes:

"I do want to know from the company how they are going to embrace Web 2.0 apps in the future, and while I don’t expect a dissertation on the subject now, it would be comforting to have the feeling that they ‘get it’ and, frankly, I’m not sure they do."

Of course, our e-Learning 2.0 project, the Blackboard Beyond Initiative, is going to be part of what proves whether we "get it." Since we haven’t released those tools yet, it’s pretty hard to point to that as evidence. I wouldn’t say we’ve been on the cutting edge of e-Learning 2.0, but I
think our executive team knows what we need to do to get there. I can say that Web 2.0-ish issues — like enabling new and more kinds content creation by users of learning environments, enabling the users to define and manage relationships beyond the course, providing new ways for users and developers to combine tools and content, providing more access to the information generated by these processes — are the issues we discuss and debate internally at Blackboard every day. For what it’s worth, I think we "get it" — some people in the company more so than others — but the proof will be in the future features and products we build.

As far as this little piece of Web 2.0 called Educate/Innovate goes, we’re still learning how to be effective corporate bloggers, and I expect we’ve got quite a ways to go. That means learning how to provide content that is meaningful, interesting, and useful to our clients and the marketplace, and also figuring out how to do that in a way that doesn’t makes our execs and lawyers and investors and all the other stakeholders tear their hair out. Part of that is baby steps. We started out with a small team and we’re slowly adding more voices. You’ve probably noticed we haven’t enabled comments and Trackbacks yet.
We plan to do that too at some point in the future, but one step at a time. Part of building more open channels of communication is listening to — and responding to — feedback from our readers. That’s why we were eager to read Lanny’s opinions. It’s that kind of input that will help us get better.

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