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Spooky Educause 2016

The Wainhouse Research Blog

News & Views
on Unified Communications & Collaboration


Spooky Educause 2016

By: -
2 Nov 2016

It wasn’t just that Educause 2016 took place just a few days before All Hallows Eve, and vendors had more junk I mean candy than ever before to lure you into their booths.   It wasn’t just that an election is around the corner, and everyone was spooked at the new revelations every day about their candidate of choice. It was the spooky Denial of Service attack some 12+ days ago that had 8,000 Higher Education CIOs, IT workers, educators, and vendors alike bent out of shape.  Not coincidentally, security is back again as the single most important issue affecting Higher Ed, per the IT professionals at Educause.  I found myself involved in more than one discussion about the security cameras that were hijacked in the recent DoS attacks that took down a slew of the Internet. 

Onwards to what I saw and heard, with apologies to any important announcements I may not include here.

Sonic Foundry

Sonic Foundry made the case for its Mediasite Catch, which expands automation to classrooms with little-to-no audio/video capabilities and complements the existing Mediasite suite of content capture solutions. It can accommodate as many classrooms as needed, offering features such as Automatic Schedule-Driven Recording, which allows users to tap into existing scheduling features that they are already accustomed to from Mediasite, and a “faculty-friendly” UI, an automated workflow that provides users a preview of the video and an audio meter. SoFo’s goal is to drive lower-cost adoption into a greater number of classrooms.  I spoke with two to three university clients of ours who happen to use Mediasite, and both Mediasite Catch and Mediasite Join seem (all apologies for the pun) to be catching on.


We’ve been keeping our eye on the Learning Relationship Management (LRM) space since writing about it this past spring.   To that end we got a chance to visit with Motivis, the much renowned spinoff out of Southern New Hampshire University that, along with several others, is helping to create the LRM category.  What’s an LRM?  Well, it’s not a Learning Management System (though it may include one, as does Motivis Learning, which was announced a week prior to Educause).  It’s not a Student Information System (SIS).  It’s not a Personal Learning Network (PLN).  It’s not an online collaboration workspace a la Google Classroom or SMART amp.  It is an entirely new beast, slouching towards Bethlehem to borrow from the great W.B. Yeats, whose The Second Coming chronicled among other things the cyclical nature of history. 

Is history being made here?  I don’t want to go that far, but Motivis and the entire LRM category are something of a “quiet shot heard around the (LMS) world.”  To be brief: Motivis Learning is a holistic learning environment that integrates their own LMS (not all LRMs have an LMS, some simply integrate with third-party platforms), campus community system, coaching and advising platform, and student information functions.  Motivis Learning consists of all four systems in one platform that is powered by the Salesforce CRM.   The goal: competency-based learning and a system that is much more learner-centric than the traditional LMS, which is course-centric.  Specific features of Motivis Learning include:

  • Student-centric design
  • Flexible curriculum creation for multi-tiered personalized and competency-based programs
  • Support for multiple roles for a single user
  • Gradebook that illustrates a holistic view of students’ progress for assignments or towards mastering competencies and performance indicators
  • Social networking tool that allows institutions to create a private branded community for their campus
  • A student information bridge where administrators can track every student’s learning journey.

Motivis’ design partners (aka beta customers) now onboarded include a mix of Higher Education and K-12 institutions.  The screen shot below shows the Motivis Learning Community Stream, which allows for group feeds and social interactions; it’s also possible to have personal and 1:1 interactions.

Motivis Community Stream

Learning Objects

Speaking of competency-based learning, Learning Objects, a Cengage company, announced the full release and availability of its Learning Objects CBL Platform. Streamlining the development of competency-based programs, the platform comprises an end-to-end experience including competency dashboards, personalized learning activities, extended transcripts, and evidence portfolios.  Designed to support programs built around learning goals that map to assessments and learning activities, the platform allows learners to demonstrate mastery at their own pace, earning modular credentials each step along the way.  One thing that’s clear: Learning Objects CBL is not an LRM, though it has synergies.  Nor is it an LMS – in the quote of the week, from Jon Mott, Learning Objects’ Chief Learning Officer: the LMS is “Wordpress on steroids for faculty.” Love it!  Going beyond the LMS, a CBL platform is for the institution that has decided curriculum management is important and made a specific decision to implement CBL.  

Are you seeing a pattern here?  Up next: Blackboard Predict.


OK I saw more than Predict, I saw Collaborate Ultra and Learn Ultra and how well they are integrated. I hadn’t seen them up close and personal since BBWorld 2015, when BB announced its New Learning Experience, so it was a welcome set of demos.  Breakout rooms are back in Collaborate, yay.  I saw social, I saw a clean look much nicer than BB Collaborate and BB Learn Original, and overall greater manageability.  Of course, there were specific announcements related to improvements to both Learn Original and Learn Ultra, such as:

For BB Learn Original: for the legacy Learn LMS, responsive design, deeper integration with Dropbox, and new approaches to the ability to drag and drop files to a “hot spot” in the content area. Additionally, BB has made the REST API framework available to all customers, ending its Technical Preview aka beta period.  REST APIs allow easier integrations

For BB Learn Ultra: for the next-gen platform, along with the new REST API framework, the SaaS-based Ultra includes test and assignment student activity reports, rubrics, group discussion boards, and course content conversion.

Blackboard also announced the acquisition of U.K.-based Fronteer, which has an accessibility product called Ally that BB wanted to add to its portfolio. Ally provides educators with guidance for improving accessibility of their course materials, while supplying comprehensive reporting on the current state of course content accessibility across the institution. The platform automatically checks posted course materials for accessibility issues and, through advanced Machine Learning algorithms, generates files in different formats to assist students who may require alternatives. Supplemental file formats include Semantic HTML, Tagged PDF, Audio, ePub and Electronic Braille.  There’s a whole world out there you don’t know about until you hear about it, but it’s a big issue in education.

One final BB high point: a demo of BB Predict, Blackboard’s commercialization of its Blue Canary acquisition that took place Q1 2016.  BB Predict uses data from existing student information and LMS platforms to build a predictive model that provides actionable early alerts to faculty and advisors.  Predict pulls demographics data, grades, attendance, and several hundred more variables, including amount of time in class and learner behaviors, to assemble a method of identifying an at-risk student within the first week or two of a course.   There are other predictive analytics platforms on the market, but I found the Predict model clean and simple.  I especially like how it shares some limited data with students; you don’t want to tell a kid he’s likely to drop out, but you do want to provide guidance regarding how a learner can improve her grades, or how he compares to others.  This is the future, folks, and BB Predict along with its brethren stand to make a big difference on both college and high school campuses over time.

BB Predict

Whether it’s competency-based learning, an LRM, or a predictive analytics platform: the future’s so bright my kid’s gotta wear shades.


Cisco has been paying attention and filling in some gaps. These include some glaring integration work that has been needing to be done between Cisco WebEx and (more recently) Spark with LMS platforms, to enable (as an example) faculty to schedule online classes securely from within their LMSs.  This work is taking place via a partnership with CirQlive, a Cisco Gold Developer Partner working on point integrations when customers purchase WebEx licenses and need immediate integrations.  Among the LMSs CirQlive is working on are Canvas, Moodle, Brightspace, and Blackboard.  And worth mentioning is that WebEX has been climbing in our Distance Education and e-Learning Metrics survey every year when we ask educators to name their primary provider – maybe they’re finally cracking the virtual classroom nut.

But there’s a larger vision here, delivered via Cisco’s announcement of its Digital Education Platform.  Is it a bird? A plane? A platform? A framework?  Maybe all of the above … DEP is based on Cisco’s secure core network technologies and a new vision it has produced of the integrated and connected digital campus. The platform also includes unified voice, video, and wireless communications, and consists of a Digital Learning suite (connected classrooms, virtual classrooms, connected research) and the Digital Campus suite (connected campus, smart workspaces, and smart campus).  To be more granular, it ties together everything from mobility and collaboration solutions with secure research computing, lecture capture (via partners VBRick Rev and Vyopta) with WebEx and the CMR Cloud, connected brick-and-mortar elements like vehicles, parking, lighting systems, and even stadiums) with location services and safety (campus and cyber). Other partners include Apple (iOS 10 will carry Spark as a native element) and Pearson Education.

Cisco Digital Education Platform

I’ve seen visions, frameworks, and standards come and go, so the proof will be in the pudding – but Cisco indicates some pretty strong success stories being developed at some of its early customers deploying the Digital Education Platform.  Lest I not do any educational readers a disservice, let me not overlook that Cisco announced new special pricing for Higher Education customers.  With the purchase of WebEx licenses for 10% of a knowledge worker population, colleges and universities receive free Spark M2 licenses for every single student at their institution.  (I love this: licensing schemes have prevented getting tech into learner hands for years.  Time to get over it and give away the blades so you can sell the razors.) Also announced: special pricing on the flagship MX800 Telepresence product.


Vaddio announced its 4th-gen presenter tracking system, the RoboTRAK intelligent presenter, which includes IR technology in the tracking unit and a single-piece presenter lanyard, and works with any Vaddio RoboSHOT PTZ camera, and supports up to 40 hours on a single battery charge.  RoboTRAK presenter does not draw upon the usual approaches to tracking (audio or facial-­recognition based technologies), and instead goes all-out with IR and a pretty cool lanyard. MSRP:  $4,495.  The company also showed off the Vaddio RoboSHOT 20 UHD, a 4K video, HD (1080p/60) video camera that interestingly provides simultaneous HDMI, HDBaseT, HD-­SDI and IP streaming outputs, 20x zoom, and 74­degree horizontal field of view.   Also shown: Vaddio Precision Camera Controller Premier, offering simultaneous control of up to 16 PTZ cameras. The IP-enabled PCC Premier virtualizes camera control across an enterprise when paired with Vaddio’s RoboSHOT cameras.  Finally, the Vaddio ClearSHOT 10 USB, also on display, provides simultaneous uncompressed USB 3.0 and IP (H.264) streaming video outputs and is equipped with a 10x optical zoom lens and 74­degree wide horizontal field of view.  I was impressed by the RoboTRAK – I’ve dabbled a bit with presenter systems ever since the Parkervision days (ok I’m senior enough not to be embarrassed at that reference!).  RoboTRAK seems to offer a pretty fluid, frictionless tracking capability.  Look Ma no hands and no audio disruption from a loud trade show environment (or classroom).

Vaddio RoboTRAK Paired with RoboSHOT

Google Jamboard

I wrote last week about Google Jamboard.   What a surprise to luck into a visit with the director of product management Jonathan Rochelle (shh, don’t tell the AR/PR people).  Jonathan also has a few gray hairs that may date back to working on the original 2Web Technologies, the basis for Google Sheets ergo Google Apps.  While Jamboard was not yet available for a demo, I got the pitch at the lemonade stand and liked the taste: what was meant to be a tablet at first became an endpoint when Google saw an opportunity to build a device that it decidedly believes is not a commodity.  Google never fails to buck trends, and as I said last week, has an uncanny, Pacman-like ability to deliver endpoints if it provides some competitive advantage. I suspect SMART, Polyvision, Promethean, and the oh dozens of whiteboard and interactive flat panel manufacturers, along with the newer ideation / brainstorming crowd, weren’t too happy.  What I like from Jonathan’s description: the ability to edit content locally and remotely; the idea that anyone can “toss” a “JAM” onto a board; and the ability to use the “sticky note” metaphor so essential to true collaboration.  Oh, did I mention the integration with G Suite?  It’s JAM file format is decidedly proprietary. So what if you’re Google, you just keep to your happiness vision.

Random Sightings

Polycom Centro in the Polycom and AVI-SPL booths, showing off a marquee item for prestige programs such as B and law schools.  Dell's new 70-inch Interactive Conference Room Monitor, which I had not seen when first announced at ISTE in late June (another endpoint and infrastructure vendor getting into the business, showing that IFPs and whiteboarding continue to live long and prosper in education).  And like I said, a lot of candy jars and candy products to tempt any ed tech professional.

More than 8,000 CIOs and ed tech specialists and educators and vendors under one roof.  As a veteran of the Anaheim Telecon shows in the 90’s that were held in the same convention hall, I felt no shortage of nostalgia mixed with appreciation that where Telecon at one time served the broad telecom and collaboration community, Educause is specifically about Higher Education – and thriving.  The beast is back, all hail the beast!