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Educause 2017 - Roundup

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on Unified Communications & Collaboration


Educause 2017 - Roundup

By: -
7 Nov 2017

Wait, Roundup is a weedkiller.  My trip to Educause 2017 was more about me being a pest, buzzing around and piercing vendor noise, and there’s no suppressing an analyst on a mission, so let’s call this a wrap-up.  I’m going to dive-bomb the Educause experience by selecting, one after another, a series of targeted announcements I heard or briefings I held.  Random, yes, though I’ll try to stack the deck with the most succulent morsels. 

And don’t forget, Educause continues to candy-jar-slap Hi-Ed IT folks in the face by scheduling against Halloween. I feel no guilt for anything I say here.

Google showed off some new Hangouts Meet hardware and of course one of my three favorite “boards:” the Jamboard.  The Hangouts Meet update includes a new touchscreen controller that allows users to join scheduled events from Google Calendar with a single tap – and manage those events as well.  Also added: dial-out feature, presenting from a laptop via HDMI, and recording meetings to Google Drive (some of these features are only available to paying G Suite Enterprise customers, so though much of G Suite is free to educators, there still may be some bucks involved – fine with me, I distrust an everything-is-free model, if such a thing exists for long).  A Google-designed Speakermic allows up to five microphones to be daisy-chained via single wire for larger rooms. A 4K sensor camera is now available, and a new ASUS Chromebox simplifies deployment and management of Hangouts Meet hardware. On the software side, Google supports up to 50 participants in a meeting (up from 25, which was up from 10), and ten third-party apps have been added to the G Suite pre-integrated single sign-on (SSO) apps catalog.  Pay attention, cream of the crop: Aha!, Atlassian Cloud, Github Business, and Desk – among others.  I met with Google and sensed that they are letting the brains out of the barn, spending time getting to know customer requirements.  Having written about them as long ago as 2011 as a diamond-in-the-rough when they signed their first state-wide deal with Oregon, well, if you’re in edtech you know the rest of the story.  Happy to see them executing.

Google Jamming on the Jamboard at Educause

Cengage is pushing Open Educational Resources (OER), which for the uninitiated is the application of a “content-oriented” version of the open source or freemium software models to educational content.  Hey, if you can’t beat them, join them, and Cengage has very aggressive targets as to when it goes all digital (90% of units sold by its fiscal year 2020). But to clarify: just because a textbook is digital doesn’t mean it’s free.   Also, to clarify: Cengage rightly understands that textbooks and content reside within a very complex ecosystem and that the economics of old are changing in a digital economy. So, think about better content, measured better in terms of effectiveness, perhaps getting away from political textbook wars and the need to update print versions annually, while costing learners (and/or their institutions) less.  Win/win.  Why does this matter to collaborative ed tech?  Well, just as the LMS makers figured out ten years ago that online learning was going to mean they needed online collaborative tools, assume that Cengage is eyeballing how it can make digital textbooks more collaborative and supportive of interactivity and learning.  Specific announcements made this year: OpenNow, which consists of technology-enhanced OER products for general education, along with results from its Inclusive Access Partnerships, which gets students up-and-running from the first day of class with digital content: the company reports that 275 institutions are now part of this program, double the number nine months ago.

While WR doesn’t really cover the ERP space, Oracle’s moves are important to monitor because the company has so much impact on campus life – and like what sometimes seems like just about every lecture capture and LMS provider – it’s integrating AI and machine learning to modernize the learner experience.  Specifically, Oracle announced Oracle Student Management as the newest entry in the Oracle Student Cloud suite. The SIS offering transforms the student experience with new capabilities for student recruiting, engagement, support and management.  Oracle says its Oracle Student Management can proactively anticipate student needs, monitor progress and make suggestions when students appear to be at-risk or going off course.  Many of you will remember we’ve been writing about predictive analytics for a couple of years.  Architected as a student-centric offering, Oracle Student Management is initially built for a Continuing Education business model, and the plan is to add future updates providing a broader spectrum of support for traditional learning models.  This first release allows students to use any mobile device or personal computer to self-create accounts, find learning opportunities, enroll and pay-as-they-go, view courses with one-click access, and manage their finances.

Both Instructure and Blackboard made announcements related to accessibility.

Instructure (so aka as Canvas) announced its new Accessibility Checker for Canvas and a partnership between its video platform Arc and Speechmatics.  The Accessibility Checker makes it easy for anyone creating content in the Canvas LMS to identify and correct some of the most common accessibility issues, saving time and providing a better experience for all students.  When working in the Rich Content Editor within Canvas, any user can activate the Accessibility Checker from the toolbar. This performs an accessibility check on the current content, reports problem areas or concerns and makes it easy to correct accessibility issues.  The Accessibility Checker is available for free to all Canvas users, and the code has been added to the Instructure open source library, where it can be accessed by anyone.  Related to accessibility, Instructure's video platform Arc has partnered with Speechmatics, a provider of automatic speech recognition technology, to add captions to its video content.  I got a great demo of Canvas and discovered that the company now has integrations with Zoom, GoToMeeting, and WebEx.

Blackboard gave me a deep dive into Analytics for Learn (A4L) and the latest coming out of its teaching and learning group, the former something of an update to the work we did after the Blackboard Analytics Symposium 2017.   The company continues to refine its tools and approaches to rubrics, with some pretty fancy system admin tools.  From the news perspective, the company announced it will offer its SafeAssign plagiarism prevention tool for Moodlerooms, the company's open-source based LMS. Historically only available within Blackboard Learn, SafeAssign is a tool used to promote originality, create opportunities to help students identify how to properly attribute sources rather than paraphrase, and increase interaction between students and teachers.  Meaning don’t cheat! Of course, there are other anti-plagiarism solutions available, including Turnitin and Vericite, which just received a round of funding driven by its CEO Valerie Schreiner.    Blackboard has long led, on the other hand, on the accessibility front – this is one area on which it has its act together – and it announced that its Blackboard Ally accessibility platform is now in use at more than 250 institutions.  It also announced that Blackboard Ally now supports integration with four major learning environments along with Blackboard Learn, Moodlerooms, and Canvas, and that it has added some foreign languages. What grabs me: it runs all course materials through an accessibility checklist that checks for common accessibility issues. Using advanced Machine Learning algorithms, Ally generates a range of more accessible alternatives for the instructor’s original and makes these available to all students in the course. These alternative accessible formats include Semantic HTML, audio, ePub, and electronic Braille. 

YuJa is moving and growing quickly.   Playing in the Higher Ed sandbox since 2013, this hybrid lecture capture vendor has some sizable wins and appears to be on the move.  It was showing its Enterprise Video Platform, which includes a Hardware Hub and Software Station for both hardware- and software-based lecture capture and live streaming.  I heard about some impressive growth numbers and now know why some of the larger brethren have YuJa in their rear-view mirrors.  Toss in a solid student recording capability, analytics, and multi-platform recording (including Mac and iOs) and you’ve got a compelling streaming and lecture capture vendor capturing share from some of those who are fading.

Sonic Foundry announced new and improved interactivity tools in Mediasite Video Platform meant to increase student retention and improve engagement.  New tools include quizzes embedded directly into Mediasite presentations on any device, with automatic scoring; added comments and discussions via clickable annotations; and polls added to live webcasts and assessments that can help gauge what viewers are thinking in real-time. New features are now available in beta and reportedly will be in full release next month.

Meanwhile, I must have missed the press release from the prior week: Echo360 was talking about its new content management system (CMS) for higher education.   The CMS, as one would expect, is integrated with Echo360’s lecture capture and active learning capabilities.  It enables administrators to map usage to educational roles such as student, instructor, and administrator, as well as academic structures including courses and sections.  The company touts a roadmap item, an Intelligent Permissions feature, that will enable administrators to streamline the video sharing process by creating groups to automatically receive video content based upon their role or membership in the system. Educators using the platform will, for example, be able to create libraries of study aids – and automatically share them with students in a given department or set of classes with a single mouse click.  I didn’t see much new in the Echo360 capture platform demo I got, but as I said, the news was in the CMS.

Peerceptiv is working to make life easier for instructors with large lecture classes and multiple sections, providing what it describes as a research-validated, scalable peer assessment platform that has an AI engine behind it.  Relying on peer assessment has its plusses (teaches learners how to think critically and analytically and can improve writing skills) but it requires a strong framework of rubrics.  The platform (spun out of the University of Pittsburgh) integrates with Blackboard, D2L, and Canvas. The company reports that more than 500,000 students have access to its system.  I can see the value for large lecture classes if the TA’s aren’t pulling their weight in the grading process.

Cisco.  OK, Cisco’s announcements were not in relation to Educause, but instead were made at its Partner Summit the same week as Educause or the previous week via press release.  But these are relevant to those interested in Ed tech and enterprise learning and they were definitely a topic at Cisco’s booth. Cisco announced Cisco Spark Assistant, what it calls the industry’s first enterprise-ready voice assistant for meetings.  Its AI-driven assistant is meant to go beyond the consumer conversational assistants (Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana) and introduce into the conference room (and classroom I’ve got to think) a voice assistant.   Based on its MindMeld acquisition earlier this year, the Spark Assistant will enable users to join and leave a meeting, call anyone in their organization, and get basic navigation controls for Spark Boards, Spark Room Series kits and endpoints, and the Spark App.  Cisco also announced on October 25th that it is partnering with Google to bring developers a new solution that will let them quickly combine Google Cloud Platform services with on-premises applications and services. Think hybrid cloud solutions – which are appealing to higher educational IT groups with decent developer resources. Details on the partnership were vague, but this relationship will matter to larger colleges and universities that are Cisco shops and want hybrid solutions.  Note also that Cisco announced its Spark Room 70, a replacement to its MX800 endpoint.  The Spark Room 70 includes the Spark Assistant as well as automatic noise reduction and facial recognition.  Some of this is still at beta and will be in general availability in the first half of 2018.

In general, this Educause seemed less newsworthy than past events – there were fewer “big” announcements.   Top topics were around security, data analytics, and student-centered learning.  I heard a tremendously fun keynote by futurist / television personality Michio Kaku, who is just as bullish on Augmented Reality as am I – though I suspect it will take longer for Internet-connected contact lenses than his optimism warrants.  And though Cisco and Google and their smaller brethren made their share of announcements, there were some conspicuous absences from the noise-making.  Could it be that the pace of fast Cloud software releases is revolutionizing how companies even talk about their products?