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Some observations from the EDUCAUSE 2005 conference.

> Merger of Blackboard and WebCT
> Technology as a Learning Workbench

> How e-learning policies can reduce faculty workloads and keep e-learning courses running smoothly

This years Educase Conference will be taking place in Dallas, October 9th - 12th. The theme of the 2006 conference is 'Spurring Innovation and Marshalling Resources', Barbara Newland, from Bournemouth University England attended Educase 2005 for eLearning Matters and offers her observationsfrom the conference in the following article...


This years Educase Conference will be taking place in Dallas, October 9th - 12th. The theme of the 2006 conference is 'Spurring Innovation and Marshalling Resources', Barbara Newland, from Bournemouth University England attended Educase 2005 for eLearning Matters and offers her observationsfrom the conference in the following article.

The EDUCAUSE 2005 conference had the theme of was “Transforming the Academy: Dreams and Reality”. It took place in Orlando, Florida from 18 th to 21 st October before Hurricane Wilma approached southern Florida. The theme was divided into 6 tracks:

  • Emerging technologies and practices
  • Enterprise computing and information systems
  • Information resources, digital content and libraries
  • Leadership, management and funding
  • Networking, infrastructure and advanced computing
  • Teaching and learning

Further information about the conference including papers, audio/video and PowerPoint presentations are available from

The conference was very large with over 6000 delegates and the general keynote sessions were held in a huge room with video screens to enable everyone to see the speakers. The exhibition hall was also massive with over 180 corporations with large displays of latest technologies and software. However, the conference did not feel too big as there plenty of opportunities to meet people during coffee and lunch breaks. It was not crowded as there was plenty of space inside the Orlando Conference Centre.

The opening keynote speaker was Scott McNealy, President and CEO of Sun Microsystems, whose talk was on “The Participation Age”, addressed the challenges and opportunities of an age in which individuals can not only connect but continuously interact via the Internet. He compared the traditional student aged 5 – 22, studying between 8 and 5 in a fixed location which provided limited access to content to the student of today aged 5 upwards, studying anytime in 24 *7, anywhere with limitless access to content. He used the term digital native for today’s students in contrast to digital immigrants. His jokes about the new top 10 excuses for not handing in homework included “I emailed it to you. Didn’t you get it?” and “I deleted it to make room for my i-tunes.” He raised issues such as scalability, standardisation and exit strategies and many of his solutions were informed by his background.

Karen Holbrook, President of Ohio State University, gave the other keynote on “Dynamic Stability”, in which she described technology as a liberating force which helps universities to “continually reconceptualise their environments of learning, discovery and transaction.” She defined the core values as “the essential and enduring tenets of an organisation, a small set of timeless guiding principles.” Ohio State University has extensive online resources in their Web Media and OhioLINK is a statewide digital information system that makes libraries and collections easier to access and use. Karen also described many interesting projects including joint research undertaken by academics and students over the summer. The results of the research are held in an e-portfolio and may be a multimedia format which could be used in future teaching.

There were featured speakers as well as the general session keynote speakers. One of these was Alma R. Clayton-Pederson, Vice President, Office of Educational and Institutional Renewal, Association of American Colleges and Universities, who spoke about “Designs for Learning to Meet 21 st Century Expectations”. She talked about the new increasingly diverse student population, new areas of study and new opportunities for learning which included online and contrasted this with lack of change in higher education. She suggested that leaders both inside and outside higher education should recognise the need for reinvigoration and hoped they might be able to reach consensus about new expectations for students and the curriculum. She emphasised that academics need assistance to use technology to enhance learning and teaching.

The final session was a panel discussion chaired by Randy Cohen, a witty New York Times Magazine columnist, on “Right and Wrong in Cyberspace”. The session explored some of the ethical issues concerning plagiarism, file sharing and blogging.

Merger of Blackboard and WebCT

The merger of Blackboard and WebCT was announced just before the conference and was a topic of great interest to many delegates. A special town hall style information session was organised and the following people from the companies were on the stage:

Matthew Pittinsky, Chairman, Blackboard

Michael Chasen, CEO

Carol Vallone, President and Chief Executive Officer, WebCT

Barbara Ross, Chief Operating Officer, WebCT

The session was introduced by Michael Chasen who described the current situation with the merger and outlined some of the future plans. This was followed by an opportunity for people to ask questions.

The merger with WebCT is expected to be finalised by the end of 2005 or early in 2006. Together there will be about 3700 institutions using the products with about 800 employees in 7 offices in the US and around the world.

The reasons given for the merger included a “unique product opportunity” to combine the ease of use of Blackboard with the best features of WebCT, economies of scale and a larger community of practice. It was stated that the company will continue to develop, innovate, upgrade, improve and support both Blackboard and WebCT’s products.

Michael outlined the long term product strategy which will have several phases. In the first phase there will be 2 separate systems. In phase 2 the development of common APIs, based on Blackboard’s Building Blocks and WebCT’s PowerLinks, will enable more interoperability and sharing of applications. WebCT will gain Blackboard’s Community and Content Management systems in phase 3 leading to a next generation system in phase 5. No timeline was given to the development of these phases. Users will not have to migrate to a new system but it will naturally evolve as new updates are made which work on both systems.

During the question session reassurance was given that the merger would not affect pricing or contracts. More details of merger are provided in the FAQs at

Technology as a Learning Workbench

Another featured speaker, Bette Collis from the University of Twente, Netherlands, spoke on Technology as a Learning Workbench. Betty defined a workbench as a platform with tools that is customizable to the user and can be used to:

  • Solve problems that are meaningful to them
  • Create new processes for how they interact, communicate, organize and amuse themselves
  • Build new communities in which they define themselves
  • Find what they need

Some examples of digital workbenches are:

  • Common application tools eg PowerPoint
  • Specialized tools and platforms, but not created especially for learning eg blogs
  • Workbenches created for learning purposes eg digital portfolios
  • Educationally oriented workbenches for instructors and instructional designers eg course management systems

Betty defined learning as participating and contributing:

  • It is not only knowledge acquisition, but becoming a member of a community of practice; not only learning from the community, but also contributing to it
  • The learner’s participation may change the knowledge base of the community

Betty defined the contributing student as a student who co-creates learning resources that can be shared and reused. She also gave an example of a “teachable” moment as when a teacher reads an online discussion and waits for the moment when she can help pull out and develop ideas. Some of the issues Betty identified are that assessment is more time consuming and more difficult to mark, the existing culture as some students just want to be given lecture notes and the IPR of students if they are building on others work and re-using it.

Betty concluded: “For us, technology is not for “delivering” learning or for taking the humans out of learning, but is rather is a set of tools, a locally tailorable workbench, which offers affordances to empower people to share, build, support, and manage their learning together, in their common context.”

Further information is available at

and the new book is Collis, B., & Moonen, J. (2005). An on-going journey: Technology as a learning workbench.

How e-learning policies can reduce faculty workloads and keep e-learning courses running smoothly

Dr. Shirley Waterhouse is the Director of Educational Technology at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) identified some of the challenges for academics such as increased workloads due to increased email and online discussions, and issues of “ownership” and copyright. She recommended 8 categories of course policies that instructors might consider to keep courses running smoothly:

  • daily routine:
    • software standards
    • frequent checking of email and announcements
  • student privacy
  • email
  • discussion
  • assignment
  • getting technical help
  • student code of conduct
  • intellectual property rights

Shirley stated that although the majority of academics are using VLEs to distribute information only a minority have adopted e-learning pedagogy. Her solution is leadership commitment and the following e-learning strategy for academics:

  • new vision for your course
  • match course objectives with eLearning strategies
  • getting the course off to a good start eg induction
  • managing the course – policies play a major role

Shirley concluded that “students should have a clear understanding of what the instructor expects from them, as well as what they can expect from the instructor.” The development of policies will help the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning

Shirley Waterhouse and Rodney O. Rogers have published an article on “The Importance of Policies in E-Learning Instruction” in EDUCAUSE quarterly, Vol 27, No 3, 2004,

A review of Shirley’s book on “The Power of E-learning” is in June edition of bbmatters.

The ERAU Edtech website also has links to some useful Blackboard tutorials

Author: Barbara Newland

07 July 2006

VLE: All



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