West Coast Open EdTech Eyes Privacy, Video, Sakai & The Ecosystem: Apereo 2019 Highlights

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Apereo Foundation held its annual Open Apereo 2019 Conference in Los Angeles, at the beginning of June. Disquieting ideas, updated Open Source tools, and lots of use cases delighted attendees in a jam-packed 5-day programme.

Despite a great deal of common interests, Apereo and Moodle remain distant communities. Whether Open EdTech is better off joining forces and reducing redundancies is still on debate. At MoodleMoot Philippines, Moodle CEO, Martin Dougiamas, said that other Open EdTech initiatives had been invited to Moodle-hosted Open EdTech Global next November in Barcelona.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at the main themes discussed at Open Apereo in Los Angeles.

The issues

The Design of Sakai

The Sakai LMS was arguably the topic attendees were more interested about. The re-versioning of Sakai to coincide with the current year, along with Sakai-related initiatives (SakaiCamp 2019, Sakai Virtual Conference) are upcoming developments to watch.

University of Dayton’s Paul Dagnall introduced the design and CSS customization options enabled by Sakai. The “CKEditor” available on the text editor can enable the custom design of elements. Dagnall shares his work on custom elements, including “Chat instructor insight,” “Instructor panel,” “Instructor conversation” and “Marianist Principle.” (You might have to be part of Dayton to get that last one.)

The main jewel in the crown (Sakai) of the Apereo body is arguably NYU. Kyle Blythe and Minhye Kim from the university’s Information Technology Department shared their experience in UX Design through Agile Development approaches. The core factor influencing their design choices is extensive user surveying, usability testing and focus groups. The resulting Sakai interface appears below:

Course roster in Sakai LMS developed at NYU

More resources:

Data, Analytics and Student Risk Detection

Pepperdine University’s Owen Hall is optimistic by the fact that organizations continue to embrace the importance of learning environment and learning analytics. This only means, however, that the job is only beginning regarding useful solutions that bring a real and deep understanding of students, and lead to better action from teachers and sector leaders. Left to their own devices, analytics solutions will collect student data without proper guidance, and whose value will end up being determined by market mechanisms. As a solution, he proposed the field of Educational Data Mining, which should focus on student insight and risk management applied to the learning process. This should be the beginning of technological initiatives, many of which Hall covers in his talk: Intelligent Tutoring Systems, Mastery Learning, Just-In-Time (Novak Model) learning approach, Heutagogy and others.

One of the most comprehensive implementation of analytics came from the University of Notre Dame’s Xiaojin Duan on the Sakai LMS. A project involving more than 2,000 student “boosted” grades on 96% of students, and 83% “thrived” (scored B or higher) on their final grade after an analytics-based intervention. A related and ongoing project, “STEM Analytics,” bases on these outcomes to address specific subject matter performance issues.

Open Ecosystem, LTI (but no xAPI)

Apereo’s Sakai LMS was one of the first ones to embrace the LTI 1.3 Advantage standard. But considering that the standard is design to allow application to seamlessly connect to exchange data and functionality, the importance of being first pales compared to efforts made to increase the number of adopters.

Privacy pitchforks

Through online opinion pages, memes and movie references, Ian Dolphin paints a scary picture of technology used for surveillance and other bad things. Image recognition algorithms fail to recognize. Classification algorithms grouping people in ways deemed racist. A sprinkle of historical anecdotes and misinformation about China’s Social Credit System still fails to recognize the broader context, user and citizen appropriation of such measures, and the technological merits, especially in education. The only bad news from his presentation was San Francisco’s ban on facial recognition. 1 out of 80 slides mention GDPR and California Community Privacy Act. Another one mentions Ethical EdTech, a collaborative that offers a series of open source, “privacy conscious” tools that could be implemented in the classroom.

Open Infrastructure

The need to push for FOSS and general open standards does look like a better avenue worth pursuing. Thinking about technologies on a social and global scale, making solutions accessible is essential for the people to understand them, use them, love them and protect them. Free licenses also mean it is much easier to transfer knowledge across social groups and generations. These were some of the ideas shared by Tannis Morgan from British Columbia’s BCcampus initiative, who believes that openness is a prerequisite for effective EdTech. In fact, she argues, educational innovation, starting with the open university system, is a much more meaningful initiative than the systems themselves, especially if their goal is not to freely serve as many people around the world as possible.

Even in FOSS, and similarly in the case of Open Educational Resources, people walk the same roads and duplicate efforts, although organizations and initiatives focus on reducing these redundancies. The proprietary world is, by definition, much worse at repeating itself, critical mistakes and all.

The Open technologies

Video repository and delivery platform: Opencast

Opencast 6 continues their evolution towards a comprehensive, modular Open Source Video Content Management Sytem (VCMS), which will continue with Opencast 7 (planned for June 13) and Opencast 8 (next December). Interesting paths of adoption around the world follow demographic trends: North America, Europe, parts of Asia. “Even police forces are using Opencast” according to Stuart Phillipson and the Opencast map. Promising activity among users with special ability is also reported, but just like the map, they fail to provide a baseline for comparison.

The Harvard University Division of Continuing Education’s Karen Dolan and UCT’s Sam Lee Pan share some use cases of Opencast, ranging on lengths and complexity of features used, from “One Button” recording to LTI integration, for mass production, scheduling, editing and delivery.

Academic scheduling: UniTime

UniTime implements “state-of-the-art optimization algorithms” in a reasonably dated interface. Users can add and coordinate timetables, perform bulk options and automate time-related tasks. Users can launch a “solver” that would sort their time according to personal preferences: Morning person or late owl, for example.

A reported 70 universities implement the tool to some production capacity. UniTime 4.4 is schedule to launch later in June. Improvements on the dashboards and permissions are expected.

More Apereo topics and Open technologies.

More Resources

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