Paul Stacey

Architecting EdTech

Architecting EdTech – Integrating Personal Learning Environments, Enterprise Systems, Shared Application Services, and Cloud Computing

Over the last few years I’ve presented a lot on Open Educational Resources and online communities. Thought I’d do a different kind of presentation at the 2010 Educational Technology Users Group Spring Workshop being held at the University of Victoria June 7 & 8.

With the explosion of tools and technologies being used for teaching and learning I thought it might be interesting to map out some of the major structural components, differentiate between elements of the architecture that are the responsibility of the institution vs. those that (potentially) are not, and assess the pros and cons of hosting in-house vs sourcing elsewhere.

I started thinking about this last year when I was trying to make sense of the educational technology landscape and choices that CIO’s at institutions face. I’d been reading a lot about Personal Learning Environments (PLE’s) vs. Learning Management Systems (LMS) and noticed they were frequently pitted against one another as if you had to choose one or the other. My own thinking is that there is no “one size fits all” magic solution and that a clear option is to architect an educational technology environment by drawing on technologies across the full spectrum of choices from personal technologies to cloud computing.

I’m not a super tech geeky kind of guy so what I’ve tried to do is approach this in a way that everyone can understand whether you are an instructional designer, faculty, administrator, or IT staff. Essentially I wanted to devise something that would take a complex topic “educational technology architectures” and break it down into more manageable understandable components that clearly depict the areas of provision and choice.

I began by looking for educational technology architecture diagrams.

Here’s one from JISC in the UK:

DEST (Australia), JISC-CETIS (UK), and Industry Canada. (2004). Service-Oriented Frameworks: Modelling the infrastructure for the next generation of e-Learning Systems. Retrieved June 6, 2010, from

Michelle Lamberson from the Office of Learning Technologies at the University of British Columbia shared this one with me:

Lamberson, M., K. Fleming. (2008). Aligning Institutional Culture and Practice: The University of British Columbia’s (emerging) e-Learning Framework. Nime International Symposium 2008

My colleague Scott Leslie has a great collection of personal learning environment architectures:


And this Personal Learning Environment diagram from a faculty perspective by Alec Couros:

Alec Couros, PhD Thesis illustration, the Networked Teacher –
Scott Leslie

I also found diagrams that represent some of the enterprise applications in place at institutions such as Student Information Systems. Like this one of a Colleague system at North Idaho College:

Analysis & Programming, North Idaho College

Or this one of a Sungard Banner system:

The Big Bang! Upgrading to Banner 8.1 Presented by: TJ Rains, PMP Associate CIO, Enterprise Systems Emporia State University April 12, 2010 Session ID 0042

While it was possible to find diagrams of individual components of the educational technology landscape, surprisingly, I found no diagrams that present a more macro view of educational technology with all these components shown together as a comprehensive and complementary suite of technologies.

So I thought I’d undertake to do just that. This workshop (and blog post) is intended to provide everyone with a template which can be used to create a diagram representing the combination of educational technologies currently at play.

To create some order out of the current chaos of educational technologies I’ve categorized them as a means of organizing our thinking around their use and to delineate responsibilities over their provision. The basic components of the framework are:
– Personal Information Technology & Learning Environments
– Institution Enterprise Information Technology
– System Wide Information Technology & Shared Services

I’ve culled out separately Teaching & Learning Educational Applications. Currently the method by which these are provisioned (personally, as part of the institution, or at the system level) is very much in flux. I’ve also added areas for Cloud Computing and External Application Service Provider as a means of further stimulating discussion around the provisioning.

For the purposes of this workshop I’ve laid this overarching perspective out in the following template:

I know how hard it is to generate an educational technology diagram from a blank sheet so I’ve generated, as a reference starting point an edtech architecture diagram representing my take on what the BC educational technology landscape looks like.

For the workshop, using this diagram as reference, we’ll discuss the technologies that comprise each of Personal Information Technology & Learning Environments, Institution Enterprise Information Technology, and System Wide Information Technology & Shared Services.

You then identify the technologies that make up your educational landscape based on your personal use, institution where you are at and/or your desired technology landscape and diagram these onto the blank template. One way of doing this is to imagine you are a CIO. How would you combine and integrate technologies from these sources?

There are many challenges around doing this for real. One of the challenges is integration. How can these technologies be integrated into a seamless end user experience? Gaps between framework components were put in to enable you to draw arrows connecting technologies to show that integration.

Another major challenge is the way in which a person’s digital identity is managed. Should a person’s educational digital identity be based on the digital identity already in use in their personal information technology environment? Be established as an institutionally based identity? Or be a system wide digital identity that can be federated across different institutions and educational settings?

Exploration of the Teaching and Learning Educational Applications component will delve in to provisioning. What are the pros & cons of hosting everything in-house at an institution vs. external provision? Can some of the teaching and learning educational applications be sourced from students own personal information technology? When should you consider using an external application service provider or cloud computing and what are the issues around provisioning technology this way? Rather than each institution having to make this kind of decision independently are their benefits that can be accrued from pooling requirements and using system level shared services?

At BCcampus system level shared services are an emerging and growing option so I thought as a closing part of this architecting edtech exploration I’d share a bit more information around how this works.

Based on expressed institutional interest and requests, BCcampus has been providing a number of educational technology shared services for BC public post secondary institutions. These shared services provide a consortium-based approach for educational technology service provision to students and faculty. These shared services can be used for academic programs, trades programs, and continuing studies.

Shared services typically reduce software licensing, provisioning, and support costs by aggregating system wide demand and negotiating system wide licenses and services. For most shared services BCcampus underwrites a portion of the costs associated with its provision leaving institutions to only cover costs associated with their own use above and beyond the BCcampus supported base.

Adobe Connect is a web conferencing system licensed by BCcampus on behalf of the entire post secondary system. The BCcampus Adobe Connect system is installed on a BCcampus server at Simon Fraser University (SFU) on the BCNET backbone. 24/6 server support is provided by SFU and maintenance of the server and installation of upgrades is done by SFU IT staff. On behalf of the post secondary system BCcampus licensed Adobe Connect on the basis of 40 concurrent user seats. A base level of 5 seats has been provided by BCcampus as a free service to institutions who expressed early interest in participating. Institutions can purchase licenses for additional seats at a discounted Adobe Connect one time license fee, plus annual maintenance/support. These seats can be used at the discretion of the institution for any purpose within the scope of the institutional mandate including 100% online courses, hybrid or blended courses, meetings, tutoring, etc. Langara College is providing some administrative support for all those participating in this shared service.

Here’s a diagram illustrating the extent to which the 25 public post-secondary colleges and universities in BC are participating in this service (based on Oct. 2009 status report).

Moodle is an open source software learning management system. As an open source software application it can be freely downloaded and used by anyone without paying licensing fees. BCcampus provides a free Moodle shared service with Moodle installed on a BCcampus server at Simon Fraser University on the BCNET backbone. 24/6 server support and maintenance is provided by SFU. Moodle installation and upgrades are done by Lambda Solutions, a Vancouver based e-learning company with extensive Moodle expertise. Each of the Moodle shared service participating institutions has their own instance of Moodle allowing for independence and flexibility with regard to upgrades. The shared service Moodle application can be used for testing, development and full production.

Here’s a diagram illustrating the extent to which the 25 public post-secondary colleges and universities in BC are participating in this service (based on Oct. 2009 status report).

Desire2Learn (D2L) is a learning management system licensed by BCcampus on behalf of the entire post secondary system. The D2L system is hosted by Desire2Learn on a server in Ontario. Desire2Learn maintains the server and installs scheduled upgrades. The D2L support desk is available 24/7 for designated institutional administrators. Each participating institution manages and controls their own courses and users in D2L. Initial training for both administrators and instructors has been provided and supported by BCcampus staff. As a system wide shared service BCcampus currently provides D2L for free to all collaborative programs including Applied Business Technology and Northern Collaborative Information Technology. At the institutional level BCcampus provides D2L for up to 3000 enrollments for free. Institutions needing additional capacity pay a fee for each additional enrollment (. BCcampus organizes monthly meetings among all participants.

Here’s a diagram illustrating the extent to which the 25 public post-secondary colleges and universities in BC are participating in this service (based on Oct. 2009 status report).

Elluminate is a web conferencing system used by a wide number of post-secondary institutions. BCcampus provides an Elluminate shared service based on an Open Access License model. This license differs from traditional enrollment or seat based licenses in that it allows for unlimited use by everyone in the institution. Such a license enables all departments to use Elluminate for any purpose including fully online courses, blended or hybrid classroom/online courses, meetings, tutoring, advising, etc. Elluminate is hosted by the vendor on servers in Calgary. Server maintenance and support along with upgrades will be done by Elluminate. Licensing fees are based on the combined FTE’s of all institutions participating in the shared service. As with other shared services BCcampus provides a level of base funding.

Here’s a diagram illustrating the extent to which the 25 public post-secondary colleges and universities in BC are participating in this service (based on Oct. 2009 status report).

These shared services show that decisions around provisioning technologies can sometimes be done in a way that leverages requirements across multiple institutions to generate system level services that create cost-savings and better service for all. Even in the small number of BCcampus examples there are a number of different business models.

I hope through this Architecting EdTech workshop/post you now can:

  • identify and define major structural components of post-secondary information technology systems
  • differentiate between elements of the architecture that are the responsibility of the institution vs. those that (potentially) are not
  • discuss the challenges of provisioning educational technology solutions within post-secondary
  • assess the pros and cons of provisioning teaching & learning educational applications through personal information technology and learning environments, in-house at the institution, at the system or shared service level, or via an external application service provider or cloud computing
  • design an edtech architecture that integrates Personal Information Technology and Learning Environment’s, Institutional Enterprise Information Technology, and System Wide Information Technology & Shared Services

If you generate an edtech architecture diagram I’d love to see it. E-mail it to me (, post it, or a link to it, as a comment to this post. I’d also welcome comments/links to any diagrams that show a piece of the overall educational technology landscape I’ve mapped out. I’m particularly interested in disgrams that you have found particularly helpful for you in making sense of the whole educational technology area.

And finally at the workshop I distributed large 11 X 17 versions of my edtech diagrams.
Let me know if you want one and I can either print one out for you or send you the .pdf.