Paul Stacey

Professional Development Events and the E-learning Amoeba

I’ve been busy lately helping plan, organize, fund, and facilitate a number of events. I was thinking this morning about how they collectively convey an array of current e-learning trends. Here are the events so you can see what I mean:

I sometimes imagine e-learning as an amoeba. The entire outer membrane of an amoeba is expandable. At any given moment in time one or more areas of the membrane push out into pseudopods moving the amoeba forward and engulfing food for sustenance.


Like an amoeba, e-learning has an expandable outer membrane. At any given moment trends push out moving e-learning forward, bumping in to barriers, acquiring sustenance in the form of knowledge on what works and what doesn’t, determining where to go next. I think of e-learning users (students, teachers, tutors, faculty, etc.) as the ectoplasm particles inside e-learning’s membrane. As a critical mass of users builds and presses outward e-learning’s membrane expands and moves, its’ future defined by all those within. The events I’ve been participating in each represent a current trend pushing out e-learning’s flexible membrane.

So, here’s a bit more on these e-learning events. All of them are happening over a two month period from April 4, 2011 through June 4, 2011. The school year has a certain rhythm and these months are one of the phases in the year when professional development can happen. The number of people participating in these events ranges from 30 to over 400. The cumulative number participating in them all is well over a thousand. Events like these require extensive planning, design and production. Its a bit like putting on a theatrical production. It’s impossible for me to give a complete synopsis of each event but within each event I’ll describe some of the areas of motion and action that are pushing e-learning’s membrane and a few of the ways I’ve contributed.


Privacy and Cloud-based Educational Technology

My colleague Tori Klassen did a fantastic job with this event and I enjoyed helping facilitate the day.
Major themes:

  • cloud-based computing offers substantial benefits including cost effectiveness, ease of access, scaleability and reliability
  • educational access and use of cloud-based computing services based in the US requires personal data from users which due to the US Patriot Act infringes privacy laws of BC
  • cloud-based computing can still be utilized if students give permission and/or if identities are anonymized

Tori, wrote a great background paper on this topic which is available here.
A full conference report and summary of recommendations is available here.

Another related topic is the data mining of your personal interests by technology companies who then embed or present advertising to you that is customized to fit your interests. The amoeba video I use in this post is an interesting case in point. There is an embedded ad at the 10 second mark that generates an ad YouTube has determined fits your interests, Facebook does this by default too. I tried my darnedest to turn this ad off or find another clip I liked as much but to no avail. Nor is it easy to stop technology companies from tracking your interests without your approval. Reminds me of unsolicited marketing calls I get on my home phone number. Annoying and intrusive. On the other hand we’ve learned to tolerate a certain amount of this activity as we accept the fact that people have to earn a living.


Personalized Learning for the 21st Century

This event is organized to support discussions, networking and professional development around digital learning in BC’s K-12 education sector. The two major themes of 21st century digital literacy learning skills and personalized learning are current areas of focus. Close to one hundred sessions at this three day event explored all aspects of those themes. All sessions are listed on the conference web site.

I facilitated the closing panel of keynote speakers for this event. A closing plenary should encourage reflection, summarize overall experience, and suggest next steps. To draw these elements out of the panel and audience I asked them to consider:

  • what surprised you?
  • what inspired you?
  • what technologies, pedagogies, and resources did you hear about that you plan to further explore?
  • what did you learn that will help you personally in your work?


Canada Moodle Moot 2011

The Canada Moodle Moot happens every two years and this year I served on the program planning committee. The theme for the event was “Open Learning and Open Collaboration in Canada”.

I enjoyed organizing and participating in the opening keynote panel Talking About All Things Open and hearing Terry Anderson, Gavin Hendrick, and Stephen Downes elaborate on and explore some of the ideas I put forward with the University of Open.

The program planning committee for the Moodle Moot event had extensive discussions around the format and topic for the closing plenary. The original topic was to compare and contrast future development plans and product road maps for different learning management systems.

This got morphed to a broader topic – the future of eLearning. I’m a huge advocate of making events like this as active and inclusive as possible. I pushed for crowdsourcing ideas through multiple channels – via Twitter, via the Elluminate rooms where virtual delegates were, via discussion forum on the conference web site. Get ideas from the attendees and participants at the event. However, not all of the planning committee agreed with the idea of crowdsourcing the future of eLearning. Some were adamant that crowdsourcing the future of anything just doesn’t work. That got me to thinking …

  • Canada just had a federal election. Isn’t voting in a democracy a way of crowdsourcing parliamentary representatives for the future, or at least for the next four years?
  • What if we could crowdsource ideas on the future of eLearning at the Moodle Moot. Would those ideas be any less interesting or insightful than calling on a single keynote speaker to present their views on this topic?
  • In any adult education scenario isn’t it true that every participant brings with them expertise, and that the cumulative pooling and sharing of that expertise creates a powerful learning environment where the sum of the whole far exceeds what the teacher could provide on their own?

In the end the planning committee decided to proceed with crowdsourcing the future of eLearning which we did by asking delegates to write down their idea(s) on a piece of paper and tick off which of the following areas of eLearning their ideas pertained to:

  • tools and technologies
  • learning theories and pedagogies
  • content authoring and sourcing
  • instructional design
  • teaching and learning methods
  • evaluation, assessment, and credentialing

All ideas were then collected in a box.

The night before the closing plenary I mapped all the future of eLearning ideas submitted onto a giant poster (click on poster below to open .pdf version). The ideas submitted seem to loosely fall in to categories of Global, Students, Pedagogy, Teachers, Technology and Credentials. The Global category was particularly fascinating as there really wasn’t a tick box for this category but ideas relating to eLearning’s future being global came out anyway. Some ideas could have been placed in multiple categories. Some ideas are similar and can be grouped together creating a source of critical mass. I was totally impressed with the cumulative range of ideas delegates came up with. In my view, yes, you can crowdsource the future of eLearning.

Most events like this provide keynote presenters with thank you gifts. This year the Moodle Moot went with Oxfam Unwrapped gifts where the thank-you gift helps women and men in developing countries reach greater levels of self-sufficiency and control over their lives. I received two thank you gifts – Plant 50 Trees and Give a Flock. Very interesting approach.


Online Community Enthusiasts

The SCoPE online community brings together individuals who share an interest in educational research and practice. Sylvia Currie, the awesome steward of SCoPE, once a year organizes an Online Community Enthusiasts Day. This event is for all community coordinators, hosts, moderators, and everybody else interested in learning more about cultivating and sustaining online communities. It provides a gathering place to share resources, experiences, and opportunities. The theme for this years Online Community Enthusasts day was “Planning Excellent Community Events”. Since this event is all about excellent community events, a big part of the day involved experimenting with ways to enhance participation, share artefacts, and harvest what we learn.
Activities during the day included:

  • Fish Bowl
  • Open Space
  • Planning an online symposium to launch a community
  • Increasing participation by diversifying tools
  • Commitment Wall/Time Capsule

I really enjoyed meeting and working with fellow online community enthusiasts. Fantastic to see the energy and enthusiasm of all the up and coming online community leaders. It’s always interesting to hear the diverse range of uses online communities are being used for – climate action, mental health, education, religion, … A community of practice can form around almost any shared interest.

This is the first event I’ve ever participated in that came with a disclaimer:
Disclaimer: Since this excellent community event is about exploring possibilities and experimenting wildly, we make no promises that the day will run smoothly! 🙂


Just Instructional Design Networking Event

The JustID group brings together individuals who are working as instructional designers within a variety of fields/educational sector groups (e.g., K-12, public sector, private, post-secondary). Instructional design has become increasingly important and its great to see this group getting together to share ideas, challenges, and best practices in instructional design. The themes for this years event were:

  • Emerging trends/changes in the field of Instructional Design
  • Impact of the recent changes/trends in Instructional Design (both in definition and in practice)

Five different topics were discussed in round table discussions that rotated every 20 minutes so everyone could discuss every topic.
The five topics were:

  • Innovation/creativity and instructional design
  • Social media, Web 2.0 and instructional design
  • Mobile learning and instructional design
  • Future of instructional design including instructional design for open learning and place-based learning instructional design
  • Designing for learning environments that aren’t courses (communities of practice, personal learning environments)

Dr. Tony Bates, a renowned expert in the field of educational technology and e-learning, did a fantastic job of capturing key ideas and providing a wrap-summary with a good dose of analysis and personal take away’s. Tony’s got a new book just coming out and I can’t wait to read it:


Open 4 Learning

It’s my distinct pleasure to work with BC’s Educational Technology Users Group in designing and hosting two workshop/conferences every year. Workshops are held at different BC public post secondary institution campuses every year. The Open4Learning workshop is being held beginning of June at Selkirk College in the Kootenays.

The theme for the workshop revolves around “Open”. Open and free tools, resources, and learning opportunities abound, but how are we integrating them into our work? What new skills are needed? What challenges are we facing? What value does open provide? What are the costs and risks?
The event invites exploration of questions in the following 4 streams.

1. Open, Free, & Alternative Teaching & Learning

  • Open Professional & Faculty Development: How do you choose which events to participate in? What formal and informal learning opportunities exist and are the best? How/have you and your colleagues given back to the educational community?
  • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course): Tales from the field – what’s your experience in MOOCs?
  • Teaching & Learning in the Cloud: Has cloud computing improved the way we share and collaborate? How are you using the cloud to learn or to teach?
  • Open/Free/Alternative Assignments: What are students doing besides traditional academic essays? Are students doing work “in the open”? What about assessment?
  • Alternative Formats for Presentation/Facilitation/Teaching Formats: Let’s talk about blends, baby! (synchronous/asynchronous)
  • Designing 4 Open? How/is this same/different? What are instructional/course designers doing to design
  • Impact of Open/ness

2. Open, Free, & Alternative Technologies

  • Tool-specific: Moodle, WordPress, cloud tools…? Specific sessions on specific free/open and open source tools.

3. Open Educational Resources (OERs)

  • What is your experience with OERs? Are you sharing? Are you using others’ stuff?
  • What’s really going on with your OER project? Tell us more!

4. Open or Not?: Privacy and other issues

  • How are we dealing with issues around privacy in a world moving increasingly towards openness, sharing and transparency?
  • What is the impact of the recent announcements to privacy legislation for learning? What are you doing/not doing at your institution because of privacy concerns?
  • What are the barriers of open, free, alternatives approaches to teaching and learning? Solutions/options?
  • Is our increased use of open technologies changing our attitudes towards privacy? How?

The resulting program and schedule is posted here.
I’m looking forward to doing a design session around the University of Open and co-presenting the North American Network of Science Labs Online.

In the spirit of openness everyone has been invited to participate in a crowd-sourced video keynote.
The vision is to create a keynote video that highlights the collective voice on the value of openness.

Here’s what we asked everyone to do:

Create a short video/interview/montage answering one or two of the following questions:

1. What is the value of openness?

2. What examples of openness stand out to you as being valuable/worthwhile?

3. WHY do you believe in the value of open education?

I put together the following short video around the first question addressing the value of open.

Given these events are about educational technology and online learning they increasingly involve multi-modal delivery where some of the face-to-face activities and presentations taking place on site are webcast or web streamed over the Internet allowing those unable to travel to still actively participate and benefit. I’m a big fan of using technology like this to expand participation and have been very active in facilitating the online activities. I increasingly believe these multi-modal delivery activities need way more intentional design – it doesn’t work so well just tacked on to the existing face-to-face event as an add on.

I recommend Terry and Lynn Anderson’s book “Online Conferences – Professional Development for a Networked Era” as a good overview of how this is done and the various factors that should be considered.

Finally these events take a lot of people to produce. I’m tempted to name names and personally thank them all but the list would be like rolling credits at the end of a movie. So let me just say I sure enjoy working collaboratively on these events and deeply appreciate the creative effort of all involved. It’s great fun working with you all pushing e-learning’s flexible membrane forward like an amoeba.

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.