Thu 10 Nov 2011
Last night, I followed a short webinar by Pearson introducing their cloud-based OpenClass learning management system (LMS). At first sight it looked good, lean and easy. The webinar used Cisco’s webex, but was painful because audio could only be received via a telephone call-in, which, from countries other than the US frankly isn’t economic. With so many other online webcast solutions available, this was probably the worse choice they could take.
Anyhow, back to OpenClass. The demo given was well convincing that from an interaction point of view, OpenClass does contain all the important features and functionalities. Group work is possible as well as collaboration between students and across courses, thanks to the integration with Google Docs. Google Docs also provide the useful polling and testing features for the system. The audience was quickly assured that text (e-)books don’t necessarily have to come from Pearson publishers. There is a gradebook and relatively detailed control features for who gets to see what. Here are some screenshots:
In total, the platform looks and feels like a mix between Twitter and Google Docs, embedded in a Moodle-style organisation structure. This should be fine for normal teaching practice and for creating on the fly collaborative spaces.
However, I did not get a clear response on enterprise functionalities. In an institutional environment, thousands of students need to be allocated in a short span of time to thousands of course modules. Apparently, OpenClass does tie into student information systems (SIS), and I assume that this includes importing student cohorts and exporting grading results, but this is just a guess. Additionally, providing LDAP functionality for single sign-on and for seemless integration would be essential, but received no answer.
My impression was that the tool, or at least the webinar demo, was very much geared toward individual teachers deciding to hop into the cloud with their classes. This is not normally permissible in institutions. Teachers are not completely free to take classes to ‘any’ external teaching environment they please, and institutional support would be missing. It is also questionable whether it is ethically acceptable to require all of your students to have Google mail accounts (for use of e-mail and GDocs). Remember that the free Google accounts come with the sign away of privacy in your mail settings to allow personalised advertisements to be served to everyone! Automatic account creation and coherent user naming structures are also in doubt if the institution doesn’t already use Google enterprise mailing services.
Another obstacle which only got mentioned at the sidelines, was that in order to use OpenClass, the institution would have to have a Google EduApps account. I don’t know how many teachers would know this, or whether they would know who to ask in their organisation to find out. If I understood correctly, this is a restriction that Pearson would lift sometime next year. One more thing to still find out more about is the cut-off point for premium services and the added value they provide.
OpenClass could be a longer term game changer if hosting courses in the cloud becomes a trend. For now, I guess, we just have to wait and see the real impression OpenClass makes on educational provisions.