Athabasca Landing

Listen and Learn

Your future may be the past you didn’t learn…or so I have been told many times.

Listening to those that “have been there and done that” is useful to saving time, not repeating history, and designing a better future.

What I am learning is that the modern net student wants to consume and construct information in a very different way than the past.  This change can partly be explained by rapid adoption of mobile technologies, and present learning environs.

These changes have a profound effect on design and development of digital spaces.  This has been examined through the concept of personal learning environments (1a,b).

Key observations by those professors of post-secondary learning environs:

  • ‘Death by Powerpoint’ – the  “digital overhead simulation” pushes information slide after slide until you are bored to death
  • Q and A – questions and answers have to be next to each other
  • One click/tap away – all content upfront, with no drill down necessary to access key information

For Consideration…

  • Content authoring via tablets.
  • Simplified content presentation
  • Open integration to existing enduser digital spaces
  • Socialized integration


  • LMS’s and MOOCS are constrictive analogue simulations by design
  • CMS and frameworks are potentially less restrictive
  • Accessibility is a major focus
  • Flat structures with less drill down to expedite content exposure


(1a) Original list of PLE Publications

(1b) Anderson, Terry (2006), PLE’s versus LMS: Are PLEs ready for Prime time?, Virtual Canuck, Blog

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MOOC portable mini

MOOC – Massive Open Online Courses can be run from cloud services, servers, and local hard server (1).  The MOOC software can be complex using a mix of technologies to deliver a web interface.

Distance education via the Internet tends to have several common core data attributes:

  1. messaging
  2. files
  3. administration
  4. network port

Messaging can be synchronous or asychronous that includes: email, forums, chat, teleconference, and whiteboard.

Files are what the messages become including documents, web pages (blog, wiki, html, xhtml, php, etcetera…).  Files may arguably be considered the source of data, whereas messaging is a transient data entry stage resulting in files.

Administration is required to organize and manage the data and the users of the data. Courses, lessons, and membership are examples of organization of the data.

A network port is the software/hardware required between the human and data interface for a communication commons.  Network communications include modem communication to a server port, and Internet communications.

Attempts at addressing interoperability of content include SCORM (2) and integrators applications (3).

However, what if you wish independance, portability, and ‘near’ future proofing?

A mini MOOC is possible with the available open-source content management systems such as Drupal and WordPress.  WordPress offers free plugins that will assist in building an administrative framework.  In addition there are several commercial LMS plugins for WordPress to achieve a similar but lite version of Moodle.  Drupal offers both distributions and modules that can be developed as MOOCS.

The disadvantages to Drupal and WordPress (and Moodle) are the dependencies on other applications to function such as a database engine (i.e., MYSQL), and scripting engine (i.e., PHP).  Hence, there are many layers of programs required to achieve a course lesson.  Fortunately all the programming layers are open source and can be assembled into one virtual data file; which is important for archival sustainability (4ab).


It is possible to create a portable MOOC using a self-contained mobile server.  The challenges for developing such a package includes stability, accessibility, transparency, and goals for the MOOC.



1. Massive open online course,

2. Sharable Content Object Reference Model,

3. Tin Can API,

4a. “Google’s Vint Cerf warns of ‘digital Dark Age'”, Pallab Ghosh,

4b. “Digital Vellum and the Expansion of the Internet into the Solar System”,


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Back to the future of online communications

Originally published on December 8, 2008

What I look forward to in online communications is something that saves me from more carpal tunnel syndrome and is as easy to use as an Automatic Banking Machine crossed with a telephone and television. Before the late 1990′s such a user-friendly online system would have been known as a BBS (Bulletin Board System) which was collaborative, social networked, and fully automated.

Alas I have to put up with an over complicated mess of API’s, scripting engines, and clumsy servers to create simple communications such as teleconferences and forums. What made the Internet more attractive to the public than the BBS? Perhaps a change of protocol, more ubiquitous connectivity, and simplicity in convenience of one graphical user interface to view all sites.

Unfortunately the programmers of BBS software were blinded by the WWW wave and eventually let themselves be niched into history rather than take BBS to the next level. Hence, Content Management Systems (CMS) and their hybrids such as Learning Management Systems (LMS) have taken over the focus of online communications. No longer can I work with a centralize and cohesive suite of applications that seemed to do everything within an online environment; instead I have to employ different scripting languages and tools such as VOIP to provide a diverse collection of online communications applications. It gives me the feeling of moving from a microcomputer back to a terminal, which is an odd feeling considering that CMS/LMS open-source applications are more flexible than ever before.

I have been asked what makes a good CMS. The short answer is cross a BBS with the Internet and you have one. However, a BBS such as the famous Worldgroup is now dead due primarily because there wasn’t anybody who could replace the original programmer – thus no vision, sustainability, or future. Had Worldgroup been made open-source, it may have stood the chance of survival if integration with Net applications were successful.

Since there is no BBS to cross pollinate with Internet then what? The following answer is more philosophical due to the plethora of Net applications.

In my opinion a good CMS/LMS must have the following interrelated attributes:

  • Functionality – the right tool or set of tools for the job, easily upgraded
  • Connectivity and Interoperability – transparent to operating systems and other CMS/LMS
  • Sustainability – actively supported, stable, open non-proprietary file formats
  • Flexibility – portability and reuse of the data and learning objects
  • Diversity – openness to technologies that may be incorporated or supersede existing dogma
  • Virtuality – global perspective with an open-source freedom and multinational support

When any of the aforementioned attributes is ignored, the sustainability of the digital communications will be in danger of going the way of the BBS. Given the vast array of proprietary systems and file formats, the Internet may be the last hope of balancing homogeneous protocols with heterogeneous data.

This posting is a follow-up to my academic blog posting – Back to the Future of Push – Pull, on September 21, 2006.