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Adrian Sannier, Pearson's OpenClass Guru, Responds to IHE Community Questions
October 17, 2011 - 9:16pm

Before we get to OpenClass, and my re-posting Senior Pearson VP Adrian Sannier's answers about our IHE community OpenClass questions, a quick note about the potential for this sort of dialogue. Inside Higher Ed has given us all this huge gift of aggregating a passionate community, providing high quality reporting and analysis that allows us to have an informed conversation, and of opening up a platform in which we can have an open and sustained dialogue.

One of the reasons I'm re-posting Sannier's comments is to highlight how rare it still is for our community to speak to each other directly and publicly, across the lines of university and company.

All of us participating in this IHE community need to learn to see each other, and speak to each other, as colleagues and fellow educators - regardless of whether or not we happen to work for a non-profit or a for-profit, a school or a company. We also need to find ways of facilitating and encouraging more of our corporate/for-profit colleagues to follow Sannier's lead - to quickly and openly enter debates and discussions with less regard for "messaging" or "marketing" strategy.

Participation in this sort of discussion might come more easily to Dr. Sannier, a 1988 Michigan State PhD, Professor of Computing Studies at Arizona State University and former CIO. Pearson is in fact hugely fortunate to have Adrian on its senior leadership team, as his commitment, knowledge and reputation gives OpenClass a much higher degree of initial credibility. I do not believe that Adrian Sannier would get behind OpenClass unless he truly believed in its potential to disrupt and improve higher ed, and I think we should listen (perhaps critically and with lots of questions and arguments) to what he has to say.

Okay…on to the questions (from the IHE community) and Sannier's answers on OpenClass. Where do you want to push back? Where are his answers incomplete or unsatisfying? What else do we need to know about OpenClass?

QUESTION 1: What kind of technical and instructional support will be provided with OpenClass?

ANSWER: OpenClass is designed to be a self-service learning environment with a robust knowledge base, support forums and instructional videos. Of course, we know that self-service isn’t the right solution for everyone – so there are also a variety of custom options available to deliver 24/7 email, phone and chat support to administrators, professor and students.

QUESTION 2: What programmatic options do schools have to integrate OpenClass with our student information systems, portal systems, custom authentication systems, and other enterprise systems?

ANSWER: We are committed to providing a platform that is open to integration at many levels – including student information systems, content solutions and third party learning applications. To us, this means a focus on industry standards (IMS, SCORM, etc.) and delivery of a diverse set of tools that promote the extension OpenClass by our educational and technology partners. Watch for these solutions (and many more) with the release of the OpenClass API Program later this year.

QUESTION 3: Why would a company that sells two platforms - Pearson Learning Studio (powered by eCollege) and Fronter - offer a competitive platform (or is it a much lesser capable and feature rich version) for free?

ANSWER: Pearson LearningStudio and OpenClass serve different markets. Pearson LearningStudio is the de-factor standard for fully online programs at scale, allowing programs a great deal of control over the academic experience. By contrast, OpenClass is designed for the campus market, where curriculum decisions are made one professor at a time. We understand the needs of these markets are quite distinct and have made OpenClass with that in mind.

We recognize that there is more than one set of institutional requirements around the world for a LMS. OpenClass complements Pearson’s other platform offerings very effectively.

QUESTION 4: What granular customization controls will the institution, the faculty and the OpenClass end-user have to configure it as a campus-wide service, giving instructors and end-users ample room for personalization, sharing and openness, while preserving student privacy, intellectual property, copyright and institutional policies?

ANSWER: In many ways, we have patterned the OpenClass offering to match the Google Apps for Education model. Like GAE, OpenClass allows campuses to brand and restyle their OpenClass experience. Features that are clear improvements to the platform will be made immediately to take advantage of the speed that cloud development affords. Significant feature changes, or the implementation of new features, will be released in tandem with their “classic” behavior to allow users to choose their preference. New capabilities will be offered on an opt-in basis for campuses to allow them to manage their change processes. And, all participants in OpenClass have access to a set of privacy tools that control display of their personal profile and online status.

QUESTION 5: Free-hosting sounds great, but at what price? What sorts of idiosyncrasies and limitations will this cloud-based LMS have?

ANSWER: Again, we’ve patterned the OpenClass offering to match the Google Apps for Education model. Beyond that, we have some flexibility in our hosting strategy that we will use to adapt to the requirements of our early partners to ensure OpenClass is attractive to a broad swath of institutions.

QUESTION 6: Where is OpenClass' service level agreement?

ANSWER: We will provide a level of service consistent with the high level of service that we provide on all of our other SaaS applications. If additional service levels (whether guarantees or help desk or technical services) beyond what is offered with OpenClass are required by an institution those will be made available on a commercial basis.

QUESTION 7: Do we have back-end access to our institutional OpenClass system and data?

ANSWER: Yes, institutions will have access to a rich data set within OpenClass at no cost. They will also be able to access for fee services from Pearson for expert analytics consulting and data analysis tools.

QUESTION 8: Will Pearson provide independent instances of OpenClass for each college and university? Joined tenancy SaaS are absurd, even when free, we need a private cloud.

ANSWER: OpenClass is offered as a single instance, multi-tenancy solution. We have considerable experience running these types of environments scaled to millions of students, and have an excellent security and privacy record. We believe in the power and efficiency of cloud delivery as we use with most of our other products and platforms, and as is used by Google, Amazon, SalesForce and other leading companies.

QUESTION 10: Our institutions must retain full say on how and when our LMS is upgraded and outfitted with new features and services (or not). Will we have full SysAdmin control?

ANSWER: We believe there are many institutions that find LMS upgrades disruptive, unproductive nuisances, and far from seeking control, would love to see them never occur again. As a cloud based offering, OpenClass has the ability to evolve rapidly and incrementally – without the need for large-scale upgrades or major upheavals in user experience. With that said, we also recognize that it’s important to allow institutions and professors to have control over when and how things do change in the learning environment. For that reason, many of the updates we release in OpenClass will be done through an “opt in” process. We’ll let customers know when new features are available so they can try them out and ultimately decide when they’re ready to adopt it.

QUESTION 10: What IMS and other open standards does OpenClass support? We would need to easily ingest years’ worth of LMS course sites and educational materials.

ANSWER: We know the challenges and benefits that come with integration – and we are committed to supporting industry standards (like IMS) that make these conversations easier for us all. Today, we support import of exams via QTI and the import of course content from a variety of learning platforms. But that is just the beginning. We are also actively working toward tools that allow SIS integration via LIS 2.0, tool integration using LTI, and content import and delivery through Common Cartridge and SCORM.

QUESTION 11: We would also need an exit strategy, and be able to take our stuff with us should OpenClass become inadequate for us. Again, support for IMS open standards are key.

ANSWER: OpenClass will support standards based export.

QUESTION 12: Seamless out-of-the-box OpenClass integration with Google Apps is great, but that's already possible with Blackboard Learn and the free open-source Bboogle add-on from Northwestern, and Blackboard Learn itself is slated to have built-in Google Apps integration in 2012. What other key integrations are there?

ANSWER: We’ve built our integration through a close collaboration with Google and design partner institutions that have adopted Google Apps for Education. We invite interested institutions to take a look and see for themselves the unique approach we’ve taken and learn more about how we’re continually advancing this integration.

QUESTION 13: Blackboard Learn gives us a rather mature set of free, commercial, open-source, and built-in integration and add-ons that extent the Blackboard Learn teaching and learning environment. Third-party tools and integrations like plagiarism detection, voice tools, web conferencing systems, PhotoRosters, lecture capture systems, multiple publisher connections (not just Pearson), video distribution systems (like ShareStream and Kaltura, i.e. not just YouTube), text messaging systems, student response systems, personal learning networks, electronic portfolio systems, tutoring systems, student retention software, ad nauseam. Hundreds of LMS extensions, a smorgasbord of extensions. Many of these are also available for Desire2Learn, Moodle, Sakai and others. How can OpenClass be extended?

ANSWER: We are really excited about all the ways our partners will extend the features of OpenClass through integration. Over the next few months, we will be rolling out the OpenClass API Program. This rich set of tools and services will be available to both institutions and third parties at no cost – allowing for the rapid evolution of add on solutions available in OpenClass!

QUESTION 14: LMS mobile apps are a must, so we would assume OpenClass has them for all major mobile platforms: generic (but elegant and fluid) Mobile Web, iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile?

ANSWER: Pearson is committed to mobile for OpenClass and to offering apps to institutions for free. In addition, we’ll be opening up our mobile API’s for intuitions to advance and customize as they choose.

QUESTION 15: Is OpenClass really meant to be an enterprise LMS? A replacement for Blackboard or Moodle or Canvas?

ANSWER: OpenClass is a full featured learning environment. However, unlike commercially driven LMSs, there are few barriers to trying it out before committing to it as a replacement for other campus systems. Since there is no money to be paid and no servers to be acquired, we expect many institutions to use OpenClass on a pilot or partial basis and then decide for themselves whether it has the features that they want for all or part of their campus.

QUESTION 16: . … the yearly licensing costs for an LMS are actually the smallest part of the investment any institution makes in our LMS deployment. Comment?

ANSWER: True. But hosting and licensing together are a considerable part of the investment, and both of these are free with OpenClass.


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