Moodle – I Spoke Too Soon

It looks like I spoke too soon.

The ever-brilliant US Patent and Trademark Office has apparently granted Blackboard a patent for…well…pretty much anything remotely related to learning management systems. (e-Literate: Blackboard Patents the LMS)

With dozens of learning management systems, both commercial and open source, out there, I wonder how far Blackboard will go. Can they stop an open source movement like Moodle which has legs that stretch far beyond

My pessimistic, people-suck side (as a history teacher, I’ve seen a number of instances throughout the ages where people haven’t always done the “right” thing) thinks that Net Neutrality, DOPA, and now this will really change this place called the Internet. I hope I don’t look back at 2006 as a time with great potential that was crushed by corporate interests and government regulations supporting corporate interests.

Who is listening to the people these days?

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Why Moodle Matters Even More

With the passage of HR5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), by the House and probable passage by the Senate, it looks like the federal government will do its best to try and regulate emerging technologies. In a nutshell, this bill will require schools and libraries to block social networking sites or risk losing federal money.

Like many things the federal government has done in the last few years, the fear factor is central. We must fight those online predators – where ever they are hiding. As a father, I agree it is a bit scary. I also know my kids will go to a park without my wife or myself sometime in the future (they are 3 and 5 now). We have been teaching them not to talk to strangers since they could talk so they will be able to explore the world a bit without mommy and daddy (or Big Brother) looking over their shoulders. We now have more to teach our kids, don’t talk to strangers at the park AND online. Simple. We can teach this lesson at home AND we can teach them at school.

As a blogger and a teacher who has used Web 2.0 apps with my students, I also know there is a big difference between what I have done with wikis and the students’ personal use of MySpace. However, this bill could place both of those uses in the same category. Essentially DOPA outlines criteria for sites that should be blocked by schools and libraries, if it

1) is offered by a commercial entity 2) has online profiles 3) has journal or blogging features 4) elicits personal information and 5) enables communication among users. (from Firewheel Design).

In addition to MySpace, it looks like many forms of public Web 2.0 apps could be included – Blogger (Blogspot sites), wikis (PB Wiki, Wikispaces), Flickr, YouTube, and even Amazon. Pretty much everything new. In education we are already struggling to get cutting edge technology into the hands of students. Between lack of resources, lack of professional development, reluctant teachers, reluctant adminstrators, the massive emphasis on standards, and the test-driven educational system, integration of these new technologies already faces an uphill battle. Yet, most of our students are online often and the evolving American/global job market is placing a greater emphasis on technology and information management.

Who is teaching them how to act out there? DOPA doesn’t include any measures to educate only to block access. Of course, most students probably chat and update their MySpace at home, so this measure is ineffective to begin with.

So that brings us to Moodle. It is not a commercial undertaking. It does have online profiles, blogging, asks for personal info, and enables communication among users. But, it does it in a closed network. It can be easily set to block access or, at least, block contributions from non-members. Students can learn responsible online behavior in the safety of a classroom. It is an amazing tool, but it also not the same as blogger or pbwiki or youtube.

Is this ideal? No. It is ridiculous that the legislators, whom are mostly digital immigrants – at best, are passing laws and judgement on technology without fully understanding the implications or consulting with actual librarians and teachers. If you missed Senator Steven’s (the committee chair in charge of Internet regulation) comments on the Internet, you can view it here. Be afraid, very afraid. In the end, we still have the responsibility to try and prepare students for the real world. Today’s real world includes social software and Web 2.0.

More information on DOPA can be found at:

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