Preliminär analys av OpenClass

Under konferensen EDUCAUSE 2011 som hölls 18–21 oktober i Philadelphia presenterade Pearson en ny LMS som de utvecklat för Google Apps for Education (GAE) och som därmed kan installeras via Google Apps Marketplace med ett par klick. Denna nya produkt kallas alltså för OpenClass och lanseringen har genererat en hel del “buzz” i utbildningsvärlden.

En del av uppmärksamheten härrör från deras påstående att de skulle utvecklat OpenClass i samarbete med Google, vilket fått de senare att gå ut med en dementi. Tim Drinan från Google:

“What it’s not is it’s not a joint release, and it’s not a shared product. They built it with really nice integration with our systems. We worked with them as we do with a lot of vendors.” Tim beskrev detta förfarande som “very common.”

OpenClass är alltså ingen officiell Google-LMS vilket ett antal bloggar rapporterade kort efter lanseringen. Googles officiella ståndpunkt är dock att de är ointresserade av att själva ge sig in på LMS-marknaden:

“At that session the Google official, Obadiah Greenberg, noted that college officials have long asked whether the company would build a learning system of its own. ‘One of the No. 1 questions we get is, When are we going to build an LMS?’ he said. He added that Google is a platform company and has no plans to get into the LMS market.” (Young)

En annan del hänger ihop med den något vida tolkningen av begreppet “Open” i deras marknadsföring. Joseph Ugoretz, CUNY kommenterar detta så här:

“It’s also not at all Open Source. Pearson uses the term “open” very very loosely – so far I haven’t seen anything at all open about it. Adrian Sannier says that that is coming – some way for teachers to identify parts of their courses that could be shared with a wider network, multiple campuses or maybe all users of the system or maybe the whole world. But that’s not available yet. And the source code is definitely not open or available. There aren’t even API’s yet (although again, Adrian promises that there will be).”

Med Open menar de framför allt att det är öppet för vem som vill att installera och använda produkten, under förutsättning att man redan är en GAE-kund.

En tredje del som genererat uppmärksamhet är att detta skulle kunna bli en “disruptive innovation” för LMS-marknaden.

“The audacity of what Pearson is attempting should not be underestimated. If they succeed, they could cause major tectonic shifts across several markets that are currently critical to higher education. Colleges and universities need to pay close attention to the kind of deal that they will be striking for themselves.” (Feldstein)

En av de viktigaste faktorerna bakom denna tolkning är att det är gratis:

“He was talking about the university purchasing process for an LMS and how that conversation would go with OpenClass. He said, ‘They will give us a list of features that they are looking for, many of which we’ll have, and some of which we won’t. For some of those features we don’t have, we’ll say, ‘We’re not going to build those; you can build them yourself if you want, but the question you have to ask yourselves is whether those three features are worth the half a million dollars a year you are going to pay for that other LMS.’
Think about being in the position of having to take the other side of that argument. That’s how powerful ‘free’ can be as a disruptor.“ (Feldstein)

Men för att Pearson skall börja plocka marknadsandelar krävs att det är en produkt som är tillräckligt bra i förhållande till konkurrensen, inte nödvändigtvis bättre i alla avseenden:

“I will also say that OpenClass is still a long, long, way from being even a bit close to the kinds of features and functionality, and from the kind of “disruptive” innovation that we are already seeing and demonstrating and doing at Macaulay (and elsewhere, of course) with WordPress. It’s like some of us are already working with refining a very low-cost and efficient warp drive technology, while Pearson has just introduced a fairly nice three-speed bicycle which they will give away for free.
But…when the overwhelming majority of classes in this country are riding around right now on a ten-speed bicycle, for which they are paying $100k a year (or whatever), a nice shiny three-speed for free is going to sound like a pretty good deal.” (Ugoretz)

De verkar ha en bit kvar innan de är där. Kommentarerna på Google Marketplace antyder att det är en hel del problem bara att installera och logga in på plattformen. Ett exempel:

“So all set up (after an hour) and couldn’t get Open Class to open up terms in Chrome (Huh???) so opened in Explorer, then accepted terms. Now can’t even get to the dashboard. Excited to try this, but really doesn’t seem to be put together well from the get go. Very disappointed it would be touted by Pearson & Google, but then not work. Did anyone at either place actually test this app??”

Men det finns även andra sidor på disruptive-myntet.

“Naturally, the ‘free’ message has gotten a lot of attention. Many of the skeptics have focused on the question of where the hidden fees might be. That’s the wrong question. The right question is, ‘What is so valuable to Pearson that they are trying so hard to give away something that normally costs real money?’ “ (Feldstein)

Här ligger sannolikt orsaken till varför Pearson gjort denna satsning till att börja med. På samma sätt som att Google inte är gratis, eftersom vi som använder deras söktjänster etc. egentligen inte är Googles kunder utan den produkt de säljer i form av mottagare av riktad reklam. Pearson siktar in sig på ett par olika saker här:

“The implication was that OpenClass would become an aggregator of academic achievements from various online courses and assessments provided by both Pearson and third parties. Think of it as half transcript and half LinkedIn, with maybe a dash of ePortfolio thrown in for good measure. While this potential was always there for any LMS with decent market share, Pearson understands curricular materials and assessments in ways that other LMS vendors don’t. They are in a position to suck the marrow out of the data they will be getting. And because their platform is genuinely multi-tenant, it will be easier for them to do massive data analysis across all their customers.” (Feldstein)
“What does Pearson get out of all this? They potentially get all the data on your students and an iron grip on the point of sale for all curricular content. Everything that worries you about what Facebook and Google know about you and everything that worries you about the control that Apple exerts over the iTunes and App stores should worry you about Pearson’s ambitions.” (Feldstein)

Detta är exempel på en mindre uttalad agenda från Pearsons sida. Sedan finns en mer tydlig agenda också

“Then there’s the market for content. Pearson has been pretty consistent and proactive about emphasizing that they want to sell third-party content through OpenClass. This could be powerful when combined with the analytics. Imagine a platform that could recommend content—and courses—to students based on their achievements, career goals, academic strengths and weaknesses, and so on. Imagine that it can automatically keep copies of their papers, tests, etc., and present their achievements in ways that prospective employers and graduate schools would find meaningful.” (Feldstein)
“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.” (Kim, IHU)

I kommunikationen från Pearson betonas gång på gång att detta inte är en produkt för distanskurser, utan de riktar helt och hållet in sig på marknaden för stöd till campuskurser.

“This is a standard LMS for a class (not a fully online class, Pearson is trying to make that distinction very clear) where a teacher and students want to do the basic LMS stuff–post a few things, assign and submit a few things, check grades, have a little bit of discussion–mainly just for asking and answering questions, not what I call a “real” online discussion (wide-ranging, digressive, engaging, critical, multi-media). Multi-media capabilities are limited. Sharing with the world outside the classroom, or escaping the silos of course and semester that the LMS is so married to, are both just about non-existent.” (Ugoretz).

Sammanfattningsvis är min uppfattning så här långt att OpenClass inte på långa vägar är något alternativ så som läget är i november 2011, men detta är ett högintressant initiativ och något som absolut måste hållas under bevakning framöver.