Blackboard Education Open Source Services – a personal view

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – JFK

Over the last four years I’ve been very lucky. Lucky enough to be part of a company which grew from 12 people when I started in 2008 to become one of the largest financial contributors to the Moodle project in the world in 2012. Lucky enough to become part of a global community of educators in an open source community that has grown to over sixty million users. Lucky enough to meet and work with so many awesome people as we’ve deployed Moodle in many Universities, TAFEs and other organisations around the country. And lucky enough to use Moodle through all of this, watch it grow as a product, watch the Moodle HQ team evolve in size and maturity, as has our own maturity in all aspects of using and supporting Moodle.

But, as always, the only constant in life is change, and now NetSpot, Moodlerooms, Blackboard and the Moodle project as a whole are about to enter a new era. You can read the official announcement here and here, but in this post I want to talk more about how I see this change from my own, more personal, perspective.

Before we look ahead though, let’s look at what else is happening in the learning technology landscape, which will help put this change into perspective.

These days it seems like everyone is trying to make their mark on the learning technology space – flipping this, disrupting that – generally doing whatever possible to shake up an increasingly competitive marketplace to gain an advantage. More tools are entering the market as well, whether it be new LMS platforms, or one of the many complementary technologies like virtual classrooms, e-portfolios, lecture capture systems and analytics tools to name a few. Although none of these are particularly new technologies, I’ve noticed an increase in customer expectations over the past few years in terms of one vendor being able to provide everything. Gone are the days of a client looking solely for an LMS when going to market – they now expect a vendor to be able to provide an integrated suite of products, making life increasingly harder for smaller or more specialized players to deliver across the full spectrum.

Where I've been for Moodle in the last four years (via TripIt)

Then we have the Moodle project itself. When one stops and considers the sheer presence of Moodle around the world in 2012 given its origins ten years ago it really is quite amazing, and kudos needs to go to Martin and the rest of the team at Moodle HQ for building a fantastic product, supported by a business model which has been effective in generating a stable source of revenue for the project. It’s something I’m proud to have been associated with in the last five years, and something I want to remain a part of for a good time yet. Balancing this though is the future of the Moodle project, which is by and large funded by royalties paid by the Moodle Partner network, and which in turn relies on being competitive in a market where new, big players are moving in on what BRW listed as one of the growth areas for 2011. Yes folks, the world has caught on that learning technologies are a growth area in an otherwise largely flat economic climate – which means big changes as big vendors all fight for a slice of the market. So what happens to Moodle in this landscape? It either keeps pace with what users expect (and hence keeps money coming in through the Partner network), or it changes its business model to remain sustainable, or it stagnates – or worse, dies altogether. My desire is to see Moodle – the product, the developers and the community – continue to be successful for a long time yet.

Which brings us to this change.

Image cc licenced via Flickr user owgen

There will undoubtedly be skeptics ready to scorn this change. Fair enough – debate on this topic is inevitable and sure to continue in the coming months. Those who know me however should also know that if I didn’t believe that this change had a good chance of bringing a positive outcome for the Moodle project then I wouldn’t be a part of it. Based on everything I’ve seen, the people I’ve met and the conversations I’ve been a part of, I see vast opportunities ahead for Moodle – the software, the project and the community.

As I look ahead, I see the great potential for collaboration between NetSpot, Moodle HQ and the global network of resources available through Blackboard and Moodlerooms to help drive innovation within the software. I see the opportunity to make sure Moodle remains a great choice as a learning platform in the short term through enhancements to the software and the services around it. I see the opportunity to offer a wider suite of products to our clients through the ability to offer a mix of open source and proprietary tools depending on the need of the client. Through the growth of NetSpot I see the potential for more funding for the Moodle project via the Partner network. I see all these opportunities combined with the commitment from Blackboard that Moodle continues its culture as an independent, dynamic, educationally focused open source product into the future, and I feel excited about the road ahead. I know that there will be parts of the community who will disagree with this change, but I’ve chosen to be part of it because I think its the right thing to do for the long-term future of Moodle, and if that means losing a popularity contest in some areas of the community then so be it. I feel comfortable in myself that I am going help drive something which will help Moodle remain at the global forefront of open source learning technology.

For my own part in the path ahead, I will continue my work as Director of the Consulting team within the NetSpot Senior Management group. I will also look forward to working with the teams at Blackboard and Moodlerooms to identify opportunities to improve Moodle through connecting the needs of our global clients and the broader community with NetSpot’s development teams and Moodle HQ – just like I’ve been doing already in projects like the core Assignment Module redevelopment scheduled for release in Moodle 2.3. The difference now will be that I will be working as part of a global network of resources with a shared goal – to keep the Moodle project strong, now and in the years ahead.