December 27, 2005
The View From the University Campus: The Top 10 Technology Stories of 2005
We are crossing the mid-point, half way through the first decade of the 21st century. The most revealing reality on the university campus is that information technology management, innovation, and practice is, in large measure, reactive to exogenous conditions. This mega-trend, while not unique to higher education, means, in effect, we can anticipate that the university campus will be largely reacting to the marketplace, rather than helping to frame its direction. Some important and notable exceptions exist and they are part of our top 10 stories of 2005. Here are my top 10 stories from the vantage point of what will likely have enduring impact on the university campus beyond the current hype.
10.One year ago the tsunami killed more than a quarter of a million people, and destroyed the lives of millions more. Today, more than 80% of those impacted in the Indian Ocean basin are still homeless. Dozens of universities in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, and India were badly damaged or destroyed. Later in 2005, the Atlantic Basin generated memorable and devastating hurricanes taking out and destroying lives and schools in Florida, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Katrina, Wilma, and Rita have, evidently, had even more impact than 9/11 on the university campus. For the first time ever, data security, disaster planning, business continuity and recovery are now near at the very top of every university campus' top priority list. The combination of natural and man-made disasters, along with the growing realization that the “stuff” in the data center is mission critical as is the growing realization that the data needs to be systematically backed up and recoverable. This one is not going away. Interestingly enough, most universities are trying to solve this one on their own or in limited agreements with other campuses. “You store my hot data and I'll do the same for you.” There is a huge opportunity to provide a robust, scalable, financially responsible plan for disaster recovery across the nation (and beyond). While commercial options like Sunguard are still out there, we are way over due in developing a university-based, nation-wide strategy for disaster recovery.
9.Mergers and acquisitions were the big story for 2005 in the commercial world. M&A is alive and well (AT&T&SBC, Cisco & Scientific Atlantic, Ebay & Skype etc.) and I suspect that in 2006 we will continue to see this trend line dominate the marketplace. Two m&a stories hit my top 10 list. First, it's official. In the large enterprise space business applications there is just a two horse race. It's Oracle and SAP. In higher education, after Oracle acquired PeopleSoft late last year, there is really no horse race at all. Oracle's growing monopoly and dominance has technology leaders across verticals more than a bit nervous. Of course, it is much more than the business applications. Oracle is a titan in a duopoly in the enterprise database world (with IBM), a dominant player in the identity management world (with Sun), and Oracle has shown growing interest in taking on behemoth Microsoft in the deployment of integrated office and productivity tools. With the exception of the “future” of its student information system (which Oracle continues to view as an extension of its CRM eco-system), higher education has little differentiating value or presence to Oracle. True enough, areas like grants management, compliance, alumni, philanthropy, and even some peculiarities in our budgeting system are arguably unique, Oracle is not likely to be making major, sustained, investments to attend to the needs of less than 1% of its market. Behavior in the marketplace has been predictable. Many, including a number of prominent higher education institutions have taken out “insurance policies”. Basically, they've decided that their best bet is to try and manage their vendor through contractual commitments expressed in multi-year, even 10-year long maintenance agreements. Elsewhere, we see some in higher education riding the “open source” wave and finding enthusiasm in building a higher education financial system ( Kuali). Elsewhere I have expressed my skepticism in both of these approaches. There are atleast two opportunities that present themselves but have yet to attract much attention. First, I continue to believe that there is an opportunity for a university-centric oracle higher education practice cooperative built by and for the interests of Oracle's higher education customers. Second, there is an important opportunity, and arguably an imperative, to the building of a new student information system in an open source, community source, or through some other form of entrepreneurial endeavor. In the longer term, if we are to look for balance in our portfolio of key business applications, we will want to be sure that whether it is SAP or some other emerging enterprise player will look with interest to the university marketplace. Our best opportunity, in my view, remains a strong student information module that builds an end-to-end offering from recruitment through financial aid, registration, grades, and even a better, more integrated alumni system.
8.In late fall 2005 Blackboard and WebCT announced their plans for merger. While small in the grand scheme of things ($180m), the merger marks the end of the second generation of course management systems on the university campus. From about 1995-2000 a bevy of homegrown learning management systems were available. Murray Goldberg's University of British Columbia WebCT experimental product sold out to ULT for about $10m in late 1999. Blackboard, originally developed by a small collaborative of faculty and students at Cornell at about the same time went commercial with its CourseInfo product in late 1997. The two products emerged as the dominant players and systematically maintained their duopoly against plucky competitors like Prometheus from George Washington University which was deep sixed through acquisition by Blackboard in Spring 2002. Both Blackboard and WebCT have struggled (both technically and financially) to enter the enterprise space with scalable solutions over the past 3 or 4 years. Niche players like eCollege that have carved out a viable business model (thanks to recently departed CTO Mark Resmer) will, I believe, struggle to take advantage of the current window of opportunity. As a publicly held company Blackboard's actions this year were entirely predictable. That the higher education course management world is dominated by a single commercial player also means that unlike our reaction to the Oracle takeover of PeopleSoft (where many chose to take out insurance policies in order to manage their vendor), there is a near certainty that the higher education marketplace is ripe for new entrants into the market. With a handful of small existing commercial players, and a long gestating (to put it diplomatically) open-source collaboration, I think there is every probability that the Blackboard/WebCT merger will generate new activity in the learning management system. Moreover, I think there are a number of very large enterprise players (like Oracle) who are positioned to invest/acquire one or more of the leading contenders to who emerge from this new window of opportunity. There has long been a sense that we can do better than the current incumbent providers in the course management world. Drivers, start your engines.
7.My colleague Wendy Shapiro who directs academic computing here at Case has called 2005 the year of the story. I have to agree with Wendy. On the other hand, I am pretty hard pressed to point to a single event to make the case. (see top story #2 for another “event”). The New Media Consortium issued proceedings from a very impressive gathering in 2005 called the Global Imperative: A report on the 21st century literacy summit. There is an arc of activity underway within higher education that appears ready for prime time. Networks are more robust, high def video is emerging, search tools are reaching a maturity level, meta tagging and indexing syntax are now a serious undertaking, and a coalition of the willing among students and faculty appear primed to take the learning tool kit to the next level. The combination of technological and teacher/learner readiness has long been prognosticated as the prerequisites for a breakthrough. The new multi-sensory education world will, accordinging to its advocates, priviledge story telling and/or other forms of narrative and visual literacy. Visual and new media is poised to join the long standing and well understood role of the written word as a foundation for learning in the 21st century. I take on this subject in much greater length in a forthcoming article in Educause Review under the New Horizons column. I do think that we have spent 10 years rationalizing, explicating, and doing our share of complaining about why visual learning wasn't ready for prime time. When rss feeds, blogs, and wiki sites begin assembling, creating repositories, and reporting on the critical mass of the use of visual learning tools both in the class and in the creation of experiential learning and authoring by and for students using new media tools we are much nearer to the 100th monkey effect and an important breakthrough.
6.I thought one of the near certain 2005 highlights stories for higher education was going to be the planned merger of Internet2 and NLR (national lambda rail). Of course, most readers of this blog know that a new generation optical network is being deployed. The new org, led by the higher education community along with many of the most prominent research institutions in the country, have been working to create a new organization. New org will be built on the prospects of inventing the next generation Internet (and supporting projects like Geni). Neworg will also support experimental,leading-edge research on the network as well as in support of the insatiable connectivity needs of commodity Internet on our university campuses. Well, the parties are still at the table in conversation trying to give birth to the new org. Evidence of the powerful breakthrough of the new org were evidenced in Seattle this fall during SuperComputing 2005. The future of scientific research in this country and the very future of the country, its economy, and the future of the academy itself is intimately connected to computational and network intensive research. In the context of an ever more integrated global economy and the political realities of the post-911 world the north american academy has been slow to realize the shifting tides. The shifting of the center of gravity of engineering, software development, advanced manufacturing are all moving eastwardly towards Asia. There is a compelling policy imperative to respond to these new realities with a forward looking strategy in which we make real important efforts like networked health care research and treatment, networked economic development for regional economies, networked music and health care education to our inner cities and inner ring suburbs, networked first responder capabilities, networked cultural and arts experiences, and of course, networked entertainment with local flavor and color. While there is no discounting the challenges associated with privacy and identity management, there is no doubt but that we are facing this generation's Sputnik. If we want to make a serious run at being competitive in the 21st century, we have no choice but to make sure that the demonstrations of advanced networked research at SC '05, at Cal-IT2, and dozens of other centers of excellence evolve quickly into a national strategy for global competitiveness.
5.In the gadget category for 2005, it appears that last year's rookie of the year award for iPod came back with a vengeance to the university campus in 2005. Kick-started with a back to school promotion that offered a free iPod with an iBook and then a pet-rock run in making the iPod a must have mp3 player. The most important development in 2005 comes with the integration of libraries of college audio content into i-Tunes libraries. Courseware across the curriculum, archives of great audio tapes of speakers, radio shows, and interviews have all found their way into the i-Tunes library and are favorites among the iPodders. Add the libraries of historical content to the explosion of podcasting and now video podcasting and one gets the distinct impression that Apple's magic formula on the college campus has relatively little do with slick marketing campaigns (Apple Digital Campus Exchange) for the university marketplace. Apple's secret sauce, not surprising, is about simplifying technology, leading user interface design, and a good measure of coolness that even the most stuffy university prof finds hard to resist. While Apple's likely investment in leveraging the iPod/iTunes eco-system to create a sustained presence in higher education is dubious based on its historical record, the sales numbers on campus are strong enough to keep Apple executives watching what happens on the college campus as an insight for broader consumer behavior and opportunities.
4.Scholar.google.com gets our number four acknowledgment for 2005. Every faculty member has looked up her publishing record on this site (and of course complained bitterly that not every citation has made it to the site). Every grad student preparing for comprehensives has elaborate citation strategies for referencing both the most current literature and a methodology for capturing the most enduring citations in fields ranging from anthropology to zoology. Families researching obscure medical challenges can work with the medical health care community in making sure that every new development is being considered as relates to providing health care treatment strategies for themselves or their loved ones. scholar.google.com has also helped to render more vulnerable two of the great and enduring myths of the academy. The role of the traditional professional librarian (and in particular the traditional bibliographer) is now under more stress than ever before. Innovative librarians are taking an Asian philosophy and are using tools like RSS feeds, disciplinary blogs, and other tools to help harvest the avalanche of information and data to support their faculty and student customers. The other challenge occasioned by scholar.google.com is continuing usurpation of the traditional role of the faculty instructor in the classroom. If the Internet rendered the traditional faculty role as sage on the stage vulnerable, most faculty colleagues now acknowledge that encyclopedic knowledge of the literature is no longer the measure of the deference nor their scholarly contribution to learning. While resistance to these disruptive trends of the role of the scholar/teacher in the classroom may not be futile, thousands of innovative faculty have taken to redefining their role and their contribution to the teaching enterprise.
3.Google Earth is, in my view, the most important learning tool of 2005 (and probably with legs to take it through 2006 and beyond). More than a tool for finding the closest pizza store, google earth is the most exciting invitation to discovery and exploration that I have seen since the failed development of the complete hypertex xanadu project and the eventual launch of the Mosaic Browser. I have been a huge advocate (and fan) of geographic information systems for over a decade. Until google earth appeared (through acquisition of keyhole.com) last year, GIS technologies were, in the main, beyond the reach of most faculty and students. No more. Whether your interests are local, regional, national, international, contemporary, historical, or related to just about any discipline, there are countless opportunities to leverage google earth. The very first communities of practice are beginning to surface. My favorite two are the National Geographic community and the UNESCO world heritage communities of practice. The spread of disease, the migration of peoples, the penetration of new or old technologies, levels of education, poverty, arms races, ecological degradation, public health, economic health, and education can be all mapped down to the smallest geographic unit of analysis. If you are a visual learner, an educator who uses constructivist methods, a casual student of a subject matter, or just a curious citizen interested in charting levels of engagement in democratic involvement, I think Google Earth will provide you with hundreds of hours of exploration and opportunity to contributing to a better understanding of your community or your professional, vocational, or recreational passion.
2.OpenOffice gets my number 2 listing for 2005. It's not exactly new (Sun's Star Office has been around for more than a decade). Nor is OpenOffice a run away best seller in 2005. However, OpenOffice itself is a terrific product. It is poised to disrupt the university marketplace and challenge Microsoft's stranglehold on the office productivity toolset. I chose OpenOffice for more than just it being “a” product that is making some headway in the university software libraries. OpenOffice is an important next generation product based on the new web. It's been called Web 2.0. There are technical foundations to Web2.0 including web services oriented architecture (SOA), ESB, ATOM, JSON, SOAP, and other “mixing and mashing” tools that read like an alphabet soup. It's hard for folks to readily understanding the transformation underway in the backoffice occasioned by SOA. Run-a-way campus favorites like Flickr, or Voo2do, and especially del.icio.us are all popular examples of Web 2.0 based on SOA web services at work. Reputational status, social bookmarking, amazon reviews, wikis, blogs, and other technologies like syndication are all examples that have, to varying degrees, helped to keep the world of university technology a progressive and forward looking place to work and to which we can contribute. OpenOffice is the sleeping giant. About 50 million copies are now in circulation. Local, State, and even (inter)national authorities are requiring Open Document Format (ODF) in their office productivity tools RFPs. OpenOffice is not only about an alternative office productivity tool (although that would be sufficient), it is not only about a next generation office productivity tool that is standards-based (that too would be sufficient), OpenOffice is about a vision of technical architecture that is built, in large measure, on the needs and functionality of the community (including the university communities), remains open, in large measure non-proprietary, and intelligently integrated into other software solutions. 2005 is an important watershed year for Web 2.0. When history is written, someone is bound to use 2005 as a relatively easy date to declare that we've moved from concept to a growing number of cool apps that engage us and helps innovating.
1.We ended 2005 still waiting for the 21st century's first great education philanthropist. In a year when Time Magazine recognized the enormous importance of generational philanthropists, like the Gates' and Bono we are reminded that our generation has not yet surfaced its own Carnegie, Rockefeller, Sloan, Ford, Packard, Lilly, Johnson, Kellogg, Pew, MacArthur, Mellon, Annenberg, or Woodruff. Education through the late 19th and 20th century was, in significant measure, framed by education research and instruction made possible by these leading philanthropists and their foundations. Each of these incredibly important foundations has sought to support the next generation of scholarship and associated research agendas. Many of these foundations are now challenged with transforming themselves as well as the publics they seek to transform in preparing for the certain dislocation, challenges and new opportunities in the 21st century. These organizational realities, make for more deliberative and time consuming agendas as each foundation grapples with their proud and important legacies and at the same time attempt to position themselves for having the greatest possible impact for the generations to come. There is a high probability, in my view, that it will take a new generation of philanthropy to make possible the new legacy investments to address the emerging challenges of our times. Others will follow (or not). The most probable source for 21st century legacy philanthropists are the small cadre of technologists who have made (very) good and are seriously engaged and exploring how they can have a legacy impact on their communities, the nation, and I hope, the future role of universities in making ours a great society. 2005 might be too soon to expect the first 21st century education philanthropist, but the truth is, higher education in this country can not wait too much longer before serious missed opportunities pass us by and with those opportunities a responsibility for addressing the most pressing issues facing our generation.
I suspect that I have not captured the ultimate top 10 list for 2005. As always, I leave my blog open for comment and further insights on technology and how they have been used to help change our universities.
Posted by lsg8 at December 27, 2005 05:32 PM and tagged Bytes
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