The New ‘Open’ Is Closed – Microsoft and Google Still Don’t Get It

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google’s Apps for Education are the latest in an endless line of gimmicks for supremacy in the cloudy learning management platform (CLMP) battle. They’re waving the “open” flag to attract the administrators who determine how our colleges and schools will spend their technology dollars. But the problem is that free is only one side of the open standard. The other is freedom.

Microsoft and Google — as well as Blackboard and Pearson, with its OpenClass — just aren’t getting it. Free for the enterprise doesn’t necessarily translate to free for the individual in the classroom who actually uses the CLMP — the teacher. For the overwhelming majority of enterprises, the primary concern is control, and that control is ultimately manifested in power over how teachers will use technology.

The result, from the teacher’s standpoint, is the same old restrictions that apply to closed systems. The CLMP may be free to the enterprise, but it doesn’t spell “freedom” for the teacher. Instructional technology administrators are attracted to CLMPs because they cut operating costs while maintaining their power and control in the technology chain of command.

What’s being ignored is the teachers’ freedom to decide how to use technology, which includes the power to determine which apps to include in their personal instructional environments as well as freedom from jumping through the hoops that define closed enterprise-class systems.

A fully open CLMP would be pitched to teachers as individuals — not to enterpises. Like Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Blogger, and other open social networking services, teachers would sign up for individual accounts, by and for themselves, and have the power to control access. The accounts would not be domained in the enterprise.

In this scenario, the IT staff would support teachers and students by providing on-demand help, services, and workshops to facilitate and optimize the use of open CLMPs. The CLMPs that prevail will, like the most popular operating systems and browsers, be easy to use and provide the most power via free and open access to the largest number of useful teaching and learning apps. Teachers and students, individually, will drive this market. The result is win-win for all — students, teachers, IT departments, and CLMP providers.

Tony Bennett, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, said, “I believe in local control, and we don’t have the ability to be the keeper of knowledge we have been in the past. We’ll be better off if we uncuff people’s hands” (Tina Barseghian, “Technology Vs. Learning: False, Tiresome Either/Or Debate,” Mind Shift, 10.2511). He was referring to digital textbooks in the hands of students in classrooms, but his comment is appropriate for education in general. We must “uncuff” instructors and students and give them the freedom they need to teach and learn.

17 Responses

  1. [...] The New ‘Open’ Is Closed – Microsoft and Google Still Don’t Get It By Jim Shimabukuro Editor Microsoft's Office 365 and Google's Apps for Education are the latest in an endless line of gimmicks for supremacy in the cloudy learning management platform (CLMP) ba… Source: etcjournal.com [...]

  2. [...] The New ‘Open’ Is Closed – Microsoft and Google Still Don’t Get It By Jim Shimabukuro Editor Microsoft's Office 365 and Google's Apps for Education are the latest in an endless line of gimmicks for supremacy in the cloudy learning management platform (CLMP) ba… Source: etcjournal.com [...]

  3. This issue boils down to one of balance or the amount of control proper to a situation. Colleges and universities have left a great deal of control in the hands of instructors. As a professor of chemistry, I was allowed to choose textbooks, create my courses, administer my tests, and so on. I was not allowed to choose my courses, however.

    My point here is that few in academia have complete freedom with teaching courses. In a high school science course, the teacher may have the ability to decide on which demonstrations to do and which **affordable** labs to provide, but does not get to select textbooks. Those are chosen by the district, often from a state-approved list.

    In some schools, the teachers are restricted even more by a “scope and sequence” document that tells teachers which topics to cover during which weeks.

    Yes, administrations may choose to exert power through requiring the use of certain materials and a particular LMS (or CLMP if you will). They also may just be looking for the best price or the best luncheon with the vendor’s sales rep. ;-) With technology expanding so rapidly, it’s not clear whether the benefits of a single CLMP remain anymore, and I have to concur with Jim that this decision might as well be left to individual instructors who can be offered the option of using the institution’s version or choosing their own. I also agree that we all should be cautious of believing in some vendor’s (especially if a large vendor) claim of openness. Open is the enemy of the bottom line, after all.

    I would caution, however, against making the same claim for every instructional tool or resource. It’s best to sharpen your critical thinking skills and weigh the pros and cons. Jim has expressed some of the cons for a system-wide selection very well. Also in the running should be factors such as an administration choosing the biggest or best-known vendor without regard to quality. The old saying was that you never were fired for choosing IBM. The possibility of vendor reps swaying administration decisions with meals, convention trips, and even kick-backs also remains. I know of one infamous scandal involving a sexual involvement between a superintendent and a sales rep.

    The pros include the ability for administration personnel to evaluate the purchase better due to greater access to technical expertise and to curriculum experts — you must assume here that they are real experts and not relatives or friends hired for their connections. Another plus is the ability to negotiate a better price. A district may get three high schools covered for the price of two if negotiated by each high school separately. The school can possibly cover four teachers for the price of three.

    In the case of content providers, it is important for a student to be able to move to another class or school without complete confusion due to a variety of tools in use. That’s not such a problem for colleges as for K-12 school districts.

    A common learning support tool also means that the institution (I’m thinking of a school district) can provide central training and support for all affected educators. Don’t expect every teacher to be able quickly to master any new technology introduced without any questions or issues.

    The district purchase also provides greater leverage with the vendor so that new features or customization can be arranged more readily.

    IMO, each case must be considered separately. The final decision depends on the institution, its culture, its infrastructure, and the state of the technology. Neither the laissez-faire attitude toward instructors nor total administration control need be the outcome. Neither is likely to be the best choice overall.

    Yet, we see that K-12 school districts make many decisions without really considering these factors. Should textbooks continue to be district decisions? It would seem that consistency among all algebra classes, for example, suggests that choice. Should science lab choices and design be the domain of the teacher? That’s the tradition, but given the rating of the typical high school lab experience by the National Research Council as “poor,” maybe a change is warranted.

    Jim is suggesting that the ordinary policy of administrators to make these decisions should be questioned. I’m adding to his suggestion that perhaps the decision to allow teachers certain freedoms in choosing how to run classes also should be questioned. Let’s open it all up to a fruitful discussion.

    • Hi, Harry. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I don’t see this issue of decision-making as all-or-nothing. Obviously, no one in society is totally free to do whatever she/he wants. Policies are a given, and I’m not suggesting a laissez-faire learning environment. The nature of those policies, however, are open to discussion. In this regard, I’m saying that a teacher ought to have the opportunity to choose a cloud-based LMS that’s not domained on the campus network. Currently, none of the major competitors (Microsoft, Google, etc.) provide this option. In other words, the way to these cloud platforms is gated — not open — and the key is held by the institution — not the individual teacher.

      Assuming that the key will eventually be given to anyone for the asking, bypassing enterprise control, we can also assume that school and college policies will continue to be enforced to assure quality. Again, pedagogical freedom — in this case, the freedom to choose instructional technology — doesn’t necessarily mean freedom from any and all policies or contingencies. It does, however, mean giving teachers a meaningful voice in the decision-making.

  4. A gift is an interesting issue.May be we need to consider the pros and cons in light with developing countries.The two conglomerates have a strong presence in this developing parts of the world. More so on Google in offering free resources ie Google docs, forms,Google sites and not forget Google search engine,Google books.
    Microsoft has some academic version licenses but they are still expensive.What Microsoft has done is to create dependency on its products by offering training on their products. Most people in Kenya are literate in Microsoft products- the shift to other open sources has been slow largely because, they are not much people are familiar with lets say unbuntu, but it coming. Few elite persons use the macs.

    • Hi, nboruett. Thank you for your thoughtful and eye-opening comments. The situation you mention in Kenya may not be much different from that in many other countries, including the US. I agree that these cloud-based LMSs are a gift, and I, too, am grateful that major players such as Microsoft and Google are moving toward openness.

      However, I can’t help but wish that this “gift” would be opened up even more to allow individual rather than institution-domained subscriptions. This would allow a teacher, in Kenya for example, to experiment with cloud-based LMSs even if her/his school or college isn’t ready or equipped for that step.

      BTW, I’m sure I speak for all our readers when I say that we’d be very interested in reading your observations on the state of instructional technology in Kenya. If you’d like to write such an article for this journal, ETCJ, please email me at jamess@hawaii.edu

  5. [...] The New ‘Open’ Is Closed – Microsoft and Google Still Don’t Get It [...]

  6. [...] The New ‘Open’ Is Closed – Microsoft and Google Still Don’t Get It By Jim Shimabukuro Editor Microsoft's Office 365 and Google's Apps for Education are the latest in an endless line of gimmicks for supremacy in the cloudy learning management platform (CLMP) ba… Source: etcjournal.com [...]

  7. [...] The New ‘Open’ Is Closed – Microsoft and Google Still Don’t Get It Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google’s Apps for Education are the latest in an endless line of gimmicks for supremacy in the cloudy learning management platform (CLMP) battle. They’re waving the “open” flag to attract the administrators who determine how our colleges and schools will spend their technology dollars. But the problem is that free is only one side of the open standard. The other is freedom. Source: etcjournal.com [...]

  8. [...] The New ‘Open’ Is Closed – Microsoft and Google Still Don’t Get It By Jim Shimabukuro Editor Microsoft's Office 365 and Google's Apps for Education are the latest in an endless line of gimmicks for supremacy in the cloudy learning management platform (CLMP) ba… Source: etcjournal.com [...]

  9. [...] endless line of gimmicks for supremacy in the cloudy learning management platform (CLMP) ba…Show original GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); [...]

  10. You talk about control here and especially moving the control from the provider of the LMS to the the instructors and administrators of education. What I find worrying here is that you don’t discuss the control by the learner. In the learning landscape in the cloud educational institutions should realise that it is now possible for learners to by-pass institutions and their lms altogether. Perhaps some thought into how all stakeholders, especially learners, might take advantage of technology and systems to aid learning would be useful.

    • Hi, Rita. Thank you for your comment. I wholeheartedly agree with you that “Perhaps some thought into how all stakeholders, especially learners, might take advantage of technology and systems to aid learning would be useful.” Truly open cloud services should be accessible to learners as well as institutions, administrators, and teachers. As you say, learning isn’t and shouldn’t be contingent on “others.” The goal of education is and ought to be independent, self-motivated learners who know how to use the latest technology and other resources to, in essence, teach themselves. Empowerment, rather than control, should guide educators.

  11. [...] The New ‘Open’ Is Closed – Microsoft and Google Still Don’t Get It By Jim ShimabukuroEditorMicrosoft's Office 365 and Google's Apps for Education are the latest in an endless line of gimmicks for supremacy in the cloudy learning management platform (CLMP) ba…… Source: etcjournal.com [...]

  12. [...] Hidden Ticking Time Bomb” and Jim Shimabukuro, editor of ETC Journal, in “The New ‘Open’ Is Closed – Microsoft and Google Still Don’t Get It,” the definition of “free” is getting a second look. As Rafael put it, “If [...]

  13. I am a director of technology for a K-12 public school system. This is my 27th year of “hands on” technology support/management. My roots began with mainframe computers in the mid 1980’s and have been evolving ever since.

    This concept that people like myself are interested in “controlling” technology users choices is incorrect. Like anything else, degrees of standardization promote efficiency and are essential to maintaining a reliable technology infrastructure.

    How could anything work well if there were no standards? Imagine if students insisted on writing essays in any language(Greek, Latin, German, etc) they wanted, or submitting electronic files in any format?
    Try going to the grocery store and paying for your purchase in Yen – you get the point. Without standards very little would get done, all the effort would go into converting, learning, and understanding different ways to do the same thing versus actually doing it!

    The concept that IT staff would be available “on demand” to answer anything and everything that someone wants to do with technology is
    crazy. The support staff required to do this well would financially unsustainable.

    • Hi, Jim. You bring up an interesting point about standards and control. In both cases, I’m not advocating an either/or position. This article is about cloud-based LMSs, and my point is that they ought to be open to individual teachers rather than to institutions. The reason is that the institution’s staff would add a layer of control that I feel is unnecessary and suffocating. Freed from regulating the LMS, the staff could then devote its time to helping teachers and students with LMS-related problems — not to answering “anything and everything” under the sun. You’re right. That would be crazy. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

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