Blended Learning, Cheating, College faculty, College graduates, Continuing Education, Corporate, Cost of Education, Education Quality, Elementary / Primary / Junior, Feature, Flipped Classrooms, For-Profit, High school / Secondary 2, International, Not-for-Profit, Open Source Education, Preschool / Infant School, Private education, Public education, Publishers, Required, School teachers, Startups, Students, Technology, University & College, Venture Capital - Written by on Tuesday, December 6, 2011 6:08 - 0 Comments

Blackboard, Pearson & Other News From The Sidelines of Online Educa Berlin

Online Educa Berlin happened Dec. 2-4. Image By Paul Glader

By Paul Glader

BERLIN – Here are tidbits I picked up while roaming the halls at Online Educa Berlin last weekend, where 2,000 people registered from 93 countries to see booths and hear speakers on e-learning.

  • Blackboard Inc. – I stopped by their booth and spoke with Henning Barz, a staffer in the Germany office. He notes that Blackboard is growing faster abroad at the moment than in the U.S., where roughly 80% of its revenues come from now. The new private equity owners, he thinks, will allow the company to pursue a growth strategy more freely without investors clamoring for profits. German universities are sometimes a tough sell because the 16 states within Germany often control education technology purchases for universities in those regions. And many of the universities in Germany have IT departments that build proprietary systems. Even if they are inferior to Blackboard or other learning management systems, the regions are fearful to affect the jobs in the IT departments. Dan Peters from Blackboard UK gave a demo of the new iPad version of Blackboard. It looks very user friendly and helpful. He showed how Stanford University in California has adapted its own apps – such as events, campus newspaper, staff directory – for the platform that students can use on their Android, iPhone or Blackberry devices. Putting the course catalog online this way, for example, can save a lot of money in printing costs and is more searchable than a printed version. Some of the apps might be fantastic and others not. I also have heard grumbling from European students that Blackboard’s function to look up academic journals does not work very well. Despite these snags, Blackboard is clearly entering the new mobile platforms and spending money on design and usability. These will be keys to staying ahead of competitors.
  • During the conference, Blackboard announced several new projects with Creative Commons to make a set of open educational resources across its platforms. That means that students can preview an download course content from Blackboard and its Common Cartridge format and for CourseSites, Blackboard’s cloud platform that 20,000 instructors use at nearly 13,000 institutions. It will also allow institutions to educate non-traditional students with Blackboard Learn without the school having to pay more fees. It shows the ongoing trend toward open education resources (OER).
  • Pearson was the other major sponsor at Online Educa. Unfortunately, they took their booth down before I could see their demo. But Pearson did announce at the event that they are expanding their learning products into other languages including Dutch, French, Japanese and 12 others. It will use Sakai as a delivery platform.
  • I stopped by a booth for ReadSpeaker, a text-to-speech start-up from Germany that takes written words from HTML code on a page into a sound file students can listen to…. so a student can listen to that academic reading on War & Peace while at the gym, washing dishes or on a morning commute. I remembered that Frei University’s Center for Global Politics was using the ReadSpeaker technology. I was curious if the reader voice sounded like a robot reading a book… or a real person. So I asked for a demo. To my surprise, the reader in a feminine voice sounded smooth and pleasing to the ear. The company rep said the program is now in 37 languages.
  • We enjoyed meeting the guys from Cartoon Movement, which use an online portal to connect school children with editorial cartoonists to teach the underprivileged youth how satire, cartooning and political commentary works. Meanwhile, the young people help generate ideas for the cartoonists. We will write more on this.
  • I asked a few reps at booths which countries were the most interesting from a spending standpoint. Some pointed to Oman in the middle east, which had a booth at the event. Saudi Arabia also had a large booth complete with a tent where you could put on a turban, sit on some cushions and chat about online learning like a Sultan. Separate post coming on Oman.
  • On the tech development side I would watch these themes in Europe: educational gaming, plagiarism prevention software, and language learning. The Europeans also have some interesting developments in civics education and history. We hope to look at some of the start-ups and projects in upcoming posts.
  • From a Geographical standpoint, we expect the Scandinavians to continue coming up with interesting ideas, start-ups and technology to the education innovation space. We saw booths from Finland and Sweden at Online Educa with interesting government and/or university backed projects. The Norwegians were also well-represented by speakers at the panel discussions. These countries tend to do good research, develop quality tech start-ups and focus projects on the betterment of society and institutions (as opposed to pure profit-making). Finland is known for its K-8 education system, which ranks top in the world. A rep at their booth said the government and people know see that as something to build on, possibly an export industry. The Norwegians have loads of oil money and could also look toward technology and online learning as a way to diversify.

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