This always seems to come up in edupunk conversations, and seems to be one of the main attacks against edupunk, even from great people who I respect no end — hey, they’ll say, we can’t have a knee-jerk reaction against corporate solutions. They aren’t necessarily evil.
It may surprise you, but I completely agree. In fact, I’ll go one step further, corporations are never evil.
Corporations are the wrong thing to be looking at. They aren’t evil or good — they merely *are*. It’s the environment and the market that needs to be considered.
Markets are healthy or sick. And when they are sick, due to patent silliness, an oversupply of easy credit, or lack of regulation, all corporations will end up doing things against the public good.
Right now the reason the LMS market is sick is that Blackboard has no natural predators, due to a variety of factors, but primarily due to the particular structure of university purchasing systems combined with some early advantages Blackboard possessed (I do not see the patent issue, as awful as it is for the current market, as the main reason for their dominance). Blackboard is not evil, but its current situation is like a snakehead dropped in the Potomac to feed. And sitting around deciding whether it deserves to eat all those other fish is beside the point.
You see, I’m willing to admit, from a purchasing standpoint, that this feature or that feature of NG will improve the lives of students. I don’t see much indication that Blackboard has gotten past their core mission as an access control company, but, hey, more amazing transformations have happened. I think they don’t get openess in a really fundamental way, but still, if it became in their interest to do so, they could be quick learners.
All that is interesting, and fodder for future blog posts. But no matter what the value of Blackboard’s individual actions, the fact is the LMS market ecosystem is sick, and will remain sick until Blackboard develops natural predators. I’m not really interested in the feature list of Snakehead 2.0. Compared to the larger context, the feature list is a minor point.
So I thank the gods for people like Jim Groom, the killer catfish who jumps on their every move, and scraps it up against all odds. People will say he isn’t reasonable, but when you are trying to address a balance of power issue, it doesn’t always pay to be reasonable. Sometimes you just gotta pull the rope as long and hard as you can.
Jim does that every day, here’s to him.
Update: Jim challenges me in the comments, and in response I have to reformulate. Blackboard is not a snakehead in a peaceful pond, a fish out of water as it were. Blackboard is what happens when a teaching technology company evolves to conform to the enterprise software pond. It’s attributes that we dislike are results of the enterprise purchasing system, not the causes of the environment, though they may perpetuate it.