I’m delighted to announce that D2L has become the Empirical Educator Project’s first official Foundational Sponsor. The major principle behind sponsorship in EEP has always been that we only accept sponsors who have something to contribute in addition to money. The same is true for Foundational Sponsors. D2L is offering more to the academic participants in the Empirical Educator Project than just money and free resources. They have both demonstrated through participation to-date that they are good participants and offered enough value in future participation to earn pride of place. Their behavior is a model for other commercial participants in the educational community to emulate.
To begin with, D2L VP of Market Research Kenneth Chapman, who I’ve known almost as long as I’ve been in EdTech, has been incredibly supportive of our work to-date. He arranged an integration demo to support Carnegie Mellon University’s OpenSimon announcement at our last summit. He’s sent staff to CMU’s LearnLab summer school as a follow-up. He’s made his people available for our work and has consistently and actively looked for ways to collaborate. Ken’s leadership and enthusiasm convinced me that I wanted to deepen the relationship between D2L and EEP.
In terms of what D2L is offering as a Foundational Sponsor going forward, as I wrote earlier in this post, there’s the money (and contributions of financial value) and the participation. Let’s address the material part of the contribution first. D2L has committed to sponsoring EEP for the next three years. They have also offered up Brightspace as the EEP online community space for that period of time. This second part is going to be increasingly important as EEP work starts to become year-round and as we prepare to open up at least some of that work—both sharing and participation—to the general public. And D2L has offered up the help of its support team, including superstar Ben Campbell, to help us get the site set up and to teach us how to take maximum advantage of the affordances of the platform.
By themselves, as generous as those offers are, they wouldn’t be enough to earn D2L a place as an EEP Foundational Sponsor. What sealed the deal was D2L’s interest in increased participation. I can’t share details yet, but at a high level, there are two aspects. First, they are actively interested in offering up Brightspace as a laboratory for experimentation. One natural place where that collaboration may go, as mentioned in D2L’s press release, is integration with Carnegie Mellon University’s OpenSimon software. As I mentioned further up in the post, there has already been a little work done in this regard, and there is plenty more to explore.
At least as important is D2L’s offer to help bring the work and contributions of the EEP participants to the Brightspace user community. I’m really, really excited about the direction that this part of the conversation is taking and can’t wait to share more details as we nail them down.
After EEP’s summit this spring, Bart Epstein, the CEO of the Jefferson Education Exchange and a passionate advocate for the kind of efficacy work that EEP is attempting to promote, offered up a note of reasonable skepticism in EdSurge’s coverage of the event and the contributions announced at it:
When Tesla says that it’s making its battery patents available for free, you can be sure that all of the other car companies have incentives to invest time in reading and understanding those battery patents to read them and see if they can use them,” he said. “But when CMU opens up this software, it’s unclear who is out there that is saying, ‘Oh, there’s something in there that I want.’ We just don’t know how much impact it will have.Bart Epstein
Nowhere is this concern more valid than in higher education. There are probably billions of dollars’ worth of intellectual property contributions that, practically speaking, are languishing on university servers where nobody knows that they exist, what they are good for, or how to use them. If we want to bridge this divide specifically in terms of new knowledge that could actually help students succeed in the real world, then we have to go beyond publishing papers and releasing open source software and OER (as important as those activities are). We have to develop an ecosystem and a culture for the diffusion and uptake of this knowledge.
I invited D2L to be EEP’s first official Foundational Sponsor because their participation and other contributions will support our work in achieving this ambition.
Stay tuned for more information as this collaboration continues to evolve.