Monday, February 25, 2008

A Personal View on the Blackboard-D2L Patent Case Resolution

Before getting into my subject, here is a bit of background about me. I was the Assistant CIO for Learning Technologies for the Campus at Illinois, which made me the primary learning technology person here. I held that position through September 2006. I had substantial dealings with the WebCT Company in that capacity and knew all the WebCT senior management as well as many of the staff. Moreover, my peers at Purdue and Minnesota were similarly situated with respect to the company and WebCT interacted with me and my peers on several occasions as one block, because our three campuses had similar issues. The merger with Blackboard was announced at the Educause national conference in fall 2005 and subsequent to that I participated in (what I hoped would be) substantive meetings with the new management at the last WebCT users conference in summer 2006. I started my job in the College of Business in October 2006. Thereafter, I no longer had interactions with Blackboard, as I no longer represented the Campus in this capacity.

Being the most visible person on Campus associated with the Learning Management System (here we call it Illinois Compass) certainly has a number of headaches associated with it, particularly in periods when there are stability and performance problems – something we did experience (and below, I will discuss a new approach because I believe campuses my size or larger and that have very large introductory courses will inherently have such problems with the LMS independent of the particular platform and product). But those headaches were only a minor part of why I chose to change jobs. (The main reason was to get closer to faculty as they implemented technology innovations in their teaching.) The changes at Blackboard were entirely orthogonal to this choice.

But because in the past I’ve written a fair amount in this blog about the LMS, because the College of Business currently relies on the LMS as its main online teaching environment and courses portal, and because of my feelings for peers on campus and throughout the country, I still have strong opinions about the LMS and what is going on in this industry, so I want to frame the issues as I see them. I represent nobody in this other than myself, but I suspect that colleagues in Higher Ed will concur with at least some parts of what I say.

Collegiality of Blackboard Senior Management

At Illinois we went through a rather intensive scrutiny in 2002 – 2003 to determine our enterprise LMS system and since we specified Oracle/Unix back end we ended up with two bidders, Blackboard and WebCT. Previously we had supported both products in non-enterprise versions. The choice between the two was difficult and not clear cut and we are a very complex Campus with many competing needs to fill so the issue was more a matter of which was a better fit than which was the better product. But with that, company tone mattered and on that dimension we rated WebCT higher than Blackboard. I know many other WebCT customers felt the same way.

I believe since that time the perception of Blackboard (by me and my counterparts and perhaps also by campus CIOs) has, if anything, gotten worse. Again, I’m referring to the Michael Chasen level and his various VPs. I’m not referring to lower level stuff, some who are undoubtedly working as hard as they can to satisfy customers.

Personally, I value communication and prior notice. I value that a lot. If there is a problem, tell me. I won’t like you for it, but I will dislike you a lot less. At that WebCT annual conference in summer 2006, there were opportunities to inform us about the Patent case before that information was generally released. We were not so informed. It also turned out they had plans to close the WebCT office in Vancouver. That might have been a sound business decision to ensure coordination of staff who remained with the company. I can’t judge it on that. But it clearly was disruptive as all our technical support was in the Vancouver office and many of them quit once it was announced that office was to be closed. That turnover of this sort would occur and be disruptive could have been readily anticipated. But Blackboard didn’t inform us of their plans to close the Vancouver office at the conference.

More broadly, the Patent case following the merger and the earlier acquisition and then mothballing of Prometheus makes it pretty clear that Blackboard is pursuing a monopoly strategy and that is more important to them than collegiality with their customers. Having once felt that we mattered to the vendor, it is distasteful to feel otherwise.

The Parallel with the Scholarly Journals Problem

With scholarly publishing, the scholarship is done within Higher Ed by faculty employed by their respective institutions. Faculty then assign copyright to their works to the commercial publishers (out of fear that otherwise publication will be blocked, because they don’t know any better, and simply out of habit) and then the commercial publishers charge the academic libraries an arm and a leg to subscribe to these journals, which they must do because their faculty insist on it. The consequence is some dissemination of scholarship, but not full openness, along with a financial transfer from the subscribing universities to the shareholders of the big academic publishers. On face blush the transfer makes no sense as the value add of the publishers seems quite small.

The LMS situation is similar. Development of such a system requires the active participation of users, who are really partners in the development process. If the market is somewhat competitive, it may be efficient for the commercial partner to hold ownership of the innovations, because they can better internalize the issue of making changes that are compatible across the product and managing versions of the product offering. However, once the market becomes monopolistic, this ownership becomes a source of holdup. People in my former position (or their bosses, the CIO) may no longer encourage their staffs to act as a partner with Blackboard in developing future versions. Without the collegiality, this is a natural reaction. And without the market pressure from competing vendors, there is less of a need to innovate to capture new markets. This bodes poorly for the future of the LMS.

We in Higher Ed need to understand that while we may be good at diagnosis, we’re not that great at providing remedy. In the case of scholarly publishing, institutional repositories were supposed to be at least a partial antidote to the problem. Perhaps the recent changes at Harvard will change what I have to say next, but so far IRs have been a miserable failure in addressing the scholarly publishing problem. There may alternative pressures – namely that distinguished faculty can directly market their works without any other intermediary, including peer review, and counter attempts to woo these folks back to the traditional publishing fold may have some substantial effect. But that is outside the work on IRs, which themselves have seen very limited contribution of scholarly work.

Likewise, Sakai was supposed to be the answer in the world of LMS. Perhaps it still might be, but if I were to bet I’d take the alternative proposition. At many campuses such as mine that were Sakai partners, Moodle has a greater presence, but there still is much more reliance on the commercial LMS. And I know with that, there have been issues of database corruption as a source of instability (I’m not a techie so there may be a more technical explanation) at such campuses regardless of which commercial LMS it is, which I attribute to size and the complexity with which these products are used. This may not be a problem at more moderately sized campuses or at high enrollment campuses which nonetheless have modest section sizes. But it sure is a problem at peer institutions.

The LMS has not transformed the way we teach and learn

There are some courses that use the LMS in an intensive fashion. The high enrollment classes in this category are indirectly responsible for the stability problems I mentioned above. But most of the use is still in the file drawer/Xerox machine category. In these classes the LMS is used to distribute syllabus and PowerPoints of lecture and that’s it. Further, the LMS is no longer a novel technology. It’s viewed more as technological infrastructure and we are closer to steady state in use than to the early phase of adoption. ROI on such infrastructure depends on how it is used. While those large classes that use the LMS intensively may very well be reliant on the LMS, the rest of the courses are not. We likely will get very long in the tooth before those courses intensify their use of the LMS and in the meantime ROI will be modest.

Alternatives to the LMS for Collaboration, File Sharing, and Calendaring Scheduling

Students expectations for how technology should work are set by their experiences with Facebook, Gmail, AIM, YouTube, etc. The LMS falls short in terms of slickness and how up-to-date it is when compared with these commercial offerings. Further, much of the functionality in the LMS is not specific to instruction and since students live in a best of breed world regarding their personal computing, they’re apt to ask why we don’t do that with regard to instruction.

Ed Tech administrators are asking the same thing, because of their personal computing experiences, because they are being pushed by early adopter faculty who argue the LMS is too teacher centric, and increasingly for fear of being a hostage to Blackboard.

Since it behooves us in Higher Ed to have multiple sources for our IT services, irrespective of the nature of the service, to give us a reasonable walk away position and not be too prone to being held up by a vendor, a sensible near term solution is to start to pull out of the LMS those functions that could be reasonably satisfied by other sources, especially other sources with a much larger market than Higher Ed. This would move us away from the tightly integrated approach we’ve advocated for since the late 90s. But in the current climate it seems an imperative.

There is the further issue that we need to support other than classroom interactions. We need to support research groups with their collaborations, committees of all shapes and sizes, and inter campus work. We need to be in these other environments for these reasons alone. Given that, it makes further sense to use these environments for some functionality the LMS had done previously.

Should software be patentable and the appropriability problem

Having some understanding of the underlying incentives issue with intellectual property rights and having some significant role with the fledgling LMS from my Campus, CyberProf and Mallard, I’ll be damned if I can figure out what role Patents might play in the development of such environments, particularly when the field was so immature as it was in the mid to late ‘90s.

The uncollegiality I mentioned previously is amplified by this use of the Law. We customers want the better software to prevail. Copyright law is ok for software; we can understand lifting of chunks of code as a breach. But when the mousetrap is better a blockage via Patent violation seems out of bounds. And the reality with software is that starting later is an advantage – backward compatibility is not (as much of) an issue and development can take best advantage current art. We want to see the new overturn the old and if not let the lock-in choice be left to us as users. The vendor making the choice for us is offensive.

There is now the further issue of nobody developing open source LMS understanding what is in breach of the Blackboard patent. Blackboard’s assurances that it won’t go after Open Source are not comforting. If Moodle, for example, were to start really increasing its market share wouldn’t Blackboard have incentive to change its mind, especially if it thought it could win another infringement case?

The dampening effect on innovation may be more troublesome than the immediate damage to D2L. D2L customers will be nervous, for sure. And they will have to reconsider the planning for the future. But they will continue to operate in their current environments. It’s the future that’s at stake, not the present.

Why I’m writing this piece

I’m angry and all of us who are angry want to vent. There is a need to let go of steam. But that is not the purpose of the piece. I’ve got other ways to vent and can do that privately. Here I want to use the anger to force a strategic conversation that we should have been having openly a year or two ago. Do we need to turn 180 degrees in advocating for integrated solutions in teaching and learning in favor of a best of breed approach? That is the key question to discuss and in my view the answer is yes, for the reasons I’ve articulated above. I don’t know if this patent case will drive others to reach the same solution, but I’m willing to be it will encourage others to participate in the conversation.

I didn’t say this above but in addition to being poor at delivering credible open source alternatives, we’re equally poor, perhaps even worse, at forming buyer collectives that can serve as a counterforce to an increasingly monopolistic LMS market. It is true that there are many state consortia which purchase one LMS on behalf of their membership. But as far as I know there are no interstate consortia of this sort. And in my way of thinking that is unlikely to happen in the future. So the best of breed approach represents an imperfect but better answer than the available alternatives. That’s the discussion we need to have. Perhaps now, many of us are ready to engage in it.

The Real Rambler

1961 AMC Rambler
Some other .edu bloggers say my posts ramble. True enough. But above is the real rambler. It was the family car when I was a kid.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pink Floyd Time

There is no dark side.

My New Blog

I've started a new blog called The Economics Metaphor which is for content to teach intermediate microeconomics. My hope is to develop a full course worth of material this way see how far I can get toward achieving that goal over the next few months. For anyone who cares about open content, I'd be grateful for feedback about structure, in particular on whether the content as put up this way is readily re-usable.

And for any economists in the audience, once there is a bit more up, I'd appreciate comments about the tone, style, and coverage.

I'm doing this because I might teach an online course on this topic and I'd like to teach it my way. So what I'm really asking is if in doing that is there any re-use value.

In addition, I produced a wide variety of artifacts over the years, much in Excel, and I'd like to know if I go through those and update them will the collection then be something that is pleasing and useful to the students.

Eerie Feelings

This is an addendum to my previous post: A Bite of the Apple.

It took me two days to write that thing. I started on Monday but only finished Tuesday evening. I got stuck Monday afternoon looking for a David Brooks column or blog post where he wrote the Obama Campaign had given substantial funds to various Super Delegates. I spent what seemed like forever looking for it but I couldn't find it. So perhaps I imagined the whole thing and Brooks hadn't said it at all. More likely, he did but I'm such a bad searcher for detail like this that I miss what is right under my nose. Either way, I needed that to make my next point in the piece. Without it I was stuck and I didn't know how to proceed.

Then, lo and behold, in the Tuesday morning New York Times there is another column by Brooks that, guess what, he talks about Obama giving funds to Super Delegates. It was as if my prayers were answered, though normally I don't pray, at least not in so many words. I wouldn't have noted that here but for the rest.

In my post I talked about Obama raising an absurd amount of money - his campaign couldn't have predicted it. This morning (Wednesday) there's a different piece in the Times saying (1) the Campaign has raised more than $150 million, and (2) even his own Campaign Finance team has been surprised by how much cash they have collected.

Mr. Obama’s January surge surprised even members of his finance team. When Meaghan Burdick, who works on Mr. Obama’s online fund-raising efforts with Joe Rospars, the campaign’s director of new media, drew up a set of projections in December, she came up with three possibilities for January in the event Mr. Obama won Iowa, finished second or third, with a victory expected to draw $10 million to $15 million over the Internet.

In fact, the article says they had to revise upward their estimate of how much the collected in January --- to $36 million. So now it appears I'm able to predict elements of the news --- or at least to glean from the disconnected facts that are reported some sense of what is going on before others have put the picture together. Hmmm.

The article also reports about the Obama Campaign flinching on the issue of whether to take public funds during the general election race (presumably against John McCain). The implicit issue, not discussed, is whether given the large war chest the Campaign has now the Campaign would be throwing away a significant advantage by using Public Funds, in which case both the Democratic and Republican candidates will be funded equally. In my opinion the Obama Campaign should take its time to give its answer on this question - no real reason to do so before the primaries in Ohio and Texas - and not give in to the baiting they are getting from McCain. But when they do work it through the conclusion is likely to be - we know how to run an effective Campaign now and we likely can do it for well less than $85 million, so why not take the Public Funds so as to honor the prior commitment? That will leave open the question of to what good use the War Chest should be allocated. I don't know the answer to that question. All I know is that as long as it is not used in a way that would create ethical problems for the Campaign (something I discussed in the previous post) then its existence is largely irrelevant for addressing the question of whether to accept Public Funding.

Here's one other strange thing that happened. This morning I did the stationary bike before work. I'm back watching early West Wing episodes until seasons 3 and 4 of "24" arrive from Today's episode was the fifth show from the first season. In that episode there are a couple of exchanges between Toby and President Bartlett on whether the President's inner demons are holding him back from achieving greatness. Hmmm.

All of this is just coinky dink or, as I said, making sense of what is already known. But it does get you to wonder.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Bite of the Apple

Maureen Dowd had a compelling column yesterday. It was about the imperfections in determining how a President will act in office, given what is known about the candidate from the campaign, prior service in office, and articulated stances on the issues. When we give our public face, all of us hide parts of ourselves. The candidates are no different. The demonic and paranoid aspects of their personality remain well under wraps, hidden from public view. Would it be that our preferred candidate is immune from pressure and lack of sense of proportion. Unfortunately, it seems, none of them are.

People my age view Nixon akin to the evil Satan himself, the embrace of the dirty tricks early on setting the ethical tone that led to Watergate and a crisis in confidence of the government. All our sense of blame is heaped on him and for the rest of Presidential history we tend to wear rose colored glasses; we so much want to believe in heroes and that our Presidents are among them. Right now Barack Obama is being compared to JFK, as if JFK was our last heroic President. But JFK had The Bay of Pigs fiasco, a triumph of hubris and machismo but a disaster for foreign policy. JFK’s successor did worse. LBJ ran as the dove on Vietnam to Goldwater’s hawk, but before the election LBJ got his Gulf of Tonkin resolution, and the escalation in the fighting that ensued after his landslide victory polarized us as a nation moving us from centrism to left and right, divisions that continue to exist to this day. Bush I, after campaign on the slogan, “Read my lips, no new taxes” indeed raised taxes, which coupled with the poor performance of the economy in 1992 led to his defeat for reelection. And, of course, Bush II had Iraq.

With this thought in mind I turned my attention to the current candidates. Nicholas Kristof, who as of late seems to be waging his own personal campaign for liberals to embrace conservatives who act selflessly and charitably based on conscience and belief, gave a glowing endorsement of McCain as a candidate, mostly because McCain’s positions on issues seem determined not by convenience but rather to match his principles, irrespective of the political fallout he might get from taking them, and in the rare instances when he does compromise on those principles he does so in such an awkward and uncomfortable way that he fools no one.

This description of McCain didn’t ring true to me as I still have a lingering memory of his role in Keating Five, but that happened long ago and memories fade with time. So I did some searching to refresh my memory. I found this piece from Slate magazine, the existence of which makes clear that the issue came up when McCain ran against Bush eight years ago. McCain is largely exonerated for his role in the Keating scandal, but let’s note that he received funds and favors from Keating and only disclosed (and then paid back the gifts) after the scandal had broken. Given how lax and non-adversarial the press seems nowadays, I don’t have complete trust in the proposition that McCain no longer tries to play benefactors like Keating and take advantage of their largesse. But one does have that sense that having been burned so badly from the Keating scandal, McCain understands that the risks outweigh the rewards in this dimension. Further, and though this may seem odd I do feel my perceptions about reality, particularly American politics, have been influenced by TV and the movies, notably what I’ve seen on the West Wing, and in this case there seems to be some parallels between the McCain’s candidacy and that of fictionalized Arnie Vinnick, who said in reference to lobbyists that if you can’t eat their food and drink their booze and then vote against them you don’t belong in the business. I’m not sure whether McCain would say it exactly the same way, but it is sufficient for me to think it is not such a big deal and if McCain were to become president it likely wouldn’t be the place where his demons reside.

Obama, however, is a different story. His campaign has been raising a stupendous amount of money. His campaign Website now reports almost 460,000 donors. And the New York Times reports the Obama campaign raised $32 million in January. My conjecture is that the campaign is so flush with contributions now it doesn’t know how to spend all the money. (Recall the Beverly Hillbillies, who used to take a bucket of cash, open a window on the second floor of the bank, and let it fly.) Once your MUM (marginal utility of money) reaches zero you become immune from bribes, at least of the cash variety (and of anything else that can be procured with cash). The ethical issues for Obama now arise not from the gifts he is getting but rather from how the cash the campaign has is being spent.

Among the various pundits, David Brooks has picked up on the fact that the Obama Campaign has contributed large sums of money to Democratic Congressional candidates. (The Clinton campaign has made like contributions but not nearly as great in magnitude overall.) What hasn’t been spelled out very well, at least not yet, is the timing of these contributions. Right now with the likelihood that neither Obama nor Clinton will have the requisite number of delegates to claim the nomination before the Democratic convention, the Super Delegates will matter and all those Congressional candidates are Super Delegates. So these contributions look like cash bribes for votes, which if true would be very bad indeed. It would make both candidates, having called for electoral reform, appear like the worst kind of hypocrite, with Obama the ultimate loser because he’s been doing more of it. But let’s not jump to hasty conclusions. I suspect there is a more benign explanation. Though $10K might seem like a lot of money to us, it strikes me as too low a number to buy a Super Delegate vote, especially given how easy it has been to track these contributions and that at present these folks are lobbied right and left. Hence they may view largesse simply as the price of doing business, without it necessarily having much if any effect on the outcome of that business. It may be hard to explain that to the electorate; there is the appearance of an impropriety if not the impropriety itself. At a minimum, this will likely create some awkwardness for Obama, especially since the charges will not come from Clinton – she can’t afford to bring more attention to the fact that her campaign hasn’t raised as much – but rather from the press, once others than David Brooks take up the cause.

The point here is not to declare this the cause célèbre where Obama’s demons will be released. None of us know that. Rather, the point is to note that demons are released precisely when in unchartered waters where decisions are based by intuition and a feel for the situation rather than as fully deducible from prior positions the candidate has held. And it’s hard to imagine that the Obama campaign has yet fully gotten its arms around how much money they’ve raised, because it’s just as hard to believe any of them expected this last fall. Most of us operate under the impression that our normal everyday morality is ok for the circumstances we will confront. But in this case I think the Obama campaign needs to embrace a Nader-esque approach to its finances or risk watching their balloon rapidly deflate.

I should also point out that this current dilemma is really short term – a product of the campaign only. The war chest is built entirely out of “non-recurrent funds.” It will not materially affect how Obama would govern, should he be elected president. Then the issues about money have undue influence will more of the traditional sort. And on that I want to note a concern I raised right after Obama announced his candidacy. This has to do with his position on Ethanol (pro, at least at the time) and the fact that this is a pork barrel issue for Illinois; Decatur is the home of Archer Daniels Midland. As a senator for the state it’s perfectly understandable that he’d take this position. But as President, if he doesn’t take a more critical stance and consider the full complexity of the alternative fuels issue, he’ll be guilty of the rest of the stuff that Brooks accuses him of in the column today and that is another way his demons might appear. Yet on that I think it fair that Obama be allowed to let his articulated position evolve and not have to be pin downed on particulars now. Staking a firm position that could be viewed as blocking debate may not be very helpful a year or two into office. The only problem with that is most voters are not used to debate and argument from within the White House. But given the recent history with the Bush Presidency, that might be a more desirable outcome than any prescribed policy position articulated before the fact. If that is indeed what is going on, I’d simply like Obama to be overt about “thinking gray” and to make a case that it has its plusses.

* * * * *

What about our demons within the Learning Technology field? How do they manifest? What have been our excesses, our ridiculously bad decisions, and what pressures caused us to go that route? I’m going to review some of my history in the hope that at least some of it is illustrative of issue for the profession as a whole.


In 1995 online learning looked to me to be the fast horse to ride. Paradigms were lost or shifting or so it seemed. The drivers were entirely external. For me they had to be external if I were to become part of it all, because I didn’t have a clue, so what could I possibly contribute? Later I came to understand that it had to make sense for the teaching and learning needs that could be articulated largely without reference to the technology at all. But at the time I was hugely impressed with those who preceded me who had embraced the technology, especially those who had done something programming-wise (perhaps with Hypercard) that looked nifty. The response was similar to the awe I’d have from someone with a high end stereo system or a fancy sports car.

I was ok with the fact the stuff I did might not produce such overwhelming results, because my stuff didn’t have much wow factor in it. But I didn’t know how to think through whether stuff that did have lots of wow might still not produce spectacular results. It took quite a while and a fair amount of experience to formulate my version of the weakest link theory and in 1995 (what baud modem did you use and was your connection over Appletalk or TCP-IP?) there were a lot of reasons to have some weak links, no matter how thoughtful the approach. It took still longer to think through that apart from weak links, it might not be wow that is the driver of the results we want to obtain. Design of another sort might be required. And discovering just what that design looks like requires our active investigation.

The demon here is in sitting on the sidelines too long because we don’t know enough to contribute – expecting the technology and the wow to be the drivers. This is wrong-headed as a general proposition – as long as you are learning you have something to contribute and it’s the learning and the illustration of that not the expertise that needs to be articulated – but also because when the teaching and learning folks sit on the sidelines the geeks take over. The geeks will always argue that the driver is the technology – that’s what makes them geeks. Gotta love them, but they will drown out the rest of the conversation if you let them. Don’t.

A Soft Money Project, then a Hard Money Service, then a No Money Increase in Support of the Service

When I first started as a learning technology administrator, fall 1996, I had a job that made me feel smarter than I actually was. We gave out internal grants with a fairly substantial amount of cash for interesting projects that embraced ALN. It was my job to negotiate with the PIs on the grants the terms of their proposals and the proposals I liked the most got the funding. They knew that so they tended to agree with the suggestions I made. I was earnest in making those suggestions, which was fine, but the overall effect was to boost my ego beyond what was justified. (This experience helped a bit later on when negotiating with vendors prior to a purchase. If the vendor isn’t in the habit of making you feel smarter, the vendor isn’t doing a good job. But knowing that, one should tend to discount the reliability of the suggestions. I can’t say I didn’t fall into this trap with vendors, but I can say that at least I understood the problem.)

Sometimes over optimism about one’s own aptitudes is useful. It can act as a spur for creative energy. I did put in a lot of time and effort to make the SCALE project function well. Many others on Campus who hadn’t even applied for these grants nonetheless made use of the technology services SCALE provided – FirstClass, WebBoard, and Mallard were the primary services. I began to feel that the mission of SCALE was to provide this sort of infrastructure and that doing so was a public good for Campus. Plus I was enjoying myself in what I was doing. So I wanted the Campus to pick the costs of operating SCALE when the grant ran out and turn it into a hard money organization.

That happened in phases. And funding-wise we were quite stingy with the hard money. Part of that was the Campus being late to having a CIO so no strong advocate for the appropriate funding at the right level. Another part of it is that even at the central Campus level, we had multiple providers of service and we didn’t know how to aggregate over them and divide responsibilities very well. And then since we are such a decentralized Campus, many of the units wanted to retain control. At the start there was much energy and enthusiasm, in spite of the above and in spite of one of the first tasks to retire a Campus service that had some substantial use but had not be well supported on an ongoing basis. But it became more obvious that this was work, not play, and more of my time was spent in ways where I had a need to be bureaucratic rather than creative. I had no training for that and wasn’t skilled at all. And I started to realize I wasn’t so smart after all.

I would say this took several years, and also during this period my Center for Educational Technologies merged with the large Academic Computing organization, so it is not just a consequence of the move from soft money to hard but also a consequence that the bureaucratic aspects of the job ratcheted up another couple of orders of magnitude, but slowed a great deal in my efforts at innovation and accomplished much less overall. I believe the expression is “spinning my wheels.” And this was further exacerbated by my personality, my Myers-Briggs type is INTP, and the processes I go through mentally are not much different whether I’m being quite creative or not. The difference is in throughput, not process. This sort of slowing down, I’d call it a discouragement effect, is another big demon, one that I believe is common in many IT organizations.

And I need to be clear here because I believe that one can be innovative when operating under tight budgets. But one must exercise a certain discipline in doing so and one must also recognize there is a need to abandon some requirements that might be desirable to include if funding were more ample. My problem was not that innovation was not possible. Rather it was that I had no experience with that sort of thing so tried things based on what I had already done rather than adjusting immediately to the current situation. Early on I didn’t see the need to adjust; I was full of myself. Later on when the need became more apparent, there was less inclination to do so.

The Narcissism of Always On

The first two demons I’ve largely dealt with. They’re in my rearview mirror. This one is still a problem and it may be getting worse. There are two issues that feed off each other. The first is being a career academic. Much of the reward is in terms of recognition for the work and there is by this point in life a Pavlovian craving for recognition, especially when not fully engaged in other work. In my post Killing the Puppy, I argued we should subdue this impulse in our very bright students, so they can become more self-critical about their own learning. But we’re worse puppies than they are. We need to subdue the impulse in ourselves for a different reason. The narcissism deadens us to our own intrinsic motivation. It crowds out curiosity and it certainly crowds out struggle with a tough idea that is not yet making sense. So that’s one piece.

The other is sitting in front of a computer too many hours a day. This encourages all the evils of feign multiprocessing. And it provides another excuse for someone like me to avoid personal interaction and more variety of experience. Staring at the computer, one can be alone with one’s own thoughts. Social interaction forces some surrender to the thoughts of others. It makes each of us more of human being.

The combination can be intoxicating – recognized yet a hermit, the one justifying the other, but somehow leaving oneself less than whole. For me personally, there is the added factor than sometimes in others I’m less satisfied with their degree of reflection and prior thought. But there is a fallacy in my doing more compensating for them doing less. We each need balance. But sometimes I see this as a source of my personal comparative advantage and, hence, a way to achieve recognition. Hmmm.

Let me close by returning to Maureen Dowd’s point. It’s folly to think we can avoid our demons altogether and hence we’re apt to behave in some unpredictable and pernicious ways in the future when those demons do emerge. But life goes on. And perhaps it’s easier to let that happen when there is some self-awareness of our darker sides.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lessons from Donald Rumsfeld

I confess to have developed a new addiction. At 6:30 or 7:00 CST I switch on CNN and watch whatever nonsense they have on about the election. Because the Superbowl has passed and I’ve lost interest in College Basketball as the Illini are in the second division in the Big Ten and likely won’t finish with a .500 record so won’t make it to a post-season tournament, the Presidential race has become my sporting event to watch. Whether it is speculation about the upcoming primaries, demographic breakdowns of recent primary results, or clips of the candidates addressing their supporters, it all plays out just like a race for a sports championship and creates the same sense of fan interest for me. In this regard I believe I’m typical. I think CNN knows this and delivers its coverage accordingly. For example, they do a lot on age, gender, income, and ethnicity of the voters and which candidates they choose. They’ve done extremely little on issues and, for example, whether a voter prefers Clinton over Obama because of differences in their health care plans. In effect, the candidates themselves have become the issues. That’s how it is with celebrities. That’s what the candidates have become.

Part of the reason to have a primary season with a sequence of primaries (or caucuses) rather than a single primary day on which all voters select the candidates is that the former allows information flows and more full vetting of the candidates so that voters in later primaries make their choices with a greater amount of information than those in the very early ones, Iowa or New Hampshire. The debates have been reasonably good in giving candidates view on the issues as well as getting the voters to understand how the candidates perform public speaking-wise under the pressure and fatigue of the campaign. These news shows, in contrast, seem to be more about us and our reaction to candidates than about the candidates themselves. If a large fraction of such and such group votes for candidate x, then other members of that group in states that haven’t yet held their primaries should also vote for candidate x, to get on the bandwagon. When they talk about a candidate “gaining momentum” it seems to be this bandwagon effect to which they are referring. So my little surmisal of what has been happening this primary season is some vetting of the candidates and some finding of the bandwagon with more of the former early on and more of the latter more recently. Howard Dean will look like a genius if this process produces a clear cut winner before the Democratic convention, without relying on substantial votes from the superdelegates to determine the outcome. But he will look like an absolute ditz if the process deadlocks, because of the disqualification of both Michigan and Florida in selecting delegates for pushing up their primary dates too early, a prize in combination almost as large as Texas and Ohio, the two states Hillary Clinton is counting on to put her over the top.

In Dean’s view, the vetting part is best done in smaller states, where the voters can get closer to the candidates, and having a handful of these with demographically diverse populations should help to give the rest of the voters a good read on the candidates. This time around, with Iowa and New Hampshire followed by Nevada and South Carolina before Super Tuesday, that part worked like a charm, but it really was a two horse race from the start, the type of race where the Dean approach makes the most sense. In the alternative case when there is a prohibitive favorite early on, the whole thing can be sewn up early as has happened in the Republican race, their winner take all approach to allocating delegates making that outcome more likely. But then states like Michigan and Florida are right to want to move their primaries up earlier so they can matter and get the issues of their voters to be accounted for in the political calculus. So the Dean approach works well in the first case but not in the second. I don’t believe there is a single right answer to this, but I hope there is a winner and not deadlock this time around, because we need a different party in the White House and because the Dean approach needs some fine tuning before the up or out decision on it is made.

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This recent fascination with politics has got me to be thinking about what parallels there are between politics and learning technology. This is not just idle thought. Sometimes the issues we confront are so contentious that we can’t argue about them or reason through them publicly. Finding parallels in a different field that we are all aware of has value because then we can make the argument about the parallel field without feeling encumbered and then by drawing some conclusions about our own field make some progress in the process. Of course, the parallel world will be dissimilar in many ways and so one must be careful not to draw sweeping conclusions. Please bear that in mind as you read the following.

The current version of the New York Times Magazine has a featured piece on Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense. The piece is largely positive on what Gates has accomplished since he took office a little more than a year ago. He seems to be well liked both by soldiers in the Armed Forces and by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, including Carl Levin, the ranking member and a leading Democrat. Much of the article is about how Gates goes about getting things done. Gates is consultative by nature and yet he knows how to move things through a bureaucracy. He is, in some sense, the consummate manager. He is not so much an agenda setter as a relief pitcher, finishing up a game that others started. He is very effective in that role.

Much of Gates success can be attributed to whom he replaced, Donald Rumsfeld, and the contrasting styles of the two. Rumsfeld was an innovator, brash and outspoken and often at odds with the generals who reported to him as well as with the Democrats in Congress. (On the latter the Gates piece in the Times makes clear that some of the behavior is dictated by circumstance. When Rumsfeld was Defense Secretary under Bush, the Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House. Consequently, there was less of a need for consensus building to get things accomplished.) I think it fair to say that many of Rumsfeld’s innovations either failed outright or succeeded in part but did not live up to prior billing. We often talk about learning from our own failures. This blog post is an attempt to learn from the failures of another.

Let me draw out the parallels first. A good part of IT on my campus is provided by a large, bureaucratic organization. My sense is that at other peer institutions the IT organization is likewise large and bureaucratic. Readers who are at smaller institutions can make their own judgments as to whether this particular parallel makes sense on their own campus. The Department of Defense is one of the larger bureaucracies in the country. Both the IT organization and the Department of the Defense provide (congestible) public goods to their respective constituencies. To an economist like me, the primary characterization of a public good is that it is non-excludable, meaning one person’s consumption of the good doesn’t block another person’s consumption of the same good, while congestible means that if the collective consumption is too great then the consumption benefit for any one individual is degraded.

With national defense, there are many possible threats, large and small, and hence a diversity of needs to be satisfied, some which are mutually supporting, other which compete with one another for scarce resources. Likewise with IT and here I’ll just focus on learning technology. The technology can support collaboration between students and instructor and between the students themselves, it can make information more readily available and thereby promote access, it can track behavior and perhaps in this way help in measuring student performance, and it can help students visualize issues that they’d otherwise find difficult to consider. I don’t mean this to be an exhaustive list. I simply want to make the point that because there these competing needs, and because they are addressed by public good provision which in itself doesn’t get subjected to a market test, there can be disagreements about how these needs should be prioritized and which should be addressed first.

A third source of parallel is the view that the world has changed and hence we need to change to accommodate those external changes. At the outset of the Bush II presidency, a widely shared view about the Armed Forces was that they were still largely configured to fight the Cold War and hadn’t yet adjusted to a different set of threats such as the experience in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the specter of a nuclear North Korea, and threats from a variety of other states and groups. These new threats required a flexible and rapid response, one that is tuned to the particular circumstance. Now consider this juxtaposition. The campus IT organization here where I was employed until 15 months ago is now going through a re-org and one of the prime reasons is that it is perceived as too slow to respond to new IT needs as they arise.

The call for change, however, is certainly not restricted to my campus. George Siemens in a very recent paper offers up different possible roles that instructors might play in light of recent IT developments and how those affect the ways students learn. (I found this paper less than fully illuminating because it was not clear which type of instructor should embrace any one of the particular roles that George mentions and further there was not enough drill down on the roles themselves that instructors might make an informed selection themselves based on their own inclinations.) In a similar vein Gardner Campbell, who has been blogging profusely since the ELI conference concluded, wrote a post on Incrementalism, something to be avoided assiduously, citing none other than Brian Hawkins as the authority on the matter, and feeling compelled to introduce his students to Croquet, to get a new vista on collaboration with documents.

For me personally, I’m bipolar regarding change. When it is my own efforts to direct, I’m drawn toward taking a novel, non-orthodox approach. (Who else is talking up Rumsfeld these days, for instance?) But when it comes to inducing change in others, while I may not act as cock-sure of myself as Rumsfeld did and I may offer up my views as suggestions rather than as commandments, I’m afraid I’m guilty of many of his errors, translated back to campus learning technology, of course. So with that, let’s list some of these and discuss the list at least to the extent to explain why they happened. I’m not able to offer up preferred alternatives but I can bring to bear what is at issue from the decision maker’s point of view. Here is the list of issues:

1. Blame those who embody the old way of doing things.

2. Feel pressed in the need to get things done quickly.

3. Let considerations about cost affect the view of what is feasible.

4. Insist that your view of the world is right and hence don’t negotiate to a mutually agreed on position with others who hold contrary opinions.

5. Provide an entry level reason for doing something that is at odds with the long term reason for doing it.

Let me discuss 1 – 4 together, each as part of one larger issue. Then I will talk about 5 separately. The reason for the distinction is this. While the analogy is not perfect, we can compare IT provider to faculty, on the one hand, with Department of Defense/Federal Government to citizenry, on the other. With that, 1 – 4 are meant to cover dealing with insiders, while 5 is meant to cover dealing with outsiders.

I think any IT leader’s motivation comes from wanting to get things done, things the leader himself values and would view as substantial accomplishments, accomplishments that if achieved would earn recognition for the leader. All these years later after some substantial experience both as an IT user and as an administrator, I confess that I have no good sense of how long things should take in implementing new IT projects, especially when they are done at scale. Let me start with that lack of as the base. To that let’s add the following. I know that in large organizations there is a problem with members who aren’t at the top feeling that they have to avoid blame, for which they’ll be singled out, in part because they won’t be granted the offsetting credit for accomplishment, which is either attributed to the organization as a whole or to the folks at the top. In football, the quarterback takes the offensive line out to dinner to partly address this issue. But the head coach doesn’t do that. And if the head coach is determined and not very communicative, he can make his players clam up and underperform. That is part of the issue.

The other part is the generational thing and the difficulty staying current with the technology. Those staff who are self-protecting in the job may not spend enough time learning new tricks, because the latter don’t have an obvious payoff. So they get stale in what they know and their inclinations and tendencies cause the leader to wince. The leader starts to wonder whether these people are sharp enough to do their job. Let’s get rid of the whole lot and start anew. Over time this becomes a grind where there is contempt on both sides. And the situation is exacerbated because in terms of financial incentives, there really aren’t any aside from promotion.

The need to get things done quickly comes from several sources – keeping up with peers, general developments in the world of IT that make change the norm, and a what-have-you- done-for-me-lately approach in how we are evaluated by our superiors and in how we evaluate ourselves. Basking in past glory might work when we’re talking about lines on a CV and publications from some years back that still get cited. And basking in past glory might create a habit of mind to do things right the first time out. But when in a service provider role, ancient history is just that and the present tense is the only one spoken. This is the same for the Department of Defense and us in learning technology. This living in the present tense puts enormous pressure on getting things done quickly.

The issue with cost is the eyes-bigger-than-the-stomach problem. We all want to implement the newest and greatest systems, because then all our users will clamor toward us and want to participate in what we provide. But if we cost out these systems fully in a sober manner, it’ll become clear that frequently we can’t afford them. So we do just what those subprime borrowers did in financing their homes that they no longer can continue making payments on. They literally mortgaged their future. So did we. Rumsfeld undoubtedly argued for the low troop numbers in Iraq after the invasion, because a higher assessment up front would have meant not doing it. This part of human nature is a bitch.

Among the various assessments of the Bush White House, one that seems strong is that early on Bush didn’t hear contrary argument to positions he ultimately advocated for. Nowadays he does hear about issues from more than one side, and his approach has been more conciliatory. One reason to insist you are right is to avoid the argument. Another is because the argument takes time to resolve. A third is because making the argument might give credence to those with whom you find fault. And yet another is that coming up with the idea to begin with is a creative act and creative acts should not be compromised by practical low-to-the-ground implementation considerations.

Rumsfeld was an innovator but he was guilty of all these sins. What about us in learning technology? How do we get change without making these mistakes?

Let me turn to the WMD issue. WMD was the smoking gun, the reason we had to invade Iraq, with no time to lose. (To be fair, WMD is more Cheney than Rumsfeld but for certain purposes they acted as a tag team.) At this time I still don’t know whether those guys really expect to find WMD or if they knew fully that it was a ruse, because while all evidence I’m aware of points to the ruse hypothesis, I can’t for the life of me understand how they could expect to pull it off. In other words, if from the point of view of 2002 they knew all the future until now, would they still have wanted to go through with it? Of course the number of troops issue matters here, so they could have believed Rummy was right on that even if WMD was a ruse. Even that is hard to believe.

In any event, WMD soon was abandoned for bringing democracy to the Middle East, perhaps a noble idea (but as anti-Reagan as one can imagine, Jeanne Kirkpatrick would have none of that). And of course the democracy idea has morphed since to something that might actually be sustainable. All of this (and Katrina too) led to a throw-the-Bushies-out mindset in the population as whole. Fortunately, we have the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees new leadership in the White House in January 2009.

There are no term limits for IT leadership (though the average tenure of a CIO is certainly less than 8 years. Maybe this is why.) And some of us will be long timers at our institutions for spousal, family, ties to the community, loyalty to colleagues, and other reasons. So why do we go off half cocked and make arguments akin to WMD about why such and such system will revolutionize learning on our campuses and we’ve got to have it or else? Have we thought through what it will be like two or three years into implementation of the system? Or does optimism reign eternal and we make these mistakes over and over again, because we are compelled to do so?

Let me close with this observation. I’ve exaggerated more than a bit in this piece. I’m not Donald Rumsfeld and I know that. Learning technologists and other IT leaders aren’t Donald Rumsfeld either. They can be sure of that. But they can spend some useful time scratching their heads about wherein lies the difference. That is something to ponder.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Dow Said "Ow"

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.
- John Kenneth Galbraith

I'm afraid Galbraith is right on this one, so no heroic predictions from this quarter. I'll only observe that its got to be tough running for President as a Republican these days.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Kindle Review/Thoughts about ELI

I’m playing hookie today. The U of I is open for classes, but my kids are out of school because of the snow. Last night coming home from work, a trip that normally takes about 15 minutes but in this case took more than 40, there were fire trucks and ambulances out because cars had skidded off the road into positions where they were blocking other traffic. Since my leg injury, I’ve become fearful of being out in weather like this. So I’m taking a vacation day at home and will try to do some writing – this post and some other things as well.

I kept kind of a low profile at ELI in San Antonio. My two minutes of fame came from showing off the Kindle. People were curious about it and seemed impress with the readability of the text on the screen. I recall that when the iPod first came out (this is before the project at Duke) Apple started a program where it gave iPods away to campuses so they could explore educational uses of the technology. would do well to introduce a similar program – there is curiosity to satisfy. In my own use, so far I’ve not tried putting content on the kindle that comes from my own computer. I’ve only used it for reading the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and a biography of Roger Williams. Here’s some reaction based on that limited experience.

I love the Kindle as a reader. Most importantly, once you get used to it (about a half hour for me) it feels like reading a book; it produces the same immersion into the text and loss of sense of self. The page refresh and advance seems a little awkward at first, but that fades into the normalcy of use. I originally set the font size to pretty large but soon discovered that if the lighting is reasonable then even I can read the font at smaller than normal, because of the line spacing of the text. That is well done. I’d judge there to be about two Kindle screens of text (at this next to the smallest font size) to about one page of text in a typical paperback book. (This is the sort of thing where it would be nice to see an actual analysis rather than my guessing.) And by the nature of the device it’s as if all the pages are on the right hand side of the book. So on this calculation one is doing about four page refreshes in the Kindle to every page turn one would do in a print book. But once that gets familiar, it is unobtrusive and allows continuity of the thought. Further, there is no issue of cracking the binding because some of the text is too close to the fold. The margins are ample and so all the text is quite readable. On this core function. the Kindle scores high marks with me.

There are a couple of peripheral issues with the Kindle. It comes with a book cover of mock leather that is used for housing the device - since there are push bars for different function along the border of the device, there is no comfortable way to hold it as a stand alone without inadvertently changing the page to be viewed. After turning the device off or putting it into a standby mode, the natural thing to do is to close the cover. My experience is that upon wanting to resume reading, it doesn’t always return to where I left off. I’m not sure of why this happens and whether it is a consequence of my error as a user or if instead it is a little buggy that way. But that was annoying. And it has an alternative to page numbering that allows one to find places in the text. This alternative numbering scheme remains non-intuitive to me, and I’d like to see some correspondence between it and actual page numbers from a print version of the book. But this matters not when reading, only when trying to find places in the text.

One other point, not specifically about Kindle but about any electronic reader. On planes we know there are times when electronic devices must be turned off – this is before takeoff and landing. A big idea of the using the Kindle for me is to go entirely paperless. But then there is nothing to read in these periods when electronic devices can’t be used. My own behavior on planes is that if I’m not reading I’m nodding off (or already asleep). So I might read less with the Kindle than I would if I had a paperback. I’m not yet clear on whether that is a trifle or if it matters. I will need to take a few more trips to decide.

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The ELI annual conference confirmed for me two distinct thoughts; my personal center of gravity is moving further and further away from where the profession is headed and I’m increasingly critical of attempts at use of technology in learning while the profession seems all embracing.

On the former, my own fascination is with the integration of highly personal themes into the learning and making that integration explicit. For more than a year now, my blogging has embraced that approach. The weaving in of personal themes is much more interesting to me than the technology itself and my new sense of hero are those writers whose work is emblematic of the approach, Tennessee Williams for example.

I attended the open plenary by Henry Jenkins, and various featured speaker sessions – George Siemens on Connectivism, Tom Reeves on the Conative Domain, and Michael Wesch on teaching his large class at K-State that I would characterize as variations on a theme and as a whole representative of where the profession is and where it is headed. There is an emphasis on collective intelligence (Wikipedia was discussed a lot, particularly by Jenkins) and the role of the expert versus the collective in knowledge production and dissemination. I’m not opposed to these ideas, but I feel they are incomplete in an important way. Ironically, each of these speakers did talk about the personal in learning – when describing their own experience. But none had the personal integrated into their rhetoric about learning and particularly in how we should encourage our students. And none talked about what aspects of the individual are to remain overt to facilitate function of the collective

George Siemens, in his entertaining and playful style, asked repeatedly for counter arguments to his presentation and why what he said is wrong. I chewed on this for a couple of days after the talk and came up with this. In George’s rhetoric, a connection is a connection is a connection. We learn by making connections, the more the merrier. I don’t believe this in full. Personal connections are different. Our sense of ethics comes from our personal connections and further those connections are key to our understanding of how we are motivated. I don’t believe we can consistently make “external” connections if we don’t make personal connections as well. An eighteen or nineteen year old may well be confused on both these points and surely college still has a role in helping the student sort these things out and come to a better place of understanding of self. (And a fifty something might likewise try to come to a better understanding of self via his own self-directed learning, as in blogging.) So I would encourage George first to ask whether he accepts or rejects this critique, to carve out a special place for the personal in his theory of Connectivism, and second to give a more fully fleshed out view of the collective that is so connected (see my comments on this point below).

Tom Reeves is onto something with his focus on the conative domain and that students need to learn about force of will, intensity of effort, and commitment in achieving ends. But his presentation wasn’t completely satisfying, and I know from chatting with him afterwards that he himself didn’t feel the talk went all that well. Part of this, I believe, is encouraging habits of behavior that reinforce persistence of effort, while another part is in developing a belief in goals that are worthwhile to achieve. Tom himself talked about the disengagement pact featured in documentary Declining by Degrees, where in fact we in Higher Education are doing the opposite. Tom argued that the remedy is to engage students in “authentic tasks” and let them learn and be assessed from completion of this sort of work. But in his view the authenticity is a property of the tasks themselves, not of the individuals doing the tasks. To me, that is wrong headed, and to flesh out these issues it is necessary to make the personal explicit for the student and juxtapose that with the tasks themselves.

Michael Wesch’s session was the most entertaining of those I attended – he is a gifted speaker and he understands how to create meaningful visual entertainment through the rapid juxtaposition of images. His session was standing room only and the audience reacted quite positively to the presentation. Michael clearly engaged the students in his intro cultural anthropology class. But it’s less clear whether there was depth to the student learning or if they made any progress on the themes Tom focused on.

(George, Tom, and Michael each talked in the same room, a room formed from the main ballroom my putting up a partition. The room was oblong with the speaker at one of the narrow ends, putting the speaker at some distance from the audience, particular those near the other narrow end of the room. It might be hard to do this logistically, but I wish they’d have speakers stand in front of one of the wider ends of the room, to bring the audience closer to the speaker. They made a point about the round tables in the room where some of the audience could sit, a recurring ELI theme, but distance between the speaker and the audience is also important.)

Let me turn to my second concern. The embrace of the collective is an implicit endorsement of direct democracy; each of us is a potential contributing node in a network and the network functions best if indeed we are vigorous in our participation so that should focus our aim. Direct democracy is an appealing notion, but it is not the only possible way for a collective to function. There are other possibilities, some pernicious. One particular vision popularized by Star Trek is that of the Borg. This vision was meant as a stark contrast to the Federation and during the year or two where I watched the Next Generation, I thought the episodes with the Borg were the best, so I would say the vision is compelling. But from the point of view of teaching and learning, it is a frightening vision. There is no personality in the Borg, no sense of the individual, a total subservience to the collective.

If we think of direct democracy and the Borg as two distinct ways the collective might function, what determines the one from the other? If we think of teenagers, in particular, their desires to be well liked and hence to be part of the crowd, isn’t there a force that drives them to behave like the Borg? Might social networking a la Facebook be considered more an encourager of Borg-like behavior than of direct democracy? And likewise for Twitter and text messaging?

What of learning technologists in this regard? (Just about everyone I know in the profession is at least 30.) Does this direct democracy versus the Borg distinction make sense for them? Are they wary of any of these technologies because they might promote an undesirable view of the collective?

And what of faculty whom learning technologists might lobby to use some of these technologies? What will the selling point be – the kids are doing it so they need to also to keep the kids’ attention? Do we really expect that argument to work? Faculty want depth of argument from the students. If these technologies are associated with shallow, quick-hitter response, how should a sensible non-Luddite faculty member react to them?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. My concern here is not with the answers. It is that the profession doesn’t seem to be asking them. It seems to be blindly accepting. Part of that is in the spirit of experimentation with the technology. The experimentation per se is fine. But such experimentation can co-opt a critical perspective.

There are two technologies I know that folks have been critical of – the LMS and PowerPoint. These criticisms took a long time to emerge and did so only after a substantial embrace by the community. And with that came a counter argument in the form of effective use and good practice. With more recent technologies the profession does not seem to take a critical stance from the outset nor does it see its role as defining good practice, but rather as promoting use in general.

I believe the profession does this at its own peril. I, for one, would rather turn my attention elsewhere than play the Paul Revere role on this point.