Posted by: rmostell | March 31, 2010

It’s a sad day: R.I.P.

It’s a sad day indeed when spammers win another battle against the good guys who want to use the internet to improve mankind not destroy it for selfish purposes.

I chose because it was the shortest of the short url services.  I guess I’ll go back to tinyurl.

Posted by: rmostell | March 10, 2010

Blackboard and Desire2Learn Settle Their Patent Disputes

The Settlement:

Finally after years of litigation and wasted energy Blackboard Inc. and Desire2Learn Inc. (D2L) have settled their disputes over patent issues on December 15, 2009.

[Whoops! since I started writing this blog yesterday, the above webpage has mysteriously disappeared. Now it requires the infamous, patented “single login” – username and password.  Hmmm? Reminds me of Mission:Impossible.]

“As is standard, the terms of the settlement are confidential.”

“the companies have reached an agreement to license each other’s worldwide e-learning patent portfolios”

Remember WebCT and Angel Learning?

I don’t want to sound pessimistic but does anyone remember WebCT and Angel Learning, two superior web learning environments that were economically devoured by Blackboard Inc. in recent years?  What happened to their “patent portfolios”?  Will we ever again see the brilliant interfaces developed by these companies?  Or will we continue to see the same bland, cumbersome interfaces that Blackboard has been selling us for over 10 years?   Will John Baker, President and CEO of D2L have sufficient resources to resist getting rich overnight by also selling out to Blackboard?  Or will we have Blackboard DC and Blackboard Northwest Territories?  Good luck John!

Open-Source Alternatives?

Fortunately we still have open source alternatives.  Maybe one of these will eventually develop into a true “enterprise” system with all the bells and whistles that universities demand today and that their students deserve.

Where have all the documents gone?

Did anyone notice that all the legal documents posted by D2L have disappeared?  They were public court documents and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) documents. They were posted here:

which has now been replaced by a redirect to the D2L main webpage. How convenient.  Must have been one of the undisclosed conditions of the settlement to bury the dirty laundry.

Where have all the patent claims gone?

What ever happened to the USPTO rejection of all  claims in the Blackboard ‘138 (Alcorn) patent?

or the USPTO re-examination of the ‘138 patent.  Is this still ongoing?  Is there a chance that the USPTO could revive the ‘138 patent? Ouch!!

Where has all the money gone?

What happened to the $3 million settlement that Blackboard “won” in the lower court in East Texas?  Did Blackboard return these ill-gotten gains to D2L?

Where have all the judges gone?

Didn’t the appellate court throw out the lower court’s decision?

Blackboard has all the answers:

Blackboard still lists the ‘138 patent on its “patent pledge” webpage: *

Does this mean that after years of effort by D2L, the U.S. courts and the USPTO, Blackboard may still try to enforce this poorly worded and highly questionable patent against other innovative, commercial vendors who try to enter the race for providing learning management software to educational institutions?  Was all this effort wasted? but D2L was saved?  I thought that the independent claims #1 and #36 of the ‘138 patent were declared invalid and thus all other dependent claims are also invalid.

If D2L had to remove all the valid, legal documents (some submitted by both sides) from its “files” website (mentioned above), why does Blackboard get to keep the invalid ‘138 patent on its website?  This seems to be an obvious effort by Blackboard to intimidate all would-be developers to pay royalties to use their patent that has been declared invalid by the U.S. courts and the U.S. patent office.

* I saved a screen shot of this webpage today just in case it also pulls a Mission:Impossible act.

Blackboard Patent Pledge webpage today, March 10, 2010.

Footnote: Some of the headings in this blog post are an obvious reference to the song Where Have All the Flowers Gone which was performed by Peter, Paul and Mary and recorded by The Kingston Trio in 1961. The song, based on the traditional Ukrainian folk song “Tovchu, tovchu mak”, was written by Pete Seeger as a call for peace. Get it?

Finally some good news to blog about in the Blackboard vs. Desire2Learn lawsuit.  The U.S. Court of Appeals has overturned claims #36-38 of the Alcorn patent (#6,988,138) as “anticipated as a matter of law” based on “prior art” and upheld the lower court’s decision that claims #1-35 were invalid because of “indefiniteness”.  That pretty much wraps it up for this patent.  Now we need the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to make their final decision on the reexamination of the patent.  See complete details below.

Even a simple professor like myself who is not a legal expert of any kind (and certainly not a patent lawyer) and who followed this case for the past year and half in the news could see that the ‘138 patent was a bogus claim of an “invention” and that the lower court had misconstrued the obvious meaning the English word “user”. (C’mon, try that out at JC Penny or Taco Bell and see where you get with “single login”.)  I’m glad to see that the court of appeals agrees with me and D2L on this issue.

The bad news is that Blackboard plans to appeal this decision and is already pursuing another more recent patent (#7,558,853) against Desire2Learn.

Don’t misinterpret me.  I appreciate the importance of copyrights and patents to stimulate the development and deployment of new technologies.  They help mankind improve our living environment (education, health, commerce, etc.).  However, when a large company like Blackboard who is very successful abuses the system to try to “search and destroy” all viable competition that they can’t buy  or outsell through superior technology and leadership, they do all of us (mankind) a disfavor.

For the record, I thought both WebCT and Angel Learning had superior technology over Blackboard – better thought out systems for learners and teachers.  I keep hoping that Blackboard with all this newly acquired technical expertise from WebCT and Angel Learning will produce a product that “blows the competition out of the water”.  We’ll have to wait and see about that.  We don’t know yet how well Blackboard 9 and Community and Content are going to fare in the academic setting.  There’s a lot of sales hype out there but the truth comes when the “rubber hits the road”!


Related blog: Blackboard buys Angel Learning

Related: And where’s the $3 + million (plus interest) that Blackboard extorted from Desire2Learn in the East Texas Federal Court?  Does Blackboard plan to hold on these ill-gotten gains just to punish Desire2Learn even though their patent doesn’t hold water?

Copied verbatim from the Desire2Learn website: and

Jul 27, 2009 2:03 PM
Federal Circuit Rules in Favor of Desire2Learn Across the Board

We are pleased to announce that the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has ruled on the appeals that resulted from the trial in Texas. The Federal Circuit has ruled in favor of Desire2Learn across the board and confirmed that all 38 patent claims asserted by Blackboard are invalid.

Those who have followed this blog may recall that claims 36-38 of the patent were the subject of the jury trial and that we had asserted that those claims were invalid because the “invention” they claimed was present in prior art. To decide that issue, the Appellate Court first had to define the word “user” in the ‘138 Patent. Blackboard argued that the term “user” refers to an electronic user account, and that a user account is defined by a single user name and password combination.

Desire2Learn asserted that a user is a person who uses the learning system. As the Appellate Court said, “The [patent] makes clear that the word ‘user’ refers to a flesh-and-blood person and not an electronic representation of that person.”

Having decided that Desire2Learn’s interpretation of the word “user” was correct, the Court turned its attention to whether the prior art on which Desire2Learn relied at trial contained all of the elements of those claims. As the Court put it, “On the merits, we agree with Desire2Learn that claims 36-38, as properly construed, are invalid for anticipation as a matter of law by CourseInfo 1.5 and Serf.”

The second issue addressed by the Court was whether the Texas Court was correct in ruling that claims 1-35 of the ‘138 Patent were invalid. In short, the Texas Court had ruled that the “Means for assigning a level of access to and control of each data file based on a user of the system’s predetermined role in a course,” a “means-plus-function” term, was indefinite. The Federal Circuit has agreed that in the ‘138 Patent Blackboard tried to claim too broadly which invalidates those claims:

“By failing to describe the means by which the access control manager will create an access control list, Blackboard has attempted to capture any possible means for achieving that end. Section 112, paragraph 6, is intended to prevent such pure functional claiming.”

Despite the challenges along the way, we have all of you to thank for supporting us through this lengthy process. We have always been, and will continue to be, about meeting the needs of our clients in their pursuit of advancing teaching and learning. Thank you for believing in us!

Posted by: rmostell | June 19, 2009

Support Peace, Justice and Freedom in Iran

Iranian Flags – Show your support for the people of Iran – Insert the Iranian flag everywhere – on your webpage, blog, wiki, twitter, facebook  –

Iranian Flag

Iranian Flag since 1979 Islamic Revolution

More Iranian Flags:

Iranian Flag 1933 - 1964

Iranian Flag 1933 - 1964

Iranian Flag 1964 - 1979

Iranian Flag 1964 - 1979

Republic of Iran in Exile (Paris) 1979 - 1980

Republic of Iran in Exile (Paris) 1979 - 1980

The top band of color (Green) in the Iranian Flag represents Islam (the religion) and is being used symbolically by the political supporters of  former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi who are protesting the results of the 12 June 2009 presidential election in Iran.  These supporters claim that the current Iranian government led by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stole the election from Mousavi in favor of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the current President of Iran.

The Boston Globe has published many excellent photographs of the recent protests in Tehran:

Follow the recent events in Tehran on Twitter using the hashtags:  #iranelection #gr88

You  can also show your support for the Iranian protestors by adding a green overlay or green ribbon to your Twitter avatar (photo):

I have chosen to use the flag to represent ALL Iranians in their search for peace, justice and freedom in their homeland on Twitter and Facebook

I just added a second Twitter channel dedicated solely to this subject:  Peace, Justice and Freedom in Iran

Ned Agha-Soltan

Neda Agha-Soltan

Neda Agha-Soltan will be loved forever.

Front page story, Los Angeles Times, 23-June-2009 –

Twitter hashtags: #neda #iranelection #gr88

@RayMosteller on Twitter

This says it ALL:  We Want Democracy

We Want Democracy

We Want Democracy

From minute 7:01 in

Here’s another nice background image from using the flag colors that you could use on Twitter (or other websites) to show your support:


More information about the History, Meaning and Controversy of the Iranian Flag:

Posted by: rmostell | May 21, 2009

Why the University of Oxford switched to Sakai

For years, the University of Oxford and the University of Leeds in the UK used the open source virtual learning environment Bodington .  However, in August 2007, The University of Leeds selected the Blackboard Academic Suite including the Blackboard Community and Content Systems and went live with their new virtual learning environment “The VLE” in September 2008.

Blackboard goes lives at Leeds

The Leeds Blackboard VLE

These events left the University of Oxford holding the bag as the primary developer and maintainer of Bodington.  Thus, the University of Oxford spent a great deal of effort in researching alternatives for Bodington.  In the end, they selected Sakai for their own virtual learning environment and plan to go live with their new WebLearn VLE in June 2009 after a year of beta testing the new system.

What I think is most important about these changes is not that one university selected Blackboard and the other selected Sakai but the fact that the University of Oxford documented their deliberations and the basis for their final decision and shared this information with the rest of the world on the web.  Links to this information are provided below.

What I think would be most helpful for other universities considering alternative VLE software would be for those universities who have made changes in the past 2 or 3 years to also share the results of their deliberations with everyone else following the lead of the University of Oxford.  This should help reduce the amount of redundancy in effort required by institutions to investigate and compare the different VLE software systems available.

I will state the caveat, however, that it is a moving target in that technology is constantly changing (improving I hope) and the marketplace has undergone significant changes recently especially when the dominant player (Blackboard) purchased two of it’s major commercial rivals (WebCT and ANGEL Learning).

Links to information at the University of Oxford:

Your Questions Answered by Oxford

Procurement documents at Oxford

Oxford Checklist used for assessing VLEs

The Oxford WebLearn wiki

Feature comparison of VLEs by Oxford

The Oxford WebLearn VLE (beta)

Posted by: rmostell | May 7, 2009

Blackboard Buys Angel Learning

This is great news!  By buying the best technology available in the field, Blackboard will finally consolidate all of the desirable features that we have been looking for in a learning management system (LMS), a.k.a virtual learning environment.  This combines the power of Blackboard, WebCT and Angel Learning all under one roof.  This will include flexibility, ease of use, almost unlimited features (bells and whistles) to choose from, a variety of addons and plugins, integration with other administrative and learning software systems, transparent access to an integrated backend content management system, file sharing, single-login, user-friendly collaboration and communication tools, the best online security available, student portfolios, Web 2.0 social networking features …  the list goes on and on.

Blackboard is following the Microsoft model of software development – buy it, don’t develop it – with a similar ultimate goal in mind – the best and only product on the market.  However, Blackboard President and CEO Michael Chasen warns that “there’s more competition today … than ever before”.

Following Microsoft’s success in  litigation, Blackboard is also defending its now infamous “single login” invention (‘138 patent) in the courtroom and the patent office (U.S. PTO).  This giant step forward for mankind (“single login”) has brought education out of the dark ages and right to our desktops and laptops.  Without this feature we would probably still be using green on black, 24 x 80 character screens (dumb terminals) to reach out to our students.  With Angel Learning off the table (of competition), Blackboard can now better focus it’s efforts on threats from the ever growing foreign competition from the North (e.g. Canada).

The other major advantage this move brings to academic institutions adopting Blackboard is stability and predictability.  They can now rely on the same quality of service and support that they have received in the past, the customer first business approach, and the same transparency of their licensing structure.  In fact, institutions can now save a great deal of money because they will no longer need to hire business employees (book keepers, accountants, analysts) to predict their future IT costs.  They can simply hire a high school math student who can plot e to the xth power on the ordinate versus x on the abscissa in order to calculate their future expenditures.  This leaves little room for doubt in planning future educational IT budgets.

When will John Baker, President and CEO of Desire2Learn, finally get the picture and come to the party.  He needs to come down off his high horse.  Who does he think he is, a Mountie?  He could be filthy rich and own his own exotic tropical island (where it doesn’t snow, John, and never freezes).  He could build his own tropical hockey rink.  What’s wrong with him?  Is he one of these old-fashioned business types that believes in the principles of hard work, innovation and open competition?  Doesn’t he know that, in the internet age, education begins in the classroom and ends in the courtroom.  $80 million (USD) is a lot of dough, John.  How much is that in Canadian coin?  It won’t even fit in your suitcase when you pack up to move to the tropics.

John, it’s time to circle the wagons and call in the posse.  You are under attack.

Who’s the real winner here?  Is it Blackboard? or Angel Learning? or education?  No, it’s open source learning management systems.  This S&D mission will drive even more academic institutions to examine more closely the open source alternatives (Sakai, Moodle, Trellis, etc.) and to re-evaluate the total cost of ownership of open source versus proprietary software.  Hopefully, it will also drive more academic institutions to support the non-profit foundations behind some of these open source movements that generate educational software.

It’s a sad day for all learners.

News and blogs:

Campus Technology:

Washington Post:

The Chronicle of Higher Education:

e-Literate Blog (Michael Feldstein):

Related info:

Desire2Learn patent blog

Open Source Learning Management Systems

Question: If your LMS uses some feature or plugin in Internet Explorer, is that “bundling”?

Posted by: rmostell | March 5, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog

Jon Mott said it perfectly in his blog The End in Mind so I won’t try to repeat him but just copy what he said below:

To Blog or Not to Blog

“It’s been over a month since I’ve blogged. At first my blog-silence was due to being busy with other things–wrapping up the semester, getting ready for the holidays, etc. Then I decided to take some time off, unstring the bow, so to speak.

Now as I get back into the swing of things, I realize I need to blog again. I jumped in to this blog last year thinking it would be a great way to share ideas and get feedback on things I was working on or thinking about. And it has been. But over the last month I’ve realized there’s another hugely important benefit of blogging. Keeping a blog has been a great way to organize my own thoughts, to force myself through the methodical process of making points more clear than when they’re just bouncing around in my head. And I’ve missed it.

So, whether anyone else has missed my musings or not, I’m returning to my regular routine of blogging at least once a week because it helps me sort through all of the chaff and make better sense of the complicated world I confront every day. And if I offer an insight or two along the way that helps you do the same, all the better.

And I’ve (re)learned an important lesson about the value of metacognition in the learning process . . . “

Thanks, Jon.

Reading Jon’s words caused me to reflect on my own experience.  Blogging is hard work.  You need to clearly organize your thoughts and express them in a way that others can understand and relate to.  You need to look up your references and make sure you are giving proper credit to others for their words and ideas.  You need to put your thoughts in clear context of what others have said or written.  But isn’t this what we want to teach our students to do.  Now the shoe is on the other foot!

A little reflection can go a long way!

Posted by: rmostell | February 19, 2009

Medpedia Goes Live on February 17, 2009

This is followup story to my August 13, 2008, blog:   “Medpedia Looking for a Few Good Doctors”

After six months of development as a private beta website, Medpedia has gone “live” on February 17, 2009.  The development was done in a blue-ribbon collaboration with faculty from Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley and Michigan.

Unlike Wikipedia, the content of Medpedia can be edited ONLY by qualified experts with doctorate degrees in their respective fields.  Although the content is written in “clear English” aimed at the general public, Medpedia may provide a reliable source of basic medical facts, images and explanations for students studying for careers in the medical sciences and could potentially be a place where medical science faculty can make personal contributions to a free and open global education network.  It sounds like a win-win situation for everyone.  Success will depend on continued corporate support and the quality of the editorial board who are critical in evaluating content submitted to the website.

I think this approach answers some of my criticisms of online encyclopedias in my February 18, 2009, blog:   “Wikipedia in Medical Education?”

Other organizations which support Medpedia include:

* American College of Physicians (ACP)
* American Heart Association (AHA)
* Oxford Health Alliance (OxHA)
* Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies (FOCIS)
* European Federation of Neurological Associations (EFNA)
* National Health Services (UK)

More information about Medpedia:

July 2008 Announcements:,-the-medical-Wikipedia,-allows-patients-to-diagnose-themselves.html

Posted by: rmostell | February 18, 2009

Wikipedia in Medical Education?

What is the value of Wikipedia in medical education?  Is it something that we as professors should assign our students to read? or edit? or contribute to?  Is Wikipedia something that academic experts in their field choose to read or contribute their knowledge to?  Maybe Yes, maybe No.

I often tell students to look things up on the internet using Google, Wikipedia, PubMed, or MedlinePlus but with the implied caveat that they should not rely on any single source of information.  Each has its strengths and weaknesses.  Each has its limitations and inaccuracies.  This is true of textbooks, peer-reviewed journals, newspaper articles, commercial websites as well as radio and television news.  Thus, the bottom line is don’t believe anything you read unless you can verify the content from multiple, independent sources.

All sources contain mistakes.  I’ve never found a textbook in my field (biochemistry and molecular genetics) that didn’t have errors of fact or figures containing mistakes or misrepresentations.  Remember that these textbooks are all written by experts in their field.  Similar things can be said of peer-reviewed journal articles.  I have found errors in my own publications years after they were published.  Some journal articles have to be retracted for various reasons including technical errors and intentional misrepresentation.

So where does this leave Wikipedia?  It’s hard to say because we don’t really know who the authors are, what their backgrounds are, or what their levels of expertise are.  I suspect that many of the authors are actually students who have taken a class in the subject or have read books or articles about the subject and simply copy what they have read.  Perhaps they did some research on the internet as I referred to above or even consulted an expert with many years of expertise in the field.  (Experts also make mistakes!)

However, I think in general that very few professors who are experts in their field and have studied a subject for many years and consulted many resources actually take the time to write or contribute to Wikipedia articles.  Professors are under tremendous pressures to teach their classes, conduct their research, direct student research theses, attend committee meetings, help advise students and the university administration, and stay up in their field by reading, writing and attending conferences.  This doesn’t leave much time to sit down and write articles for an online encyclopedia, especially one that can be edited and changed by anyone else including a student with only an introductory knowledge of the subject.

So where does this leave Wikipedia?  I think it leaves Wikipedia and other similar online encyclopedias in limbo.  They can never expect to be the final, authoritative word on every subject and readers can never expect to rely on these online resources as the best information available.

Yes, I still recommend that students consult Wikipedia as a first line of information.  For example, I find Wikipedia to be a good source of images and chemical structures and a good source of ideas to pursue in other reading materials.  However, I would never stop at Wikipedia being the only source of information on a subject and I expect students to use Wikipedia in the same manner that I do with a critical eye for accuracy and references giving the original source of information.

What do you do in your classes?  Are you afraid to say the word ‘Wikipedia’ to your students?  Or do you encourage them to check it out as one of their sources?

Posted by: rmostell | February 14, 2009

Is Open Course Ware really Open or Free?

I’ve looked at a lot of websites where institutions claim that they provide “open course ware” or free access to the contents of their university courses.  But is it really “open” and is it really “free”.  I don’t think so.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) started this open course ware (OCW) movement (  several years ago. What do they provide in their OCW?  They provide the course outline (syllabus), maybe some slides or some videos.  This may include some reading assignments.   But what does that get you?  Does that teach you the subject?  Can you learn from this?  Well, maybe a little but you would be better off to purchase the textbook associated with the course and read it on your own and perhaps work on the assignments (tests?) at the end of each chapter.  Everyone agrees that this won’t get you a degree or certificate from the sponsoring institution or any other academic institution.

So what is the value of the “open course ware” movement?

Not much.  I don’t think so.  The person interested in obtaining an education on any given subject is much better served by visiting their local library, watching public educational television, reading online articles, searching the web, reading Wikipedia for starters,  buying textbooks at their local bookstore or online retailer, or enrolling in a course at their local community college.  The much ballyhooed “open course ware” courses at major universities DO NOT provide an education.  They DO NOT provide the materials and guidance that you need to learn any subject.  They DO NOT provide the certification that you have acquired any level of knowledge or competence in the  subject matter.

So what DOES “open course ware” provide?  It provides an avenue for institutions to claim their “openness”  in public.  It provides an avenue for institutions to claim that they are providing something to the public for “free” that other institutions are NOT providing.

Is this true?  I don’t think so!

I think the “open course ware” movement is a ploy of academic administrators and public relations (PR) folks to sell their institutions to the public falsely claiming that they are “free” and “open”.  To the naive this may appear true.  But to the informed expert (including the professors who have provided their course materials to their administrative beaurocrats), this is OBVIOUSLY NOT TRUE.  It is simply a marketing strategy to “sell” their institution to the public for self-serving, pecuniary purposes.

What do you think?

For examples of “open couse ware”, read here:

and here:

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