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Blackboard Wins Patent Suit Against Desire2Learn

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the that'll-learn-'em dept.

Patents 186

edremy writes "Blackboard, the dominant learning management system (LMS) maker, has won its initial suit against Desire2Learn. Blackboard gets $3.1 million and can demand that Desire2Learn stop US sales. (We discussed Blackboard when the patent was issued in 2006) This blog provides background on the suit. Blackboard has been granted a patent that covers a single person having multiple roles in an LMS: for example, a TA might be a student in one class and an instructor in another. You wouldn't think something this obvious could even be patented, but so far it's been a very effective weapon for Blackboard, badly hurting Desire2Learn and generating a huge amount of worry for the few remaining commercial LMSs that Blackboard has not already bought, and open source solutions such as Moodle (Blackboard's pledge not to attack such providers notwithstanding)."

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186 comments

As a blackboard victim/user..... (5, Informative)

Mr_eX9 (800448) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552716)

....why the hell would anybody want to infringe on their patents? It's a really horrible design and interface.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (4, Informative)

pembo13 (770295) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552820)

God bless you. I thought I was the only one that hated it.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (5, Interesting)

Workaphobia (931620) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552850)

Mark my words. I have *never* come across anyone who liked it, in my entire undergraduate experience. Professors and students alike despise it, yet somehow our opinions don't seem to matter to the people making the purchasing decisions.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (4, Funny)

pembo13 (770295) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552958)

Well I can truly say that I feel somewhat better today, unless of course you go to the same school that I do, in which case it proves nothing.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553120)

They dumped it at UWM because people hated it, and went with Desire2Learn instead. It'll be interesting to see what happens now.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553124)

I think the name of the software had some support from the affirmative action crowd.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (5, Informative)

CrispBH (822439) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553564)

Right on. I'm a Computer Science undergraduate, and the choices here are Blackboard or the professor's Intranet web space (which every user has including students). Almost no professor and certainly no students like Blackboard. Honestly, it feels like the most hacked together and unplanned pos you could imagine. I'm pretty sure any small group of moderately skilled programmers could do a better job; it's really that bad.

Almost all of my tutors use their web space to provide material and updates etc. Interestingly, it's the couple of lecturers/professors who are lacking in the, er, quality department who DO use Blackboard and rave on about it.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553930)

You are very observant. As I reread this, I realize it looks like a ridiculous, cardboard-cutout of a troll, but I put forth that any sysadmin reading this will immediately recognize this as the voice of truth, and agree:

I've had the (mis)fortune of working with Blackboard as a sysadmin for about five years now.

It is without a doubt, a gigantic hacked-together hodge-podge under the covers. The installation guide is probably 300+ pages. Tasks that should be, by anyone's standards, put into a shell script are simply written out and numbered in the guide, which does nothing but increase the perception that not even the program's authors care about it.

Blackboard runs (or at least used to run--to be fair, later versions are apparently more cohesive) on a strange polyglot of Perl, Java, and Shell (and who knows what else). The vast array of underlying technologies has the feel of something that's been hurriedly duct-taped together, and you're almost amazed the thing runs at all.

Worse, upgrades are fantastically painful--accomplished by applying the endless patches in the proper order (obtainable at the 'behind the blackboard site' which is discouragingly useless) and any one of them can fail for any of a hundred different reasons.

Nobody I know in the education technology industry claims to like installing/administering it, and in fact, it's become one of those tasks that nobody likes to do--almost a running joke. Hoping to ingratiate myself with my employers, I volunteered to be the "Blackboard guy," a decision I've regretted to this day.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (3, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 6 years ago | (#22554240)

When I went to university, all we had was the Professors webspace. And we liked it. Do we really need anything more complicated? Or is this a solution in search of a problem? A lot of professors I had didn't even use the webspace. We seemed to do fine without it.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (1)

niteice (793961) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553616)

Students: "But Blackboard doesn't work!"
Teachers: "It works just fine for us."
Students: "Blackboard. doesn't. work. How do you expect us to collaborate with it if we can't post anything? Or if the uploader is broken?"
Teachers: "It's not that hard to learn. You just have to get used to it. That's how it is everywhere."

Is it just me or does this happen in every institution that must use this miserable package?

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (4, Funny)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 6 years ago | (#22554456)

Except for the professors who actually listen to the students. In my brief time trying to use Blackboard as an instructor, I pretty much concluded that I would spend more time trying to make it behave than it would take me to write the damn thing from scratch, so I used it as little as humanly possible.

The only thing it did that I couldn't do trivially with my own web space was do online quizzes, and frankly, I could have hacked something together that would have been less painful for both teacher and students in a day or less... coding while drunk, while smoking crack, while a herd of midget pygmy women had their way with me, while watching Red Dwarf reruns, while being beaten ruthlessly by a psycho ex-girlfriend with a cat of nine tails, and while hanging upside down with a rope tied to my testicles... simultaneously....

Yes, it is really that bad. In fact, that description pretty much summarizes how it felt to use Blackboard from a teacher's perspective. If your teachers like it, I truly wonder about them. :-D

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (5, Insightful)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553658)

I worked in College IT for a time, and we hated it too.

Problem is, that sort of purchasing decision almost always gets made much higher up, or even at the state level. That's also why you also see SunGard/Banner all over the place.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (2, Informative)

sammy baby (14909) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553896)

Speaking as someone who was occasionally called upon to assist in the administration of a Blackboard server, I can tell you that we hated it too.

The group where I worked was a network operations center for several universities, and because the Blackboard server admins were puzzled by slow performance - "almost certainly a network problem," they told us - we agreed to let them keep the server with us. That was convenient, because the next time it was slow, I was in a unique position to explain to them the consequences of having a system load of higher than 5 on a single processor box.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (2, Interesting)

Petrushka (815171) | more than 6 years ago | (#22554468)

I teach on various university courses with ca. 50-150 students each. Our term began this week. I have become so frustrated with Blackboard, and it led to a disastrous situation last month where 15 students almost failed a course through no fault of their own, and so I have given up on it. My university's IT department have been made well aware of the reasons, ... and as you might expect, they plan to change nothing, and will keep on throwing good money after bad on Blackboard.

For various reasons setting up a server with Moodle isn't an option for me (and from what I've heard Moodle is better only in some respects, anyway); nor is any service that requires fees, as my school would refuse to cover it. I'd have to pay for it out of my own pocket; I hope I do not need to justify my reluctance to do that.

I'm open to suggestions, of course, but in the meantime I'm using Google Groups for information distribution. Obviously online assessment isn't possible with Google Groups, but that isn't really necessary anyway with the student numbers I'm looking at. Most of my colleagues just use Blackboard for distributing lecture materials anyway; and I reckon Google Groups, or Yahoo Groups for that matter, work just fine as an online photocopier.

They didn't patent the crapness (5, Insightful)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552914)

They did not patent the crap execution of the idea, just the idea itself.

Here's a place where patents really suck: a good idea gets sat on and cannot be used by people would could make into something good.

Re:They didn't patent the crapness (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553176)

Indeed, I see who owns the crap execution patent at the bottom of every pay stub, under the heading "Taxes".

Re:They didn't patent the crapness (2, Insightful)

MrSteveSD (801820) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553254)

Off the top of my head I can think of many basic design patterns you could put to use in Learning Management Software (LMS). You would quickly identify many of them in a day or so, given the task of designing a system. In fact you could just go through the classic book "Design Patterns" and the applications of the patterns to LMS will probably just leap off the page. If you were to patent a few of these basic concepts in the specific area of LMS, it could totally prevent development of other competing systems or force them to use really weird and non-intuitive constructs.

The patenting of basic ideas when applied to specific problem domains massively threatens open source, small software houses and innovation in general. These patents have to be killed ASAP.

Re:They didn't patent the crapness (4, Insightful)

kcbrown (7426) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553454)

They did not patent the crap execution of the idea, just the idea itself.

And this is why the patent should be thrown out.

Patents were intended to give the patentholder exclusive control over the use of a method for a limited period of time. Methods can cover a lot, but in the end they should be specific. In the Olde Days, patent applicants were required to submit prototypes of their inventions.

If the end result of the patent is to fence off a concept and not an implementation, then the patent itself is, I think, invalid.

Re:They didn't patent the crapness (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22554070)

The main issue with that is that software is the art of abstraction. By its very nature, the higher a level a language you're writing your software in, the closer it is to just telling the computer the "idea" rather than the "method" - these days, you don't tell the computer how to bit blit every pixel onto a framebuffer, you tell the OS to open a window.

Personally, I believe patents (not just software patents) shouldn't exist full stop (due to both economic and ethical reasons I won't go into here), but software is exceptionally problematic due to its nature - IF you allow patents on software, it is _necessary_ that patents be on the "idea" at some level, because idea/method is not a dichotomy in software, it's a spectrum.

Re:They didn't patent the crapness (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553970)

This is one of the most ridiculous patents I've heard of!!! Right now I am developing yet another web application that requires users to belong to many roles and roles to have many users. Its known as many to many relationship. We didn't look at Blackboard to get the idea - we just looked real life scenarios. And, OMG - object relational mapping projects and database table relationships provide this. So Blackboard has modelled their software on real life and claim the model is an idea. Get a conscience!

Re:They didn't patent the crapness (4, Insightful)

billcopc (196330) | more than 6 years ago | (#22554292)

Worse still, is that when this heinous company eventually fails and vanishes, some half-bred law firm will snap up the patents and continue terrorizing the industry with spastic threats and baseless royalty fees.

Software patents and those who thrive upon them must be exterminated from society, progress is infinitely more important than money.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553020)

On the upside, breaching blackboard security for the purposes of adding classes, stealing student info/records, and causing general chaos is pretty trivial. I've seen it done, and not by anyone who has any idea what they are doing either.

sad.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (1)

AikonMGB (1013995) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553116)

Not to mention horrible on resource usage. My school (University of Toronto) is in the process of switching to Blackboard, and they had to build an entire new server room to run it. CCNET all the way!!

Aikon-

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (2, Informative)

GraZZ (9716) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553628)

As an executive on the Engineering student government I have to say that we have been working this academic year to try to stop the garbage that is Blackboard, but it looks like it's being mandated across campus. Stories like this make me realize why it has to be mandated...

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (1)

AikonMGB (1013995) | more than 6 years ago | (#22554440)

I hated Blackboard for the crapiness that it is; I hated it a lot. Then I found out they are also patent trolling? No thank you, send it back for a refund =(

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553142)

BlackBoard: The mediocre taken to the extreme. For those of us who have been around Internet-based course delivery, BlackBoard is nothing more than an overwrought version of Web-Course-In-A-Box (remember that?).
At one point, BB AND WebCT were both claiming to be the world's #1 LMS.... until of course BB bought WebCT.
BlackBoard is so horrible in every aspect of it's programming, interface, and SUPPORT, the only people who are for it are administrators who get the ski trips and vacations and don't have to use it.

Angel is a thousand times better. As is Moodle. But the absolute best is FirstClass.

Your results may vary.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (0, Offtopic)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553272)

BlackBoard: The mediocre taken to the extreme.
You mean the mean?
The mean you mean?
Mean you the mean?
(Poetry taken to mediocre extreme).

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (1)

Megatog615 (1019306) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553292)

Not to mention file uploads(for Blackboard) only work on Windows. I had a teacher in my college who submitted a patch but was turned down.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (1)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553866)

As a linux user using this abortion for my FSU online courses, I've managed to make it work. You have to backslash the forward slashes...

Its ridiculous, and far from the only problem BB has, but it's at least addressable.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553296)

LOL, my feelings exactly. Their only hope is to continue to attack with patent troll tactics since they obviously can 't deliver a quality product after a number of years trying.

Re:As a blackboard victim/user..... (1)

Knave75 (894961) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553424)

Believe it or not, when I first read the article, I thought it was a joke. I thought that somebody was implying that blackboard style teaching has killed off any desire to learn in the part of the students. Read the article summary from that perspective, it could really work as an onion article.

That said, I'll admit, whoever invented that whooshing sound was thinking of me.

roll your own (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22552724)

1st comment woot

Here at the University of Iowa, we just rolled our own: ICON, ISIS, and OSIRIS.

Re:roll your own (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22552962)

You'll be hearing from our lawyers shortly.

~~~~~~~~
Blackboard Inc.

Yes... That's What America Needs... (4, Insightful)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552732)

More obstacles between people, and learning.

This one particular line almost made me vomit from my eyeballs: You wouldn't think something this obvious could even be patented, but so far it's been a very effective weapon for Blackboard, badly hurting Desire2Learn... Semantics notwithstanding, is it really even slightly plausible that a company focused on education would want to crush anyone else attempting to teach people?

Re:Yes... That's What America Needs... (2, Insightful)

XaXXon (202882) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552918)

A company focused on MAKING MONEY via education wants to crush anyone else attempting to compete with them via teaching people

Re:Yes... That's What America Needs... (2, Interesting)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552964)

Then it's not an educational firm... it's educational only as a secondary, possibly accidental effect (and based on these reviews, DEFINITELY accidental). I just... it... they.... AUGH!

This only contributes to the dumbening of our children.

... Wait a minute, that's not how you spell dumbening.

... Wait a minute, 'dumbening' isn't even a word!

Re:Yes... That's What America Needs... (2, Funny)

cp.tar (871488) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553182)

... Wait a minute, 'dumbening' isn't even a word!

Of course it is. It's a perfectly cromulent word.

Re:Yes... That's What America Needs... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553216)

Then it's not an educational firm... it's educational only as a secondary, possibly accidental effect ...

Oh how sweetly naive. It's and educational firm, not an educator. Welcome to capitalism.

Polymorphism (3, Interesting)

gringer (252588) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552738)

Er, isn't this just polymorphism [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:Polymorphism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22552922)

Dammit, you mean someone owns a patent on polymorphism? Thankfully no one here really believes in polymorphism so there isn't too much code to change.

Re:Polymorphism (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553808)

No, it's permissions.

Blackboard sucks (5, Informative)

SameBrian (945591) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552798)

I am a student at UNBC (in BC, Canada), and Blackboard is our LMS, due to the fact that Blackboard bought out WebCT recently. I have to say that as a student, marker, and Computer Helpdesk staff member, I /LOATH/ Blackboard. The system is flaky, often crashes, logs you out for no reason, refuses to load files, fails to load files, as well as a myriad of other issues. I feel that not only is allowing a patent like this counter-productive to the advancement of the product, it also continues to add precedent that it's okay to patent stupid things and then create a monopoly. The idea behind the free market is that everyone has a fighting change to sell their product. Sure, consumers have allowed companies like Wall-Mart to take off and out-sell smaller companies, but that's the risk of doing business. Letting companies sue each other left and right is not allowing for a free market, and is in the end going to hurt consumers. For example, when Blackboard bought WebCT, they stopped supporting WebCT4 (Blackboard has released WebCT6/BCE6), despite the fact that there are many classes which are not fully compatible with the new version. I know this isn't really relevant, but I couldn't help but take up the opportunity to badmouth Blackboard. Another point to note is that a friend of mine worked at a college in Alberta implementing the system and said it's just as ugly and trying on the server side as it is on the client side.

Re:Blackboard sucks (1)

lastchance_000 (847415) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552824)

Why fix the software when you can litigate the competition out of business?

Re:Blackboard sucks (1)

SameBrian (945591) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552864)

I just watched Star Trek:Nemesis the other day, and at some point Picard tells his clone that to be human is to better oneself. Since companies are technically persons, I think they should also live up to that. I try my hardest to not give my money to companies that don't seem to want to provide a useful service to me. In fact, when I graduate I am going to try to get a job here (Computer Science degree), and if that happens I will petition to start developing an in-house system to replace Blackboard.

Re:Blackboard sucks (2, Informative)

KillerCow (213458) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552912)

and if that happens I will petition to start developing an in-house system to replace Blackboard.


Good luck. They can just sue you for violating their patent.

Re:Blackboard sucks (1)

MrSteveSD (801820) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553032)

And even if you work around their "amazing innovative" multiple role idea, they can just patent some other obvious idea like "saving user preferences to disk in a learning management system".

Re:Blackboard sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553266)

Might want to give Angel [angellearning.com] a look. We moved over to it from WebCT and its been nothing but wonderful for us. Easy to integrate with, extendable, and their support has been second to none so far. The students and faculty really like it (and believe me - nothing makes faculty happy :P).

Re:Blackboard sucks (4, Funny)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552898)

Wait... I was a student at TRU, also in BC, Canada. They found a system WORSE than WebCT?!?! Holy crap, that IS Slashdot-worthy!

Re:Blackboard sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553056)

Blackboard bought out WebCT. Same crap, new name.

Re:Blackboard sucks (1)

Adambomb (118938) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553076)

Blackboard, The company people create when someone says "Well its not like we can break into the textbook publishing business eh?".

Re:Blackboard sucks (1)

kklein (900361) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553338)

I have used WebCT and Moodle, the former as both a teacher and a student, and the latter as a teacher.

WebCT rocked, but was expensive. Moodle sucks, but is OSS. But Blackboard? I have never heard a kind word uttered about it.

Being patent trolls doesn't help my image of it, either.

Re:Blackboard sucks (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553750)

>Moodle sucks

I'm glad someone else had the courage to say it. I know Moodle gets tons of praise heaped on it because it's OSS, but it's simply not as feature-rich as the 'commerical' LMSes, its UI is confusing and its documentation is a jumble of cumbersome wiki pages. Until Moodle 'catches us' to the other LMSes it will never gain critical mass.

Re:Moodle sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22554080)

Yeah, but as I like to tell my students, at least Moodle sucks for FREE. And, as a survivor of Blackboard as a student, Blackboard certainly sucks.

That sucking sound you here at my university at least (public, California) is the sound of an incredible amount of public funds getting sucked into the sucky monopoly that Blackboard is.

Re:Blackboard sucks (1, Insightful)

kklein (900361) | more than 6 years ago | (#22554438)

Good lord you should hear the bitch sessions at my departmental meetings. Teachers hate it, but despite the university having tons of money, because of some budget stupidity, the budget that pays for this kind of thing is too small to get a commercial piece of software. Now that BB has bought WebCT, which was my favorite, maybe we will forever have to make due with it.

What the hell is the deal with the "weeks/topics" organization? Why is there nothing else available?

Why does the page reload every time I make a change? Why can't I make a bunch of changes and then hit "Save" or something? Every time I update my class, I have to block off an hour.

Why do I have to push an "Edit" button? Why don't I see the edit functions when I log in? I'm the teacher!

Why doesn't the "course reset" actually reset the course? Why can't it basically just purge any data that I didn't put in? I always have to go back through all of the glossaries and quizzes and hand-remove tons of stuff.

Related, but if I want to run a quiz again (like the following semester), I almost always have to re-make it because even if I only want to change one question, it says "people have already taken this quiz; you can't change it." Actually, why the hell would that matter? It's my quiz! I'm the teacher! If I want to change the rules of the game before everyone has had a chance, I'm an ass, but ultimately, it's my class and I can do whatever I want. I don't need the software telling me what's ethical and what's not. I just want it to display things on browsers.

No WebDAV support.

Ugly ugly ugly and no way around it.

My department once hired a student to go through and make a bunch of forums for discussing various books (like 50+ possible) because it was so time consuming that we'd rather fork over the money for some kid to sit there and be bored for a couple hours than do it ourselves. That's how awful it is. You would rather spend your research budget on someone else doing it than do it yourself for free.

And feature requests. To whom do you send them? It's open source, so if you want it to do something, you will have to learn to program and make it do it yourself. You know, on top of teaching classes and doing research and applying for PhD programs and going to pointless meetings and trying to have a life outside of that as well. Yeah, I'm going to add "learn a new trade" onto that so I can get this damned thing to do what I want. Ugh.

Moodle sucks and everyone knows it. OSS works well for things that a lot of people like, use, and are interested in. No one seems too keen on LMSes, and that means that Moodle is kind of neglected.

Relational DB's (1)

stimpleton (732392) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552818)

Ahh yes.

The "Is a..." relationship type in a relational database.

A Person is a Student. A person is a Teacher.

etc...

Re:Relational DB's (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553274)

Sounds more like oo polymorphism to me.

This is standard Database Stuff (4, Insightful)

MrSteveSD (801820) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552846)

I've seen "multiple role" examples in various database books going way back. It's not rocket science. This patent is just taking a basic concept and saying that it a narrower context than the general example, it's patentable. It's like saying you can't have a headteacher object inheriting all the features of the basic teacher object in a teaching application, because we have patented the idea.

What other general concepts shall we patent in narrower contexts? How about patenting the basic concept of parent child relationships in Cinema Seat allocation software. It could get quite ridiculous.

Re:This is standard Database Stuff (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22554112)

> It could get quite ridiculous.

It already has.

So Obviousness Really Doesn't Matter (3, Funny)

Apple Acolyte (517892) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552856)

Despite everything we've heard about defense against stupid patents, it seems clear that the Obviousness doctrine really doesn't matter to courts. And I hear thought the Supreme Court gave the doctrine a boost recently. I guess if you can't beat 'em, join 'em - I'm going to take a patent troll class, powered by BlackBoard!

What is an LMS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22552866)

And, how can you patent a person being both a TA and a student? That makes no sense. Bad summary I hope.

I ought to patent being a computer programmer and a father at the same time.

Re:What is an LMS? (1)

The Analog Kid (565327) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553004)

What is an LMS?

Learning Management System, it says it right in the summery.

Re:What is an LMS? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553356)

Wrong! It stands for Laughably Moronic System!

Re:What is an LMS? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22554136)

"Learning Management System, it says it right in the summery."

So, in addition to reading the title, you want us to read the summary, too?
Man, this is really going to test my attention span.

Why patent laws needs to change ... NOW (4, Insightful)

Sepiraph (1162995) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552894)

We can be digested by all ridiculous patent stories on slashdot and yet we can still laugh at them becuase most of the time we are not directly affected by it. However, as ridiculous and terrible as most software and business patents are, they will be NOTHING compared to the next big trend in patents--genetics/DNA engineering. When some soulless companies in the future robbed people of a cure for a genetic diease because somehow they claim to 'invent' it, I bet most of us won't be laughing.

Patent reforms need to start NOW, or else it'd be too late and by then we (the general populace) would be too powerless to stop it.

Re:Why patent laws needs to change ... NOW (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553092)

Patent reforms need to start NOW, or else it'd be too late and by then we (the general populace) would be too powerless to stop it.
It'll be as easy to change then as it is now. The difference will be that it's an area most people care about. One computer company pulling off a dumb lawsuit against another company is a niche problem. A pharmaceutical company exercising a patent against another pharmaceutical company that's developing new cures for cancer will get people in an uproar. Look at stem cells for what happens when the government ignores what people think is the best way to manage healthcare research.

Change will come, it'll just come when the trolling affects industries that people care about.

Re:Why patent laws needs to change ... NOW (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553856)

It'll be as easy to change then as it is now. The difference will be that it's an area most people care about. One computer company pulling off a dumb lawsuit against another company is a niche problem.
Right.. sort of like "they came for the LMS, but I didn't say anything, because I don't use an LMS". Well here I am, designing version 7 of my company's LMS, so I guess I'm sort of out of luck on this one. Thanks anyway. Hopefully I'll still be around when they come for you.

No they don't... (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553948)

In general, no, they don't have to change, they just have to be APPLIED the way they are supposed to be. The law already says that obvious ideas, or ideas that are embodied in "prior art", are not patentable. But if the court doesn't pay attention to the law, then the law doesn't matter much, does it? Changing the law would not make a difference.

On the other hand, I do agree with you on the DNA thing. We should have really revamp that particular area.

Re:Why patent laws needs to change ... NOW (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22554186)

"Patent reforms need to start NOW, or else it'd be too late and by then we (the general populace) would be too powerless to stop it."

A corporation with no officers and no stockholders won't be much of an obstacle.. So, if you happen to be one of those patent trolls who plans to hold peoples'
health hostage, just remember how most hostage situations are resolved - with
an inexpensive bit of lead moving at a high rate of speed.
 

Seeing "NTI", the first thing that comes to mind.. (1)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552954)

is

"N-T-I... Oh, Non-Terrestrial Intelligence. That's Better than CIA..." (from the Abyss)

This isn't over (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22552968)

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_8354619 [denverpost.com]

The link above points to a case where a federal judge overturned a verdict and punished the plaintifs and their lawyers harshly.

The verdict in favor of Blackboard is junk. It too is ripe for a successful appeal. It, like the linked case, is an example of a company using a patent suit to stifle competition.

BTW, my school used to use WebCT. Now that Blackboard has WebCT, my school is dropping it.

I had no idea... (1)

ChePibe (882378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22552982)

... that you could copyright a system for crashing browsers, infuriating mac users, and pissing off entire universities from students to faculties to staff.

What a country!

egad (2)

Sylos (1073710) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553114)

not another victory for this POS product. I have to use it for my own studies and half the time *I can't even log in*, let alone do anything useful. Arbitrarily laggy with random disconnects. And most of my professors use it minimally, if it at all. Stupid POS.

Re:egad (1)

wc_paladin (989918) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553604)

My school recently switched from WebCT to Desire2Learn, and I was surprised how much better it was. Now I don't have to worry about if that assignment I submitted really submitted. I don't have to run to a windows lab to do homework. No more random javascript errors. Desire2Learn's software works on every browser I've tried it in. It's a much better product overall.

patent a grocery store (1)

purpleraison (1042004) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553118)

This is really no different than patenting something as obvious as a grocery store. Gee, I'll patent a store that sells food, and other items... then sue all the existing supermarkets. Yet, here we are (as stated previously) looking at something as obvious as differing user roles.

What's next? Patent moderator status on websites?

This court is probably filled with dunces (2, Interesting)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553140)

I looked at BOTH sites, Blackboard, and Desire2Lean, and both their products tried my patience, as far as the demos go.

D2L's intro spewed buzzwords for maybe a minute, but it was quite grating. Worse, no pause or rewind or similar buttons.

BB's demo had pause button, but instantly reminded me of a webified version of ms access, which i would never want to touch.

If both apps are just turning to code what was done by hand, how can BB win? Both interfaces seem different, judging by their demos. Granted, getting hold of the functional versions of each will be the best way to compare them.

I suppose, were I to sit down with 100 teachers, and ask each for their advice on creating an automated grade point average, curve break points, and so on, it would not be research, but patent infringement. If that is the case, then the judge, the court, and the USPTO all need fids and anchor chains hammered up their rear ends.

Any programmer-turned-teacher should be free to develop and freely distribute OR SELL their OWN implementation of grading and scheduling systems.

As for some hare-brained idea that there is something novel about a student being a teaching aid in one subject and a student in another, that's just the height of idiocy.

Example, when I was in the USN (US Navy, many moons ago), we had this thing called "BMI" Basic Military Instruction. Sometimes, a senior seaman or 3rd class petty officer monitored as another subordinate lectured. Later in the week, or in the month, or the quarter, another sailor gave another lecture or course of material. Over time, we had our PQS (Personnel Qualification Charts) filled by date, time, pass/fail/understand/etc and other items.

Fast-forward to real-world college or high school settings. Math whiz kid mentors history kid in one year or semester or quarter or trimester. Science whiz mentors both, while Student D mentors the other 3. Later, in other classes, all are mentoring some or others.

It's just a souped-up database that schedules classes and helps create bell curves. Depending on the database, this need not even be achieved programmatically. Modules with lookup tables might do just as well, lending greatly to data atomicity, integrity and to other benefits of relational databases.

How in the hell is BB's positioning/"differentiation" novel?

Good. Maybe they will sue each other into oblivion (4, Interesting)

Entropius (188861) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553160)

... and those of us who are actually in the business of teaching and/or learning can get on with it.

My university uses D2L. I, as a TA, hate the motherfucking thing, end of story.

I have a professor who adamantly refuses to use it and posts course information as plain vanilla html pages (with pdf alternate links, if the LaTeK -> html doesn't look quite right). Nobody complains.

As a side-effect you can use curl to download all the notes at once. Try that with D2L.

They do not always win... (5, Insightful)

Dr_Ish (639005) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553260)

A few years back, we had Blackboard on our campus. It was horrible and I refused to use it [Techie aside: Take a look at some of their JavaScript, it is bloated and beyond ugly]. However, someone persuaded the students that Blackboard was a wonderful thing. So much so, that their organizations petitioned the administration to make Blackboard mandatory for all classes. I don't know if the student leaders were bribed, but it would not surprise me -- it is sad to say how easily some people can be bought for the price of a couple of pizzas.

The students proposed a 'Blackboard is mandatory' motion that went through all the relevant committees. Fortunately, the Faculty Senate were rational enough to amend the motion to advocate not just Blackboard, but also 'equivalent technologies'. This left the way open for people to even use simple web pages.

Then the next thing you know is that Blackboard suddenly wanted a HUGE amount of money for the new version -- much more money than we could ever afford. The techs basically told them to go to hell, kept on using the older version while they could and began to experiment with Moodle. As one of of the more technically sophisticated people on our campus, I was one of the beta-testers for our Moodle implementation. It is always a fun job trying to break software! Although early versions of the implementation had quite a few rough edges, pretty soon, Moodle was up and running in a slick manner. Thus, for a short time, we actually had both versions. Also during this period, negotiations with Blackboard continued, largely without much progress. Eventually their greed was too much. Blackboard was just scrapped. It was not just the cost of the software, but also the hardware requirements that were ridiculous, which killed the system for us. We have now moved entirely to Moodle, which is doing very well, even if a few people were initially unhappy about the change. Hopefully, more schools will be inspired by the predatory nature of the Blackboard people to get that monkey off their collective backs.

In a final irony, just before the decision was made to pull the plug on Blackboard was made, one of my students demonstrated to me a method by which he could crack Blackboard and change the grades of assignments with relative ease. The main point here though is that behaving like bastards can ultimately have a business cost. I say to hell with Blackboard, support Moodle instead -- after all, it is open source!

Re:They do not always win... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553702)

I work in the IT department for a university and we will be moving to Moodle next fall. We are currently using Blackboard 7. The basic version of Blackboard cost us like $12,500 this year. I've been told it used to be much cheaper than this, but has slowly increased in price over the years as the features have decreased. Blackboard is also resource intensive (i.e. it uses an Oracle database and Java) which means the hardware cost is expensive as well. Next fall can't come soon enough.

Re:They do not always win... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553740)

I worked for several years at a company which produced a competing LMS, aimed more at the K-12 market than post-secondary. I can say two things about the educational software market:

1) It takes an unbelievable amount of time and money to sell something to a school board or university. Like, at least a year and many thousands of dollars in expenses even for the most insignificant sale.
2) Once you have a customer, you have to make that money back by milking them for years before you turn a profit.

Educational software sucks. It sucks because its users are not the people who decide what to buy, and their needs or desires are definitely not at the top of the list when the bureaucrats make the decision on what to buy. It has to be incredibly expensive because selling it to those bureaucrats is incredibly expensive.

Blackboard sucks to use. Everyone knows that. But it is perfectly tuned to make money in its niche.

Re:They do not always win... (1)

the-ambiguity (1023553) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553834)

It's even worse now, they have replaced some of the javascript with java applets. I reccomend adding *webct.platform.tools.* to your adblock list in order to prevent any of the applets from loading.

Re:They do not always win... (2, Insightful)

cvd6262 (180823) | more than 6 years ago | (#22554134)

However, someone persuaded the students that Blackboard was a wonderful thing. So much so, that their organizations petitioned the administration to make Blackboard mandatory for all classes.

Blackboard's licensing fees are usually per-faculty, rather than per student, or flat size-of-institution-based. So, a VP of IT, CTO, etc., has a hard time justifying the purchase to trustees when only 20% of the faculty uses it.

I don't know your institution's case, but most of the time, mandating use of Blackboard is an attempt by higher-ups to justify its high cost.

I knew a graduate student who was Oracle certified and got SELECT access to the Blackboard DB at his school. He wrote his thesis in educational technology on how most courses that were "using" Blackboard were only using it to post syllabi and other mundane documents, mainly so departments could shift printing costs to the students. In other words, the bulk of the work Blackboard was doing could be done much more efficiently by free (or low-cost commercial) software.

No one in the administration listened to him.

Alternative (1)

youthoftoday (975074) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553286)

I'm an undergrad Computer Science student. We have two competing systems at my university: one's a simple in-house system that allows all people from the school to view the material for each course in the spirit of free education if they want to. It does the job with minimal hassle. The other is WebCT (now Blackboard) which restricts access to information and education.

Guess which one's more popular.

.edu loses, .com wins (3, Insightful)

aricusmaximus (300760) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553470)

Well, my prediction back in 2006 [slashdot.org] was way off.

Prior art was out there (including from the company I worked for), but neither Desire2Learn nor the educational community provided enough organizational will and competence to find it and kill this patent lawsuit. I personally spent hours of my time gathering prior art evidence as well as soliciting teachers and developers to help fight this. After tepid responses from both sides (including a form-letter sent one month later from Desire2Learn), I shrugged and walked away.

Hopefully this doesn't affect open source LMSes such as Moodle or Sakai, but if it does then the EDU community has only itself to blame for not stepping up to the plate.

the bright side of things (2, Funny)

eleveneleven (979605) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553482)

maybe they'll dump their winnings into a good developer who can code his way out of the shitstorm that is blackboard

ttlms.com (1)

BlueBoxSW.com (745855) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553718)

There's always TestTrack LMS. www.ttlms.com

Course development and deployment all online.

It's more focused on corporations, not academia, however.

It lacks the chat rooms you might find in similar tools.

holy kittens batman (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553764)

I think we've stumbled across a software vendor that /.ers hate more than microsoft! Isn't that horseman #2?

Sakia Project (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22553794)

I'm not sure if it's been mentioned but there is a new, free, open source alternative to Blackboard/WebCT. It's called the Sakia project [http://sakaiproject.org/]. My university (The University of Delaware) is slowing rolling it out this spring to 9 classes in different colleges. I can say as an user of Blackboard in Undergrad and WebCT in Grad at Delaware, it's very simple to use and easy to navigate. My class has many adults students who normally whine about IT but they've all found it simple to use. My professor says that it is worlds apart from WebCT on his side of it. We've experienced no downtime with Sakia, meanwhile the rest of the campus is having issues with WebCT going on and offline on a daily basis.

As you can see from the website, Sakia is spreading like wildfire and might be coming to an University near you! I can report that my usage of this semester has made me a believer in it.

-JS

Tassl (1)

nebby (11637) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553798)

I am building a student-driven Facebook app called Tassl [tassl.com] . It does not have user roles, so it is probably safe from this patent. It indexes course data from about 100 universities now and allows you to post assignments and exams in your course via your Facebook account. It also has a News Feed that keeps you up to date when stuff is coming up that is due. Check it out [tassl.com] . Does anyone think I am screwed here?

Re:Tassl (1)

EEPROMS (889169) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553904)

Wouldn't it have been easier just to extend Moodle with Facebook support ?

Re:Tassl (1)

nebby (11637) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553932)

It's apples and oranges. Tassl is a Facebook application that has a fluid UI for navigating courses and using the social network. It's not really a LMS.

Fight Fire with Fire (1)

EEPROMS (889169) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553890)

Blackboards implementation of this technology is shockingly bad (Im being nice with that comment) so they will have to start fixing these problem or watch the market stagnate. If I was Desire2Learn I would patent all the improvements/methods (totally legal) and then submarine Blackboard every time they try and improve their product.

Prior art at NASA (1)

ishmalius (153450) | more than 6 years ago | (#22553926)

NASA had a project in the 90's that did the very same thing with user roles in a multiuser training session. It was called ICTT. If it's not too late, maybe D2L can save themselves. I'm sure at least one of the developers wouldn't mind giving his opinion.

What about SakaiProject.org? Moodle? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22554214)

There are large open-source projects that compete in this space. Why aren't universities moving towards them instead of BlackBoard and other commercial products?

Re:What about SakaiProject.org? Moodle? (1)

aeschenkarnos (517917) | more than 6 years ago | (#22554372)

Because the people in charge of actually making the purchasing decisions are (a) idiots; (b) corruptible; (c) never going to use the thing anyway.

Patent infringement (1)

teh moges (875080) | more than 6 years ago | (#22554220)

Does the following count as patent infringement?:

DB Table: Users
PK: userID (int)
Field: name (varchar)

DB Table: Class
PK: classID (int)
Field: Lecturer (Users.userID)
Field: Student (Users.userID)


Method: access

if (Class.isLecturer(curUser)){
//Do stuff
}else if (Class.isStudent(curUser)){
//Do stuff
}

I did a project like that in high school.

Moodle vs. WebCT (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 6 years ago | (#22554362)

As a prof I tried out WebCT a few year ago just as my university was upgrading to Vista. My experience, using Firefox on Linux at the time, was initially limited to being told that I needed to "upgrade" to Internet Explorer or Mozilla! After fixing that with a quick user agent switch I was then told that I needed to install Java...at this point I gave up and tried Moodle and have never looked back. It turned out that this was a very good thing because the new Vista version completely overloaded the university's servers and caused HUGE problems for courses relying on it.

When I first started using Moodle I worried about what the students would think of having to use a different system from the official one. The feedback from the students was extremely positive and had helpful suggestions for improvements, which being Open Source I could actually implement! When asked to compare it to WebCT their language was, shall we say, colourful! I can honestly say that, having used Moodle for several years now it is one of the areas where OpenSource software is not just copying the leader it IS the leader. The fact that I (or my students) can come up with an idea, add it into Moodle myself and then see how well it works is fantastic. This lets me not only be innovative with my research but with my teaching too.
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