First thoughts on OpenClass - New Free Cloud LMS from Pearson

Let me start by saying that this is not a promotional piece and these thoughts are my own opinions, not those of my institution, the University of Wisconsin Extension. I have been under a non-disclosure for the last couple of months because we were asked to be a design partner to pilot OpenClass. It is nice to finally be able to share what we are learning about this platform.

There are a few key reasons to watch this product and why I decided we should pilot OpenClass with a few faculty. While "Free" gets everyone's attention (and perhaps draws some suspicions), that is not what led us to pilot OpenClass.

1. Google: I am not sure how many times I have had the conversation: what if Google had an LMS? This might be as close as it gets. OpenClass is fully integrated with Google Apps for education. If your institution is a Google Apps campus, you will be able to turn this on through your admin panel. Forget a 6, 12, or 18 month typical LMS installation. If you are a full Google apps campus-install in about an hour (excluding backend stuff, of course). The interface looks a lot like G+, clean and focused on activity, not content. Google docs, calendar, etc. integrated out of the box. It is a Pearson product but this tight Google integration is part of what makes OpenClass so intriguing.

2. Collaboration and interaction: at it's core, OpenClass is still an LMS but it was built around social interaction, both inside and outside a specific class. Again, the integration with Google plays a big role here (no G+ yet as far as I know but when you see the interface it does not seem like a stretch).

3. Analytics:we all know this is the hot topic. Discussions we have had at the lab about analytics all center around the need to gather data across massive populations, more than one class, school, or institution. You need data from 100s of thousands or millions of different users. A cloud platform could allow that to happen. A lot of work is going on behind the scenes at Pearson to provide faculty with this kind of data in a usable way.

4. App store economics: I use this term a lot to refer to how the Apple App store has changed the perception of software value. While not part of this first OpenClass beta release, imagine a place where free and paid content pieces are easily available to faculty through an associated "store." The store would be open for companies (any company), or individual faculty to make content available under whatever terms they choose. Other faculty could rate or comment on how they use a given ebook, video, or interactive element in their course. Adding such content to a course is as simple as a click and faculty can see the potential cost to their students in real time as they put their course together (assuming they choose to use some paid content). I have to say, this excites me because this was what I said was coming in last year's eLearn Magazine 2011 Technology predictions :)

As always, I am a skeptic when it comes to new technology. OpenClass is still beta and there will be bumps along the road but these are some reasons I felt it was worth taking the time to pilot the system and provide design feedback to Pearson. A lot more will be coming out next week at the Educause conference. I will keep you all posted as we continue our pilot efforts at UW-Extension.
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