Court rules against Blackboard in patent fight

A federal appeals court ruling this week voided part of a Blackboard Inc. patent that competitor Desire2Learn was accused of violating, and technology experts say the end of the protracted legal battle could introduce an era of renewed competition in the eLearning sector.

The case that started in early 2008 when Blackboard accused Desire2Learn of violating a patent on using a single login to access multiple online classes ended July 27 when a federal appeals court agreed with Desire2Learn in its charge that Blackboard’s patent was too broad.

Both companies make learning management systems (LMS) software that helps educators log student grades, conduct web-based class discussions, and distribute class material. Blackboard is the No. 1 LMS company in the market. The ruling did not affect Blackboard’s other patents.

Matt Small, chief business officer for Blackboard, said in a statement that the company was "obviously disappointed" in the ruling, adding that Blackboard could appeal the decision.

John Baker, president and CEO of Ontario-based Desire2Learn, said in a July 28 statement the invalidation of a part of the patent in question would be a boon for educators.

"This decision has affirmed what we believed to be the case all along," Baker said. "It is a true victory for Desire2Learn and all of education."

Some technology experts said Blackboard’s patent was too far-reaching and largely stifled competition in the LMS arena. The court’s decision against Blackboard could clear the way for other LMS companies who might have been reluctant to enter the market for fear of violating the Blackboard patent.

"[Blackboard] looked to use [its patents] to block the competition at pretty much every turn that [it] could," said Mike Masnick, editor of the technology news web site Tech Dirt, which tracked the LMS legal battle. "The patent itself raised a lot of questions … because it could potentially cover any level of distance or eLearning."

The LMS legal fight took contentious turns over the past 18 months, including a motion filed by Blackboard charging that Desire2Learn was in contempt of court after Desire2Learn changed the name of its LMS product. Desire2Learn officials said their latest course-management software, version 8.3, did not violate Blackboard’s patents, adding in statement they would "defend version 8.3 vigorously."

In a July 2008 response to Blackboard’s motion of contempt, Desire2Learn said: "Blackboard bases its motion on nothing more than a series of flip-flops, distractions, and misstatements."

Blackboard officials argued that, despite name changes to Desire2Learn’s LMS products, their functionality had not been altered enough to satisfy requests to avoid patent violations.

Scott Testa, a marketing professor at St. Joseph’s University who tracks education technology trends, said Blackboard’s aggressive approach to developing a reliable product and marketing among colleges and universities of every size has paid dividends. Securing patents, he said, is a key to beating out smaller competitors who market similar products.

"At the end of the day, they have a legal right if they feel their intellectual property is being compromised," Testa said. "That doesn’t make Blackboard bad. … Public companies have the financial muscle to bring in really good lawyers."

Testa said the lengthy fight with Desire2Learn–a smaller company that drew support from many parts of the education community–"didn’t hurt Blackboard one bit."

"You’ll always have big companies that are dominant in the market," he added. "It’s the Darwinism of the marketplace."


Blackboard Inc.



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New Crestron Wall Plates Support Versatile and Flexible System Installation

ROCKLEIGH, NJ, July 29, 2009 – Crestron is now shipping fourteen new media presentation wall plates that support a wide selection of signal types/connectors. All MP-WPs are available in white or black, and install cleanly in a single gang box using a standard decorative faceplate. MP-WP connectivity ranges from traditional analog to HDMI, and plates may be combined to provide just the right wall, lectern or rack mount configuration and contingency for every room.


Crestron MP-WP wall plates support RGB, component, composite, S-video and stereo audio, as well as computer (VGA, DVI-I and DisplayPort), HDMI, and Crestron-exclusive connectivity, such as Cresnet®, QuickMedia®, and DigitalMedia. For versatile and flexible system installation, Crestron MP-WPs provide the perfect accessory.  


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Norway-based it’s learning Taps Education Visionary


Kati Elliott                            Michael Bronder
KEH Communications        it’s learning, inc.
410-975-9638                       978-771-3257
Norway-based it’s learning Taps Education Visionary
Jon Bower to Lead U.S. Operations
Boston — July 29, 2009 – it’s learning AS, a Bergen, Norway-based company and individual learning platform provider, has launched in the U.S. under the direction of Jon Bower. Bower, who brings to it’s learning expertise acquired by growing educational software companies Lexia Learning Systems and Soliloquy Learning, plus his experience in Stanford University’s graduate programs in International Development Education and Global Development, will lead the company as President of it’s learning, inc.
In his new position, Bower will provide strong vision and strategic direction for it’s learning, inc. “At it’s learning, we are seeing a paradigm shift in how schools educate students. Schools in Europe are using it’s learning’s tools to deliver individual instruction in ways that dramatically improve outcomes. As American schools become more student centric, it’s learning will lead the way by supplying tools to make the individualization of instruction easy for educators,” said Bower.
Bower brings years of experience in leadership, education, and technology to it’s learning. In addition to running Lexia from 1997 – 2005 and Soliloquy from 2006 – 2007, Bower was Director of Product Management and Marketing at Kurzweil Applied Intelligence, CEO of RTJ Medical Software, Vice President Special Operations at Knoll International and a consultant at McKinsey & Company. Bower is a member of the Board of Directors of Avant Assessment, LLC, Learning Disabilities Worldwide (LDW), and is Chair of the Board of Trustees at MassBayCommunity College in Wellesley, MA.  He has spoken at multiple education conferences on the topics of cognitive development, reading, learning disabilities, and technology.  Bower earned his MBA at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration.
About it’s learning
it’s learning is an international learning platform provider with clients in primary schools, secondary schools, and Higher Education. In addition to its headquarters in Norway, the company has offices in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Spain and the United States. Investing in the future of education, it’s learning dedicates more than 40 percent of its resources to the design and development of its products. The company offers the best learning platform worldwide and provides the high quality services that make the platform successful for its education partners.

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Washington, DC –A new policy brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education argues that federal education policy needs to be flipped on its head if the nation is to graduate all students from high school, prepared for college and careers. According to the brief, Reinventing the Federal Role in Education: Supporting the Goal of College and Career Readiness for All Students, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is too lax where it should be firm and too rigid where it needs to be more flexible.
“Given the impending release of additional stimulus dollars intended to drive reform and the fast-moving common state standard development effort, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is needed sooner rather than later to ensure that reforms sought through stimulus dollars can be achieved and to ensure that federal law doesn’t undercut the standards effort,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Specifically, federal education policy should be firmer and tighter in establishing overall goals and ensuring that they are met while being more flexible and less prescriptive in determining how educators meet those goals.”
As the brief points out, having fifty different sets of standards and assessments leads to fifty different expectations about what students should know. Consequently, what students learn too often depends on where they live rather than on a common understanding of what they need to know to succeed in college, careers, and life. Instead, the brief argues that federal policy should establish college and career readiness as the goal for all students and support collaborative state-led efforts to define those expectations through common standards and assessments.
But that is not the only problem with NCLB, as identified by the brief. It notes that current law mandates how educators should address low-performing schools by requiring a specific sequence of one-size-fits-all interventions that are not informed by the problems unique to the individual schools. In the alternative envisioned by the Alliance, federal policy would permit state and local policymakers, administrators, and educators to make data-driven decisions about how to improve student achievement—provided that federal policy leaves the “what,” “when,” and “how” decisions to the educators who are closest to the students and schools, and then holds them accountable for the results.
As presented in the brief, NCLB’s approach to high school reform is backwards. Where the nation needs commonality—expectations for students and the system, measures of college and career readiness, and definitions of vital indicators like graduation rates—there are fifty different standards. Similarly, where sharp instruments are needed to guide instructional and school improvement actions, there is a reliance on crude tools, like Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). And where individualization based on local circumstances is needed, such as interventions for low-performing schools, there is only uniformity mandated by federal policies.
Reinventing the Federal Role in Education makes several recommendations for how policymakers can improve upon NCLB as they begin the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Specifically, ESEA reauthorization should:
  • Establish college and career readiness as the common goal for all students.
  • Ensure meaningful accountability for high school outcomes designed around common indicators of college and career readiness and high school graduation.
  • Replace the current, flawed, one-size-fits-all school improvement process with requirements for state- and district-led systems that are differentiated, data-driven, and prioritize addressing the lowest-performing high schools.
  • Support strategies that are necessary to implement high school improvement at a much larger scale, including districtwide efforts, maximizing the role of external partners, and building the capacity of the system to implement innovative solutions that truly result in improved student outcomes.
  • Provide new funding for the implementation of innovative solutions to address low-performing high schools.
Reinventing the Federal Role in Education is part of a series of briefs meant to inform policymakers about the shortcomings in NCLB as it relates to high school accountability and improvement, and encourage them to act quickly to fix the law. Other briefs in the series are as follows:
Reinventing the Federal Role in Education: Supporting the Goal of College and Career Readiness for All Students can be found at
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The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC-based policy, research, and advocacy organization that works to make every child a graduate, prepared for postsecondary education and success in life. For more information about the Alliance for Excellent Education, please visit

Microsoft, FG partner to empower Nigerian teachers on IT

The Federal Ministry of  Education has signed a  "Partners in Learning (PiL) Memorandum of Understanding" (MoU) with Microsoft that will see teachers from all levels of education being trained to deliver digital literacy and technology curricula in schools across the country, reports Business Day. The aim of the agreement is to create a learning community of teachers who are able to deliver effective information and communication technology (ICT) training to other teachers and students. Speaking at the signing ceremony, Aisha Dukku, minister of state for Education noted that the government of Nigeria is very committed to ensuring the success of projects such as this one because it benefits the country on many levels. She went further to highlight the projects that the Ministry and Microsoft had collaborated on previously including the recently concluded Innovative Teachers Forum awards, and the ongoing Partners in Learning training going on across the country.

Click here for the full story


ED issues rules on ed-tech stimulus funds

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has issued new guidance to help states and school systems use ed-tech stimulus funding to drive lasting education reforms and improve student achievement.

The guidance is critical, largely because, as the report states, the funding “will likely not be available at the same level beyond September 30, 2011.” Therefore, states must be prudent and efficient, making sure to “focus these funds on short-terms investment with the potential for long-term benefits, rather than make ongoing commitments that they might not be able to sustain once [stimulus] funds are expended.”

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provides a total of $650 million in additional funding for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program for fiscal years 2009 and 2010. These ed-tech stimulus dollars are a one-time source of funds that supplement the approximately $265 million in EETT funding made available under regular FY2009 appropriations.

In its report, ED describes the four principles that should guide the distribution and use of stimulus funds, including those distributed through EETT:

1. Spend funds quickly to save and create jobs;
2. Improve student achievement through school improvement and reform;
3. Ensure transparency, reporting, and accountability; and
4. Invest one-time ARRA funds thoughtfully to minimize the “funding cliff.”

State rules and professional development

Funding will be distributed to states by formula, and states don’t have to submit a revised ed-tech plan to qualify. The report says states may use up to 5 percent of their total EETT stimulus allotment for state-level activities. Any funds that are not reserved for state-level activities must be awarded as subgrants to local educational agencies (LEAs).

States may spend no more than 60 percent of the funding they set aside for state-level activities on administrative costs. The remaining funds must be used to carry out activities the meet the purposes of EETT, such as supporting innovative strategies, supporting high-quality professional and curriculum development, and developing performance-measurement systems to evaluate the effectiveness of local programs supported with EETT funds.

States may, but are not required to, allocate a portion of their total EETT stimulus funds on a formula basis; however, they may not allocate more than 50 percent of these funds by formula.

As with EETT funding that is distributed through the traditional appropriations process, school district recipients must use at least 25 percent of their EETT stimulus funds to provide ongoing, sustained, and intensive professional development for their staff. This training should focus on the integration of advanced technologies into the curriculum and instruction, and on using these technologies to create new learning environments.

ED’s guidance also lists several questions for decision makers to ponder as they consider how best to spend ed-tech stimulus funds:

1. Drive results for students. Will the proposed use of funds drive improved results for students, including students in poverty, students with disabilities, and English language learners?
2. Increase capacity. Will the proposed use of funds increase educators’ long-term capacity to improve results for students?
3. Accelerate reform. Will the proposed use of funds advance state, district, or school improvement plans and the reform goals encompassed in the ARRA?
4. Avoid the “funding cliff” and improve productivity. Will the proposed use of funds avoid recurring costs that states, school systems, and schools are unprepared to assume when this funding ends? Will the proposed use serve as “bridge funding” to help transitions to more effective and efficient approaches?
5. Foster continuous improvement. Will the proposed use of funds include approaches to measure and track implementation and results, and create feedback loops to modify or discontinue strategies based on evidence?


Emergency backup helps keep lessons going

Hurricane-force winds and pelting rain can wreak havoc on a campus’s IT infrastructure. At Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., where tropical storms are common, acting IT director John Duff and his staff maintain an off-site data center that keeps the school’s computer systems running during and after the most vicious storms.

Eckerd’s attention to data backup, as well as the expanded wireless access in its academic and residential buildings and its practice of fixing student and faculty computers free of charge, helped earn the college a top-10 spot last year in a list of "America’s top wired colleges," published by the Princeton Review. Duff, who started at Eckerd College 12 years ago after working in the telecommunications industry, said the school’s IT staff have found ways to improve on its technology services even further this year.

Eckerd’s focus on continuing class schedules even in the aftermath of a hurricane, Duff said, is a point emphasized during freshmen orientation every August.

"We want to create that expectation even before [students] get here," said Duff, 55, who ran Eckerd’s program for adult learners before taking charge of its IT staff a year and a half ago. "It’s something that over the past five or six years has really been a priority for the college. We want to continue to have business as usual. … It’s really crucial to us."

The 1,800-student campus hasn’t been hit by a hurricane so far this year, but Duff recalled years when Eckerd faculty and students evacuated the campus as many as five times during the heart of hurricane season, from May to November.

"The campus has always been spared, though," Duff said, adding that Eckerd College sits about six feet above sea level during high tide on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The college has tested the important switchover from on-campus servers to the off-site data system, and students are warned of the system-wide shift weeks ahead of the test.

Faculty and students still would have access to school eMail accounts during inclement weather, because the backup data center–located in nearby Tampa–runs Eckerd’s eMail servers.

Eckerd was ranked seventh in the 2008 Princeton Review rankings partly because of its free PC diagnosis and repair workshop, where IT employees clean, repair, and upgrade from 30 to 40 student computers a month. Student IT staff members make house calls to dorms that have persistent problems with an internet connection.

Eckerd improved its wireless internet access this summer after a few student complaints last school year about weak signals in dormitories. An intern and a student IT worker mapped out residential areas where wireless signals were scant, and the school installed 44 more access points.

The demand for wireless internet access–as more and more students access the web through mobile devices such as iPhones–has changed dorm culture in recent years, Duff said. Some students aren’t familiar with wired internet access.

"We tell them to plug in, and we’ll have students who don’t know what that means," Duff said with a laugh. "They’re accustomed to having wireless access, which make us feel a little bit older around here. … We’ve seen it reach the stage where there’s that level of expectation. It made us raise out eyebrows."


Eckerd College

America’s Top Wired Colleges 2008