This chapter describes the major “pre-procurement” exercise carried out for the HEFCE e-University Study Team in spring/summer 2000 in order to understand what “the market” could provide for the proposed e-University in the areas of pedagogic, assessment and tutoring tools – essentially, in the overall area of virtual learning environments/learning management systems.
A broad view was taken of procurement, including an overview of reference sites and analysis of relevant input from the standards community and the research and development communities, in the UK (JISC etc), Europe (especially the Framework Programme), Canada and other countries.
The brief from HEFCE was wide-ranging and during the progress of the research, was widened to include brief forays into additional topics. This means that some topics received only cursory attention and that there is overlap with other studies, in particular with e-Tools (3) which forms the core of chapter 18 of this compendium.
A sub-study was commissioned, led by Professor Robin Mason, on “the role of face-to-face” – this much-debated (now and then) aspect of e-University pedagogy is revisited (by the same author) in chapter 21 of this compendium on “Tutorial Support Functions”.
The aim of this study was not to provide a specification of an LMS for the e University; this would not have been possible for many reasons, the main one being that at the time of completing the report, there was not even a business model, let alone a business base for the e-University. The necessary steps to provide an initial specification of the LMS were taken around six months later in the work commissioned from the OCF consultants – see in particular chapter 22 of this compendium on “Learning Programme Management Systems”.
Like all of the e-University e-tools reports (and the OCF ones also), this report was done in great haste – it was in essence complete (draft final stage) in mid-July 2000, work not having started until mid-to-late May 2000. In that era there were a great deal of implicit assumptions and internal dialogue (with HEFCE and other projects) not made explicit until much later. The editors have attempted to clarify some of this where possible with footnotes, and have also added the original project bid document where some of the key hypothesis-forming was done (i.e., before the work officially started) – this forms appendix F. (The HEFCE Invitation to Tender covering all the e-tools studies is reproduced in chapter 15.)
Unlike every other report in this volume, the report on which the chapter is based included “Commercial in Confidence” sections giving pre-procurement judgements based on scrutiny of the submissions, analysis of the process and in some cases, additional analysis of non-disclosure (NDA) material supplied by vendors. All such material has been omitted. In addition, a number of judgements based on vendor behaviour and attitudes have also been omitted, as they would have allowed the discerning reader to work out some of the confidential conclusions. Note also that the full vendor submissions (in some cases stretching to over 60 pages of original material) also – as is normal with procurements, joint venture submissions, etc. – remain under embargo.
Sections of this report were a gloss on other reports, specifically on vendor submissions. Given that our own contextualisations are a gloss on this report, there could well have been confusion between the “levels of gloss” and a consequent need for typographic embellishments to distinguish these levels. In the event, such embellishments proved unnecessary – although in a few places, the editors have adjusted the original wording to make it clear which “us” is being referenced (the editors or the authors).
From the contextualisation and tables given, readers will get some idea of which learning management systems are relevant today. As a partial systematisation of this, the Gazetteer annex includes a table of all the learning management systems considered in the compendium (based on the work in this chapter and on the LMS mini-survey in chapter 18).
On Web Sites
A large number of the URLs cited in the original report are inactive and have no obvious replacement. (Where they do have an easy-to-find replacement, the editors have performed “invisible mending” as usual.) Note that by “inactive” we include cases where the URL technically “works” (i.e., a Web site is returned) but the site has no meaningful connection to the original site, company, project or topic, and in some cases has material of not only an irrelevant but also an inappropriate or unpleasant nature. Such inactive sites are marked in parentheses with no initial “http://” and no hyperlink format, in other words as follows: (www.bad-site.com).
CETIS, the Centre for Educational Technology Interoperability Standards (http://www.cetis.ac.uk/), which began life in 1998 as the UK IMS Centre, represents UK higher education and further education institutions on international learning technology standards initiatives. It has since its inception in 1998 been funded by JISC but has undergone several changes of organisational base and staffing. CETIS is now managed by Bolton Institute, in partnership with the University of Wales, Bangor. The director is Bill Olivier and the educational advisor is Professor Oleg Liber, professor of eLearning at Bolton Institute (both among the authors of chapter 18). One of the co-authors of this current report, Paul Lefrere, was co-director of the UK IMS Centre 1998–2000 and then director (networking and partnerships) of CETIS for two further years. (Another former member of CETIS, Andy Heath, worked for Professor Bacsich and later consulted for Sun and eUniversities on standards-related matters as well as on accessibility.)