Whose bright idea was it to hold BBWorld in Vegas? Oh yeah, and Blackboard has now partnered with every US textbook publisher

I’m down $40 ($20 on black? I don’t think so), it’s bloody hot, and Blackboard has now basically partnered with every US textbook manufacturer.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

I’m not a fan of Las Vegas. Despite some ridiculous turbulence (don’t you just love it when the captain comes over the intercom and says “Flight attendants, please take your seats immediately”?), I’m happy to be writing this on the plane as I fly at 550 miles per hour away from that hot, nasty city that stripped me of $40 and is sucking the water from California agriculture for late-night water shows and desert oases. And stop calling me cheap. At least our Southwest flight attendant isn’t full of the usual tired Southwest humor. Seatbelts, oxygen, water landing, don’t smoke, got it.

I was in Vegas for a good reason though. I was there with my day job at BBWorld, talking to vendors, teachers, college representatives, university IT staff, and just about anyone else interested in what Blackboard is doing these days. As I wrote earlier this week, Blackboard officially unveiled its Collaborate product (the synchronous learning platform that was born out of the Elluminate and Wimba marriage the company officiated). Interesting news.

Then I learned that a private equity firm had agreed to purchase Blackboard for $1.6 billion and change about a week and a half ago. Woops. Missed that one. Funny, Blackboard didn’t send me a press release on that little tidbit. Or mention it in their keynotes. I gather that it’s business as usual.

The most interesting news, however, came out Wednesday afternoon when Blackboard announced partnerships with every major US higher education publisher. That’s right. Every one. Pearson, Cengage, Wiley, and Macmillan. McGraw-Hill was already onboard. All are offering some sort of deep integration with at least one of their online learning platforms, the details of which will be emerging over the next few days.

So why is this so interesting? It’s interesting because it isn’t something that the Moodle or Sakai communities could make happen, just as neither of these communities could pull off an event like BBWorld.

This isn’t a reflection on either Moodle or Sakai (or any of the other open source players in the LMS industry, most of whom have awesome products). However, the open bars, gourmet food, celebrity keynotes, and massive marketing behind BBWorld costs a lot of money. You know, the kind of money that firms about to be purchased for $1.64 billion can access and that open source communities, no matter how awesome, can’t.

That money doesn’t just pay for really tasty food either (and it was really good – even the Blackboard-labeled cabernets were pretty darned tasty and paired nicely with the light vegetarian fare served at the opening reception). That money also pays for business development experts and programmers who can make these integrations happen in really deep, seamless ways.

I know I sound cynical here. I’m not. This is big business and for the schools that can afford it, students and faculty are going to benefit. In fact, the combination of software platform and content is really the holy grail of digitally enhanced learning and this is a real coup for Blackboard. I was in Las Vegas because my own company is a Blackboard partner, sponsor of BBWorld, and actively markets its Building Block, so this is hardly an anti-Blackboard rant.

If Chris Dawson ruled the world, though, publishers and other content providers would reach out aggressively to the open source communities that are so vital to pushing the envelope of online learning regardless of an institution’s budget. The extraordinary level of innovation in this space (whether from Blackboard, Instructure, Moodle, Sakai, or any others, for profit or otherwise) is a direct result of competition. Powerful partnerships advance this competition, with the ultimate benefactors being our students.

So here’s raising a virtual glass to some very cool integrations of content and e-learning platforms with the largest higher ed-focused LMS. And given the Vegas theme, here’s another glass (or three) to the potential for similar partnerships with community driven projects. The sheer number of available Moodle plug-ins suggests that some pretty interesting things can happen when open source meets for-profit organizations. I’m ready and waiting to see what happens next.

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