December 16, 2017

Kuali Foundation goes commercial

"No, you idiot, Kuali, not Koalas" 'But isn't kuali a Malaysian way of cooking?"

“No, you idiot, Kuali, not Koalas” ‘But isn’t kuali a Malaysian way of cooking?”

Straumsheim, C. (2014) Kuali Foundation: If you can’t beat them….., Inside Higher Education, August 25

While there are several providers of open source learning management systems for education, Kuali is the only provider of free, open source administrative software specifically built for higher education. In a blog post on August 22, it announced that while its software will still continue to be developed, open source and freely available, it will be creating a commercial company to provide for profit commercial services, such as hosting and contracted software development.

What is Kuali?

Kuali started as a consortium of mainly U.S. research universities which paid to join the Kuali Foundation, with the aim of developing free administrative software software systems designed specifically to meet the needs of higher education/post-secondary institutions.

What does Kuali do?

So far it has developed the following software systems:

How is it doing?

So far nearly 60 HE institutions are using Kuali products. However,  each product is at a different stage of development/usefulness. The financial system is the most advanced and most stabilized.

Why does it matter?

Although the days when Peoplesoft nearly bankrupted several major HE institutions are now long gone, commercial administrative systems such as Oracle and SAS are extremely expensive, designed primarily for a business rather than an educational environment, and as a consequence are often financially risky when it comes to adaptation and implementation within a higher education context. The development of administrative systems for higher education by higher education is a worthy goal, if it can be accomplished.

The ‘if’ though is still in some doubt. The financial system seems to be a success, the Student system is described as a ‘monster’ development project, and the HR system lacks enough investment. So Kuali as a whole is still very much a work in progress.

What are the changes? How is Kuali 2.0 different from the Kuali Foundation?

Kuali is now essentially a for-profit company, rather than a community consortium, although its governance is actually more complex than that. Universities and colleges paid to join the Foundation and contributed investment towards product development. The Foundation will continue to exist but members will not have votes or shares in the new company, although members can continue to contribute to projects that they want done. Other sources of revenue will come from charging for software as a service for cloud-based services.


I’m not in anyway involved with Kuali, so it is difficult to give an informed comment. I thought it was a good idea when it started, but making a consortium approach to sustainable software development and services work is a major challenge. It requires dedication, goodwill, and continuity from a large number of institutions. In these circumstances, any benefits for the participating organizations need to direct and substantive.

Changing it to a commercial organization is a major disruption to this model. In particular, even if the same people are involved in the investment in product development, governance and operation, it radically changes the culture of the organization. I’m not a governance expert, but I don’t understand why full members who invest substantially in product development don’t have shares or voting rights in the board.

I do hope it succeeds in its goal of providing reliable, sustainable open source solutions for administrative software for HE institutions. I wouldn’t bet my own money on it now, though.

For more on Kuali, see:

A student information system monopoly?

Open source software for research administration

Open source software for administrative systems


Thinking about the design of the ‘flipped’ classroom

Image: © University of Washington CTL

Image: © University of Washington CTL

Barnett, P. (2014) Let’s scramble, not flip, the classroom, Inside Higher Education, February 14

University of Washington (undated) Flipping the classroom, Seattle: University of Washington Center for teaching and Learning

This blog post by Pamela Barnett, the Director of the Teaching and Learning Center at Temple University (USA), looks at a number of ways to re-design teaching to incorporate both online and classroom teaching that goes way beyond the ‘standard’ flipped classroom model (if such a thing exists – see the U of Washington post for excellent resources on the flipped classroom).

Dr. Bartlett’s post is well worth reading for ideas on how to make the most out of hybrid learning. I think we will see more and more papers and posts on this topic as more and more instructors move to hybrid learning.

But while I agree with the spirit and the intent of Pamela Barnett’s post, there is still the assumption that all such decisions will be taken by the instructor working in isolation, on a case-by-case basis. I’m wondering how long it will take to move:

(a) away from every individual instructor making their own decisions about the right mix of online and face-to-face learning, on a course-by-course or just a lesson-by-lesson basis, to a program approach of looking at the needs of a program – and its students – as a whole, in deciding the right mix of online and campus-based teaching

(b) to a team approach, involving an individual instructor working with an instructional designer, to determine the right mix of online and face-to-face teaching within a particular course or program

(c) to developing clear guidelines or principles on what is best done online and what on campus. (What? A theory in educational technology? What was I thinking?)

Until now the argument has been: ‘Online learning OR classroom instruction’. Now we need to look at the best ways to combine them. I will be very surprised if the flipped model as practiced today survives once we have that knowledge. But we lack the science or experience to guide us on the ‘what’s best done online and what face-to-face’ discussion. We are still very much in the cottage industry stage of higher education teaching – all craft and no science. We need both theory, and evidence from practice to support or challenge the theory. Until then, anything goes with hybrid learning, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. It allows for innovation and challenges to our existing ideas in this area.

Discussing drop-out rates in MOOCs

Rivard, R. (2013) Measuring the MOOC drop-out rate Inside Higher Education, March 8

A good, balanced discussion about how ‘success’ in MOOCs should be measured, with some data about completion rates.

MOOCs forcing traditional academics to re-think their teaching

Lecture capture at MIT: we can do better

Rivard, R. (2013) Learning how to teach, Inside Higher Education, March 5

This is perhaps the most encouraging item of news about MOOCs so far (and also illustrates that edX is taking a more thoughtful approach to MOOCs than Coursera.)

The Provost of Harvard, Alan Garber, noted that because of the wide exposure that MOOCs offer to academics, they are wanting to ensure that their teaching matches or exceeds that elsewhere. “Our faculty are extraordinarily successful,” Garber said. “They are used to winning. And they don’t want to lose this game.”

At the same time, the Director of edX, Anant Argawal, admitted that there is certain learning sciences research that many faculty, including himself, had long ignored as they focused on their own disciplinary fields. “To me, these papers should be must-reads,” he said.

However, it is a pity they still haven’t discovered the mass of prior research on online learning, but at least there is a recognition here that MOOCs can and should improve their pedagogy.

Further developments in competency-based learning

Salt Lake City: HQ of Western Governors’ University

Fain, P. (2013) Rise of customized learning, Inside Higher Education, March 5

Contact North (2013) Western Governors’ University, The Gamechangers in Online Learning Series, Sudbury ON: Contact North

Competency-based learning allows students to study at their own pace and often allows them to build on previous learning and experience to jump ahead in a program, so long as they can demonstrate through an exam their already existing level of competency. This works very well for adult learners.

Contact North has a full description of how Western Governors’ University works. WGU is perhaps the leading institution in competency-based learning. The Inside Higher Education article discusses WGU’s expansion into Washington State, Texas, Tennessee and Missouri, and also describes some other institutions also moving into competency-based learning.

The one disadvantage of competency-based learning is that students tend to study in isolation from other students (although supported by an instructor), so it tends to be not so appropriate for more qualitative and critical-thinking based subject areas. The advantage is that students can start almost immediately on enrollment, and work at their own pace, sometimes finishing much more quickly than in a paced, 13 week semester..

The big challenge is to align competency-based learning with the North American Carnegie system of credit hours. Institutions such as WGU have to jump through hoops to equate their ‘competencies’ to credit hours in order for students to be eligible for US Federal loans. However, all  part-time students are at a disadvantage in qualifying for government loans or grants, whether competency-based or cohort.