sad loss of an open VLE pioneer

Photograph of lillies taken by me in my house. No rights reserved by me.
Photograph of lillies taken by me in my house. No rights reserved by me.

I am sad to hear that Professor Andrew (Aggie) Booth has died. Aggie was a VLE pioneer. His work influenced mine and that of many colleagues. This news, coming as it does so soon after the recent loss of Sebastian Rahtz reminds me how much we owe to the original thinking of these clever, quirky, open practitioners.

Aggie Booth was one of the first, maybe THE first ‘Professor of e-learning’.  If you have not heard of him, or perhaps have forgotten, here’s my story of Bodington at Leeds and Oxford:

Bodington was originally developed at University of Leeds by Jon Maber and Aggie in 1995. It was subsequently released as open source*.  Oxford was the first HEI outside of Leeds to offer it as an institutional VLE . The University of the Highlands and Islands also used Bodington.

Bodington was a VLE ahead of its time**. This history of online learning  lists the first scaled deployment of Bodington in 1997, the same year WebCT 1.0 was released and Blackboard was founded. A year later Martin Dougiamas began preliminary work on Moodle.  I joined the learning technology team at Leeds in 2002. The Sakai project began in 2004.

The design of Bodington was based around a metaphor of space, people and place. It was originally  developed as the ‘Nathan Bodington Building’. University of Leeds campus is full of buildings named for people. Sir Nathan Bodington was the first Vice Chancellor of the University of Leeds having been Principal and Professor of Greek at the Yorkshire College since 1883.  Jon and Aggie imagined that students would find/navigate to their materials and classes in ‘rooms’ on ‘floors’ in the virtual environment just as they did in the physical.  Similar to the design of later virtual worlds such as SecondLife.  When a proliferation of virtual buildings  emerged at Leeds the virtual environment was renamed as Bodington Common.

For the open sourcing of software to be effective it is necessary to build a sufficiently large and vibrant community so that the product can become self-sustaining and progressively develop to include new ideas. Oxford was an early adopter of Bodington and was a keen supporter of a wide range of developments including various marketing exercises and attracting external funding for innovations; however, whilst the system was adopted by a wide range of institutions, the number of those prepared to commit development effort never reached a sustainable level.

The teams met in Oxford in 2005 to  discuss development of Bodington in collaboration with Sakai. When Leeds University opted in 2006 to select a proprietary system for their next VLE, Oxford was left as the sole large-scale developer of Bodington and this situation was untenable. It was at this point that Oxford decided to seek an alternative platform (with a bigger and better community) and chose Sakai, deploying it as WebLearn in  2008.  By this time I had moved from Leeds to join Oxford.

Many good things came out of working with Bodington and Sakai, the Oxford developers and gained vast experience in open source software and community development. Oxford ran Bodington and Sakai in parallel for four years, Bodington become read-only in Sept 2012.

Personally, I enjoyed teaching using Bodington very much and there are pedagogical tools in there I still miss.

 

 

*On 3 October 2006 Bodington released version 2.8.0 on SourceForge. This brought good will with it from those in the open source community who may have felt Bodington had been trading on the open source moniker unfairly in the past.( OSSwatch)

** This became important when Blackboard much later filed their patent in the US for various VLE features which were on record as having been part of the Bodington functionality.

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