Scholar Features and Functions

Scholar is:

A Meeting Place for Knowledge Communities: On entering Scholar, a student or professor lands on their personal profile page in the ‘Community’ area—a place from which they can navigate into ‘communities’ (not classes, because a community may be smaller than a class, or several classes/sections). They can see the recent activity of their ‘peers’ and navigate to their pages (not ‘friends’ or ‘followers’—Scholar is a social knowledge space, not a social media space). An activity stream displays recent activity, discussion or task updates, and dialogue about these updates. Updates can be initiated by ‘admins’ or ‘members’—we don’t restrict knowledge coordination roles to ‘instructor’ and student. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Scholar provides a range of filters and search options so it is easy to find things in the activity stream, even when a lot is happening across multiple communities and peers.

A Student Workspace: The ‘Creator’ area in Scholar is a multimodal workspace, where learners and professors can create multimedia knowledge representations, including text and (inline) image, video, audio, dataset or any other digital knowledge artifact. Creators can also embed inline externally-located digital objects, such as YouTube videos, SoundCloud audio, GitHub code or Twitter feeds. Technically, Creator is a semantic editor, where all markup is structural and semantic (unlike Word or Google Docs). This means that learners make their thinking explicit, for instance, marking up the information architecture of their work via sections or ‘elements’, and whether a stretch of text is their own or another author’s via a ‘block quote’ markup. Clear versioning and embedded assessments (reviews, coded annotations, recommendations, and a natural language processing checker) provide on-the-fly formative feedback and data for progress analytics and visualizations. Works can be individually or jointly created.

An Assessment Space: Scholar offers approximately fifty different kinds of recursive feedback, all at semantically legible datapoints. By this we mean that every datapoint can (indeed must) provide immediate prospective and constructive feedback to the learner so they can improve their work. Scholar’s semantically legible datapoints include, for example:

  • A computer suggestion, such as a writing suggestion that includes an explanation of the reason for that suggestion.
  • A peer idea offered in response to a review criterion.
  • A coded self-annotation.
  • A comment in a virtual class discussion.
  • A response to a question that has a right or wrong answer.

Learning Analytics: For a student, there may be tens of thousands of such datapoints in a course, a million datapoints in a program. For an instructor, there many be tens of thousands in a week, and a million in a course. The purpose of Scholar’s ‘Analytics’ area is to provide learners and their professors with clear progress visualizations based on this data. Learners can access personal data presentations; instructors can access both cohort and individual data presentations. Even though the sources of the overview data are ‘big’ and the presentations necessarily synoptic, it is nevertheless possible to drill down into any or every datapoint, every one of which making sense to both learner and instructor.

A Place for Course Design and Delivery: The ‘Learning Module’ is a hybrid content curation and delivery genre, somewhere between a syllabus and textbook, yet quite different from both. Our comparison point is the textbook, where digitization alone is of little technological or pedagogical significance. In a Learning Module, an instructor does not summarize the world; they curate the world. They prompt research and discussion. They launch surveys (‘Knowledge Surveys’ which by definition have definite answers, or ‘Information Surveys’ which can reflect legitimate differences of perspective between participants). They manage projects which include prompts and recursive feedback rubrics. If an e-textbook delivers content, the Learning Module scaffolds learner activity while providing supporting content. If an e-book positions learners as knowledge consumers, the Learning Module positions them as knowledge producers. If an e-book is read-only knowledge, the Learning Module scaffolds read-write knowledge. The Learning Module, however, also supports a wide range of pedagogical designs, from active self-construction of knowledge to direct instruction.

Web Portfolio and Profile Pages: Every student has a personal profile and portfolio page for life that they can keep private or make public. They can continue to maintain it, even create new professional or alumni communities after they have left the school, or they can just keep it as a privately archived record of all their school work. They can direct potential employers to these pages. Every faculty member also has a self-maintainable profile page including Learning Modules they may have published, and any other videos and publications they may choose to share. This replaces the perennially out-of-date ‘last leaf’ on the university website, and brings under the umbrella of the university academic profile pages that may have in recent years been ceded to private web providers.

Notwithstanding its ambitions as a learning ecology, Scholar is pedagogically agnostic. Teachers can still do traditional content delivery, assessment and ‘didactic’ transmission pedagogy in Scholar. Scholar suggests a future of learning, without mandating it.

A Place to Manage and Disseminate Intellectual Property: Scholar is a next-generation digital publishing platform, ideal for peer-reviewed student or faculty coordinated journals, research reports, dissertations and books. Works can be disseminated as multi-format electronic and/or print. Through the Scholar ‘Bookstore’ area, this content can be offered as open access or at-a-price via single work sale, or institutional or personal subscription. This functionality offers a natural interoperability with the University of Kentucky Press and a broadened role for the University as a curator and distributor of intellectual property. One of Scholar’s virtues is the potential scope of its use, and its flexibility.

What is a "Next Generation" Learning Management System?

    Legacy LMS:
e.g.  Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas
Next Generation LMS:
Criterion 1:
Curriculum Mode
● Modeled on a traditional syllabus structure (week after week, lock-step progression). ● Flexible offering of courses both as on-demand/self-paced, as well as cohort-based/fixed-time.
Criterion 2:
Student Workspace
● Students do their most important  work outside of the LMS— writing ‘papers’ or ‘reports’ in word processing documents, for instance.
● Document types mean that student activity is ‘semantically illegible’ and rich data tracking learner activity and progress is lost.
● Students do their work inside the LMS, with fully multimodal tools for knowledge representation (embedded data, visualizations, video, and other media).
● Versioning supports deep analytics.
Criterion 3:
Student Differentiation
● One-size-fits all course presentation, aiming at the ‘middle of the class’. ● Personalized.
● Adaptive.
Criterion 4:
Learning Community
● Focus on individual learning. ● Focus on the practice of knowledge community, collaborative learning, as well as individual work.
Criterion 5:
Measurable Learning Outcomes
● Learning is centrally a matter of long term memory of facts and replicable mental operations.
● Tests, quizzes etc. attempt to infer ‘cognition’.
● Learning is a process of complex disciplinary performance expressed through knowledge representations.
● Evidence of knowledge of theory and understanding of practice is in the knowledge artifact (the project report, the documented experiment, the design, the field review, etc.).
Criterion 6: Assessment Modes ● Traditional assessments: item-based selected response tests, prompt-based supply response tests, closed book tests, fixed time tests.
● Machine and expert/instructor assessment.
● Focus on summative assessment (retrospective and judgmental).
● Recursive feedback: immediate and constructive feedback to the learner, and feedback on feedback.
● Integrated formative assessment at numerous ‘semantically legible’ datapoints.
● Multiperspectival, ‘crowdsourced’ assessment (peer, self, expert/instructor).
● All assessment is in the first instance formative (prospective and constructive); retrospective views are available in progress analytics and visualizations.
Criterion 7:
Evidence of Learning
● Superficial learning analytics: access, completion, instructor gradebook. ● ‘Big data’ based on all student work, and deeply granular analysis of student knowledge making activity across time.
● Thousands to millions of semantically legible datapoints.
● Elegant progress visualizations for learners, learner support, and course co-ordinators.
Criterion 8:
Instructor Workload
● Heavy teacher workload, developing content for delivery and creating courses anew, each session/section.
● Instructors are the lone markers of student work.
● New economies and efficiencies, positioning learners as responsible knowledge producers instead of dependent knowledge consumers.
● Lightening the load without resorting to traditional textbooks: publishing, sharing and refining ‘Learning Modules.’
● ‘Crowdsourced’ assessment with supplementary learning analytics.
Criterion 9:
Social Media Integration
● No. ● Optional per-person, per-class, per-post feeds to social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter), drawing users back into Scholar when dedicated knowledge work is called for.
Criterion 10:
Web Presence
● Student work is locked up in the LMS.
● Faculty profiles are elsewhere: the last, out-of-date leaf on the University’s website map; or faculty use outside providers (, ResearchGate).
● Student profile pages and work portfolios are knowledge credential pages for life, with a range of optional privacy settings, from private to public.
● The university becomes host to dynamic, self-maintained faculty profile, publication and portfolio pages.
Criterion 11:
Publication and Intellectual Property
● Curricula are not publishable.
● Student work is not publishable.
● No integration with wider publication infrastructures (e.g. student publishing, faculty co-ordinated journals and reports, university press).
● No integrated content management, intellectual property, or publishing strategy.
● Curricula and other content publishable, internally or with public access, for free or for a price.
● Student work publishable, into communities of shared knowledge and/or student portfolios, with a range of privacy settings and other options.
● Integration with wider publication infrastructures, such as university press, open access and/or commercial (peer reviewed journals, reports, books).
● Integrated intellectual property strategy.

Feature and Function Comparison


Blackboard, Moodle and Canvas

Multimodal workspace  
Collaborative and peer knowledge production  
Social media feed integration  
Formative assessment  
Deep learning analytics  
Personal, self-maintainable profile and portfolio pages for life  
Publishing infrastructure (student and professor journals, books, curriculum resources), open access or commercial  
Interoperability with other LMSs, ease of migration  
Announcements, syllabi, content upload/storage/delivery
Personalized messaging
Internal and external video embeds
Quizzes and item-based assessments
Real-time data exchange between LMS and university systems
Industry standards compliance, including single sign-on
Streamed video classroom and synchronous sessions via plug-in Partial

Moodle (2002) 

An open source LMS that has grown in a haphazard way, with only one major iteration in a decade, and one that did not support migration of content from v.1.0 to v.2.0. Moodle’s focal point is still the traditional syllabus and content delivery. Its learning analytic potentials are extremely limited as a consequence of its underlying, two decade old, file upload/download technology.

Canvas (2008)
Founded by two graduate students at Brigham Young University and still based in Salt Lake City, Canvas adds nothing to Blackboard or Moodle, either technologically or pedagogically. Notwithstanding the pressurized sales efforts and advertising hype such as the ‘awesometer’ on its home page, Canvas is just another stitched-together collection of 1990s technologies and didactic teaching methods. It does have fancier fonts than its main competitors, and it seems friendlier in part because its legacy technologies have been dumbed down in the interest of ‘usability.’ But functionally it is essentially the same as Blackboard and Moodle. Universities are making this shift in order to heed the complaints of users about the old LMSs. This is change for change’s sake, that amounts to no change at all.

Scholar Technology

Scholar represents a paradigm shift in content sharing and e-learning technologies which we call ‘semantic publishing.’ With patents and patents pending on its core innovations, Scholar replaces documents, files, and messages with content that is always re-rendered from the source and on-the-fly—for instance, to HTML, PDF or other digital formats and media as needed. Semantic markup also makes possible deep analytics, something which is impossible given the technical architecture of traditional LMSs.

Scholar incorporates the strictest of security protocols—where admins at a number of levels (community, publisher, organization) regulate all aspects of user activity and permissions. Access to works is only possible with permissions. Every community page offers ‘public,’ ‘closed,’ ‘open’ and ‘private’ settings. In educational settings, student access must be supervised by an official admin.

Scholar is developed in two-week release cycles. New features reach production in a six-week development pipeline of stakeholder engagement: requirements development => beta-sqa testing => beta testing by selected users in a full-data mirror of production => release to production.

Scholar has a robust Applications Program Interface (API) using the industry standard IMS/LTI protocol. This allows access from other Learning Management Systems (such as Blackboard during a transition), single-sign on for users, integration with student information systems, and data mining for the purposes of learning analytics.

Scholar has rigorous risk management and disaster recovery systems, including multiple, geographically separate mirror sites and backups.

User Statements

Scholar goes beyond “old” notions of online learning. Scholar facilitates, through its creative interface, a student learning experience that promotes interaction, collaboration and scholarly reflection. It is not like other products that are passive platforms for “dishing out” content. Rather, it promotes a new kind of learning where active engagement is inbuilt in the design and processes it uses. The high quality user-friendly interface enables instructors and students to actively engage learners in a community on project development, creative works, publications and portfolio development. This active engagement of learners in learning communities—working on real time and real world issues—promotes the acquisition of graduate attributes that contemporary employers value highly.
Professor Peter Kell (PhD)
Head, School of Education, Charles Darwin University, Australia

The choice of a Learning Management System (LMS) can dictate the types of instruction and type of learning community that can be achieved in an online or technology enhanced course. Scholar goes beyond traditional LMSs in that it blends the social media interface of sites such as Facebook with powerful writing tools such as Google Docs. This blend allows students to be part of a learning community creating new works and achieving higher level thinking instead of spending time learning how the LMS functions. As a Director of IT, who is heavily involved in our campus Teaching and Learning committees, the ability to perform continuous formative assessment in an easy to use environment is key. We have faculty trying to create work around or use alternative systems due to this limitation in our current campus solution. Scholar has this as core feature. As a doctoral student, CG Scholar provides me not only the opportunity to engage with my peers in the course's community space, but to create my own community to discuss my research and reach out to others with the same interests. This ability to create, share, and network without needing administrator or IT support is essential to building a long lasting self-supporting system.
Sol Roberts-Lieb
Director, College of Fine + Applied Arts Information Technology
Chair, IT Council Sub-committee on Teaching and Learning
University of Illinois

Using Scholar as a student offers new and exciting avenues of class participation. Instead of having discussions limited by predefined discussion forum categories, students are given a vibrant stream of discussion in the Updates feed. The Creator space enables students to write academic works in a platform dedicated to scholarly content and empowers peer feedback and collaboration in a much more useful way than traditional word processing tools. The admin pushes out the final version of each student’s work in a format perfect for presentation in a digital portfolio. By focusing on academic needs each step of the way, Scholar proves to be the best tool for engagement and production of active knowledge.
Adam Rusch (MSLIS)
Teaching Assistant, Learning Design & Leadership Program
Doctor of Philosophy Student, Educational Policy, Organization & Leadership
University of Illinois