Murray Goldberg was a tenured faculty member in the department of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia, when he left to become the president and founder of WebCT, a company which grew to be the world’s leading learning management system (LMS), serving 14 million students in 80 countries at 4,000 universities and colleges.
Later, in 2002, Murray co-founded Silicon Chalk, a company which built software to enhance the classroom experience in higher education. Murray then went on to create Brainify.com, an academic social bookmarking and networking site for university and college students, and then AssociCom, a company which creates software for private professional networking within professional associations.
Most recently, Murray has created MarineLMS, a learning management system for training in the maritime industry to combine his passions for educational technologies and the sea. In addition, Murray has served as a consultant, advisor, board member and board chairman for numerous technology and education companies.
A widely recognized thought leader in the field of online teaching and learning, Goldberg has given over 200 keynotes and invited lectures, and is an expert resource for business, education and technology organizations and education media. Murray has won numerous teaching, industry, and national awards. Most recently, Murray was named one of the top 15 Canadians in digital media by Backbone Magazine. In 2004, Goldberg was the winner of the national Manning Awards foundation EnCana Principal Award, a $100,000 prize honoring the country’s most outstanding innovator. Also in 2004, Goldberg was granted an Honorary Doctorate of Technology from Southern Cross University for his pioneering work in the area of educational technologies. In 2000, Goldberg was honored at the National IWAY Awards in Canada as one of five extraordinary Canadians for his outstanding contributions to information technology, and was also named as the recipient of the New Media Hyperion award for the application of new media in the field of information technology. Murray has also won numerous teaching prizes including the prestigious Killam teaching prize while in his first year as a faculty member at UBC.
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Murray shares about his time at UBC and some memorable lessons learned that continue to shape his outlook today.
“….The thing that I loved most about UBC (that I found out pretty quickly when I came there as a graduate student), is that I really loved being around bright and often eccentric people because they were challenging and very interesting people who loved what they were doing and were working on something that obviously interested them. When you interacted with these people they didn’t let you get away with anything so it helped me get better at what I do and were certainly a very entertaining and supportive type of culture….”
You talked about UBC and also Maria Klawe, do you have any interaction with Maria currently at Harvey Mudd?
“….I’ve kept in touch with Maria off and on the whole time since I was at UBC. I’ve certainly followed what she’s been doing through Princeton and everywhere else she’s been. She’s always done and will continue to do amazing things wherever she goes….Maria has invited me to participate in this very interesting kind of think tank on the future of K to 12 Math education in the US….”
In his discussion about UBC Murray talked about his research which led to this idea of WebCT. He gets into more detail about the world-leading success history with WebCT and provides an extensive overview.
You have this situation where you’ve sold a good portion of your company, you’ve grown tremendously and you hold your first conference — what happened after that? You’re not really affiliated with that group anymore are you?
“….What happened after that was that I agreed to stay on a minimum of three years. I was strongly identified as ‘Mr. WebCT’ and it was an affiliation and identification that I cherished and I think it grew because I really did connect personally with every customer we had. Over that time what happened was that of course I had less of a role in the direction of WebCT but I was still viewed externally as the person who was in charge….I don’t have a single regret — for me personally I know I did exactly the right thing at the right time. I can only hope that for the industry and for the company I did the right thing at the right time and that’s for others to judge….”
When you talk about the whole development of e-learning a few words came into my mind and you can choose which ones you want to comment on: CBT systems, Smartforce, Skillsoft, Coursera, Udacity, Audacity, MOOCs, Athabasca University and Commonwealth of Learning.
“….That’s a smorgasbord of a lot of very important words….The first thing that came to mind when you first started talking about these is the division between corporate training and higher education e-learning. These grew as two almost disjointed branches out of the same set of roots or same trunk. It has been very interesting to watch that happen….”
Outline your research in the effectiveness of web-based learning.
“….We have a problem with respect to learning and it’s not a new problem or a problem created by new technology, it’s a problem that’s always existed. The problem is that it’s very hard to definitively say whether or not what we are doing is working. How can you measure whether or not people are learning?….”
What can you tell us about your current work?
“….I started to do some consulting while I was thinking about what to do next and I ended up getting involved with BC Ferries. (BC Ferries is one of the largest ferry operators in the world here in Vancouver — I’m based in Vancouver, British Columbia). It started out as they wanted to look at how they trained their captains and they asked me to participate in this effort. This wasn’t the kind of thing I normally do but it seemed interesting to me and seemed like important work….”
Where do you see yourself in three years?
“….I can’t imagine professionally doing anything other than e-learning, not just because I love it but because I’ve always felt it’s important to do what you know….I want to keep doing this and it’s my intent to work for the rest of my life….”
Please share your role, insights and best practices learned from your chairman role with the Manning Awards.
“….The Manning Awards are national Canadian awards for innovation in any human endeavour….Now 30 years after there is this great breadth of innovations that have been recognized in Canada and I think they are making a difference….I think it’s a great model with the goal of telling young Canadians that it’s also very cool to be an innovator and to look at the great things that innovators do and that you can do this….”
As you indicated you are the Chair of the BC Chapter of the Manning Awards and as Chair is there some specific call to action that you can make to the audience?
“….My call to action for the audience: if you are in Canada then what you need to do is to seek out innovators and seek out successful innovations. If you are one of those people who has a successful innovation, you need to know about the Manning Awards (manningawards.ca), because we really do want to recognize you….”
What do you see as some of the top challenges and opportunities facing the Learning Technologies industry in 2013?
“….There are a number of challenges, but I think most of them are centered around just being confident and having a way to measure all these new ideas that we have to see if and how they work…..”
What are the computing areas (specialties) or domains having the highest growth rates and why?
“….I’ll stick to e-learning because it’s something I can talk about more personally than ICT as a whole:….MOOCs…Social Learning Systems….The whole notion of personalized and adaptive learning….”
What policies need to be implemented to foster innovation?
“….You talked about policies and that’s an important part of it, but we also have to be careful about how we do this….You can’t mandate innovation….that I think is really what it’s about. Getting the word out and making sure that people relate to it personally and then giving them the means….To understand also that innovation doesn’t have to be one huge success somewhere….We have to be willing to fail and our administrators have to be willing to support that kind of thing….”
As a successful entrepreneur, what are your top best practices for start-ups?
“….Passion….Knowledge….Try to get as much background in the area that you want to innovate in as possible….Mentors….Having a peer group that you meet with….Not being afraid to deviate from the plan that you have at hand….Being able to involve the people that you care about….”
What are the secrets to fund-raising?
“….Realize that it’s almost a full time job….Having deep knowledge about what you are working in….A past success in whatever your discipline is will give you credibility….VCs are people too….Don’t raise money if you don’t need to, that is one of the best pieces of advice that I can give you….”
Murray you’ve had to make a pitch in front of investors. Do you find that it’s a 5 minute talk or is it 15 minutes or an hour or do you find that you’ve got to get it in quick and fast or you lose their interest? Do you have any tips on the actual presentation?
“….It’s all of those things at the various stages….It’s very much all about timing….Understand your goals and understand what it is that you need to tell them in order to achieve that immediate goal and work on that and talk appropriately….”
What do you feel are the best qualities that make for a successful innovator?
“….If you want to be an innovator go work somewhere you really care about in a field that you really care about. Keep your eyes open and you are going to find things that just don’t work and then go home and think about it for a little bit and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you become an innovator yourself….”
What kind of resources do you use to get your information?
“….LinkedIn, because it’s very targeted for me to the industry that I’m working in right now (which happens to be the maritime industry), so that’s a fairly big resource for me in terms of connecting with other people. Speaking more broadly about resources, not just resources for information but tools and things like that, I happen to be a fairly big Google Docs user because a lot of the stuff that I do is collaborative….”
We touched on some of this already but if you were to spotlight the areas of controversy in areas that you work in, what would they be?
“….The biggest one is educationally, can we say equivocally that people learn just as well or better using these technologies than they do in a face-to-face model. That will be the controversy for the foreseeable future….”
Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials?
[See http://www.ipthree.org and the Global Industry Council, http://www.ipthree.org/about-ip3/global-advisory-council]
“….If we are building things which are mission-critical or potentially life-critical to the world at large, shouldn’t we apply a little more discipline to what we do I guess is the question. I think the answer is yes but I think we have to do it very carefully because accreditation bodies and all these kinds of things have a negative side as well. I think sometimes they can stifle innovation if they’re not done well….”
From his extensive speaking, travels, and work, Murray shares some interesting stories (amusing, surprising, unexpected, amazing).
“….Being part of this community that really spans the globe that has been brought together by a common desire to improve the work is a wonderful thing that has come to me over time. Also getting to meet so many wonderful talented people….”
If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask, and then what would be your answer?
“….What is the biggest take-away that I’ve learned?….Make one small difference in any way that you can and you’ll leave the world a slightly better place than the way you found it….”
Murray, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.
Music by Sunny Smith Productions and Shaun O’Leary