Sunday, September 25, 2005

Lawsuit forces Web2 learning strategies

Hardly surprising news, but very significant in my view. The FLOSSE blog in Finland points to a student from Capella University filing a lawsuit against the university for its use of an LMS (WebCT) that the student believes to be inaccessible and therefore discriminatory...

The student who filed the lawsuit, Jeffrey La Marca, says ...

He took courses from Capella as part of a master's program in information-technology-system design. After he completed one quarter at the university, in 2004, the administration installed a new software system, made by WebCT, for managing online courses. Mr. La Marca says he found the new setup confusing and difficult to work with. "It was just a navigational nightmare," he says. "It made it impossible for me to study."

Before the switch, he says, he received A's in the two courses he completed. With the new software in place, he says, he had trouble doing his assignments.

"I have a lot of educational experience, and I have never seen anything like this," says Mr. La Marca, a California resident who had already earned a master's degree in education -- taking traditional courses rather than online ones -- from California State University at San Bernardino. "Something needs to be done immediately about the accessibility to online courses."

Surely it is only a matter of time before the same activism happens here in Australia. Many of us have argued til blue in the face that Learning Management Systems are unusable and inaccessible, and place unnecessary pressure on a student.

When I did my DipEd at Uni of Newcastle a few years ago, at least half my time at the computer labs was spent trying to help my classmates get their head around the LMS. The LMS being used there was Blackboard. About 3 people in that class of around 15 - 20 I reckon dropped out because of the LMS! I believe it had a lot to do with just not being able to handle the LMS on top of everything else about orientating into a uni course, and so not being able to keep up with the very demanding 1 year course. The LMS was unnecessary extra pressure!

So, what's the alternative? Open network learning of course! While there is still a technological hurdle for students to get over, it is more gentle - and what they learn this way can help them learn anywhere! Unlike the LMS model where each institute is using a different platform that does very little towards empowering the student to take control of their online learning.

Here's what I plan to do with my students next term.

  1. Collect emails, faxes numbers and mobile phone numbers from the students.
  2. Explain the open and public communication strategy I intend to use, suggest ways to maintain privacy by using an alias. Get each student to nominate all or some of these contact details to communicate with them about the course.
  3. Set up an email group, an SMS mailing list, and a fax list.
  4. Set up a course blog, and set it to send me an email everytime I post notes and resources.
  5. Using both the audio post feature and the text editor, announce on the blog the first lesson as a face to face orientation day, forward it from my email to the eGroup (can't seem to set it up to do it automatically but is very easy to forward manually), use the SMS list to announce the headline and blog link, and group fax the post to those who rely on fax. Maybe I'll even do a snail mail out seeing as its the first and most important communication.
  6. On the f2f day get feedback on the communication method and make sure everyone understands how the eGroup communication works. Show them the course blog and demonstrate how each week's resources will be available in both audio and text (plus what ever media happens to be used each week - loaded to Explain how each week's blog post will be forwarded to the eGroup, with headlines to SMS, and fax if need be.
  7. Assist each student in setting up their own blog/learning journal to keep their own notes, links and pictures. Show how to audio and moblog.
  8. In the next week - subscribe the eGroup and each student blog to my Bloglines, and set up a tag for the class, adding its feed to my bloglines as well.
  9. Post to the course blog the public Bloglines for the class and tag page, and announce the next face to face lesson. Forward to eGroup, SMS and fax.
  10. At the next face to face, review the course blog, and the workings of the eGroup (and student emails), SMS and fax; review the use of student blogs; introduce the tag page and explain how can be used to save good links and build a class resource; Have each student set up a account and save their blog to the class tag; Demo how can be used to find good links and have each student find a good link to add to the class tag; Demo how RSS works into Bloglines and have each student set up a bloglines account and subscribe to each other's blogs and the class delicious tag resource. Demonstrate again how bloglines can be used to track each other's work. (BTW each class session goes for 3 hours in case you were worried)
  11. 2 weeks later [comment: this class runs 3 hrs, one night a week, for 9 weeks] the class should be ready to start learning how to learn about the topic they have enrolled in. Each week I will post the week's notes and resources to the course blog, send it to the eGroup, remind everyone via SMS, and fax out the sheet if need be.

Many of the students will still be very unsure about how blogs, social bookmarks, and web feeds can work for them, so I'll need continue to offer face to face support each week in the context of what and how they're learning. But with the online options, the other students have the option to work flexibly.

The main point in the post is that there are viable and better alternatives to the LMS model. This strategy does not impact too much on my workload, it simply extends the reach of my normal lesson preparation and notes. The methods being used are more universal in that students (an me for that matter) can use the communication methods in many different contexts. The LMS model can only be used in the context of the organisation offering the LMS!

I should add of course that my doing this has cost the organisation I work for very very little. If the SMS and fax support continues to be needed, then that cost would amount to less than the photocopy bill in an average class. I haven't added pressure on already over stretched internal IT services, and instead used an array of free services that achieve the flexible learning goal more effectively.

For more insights to this model check out the links that Sean and I point to in our recent presentation Knowledge Sharing with Distributed Networking Tools


Alan said...

...after 10 steps and two weeks of classes already we finally come to:

"11. 2 weeks later the class should be ready to start learning how to learn about the topic they have enrolled in...."

I guess it's not a 12 week math course!

...or is this just the punchline to an elaborate joke?

Leigh Blackall said...

No joke Alan, it's a 9 week animation class running one night a week. So I guess I should have said 2 days later, or even 6 hours later, as each class only goes for 3 hours.

I guess I'm teaching people how to learn for themselves - doing this.

Alan said...

either way - 4 out of 9 (days or weeks) or 12 out of 27 hours - it seems like a lot of overhead (though I take your point that in this particular course learning the medium may be an important component of the message)

MrC said...

I love Moodle......give it a look, it seems to be a compromise with the LMS approach and Networking Tools approach.

Leigh Blackall said...

know moodle well mate!

Just reckon LMSes are not the go. Even if they are open source.

Thomas & Associates said...

Your article was fascinating! I would be interested in being contacted by anyone with a disability who has experienced accessibility problems with any type of online learning platform. I am the attorney who is representing Jeffrey LaMarca in his lawsuit against Capella. I know there are others with disabilities, especially visual impairments, that have encountered difficulty with their online learning experiences. Please feel free to share these experiences with me. I can be reached by email at

Anonymous said...


We held a Sdyney Web accessibility forum on Oct 18, and had been discussing these same issues as we are affected by the Disability Standards for Education 2005. Presentations will be online at A speaker, Brian Hardy, pointed to as an open source, accessibile elearning system.


Capella Rocks said...

What Capella lawsuit doesn't state is:

1. He earned A's in his classes on the new learning platform as well. Capella University did modify his requirements to accommodate his disabilty.

2. The Office of Civil Rights ruled on multiple occasions that Capella granted reasonable accomodation and that LaMarca was engaged in harassing behavior in the Capella courserooms.

3. On LaMarca's websites, &, LaMarca does not identfy why he could not allegedly use the Capella courseroom. Instead, LaMarca:

1. Although he is disabled, LaMarca ridicules alcoholism, which the American Medical Association defines as a disability;

2. Makes light of Nazi atrocities ("Anne Frank Dutch Ovens");

3. Ridiclues other students religous beliefs;

4. Slanders many Capella officials with lies and half-truths

5. Does not post the updates of his OCR complaints (they have been all settled in Capella's behavior).

Anonymous said...

"Capella Rocks" is Shawn Ambrose, an employee and both a student and a "faculty member" at Capella University. This may be verified by examining Capella's catalog. The real facts are:

1. Shawn Ambrose is a liar - he has had nothing to do with this case or any of the complaints that have been filed (except that he has been personally named in many/most of them for his ongoing retaliation and harassment on behalf of his employer)

2. Shawn Ambrose spreads his lies and represents them as "facts" – again, without any first-hand information.

3. Shawn Ambrose proudly touts his past in which he abused drugs, alcohol, and porn. One reference (dated 2004) to this may be found at:

One of his friends brags "Hello Shawn Ambrose. I can't see you teaching, all I can see you doing is spinning around in the booth chair, drunk off your a**, trying to dj during "All-Star Weekend." To which Ambrose replies, "You paint an ugly picture of me - but it's true :-) Yes, I did a show or 2 'under the influence'." It would seem as if Ambrose is the one who makes fun of his drunken past (note his use of a "smiley face").

4. Shawn Ambrose also whines because he freely and publicly states on a Latter-day Saints (Mormon) web site at

that "I bear my witness that the Book of Mormon is TRUE. Before I came into the Church, I was into drugs, alcohol & pornography."

Other interesting facts that Shawn Ambrose refuses to mention, in addition to his employment at Capella University, is that he currently teaches courses at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College ( including:

"Introduction to Hospitality" - that is being held at a casino (!!!),

"Business Law" - which includes "instruction" on civil and criminal wrongs, labor and employment law, and ethical issues,

"Principals of Leadership" - with attention to conflict management, strategies for motivation, social obligations, and interpersonal communications, and perhaps most hypocritical of all,

"Human Resource Management" – on "effective programs and procedures will be studied in the following areas: harassment, equal opportunities, discrimination . . ."

In light of the fact that Shawn Ambrose, AKA Capella Rocks, has spent nearly two years now scouring the Internet to post his lies and other bigoted and false remarks about matters in which he has had absolutely no first-hand involvement in – and, more than likely, on behalf of his employer, Capella University, should clearly demonstrate why lawsuits must be filed to protect the rights of those with disabilities and the critical need to advocate for those rights in an online learning environment. All of the above facts, and a lot more, will come to light during the discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against Capella University.

Anonymous said...

There is some great information on the above mentioned lawsuit at:, including the first significant ruling by the court.

Anonymous said...

Find out how Shawn Ambrose (who posted the above) who "teaches" (as an "Independent Contractor") at Capella University lies at:

In addition, the following breaking stories will soon be posted at:

These will include the complete texts of declarations, signed under penalty of perjury by:

1. Michael Offerman, Capella's President

2. Greg Thom, Capella's Chief Shyster,

3. Priscilla McNulty, another Capella "attorney"

4. Stella Fey Epling, one of the "attorneys" representing Capella who has lied to the court

5. Karen Viechnicki, Provost - who can't tell the truth for anything

6. Shawn Ambrose (who not only posted the above but also serves as Capella's Zealot and Head Cheerleader). He also “teaches” at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College (check out his hospitality class - LOL),

7. Vickie Cook, one of Capella's Poster Children, and Dean of Community Education at Kaskaskia Community College, and

8. Many others

Some of these individuals have lied to such a great degree that their "declarations" are actually funny!

Again, visit:

for the latest news.

Anonymous said...

Here is the latest on this lawsuit:

The lawsuit was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Meanwhile, a countersuit filed by Capella University against LaMarca continues to move forward.

Anonymous said...

Some interesting facts from the December 13, 2007 court document:

Concerning the plaintiff’s assertion that he received a failing score for his spring semester mid-term grade:
“During his testimony at trial, Plaintiff (La Marca) insisted that he had been receiving a failing grade for Luopa’s class in May 2004. Plaintiff submitted no evidence, other than his own testimony, showing that he ever received a failing grade on any of his course work. To the contrary, Plaintiff consistently received superior grades in all of his classes.” (page 12) and from page 16: “…Plaintiff completed his [spring semester] classes in the first week of July 2004, shortly after the beginning of the summer term on July 1, 2004. He earned A’s in both classes.”

Concerning plaintiff’s ADD and rights under American’s with Disabilities Act: “The Court concludes that neither Plaintiff’s ADD nor his learning disabilities substantially limit the major life activity of learning, as compared to most people. Accordingly, he is not disabled as defined by the ADA, and he is not entitled to reasonable accommodations under the law.” Case 8:05-cv-00642-MLG Document 152 Filed 12/13/2007 Page 34

The Court also rules that “even if Plaintiff were disabled, Capella granted him reasonable accommodations” (Case 8:05-cv-00642-MLG Document 152 Filed 12/13/2007 Page 34) and that “Defendant [Capella University ] granted most of the Plaintiff’s requested accommodations shortly after receiving the appropriate medical documentation” and “It is clear that Defendant made every effort to accommodate Plaintiff’s needs.” Also “The Court concludes that the accommodations Defendant (Capella) granted Plaintiff (La Marca) were reasonable and sufficient for his needs.” And finally “…Defendant also eventually offered Plaintiff the option to complete his courses through directed study, which would involve one-on-one interaction with the instructors. A directed study program would have addressed ever issue Plaintiff raised, both with the WebCT deficiencies of which Plaintiff complained and the accommodations he believed were insufficient. The fact that the offer was made in the context of a dispute with Plaintiff over his postings is irrelevant. Plaintiff declined the offer. Plaintiff’s refusal to accept an accommodation that would have addressed all of his needs precludes his claims” (page 39)

Concerning plaintiff’s claim that Capella retaliated against him for filing a complaint with the Department of Ed Office of Civil Rights by locking him out of his course room and suspending him from the university:
“Plaintiff has failed to establish a casual relationship between the adverse actions Defendant took against him…Plaintiff failed to demonstrate any connection at all between his request for accommodations and his subsequent lockout and suspension, and the Court finds there was none.” Case 8:05-cv-00642-MLG Document 152 page 42

Concerning plaintiff’s argument that Capella violated his First Amendment Right to Free Speech based on the ADA:

“Plaintiff’s comments were abusive, harassing, and inappropriate for any public environment.” “Plaintiff’s conduct was no different than a student in a bricks-and-mortar classroom setting disrupting a class with vocal and unrelenting criticisms and personal attacks on the school’s faculty and staff, based on a dispute over unrelated administrative issues.” “The Court is convinces that Defendant acted not out of animus regarding Plaintiff’s disability or his OCR complaint, but because Plaintiff’s insulting commentary well surpassed the line from honest critique of the new platform into harassment and abuse. These actions are not protected by the ADA. “Accordingly, Plaintiff’s retaliation claim is dismissed” (Case 8:05-cv-00642-MLG Document 152 pages 42-26)

Anonymous said...

Kurt Linberg, Dishonest Dean from Capella University, Caught Lying Under Penalty of Perjury

In a signed declaration, Kurt Linberg, one of Capella University’s “Executive Directors” (Capella-speak for “Dean”) stated that Capella University relied upon the [faulty] decision of a Federal law enforcement agency (which conducted a shoddy investigation into the illegal actions of the “university”) before he helped to throw a student our of their “school” without any due process.

Not only that but, in addition to abusing and subsequently lying to Federal law enforcement agencies about that matter, Kurt Linberg then admitted in a declaration signed under penalty of perjury that,

"Kurt Linberg stated - "There was an internal meeting [at Capella University] to determine what we should do with communicating these results to [the student]. The -- and what we decided to do was not communicate until we officially had the OCR [United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights] report findings back to us."

The student's attorney then asked Linberg if that - "Has it ever been communicated to him [the student], as far as you know?"

Kurt Linberg replied - "I don't know."

Clearly, Linberg and Capella based their acts of retaliation against a student on an incompetent investigation by OCR, but also after they thought they could get away with their refusal to provide that student with any due process. Linberg has now been caught in his own lies as a result of a series of e-mails between Kurt Linberg and other Capella employees (which Capella refused to turn over to that student, along with countless other records required under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act [FERPA]) which has just been discovered. There is no question that Linberg not only KNEW that the student had been had “disenrolled” (Capella-speak for expelled) but that the student was NEVER to be told about Capella’s vile actions. One of those e-mails states:

"From: Ragozzino, Kris [Kris Ragozzino]
Sent: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 5:24 PM
To: Kerns, Colin [Colin Kerns]; Thompson, Joanne [Joanne Thompson]
Cc: Linberg, Kurt [Kurt Linberg]
Subject: FW: Disenrollment

Please update this learner's record so that the disenrollment date is 1-3-05 as stated in Kurt's email below. The learner should NOT be notified regarding this change in disenrollment. The reason should be "Suspended" and a note should be added in the Terminate Student Remarks notes field next to the withdrawal/separation date (in the drill down) stating Reason: Failure to adhere to the conditions established post academic suspension.

Thanks [Kris Ragozzino]”

It needs to be mentioned that many of Capella’s attorneys, including but not necessarily limited to: Greg Thom (Capella’s “Chief Counsel” and Congressional Lobbyist), Priscilla McNulty (one of Greg Thom’s underlings), along with two “attorneys” from the law firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath, Henry Christian L’Orange (aka, H. Christian L’Orange and Chris L’Orange) and Stella Fey Epling have lied about Capella’s refusal to abide by FERPA to Federal law enforcement agencies and/or in signed declarations (again, submitted under penalty of perjury) to Federal Courts.

In his most recent ruling the judge in the lawsuit against Capella stated,

“Plaintiff proceeded with his discrimination case based on his good faith belief that Wong was wrongly decided, given his understanding of the medical community’s views regarding learning disabilities. Whether Plaintiff is ultimately successful in his appeal to the Ninth Circuit, he is entitled to present his arguments to this Court and to the Ninth Circuit.”

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Anonymous said...

There was a settlement reached in LaMarca v. Capella:

Anonymous said...

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mack said...

This is fascinating.
I’d been taught that left-aligned labels are preferred, to support the prototypical F-shaped eye-tracking heatmap of web browsing. The idea is that it supports easy vertical scanning.
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Leigh Blackall said...

To the Administrator of Learn Online and Teach and Learn Online:

It has been brought to our attention that your Web site is currently hosting information that may be false or misleading. This information was posted by Mr. Jeffry La Marca. Capella and Mr. La Marca were engaged in litigation in United States District Court in the Central District of California. Claims in this litigation included defamation and interference with business relations. As part of a legal settlement approved by the U. S. District Court, Mr. La Marca has acknowledged posting derogatory, demeaning and inaccurate claims about Capella University on multiple Web sites and forums, including claims that appear on your site, Mr. La Marca has also agreed to help Capella University in our efforts to remove these postings.

Attached you will find a screen shot of the specific comment(s) authored by Mr. La Marca. We hereby request that you immediately remove these misleading postings from your site.