Transitioning platforms in support of teaching and learning… new LMS anyone?

I was reading up on Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania this morning, starting with an article about loaning out iPads in a business class, but also mentioning their legacy “LMS” platform called webCafe (cool name, don’t you think?). Unlike the rest of the University of Pennslyvania, since 1998, the Wharton School has used the eRoom business-based document sharing software package customized with some 3rd party tools like Cogix ViewsFlash survey software and the Questionmark Perception assessment platform. Undoubtedly these were chosen individually as best of breed at the time.

But, like many of the rest of us, Wharton has been evaluating a system upgrade.

What you need to hear is this : “Any transition of this magnitude will be difficult, so we need to make sure we get it right,” said Alec Lamon, Senior Director of IT at Wharton.

Since the rest of UPenn uses Blackboard, it was evaluated. I’m not clear on the reasons, but they chose to upgrade to a newer version of eRooms. What’s interesting to me is that their notions back in 1998 of what an LMS should be remain viable:

  • forums for faculty and students to discuss and vote on topics of interest (non-class based groups)
  • share documents
  • group calendars and task lists
  • collaborate on projects online
  • support and enhance regular accredited classes, faculty research and collaboration

A new LMS is a huge decision. Rather than focusing on the tool decision itself, I’m generally seeing that more resources need to be utilized in planning for the transition itself.

In the case of the Wharton School, it may be that their gap analysis of changes between the current, and at least one of their potential replacements, was the single most important factor that went into the the final decision. Too often the gap analyses are not done as part of the initial decision-making process, but are done during transition planning. Maybe we have that backwards?