Category Archives: Course Management

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?


Blackboard adding to its portfolio

Still no press releases to confirm Vicki Tambellini’s 12/30/2011 post that Blackboard has purchased data modeling/tools/analytics company, iStrategy Solutions. The price is rumored to be $12.5 million plus $1.5 million worth of Blackboard stock.

Also potentially in the works (or is it already a done deal?), the acquisition of Presidium, a provider of 24/7 support for learning management systems.

This week’s LMS Choice Announcements


As the end of life looms for Blackboard’s CE/Vista product increasingly regular reports are being received of institutions’ choices for its replacement.

This week’s announcements included two large Blackboard clients, UMass and UEN (Utah Educational Network).

UEN, not surprisingly, announced the decision to support their statewide network with Instructure, built by a Utah-based developer. Their announcement here.

Today, UMass Amherst announced their decision to phase in Moodle over the next two years (just beating the event horizon for the CE/Vista end of life, Dec. 2013). John Dubach, CIO for UMass Amherst, writes of their decision.

Notre Dame’s current FTEs and skill set supporting our CMS/LMS


The University of Notre Dame has some unique characteristics, but these are not necessarily advantageous towards fully utilizing the best of teaching and learning technologies, including the LMS.

The major factors your institution must consider when benchmarking your course management staffing:

  • Does your institution have a School of Education? If you do, they will tend to keep the educational use of technology ‘fresh’ on your campus. Or perhaps I should say, they could do that, if you’re intentional about allowing them to.
  • Does your institution have a distance education program? Are you thinking of starting or expanding one? Instructional Designers will be a part of your campus already.
  • Does your institution require (“Can” your institution require?)  the posting of grades and/or syllabus for all courses in your LMS? Many of your faculty will need help complying. Instructional Designers will help grow their own business.
  • Do you have, or do you intend to grow, multiple integration points into and out of your LMS? Not just SIS provisioning and SSO to digital library resources, but other tools such as iTunes U, the next generation of Wimba/Elluminate tools and so forth.

Notre Dame’s current LMS Staffing



System Admin




App Admin (regression testing, patches, certs, provisioning, monitoring)


OIT Help Desk


MCOB Help Desk


Kaneb Cntr


Language Cntr (Wimba)


Library eReserves


Second Level Support (FAQ’s, blogs, communication)


Academic Technologies (iTunesU, Streaming media)




How my work might change: does open source require more FTEs to support?

(How my work might change if Notre Dame chose Sakai as its next LMS)

No. No. And no. These are the repeated answers echoing from those who’ve switched from a proprietary LMS (or whatever three letter acronym we choose) to an open source LMS. (And pipe up here if you’re one of them. Tell us your story. Tell us why?).

Then come the caveats. These are worth exploring. Especially in my shoes.

  1. With open source, you can choose how much change you’re willing to invest in.
  2. With open source, you can choose how much ‘give-back’ to the community your institution is tuned for.

About #1. Institutions find it an attractive proposition that open source would enable them to enhance functionality and/or fix bugs on their own schedule and frequency, thus making them more responsive to the Academy’s needs than they were when using a proprietary system.  Can Notre Dame afford to be more responsive to the Academy than we had the option of being with a proprietary LMS?

Now you have options. You can still eat the same cooking everyone else eats. Or, you can cook your own. Cooking your own will take more developer resources. Maybe your Academy wishes the Gradebook you gave them did this ‘n such that-a-way instead? Maybe central IT can tell them they’d be happy to install their departmental version of the Gradebook if they will build it themselves? (You very shortly would be able to tell them that while still using a proprietary LMS, given the adoption of the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard, but I digress…).

I think Notre Dame at this juncture in time would choose to provide the same level of support and maintenance as previously, and that means that we can bite off maybe adding one to two tool integrations a year. At least initially, we would not necessarily be any more responsive to our Academy’s growing needs.

About #2.

If you choose to cook your own, well then, you might as well make that flavor of the widget available to the entire extended community as well. More home cooked meals = more FTEs. Period. Your choice.

For my part, logic compels me to want an open source solution only if it comes with FTE’s to start Notre Dame’s own CookBook.

Sakai 3 changes its name

The open source collaborative learning environment (CLE) or whatever we call it to compare it to other systems like it (maybe the point is that there ARE no others like it?), is no longer to be known as Sakai 3, but as Sakai OAE.

The new three letter acronym stands for Open Academic Environment.

We just hope a stable release is available soon. Does a reorganization of the project team mean that release is further out or that the team’s streamlining makes such a release due out sooner?

Design Goals:


How my work might change: Governance

(How my work might change if Notre Dame chose Sakai as its next LMS)

It doesn’t take much thought to acknowledge that any change presents opportunities along with it that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Congress takes advantage of this with nearly every bill it passes, bundling some more or less related legislature or budgetary consideration in with new law.

Let’s please not go that far! But still, if you know you must change, you can consider a whole batch of other changes that might be beneficial to implement at the same time. You could design a whole new way of doing things!

I’m actually wondering if certain beneficial changes stack better with the next choice of LMS and whether the changes that could be bundled with that choice might actually turn into criteria for the software selection itself.

So, proprietary vs open source? What kinds of changes naturally ‘bundle’ with one or the other?

In my next post I’ll describe a little about how governance and policy for our LMS works now, what I’ve dreamt it could be and how the decision, implementation and resourcing of the next LMS may or may not provide opportunities to be more strategic in how we support collaborative engagements like learning, research, and committee work, in addition to standard course management/access provisioning.