(This letter was sent to Haverford and Bryn Mawr faculty and academic staff on June 11, 2010)
As you may be aware, the Tri-Colleges have been conducting a major product review of our Learning Management System (LMS), Blackboard, and a popular alternative called Moodle. Blackboard is the dominant commercial software company in higher education. Moodle is free, open source software that has been adopted by many institutions of higher education, including many liberal arts colleges.
The three schools have decided to convert from Blackboard to Moodle over the next two academic years. More information will follow in the coming months as the full transition plan is put into motion. In the meantime, you do not need to change how you go about preparing for your fall 2010 courses and seminars.
We are interested in hearing your thoughts and questions about the transition. Over the summer and beyond, your input will guide our planning processes. We’re especially keen to know what we can do to make this transition a successful one for you.
How & why the decision was made.
The cornerstone of the review was a test/pilot project across the three schools. The test group of 30 faculty and 200 students used and reviewed Moodle and a major new version of Blackboard. A review team of IT, library, and language center staff investigated the features of the two products to determine that both met our requirements. An assessment team conducted interviews and surveys with pilot participants, which they compared with some existing baseline data about LMS usage and satisfaction.
In brief, although they may look a little different on the surface, Blackboard and Moodle have a very similar set of features and capabilities. The review committee and pilot participants generally thought both products were good and sufficient for our needs. With there being so little difference in their usefulness, the long-term costs of Blackboard became a major factor in the decision. After the initial costs of transition, the decision to move away from a commercial product that annually increases its subscription costs at rates well ahead of inflation was seen as a major financial sustainability advantage in switching to Moodle.
What the decision means for faculty and staff who use Blackboard.
Our plan is to complete the transition away from Blackboard by the summer of 2012. This coming year will be spent working with select faculty and staff to build up the necessary infrastructure and expertise to provide excellent support for Moodle. Otherwise, the activity around course conversion and training will accelerate next summer, with the bulk of activity taking place during the 2011-12 academic year.
It became clear during this process that many faculty wish that they had help making better use of our course management system, regardless of the selection. (This is a wish shared by many students, as well!) We are looking at this moment of change as an opportunity to work with those of you who are interested to improve the instructional design of course sites and make more expert use of LMS features. The opportunity to take time to connect our Moodle implementation with your needs is one of the most important reasons why we’re taking our time at the outset of the project.
Joe Spadaro, CIO Haverford College
Elliott Shore, CIO Bryn Mawr College