Students and faculty at Cal Poly will say their goodbyes to Blackboard this spring, as Moodle steps in as the university’s primary learning management system. Whether or not these goodbyes are filled with sarcasm or reluctance depends on who is talking.
Cal Poly Information Technology Services (ITS) has been gathering input from a number of sources during the past year in preparation for the end of their current licensing contract with Blackboard in March 2012, according to the ITS website.
Due to an upgrade in Blackboard’s software, converting to Blackboard 9.1 would result in the same learning curve for students and faculty as switching to Moodle 2.1, according to the website.
ITS staff, including associate vice provost of ITS Johanna Madjedi, recognize it is a hassle to become familiar with a new product.
“We do see (adjusting to Moodle) as one of the biggest challenges that we have in converting to the new system is making sure that faculty have all the resources we can provide them, so they can make this transition as easy as possible,” Madjedi said.
Part of ITS’s research included the best methods for educating students and faculty about a new learning management system, which was previously done by other universities.
In May 2009, a California State University (CSU) assessment of different learning management systems said Blackboard and Moodle are the two best options to meet teaching and learning needs and accessibility required for CSUs.
According to the ITS Web page, since this study, seven campuses have switched from Blackboard to Moodle, four are actively piloting it and several others have expressed interest.
“Other universities that have moved to Moodle found that faculty members that didn’t care for Blackboard then came onto Moodle, and they preferred that,” Madjedi said. “We might expect more faculty members to adopt Moodle over time because it’s a better system.”
Part of the reason for a number of universities moving from Blackboard to Moodle is because Moodle is an open source application rather than a proprietary system like Blackboard. Open source applications are more customizable and require no licensing fees.
“From a licensing standpoint and costs associated with Moodle, it’s really nothing,” Madjedi said. “We have to have the computing resources to run it and the databases to support it, but the licensing is just not there. From a cost-analysis standpoint it’s much cheaper.”
Other universities that have already made the switch from Blackboard to Moodle reported a 25 percent to 50 percent rise in costs during the transition year, because they have to support both applications simultaneously. After the changeover has been completed, costs reduce significantly due to the lack of licensing expenses.
“It definitely was part of the motivation for change, plus to try to reduce our overhead costs,” Madjedi said. “A big driver for change was trying to make an environment that was more intuitive for faculty and students to use.”
By choosing to go with an open source application, Cal Poly will be able to select which plug-ins they want to add to Moodle to create “PolyLearn,” Cal Poly’s branded version of Moodle.
An example of one of a plug-in is “lecture capture.” This program allows professors to record lectures and post them online. Students can then match up the audio or video from lecture capture with slideshows or notes posted onto PolyLearn. They will be able to tag, bookmark and go back to specific parts of the lecture simply by navigating through their own notes on PowerPoint.
To gauge the learning curve people would face at Cal Poly, several classes have used Moodle since Fall Quarter 2010. At first, three faculty members and a total of 73 students participated in the Moodle-pilot. During Winter Quarter 2011, it expanded to 18 faculty members, 23 courses and approximately 600 students.
The participants were asked to take part in a survey at the end of each quarter.
In Fall Quarter 2010, 78 percent of students preferred Moodle to Blackboard, and in Winter Quarter 2011, 77 percent of students preferred Moodle.
The survey also showed faculty members spent less than 10 hours learning how to use Moodle, mainly spending time in group training sessions. Students, because they are generally more familiar with online applications and don’t have to learn as much about Moodle as faculty do, tend to pick up the application in one to three hours.
ITS Collaboration Support coordinator and PolyLearn Moodle project manager Terri Bruns said they are more worried about the faculty because students are more computer-savvy and do not have a high opinion of Blackboard in the first place.
“From a student’s perspective, it’s difficult to locate course material in the application the way Blackboard’s system works,” Bruns said. “Overall, (Blackboard) is not as strong as Moodle from the standpoint of the number of clicks and the level of effort.”
Although PolyLearn might prove to be a more user-friendly product than Blackboard over time, chair of the college of liberal arts technology committee Tim Dugan said some faculty he spoke with are worried about, or feel unprepared for such a change.
“One of the professors in our department has a class of 200 to 300 every quarter and currently uses Blackboard pretty heavily,” Dugan said. “She’s really trying to get that training, and I haven’t heard this quarter — yet — what the new schedule for training sessions is going to be.”
Although a number of seminars and training session were held during summer, Dugan said several professors in his department tried to sign up for these meetings, but were turned down because of a limited number of spots.
“They’re going to have to ramp up the training so people have the opportunity to make the transition,” Dugan said.
This transition will take place over the course of the school year, and faculty will be allowed to start setting up their Winter Quarter 2012 course shells on Oct. 1. Both Blackboard and PolyLearn will be available during Winter Quarter 2012, but all professors will have to adopt PolyLearn when Blackboard is turned off early Spring Quarter 2012.
Professors will have a couple of weeks at the start of spring quarter to continue transferring their files from Blackboard but are expected to become familiar with it before then.
“It’s just something else that faculty are being asked to do on top of everything else they already do,” Dugan said. “That’s the general sense of what I’ve been hearing from people.”
ITS will continue to work with students and faculty to ease the transition from Blackboard to PolyLearn. Further questions can be answered online, or by email at email@example.com.