University of Alberta
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Learning Management Systems

LMS Transition Complete

The University has completed the transition from WebCT-based system, Blackboard Vista, to Moodle 2.

LMS Project Background

The University of Alberta had been using Blackboard Vista (formerly WebCT Vista and its predecessor WebCT Campus Edition) as its centrally supported Learning Management System (LMS) since 1998. In summer 2009, Blackboard announced that support for Blackboard Vista would terminate as of January 2013. This termination of support forced the University to adopt a new LMS for eClass. The Blackboard Corporation expects Vista sites to migrate to Blackboard Learn.

Blackboard Learn is a completely different product than Vista and so this is not a simple upgrade. This migration would require all users - instructors and students - be retrained to use a different product with a different user interface and tools.

The time was ripe for the University consider its future LMS roadmap. Should the University proceed with the Blackboard migration or should it consider other LMS products, either commercial or open source?

In April 2010, the Vice-Provost (Information Technology) created an LMS Evaluation Team (LMSET) to research and consult with the University community on the choice of the next LMS. This committee operated at arm's length and independently from the Vice-Provost (Information Technology).

After careful reviews, research and consultations, the LMSET produced a report with the following key recommendations:

Recommendation 1:
Based on information gathered from the 2009 LMS Review document, as well as from consultations with University faculty and staff that work with educational technology, the LMSET recommends that the University adopt Moodle as the next LMS used to power eClass.

Recommendation 2:
The LMSET recommends that the processes required to move from the current eClass engine, Blackboard Vista, to Moodle be initiated starting in summer 2010. Priority should be given to creating a migration framework that will determine where and how the service will be hosted, determine the time line for the redevelopment of the middleware layer that will help to automate user level administration of the system, and setup the framework required for a single signon portal for users to be able to move between both systems through the migration period to facilitate early adopters and pilot testing.

The LMSET narrowed down the options to Blackboard Learn and Moodle. Within the University of Alberta, the School of Business uses Blackboard Learn; Arts, Augustana, Campus Saint-Jean, Engineering, and Science use Moodle either exclusively or for a portion of their courses. 63% of Alberta K-12 districts polled use Moodle. In Alberta, Athabasca University, NAIT, Concordia College, Kings', and the University of Lethbridge all use Moodle. Pedagogically, there's no great difference between Blackboard Learn and Moodle. The adoption of either will cost money for retraining and migration of current Vista data to the new system. Over the long run, the selection of Moodle will result in a cost savings.

After five months of consultations, the decision was been made to centrally adopt Moodle. Over the next two and a half years [from summer 2010 to the end of 2012], we worked with faculties, departments, and instructors to migrate Vista courses into Moodle and educate the university community on the new LMS. This was a huge project, as it affected over 6,000 courses, the instructors of these courses, and most students on campus. There was strong central support to ensure a smooth transition.

We had a Moodle Migration Oversight Committee to oversee the move to Moodle, and a project manager to do the planning and manage the people resources that were committed to this effort.

There were regular communications to the community on the progress of the migration.

Note that the LMS decision only affected the centrally-supported LMS. Usage of the central LMS is not mandated.

LMS Selection Information:

  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • LMS Evaluation Team's Report
  • School of Business Response to LMSET Report
  • 2009 LMS Review Committee's Report
  • NAIT video on their move to Moodle
  • University of North Carolina at Charlotte's LMS evaluation report summary: Our alternatives are clear. We can transition to Moodle, or we can negotiate a new contract with Blackboard and migrate to the product they offer. The evidence gathered by this committee strongly favors a transition to Moodle on both pedagogical and financial grounds. Moodle provides better or comparable functionality with the benefit of increased relevance and control for what in the long run will be lower cost. The committee understands that transitions of this nature are burdensome, but its 18-month reflection upon a wide variety of factors culminated in a renewed appreciation for the University's instructional mission and the challenges that lie ahead. It is the Committee's firm belief that, of the options open to us, Moodle provides the best choice for meeting those challenges.
  • University of North Carolina at Charlotte's Spring 2009 Faculty Moodle Evaluation (note that this evaluates Moodle over a year ago, and the new version offers greater functionality now)

Other links: