Making the Move from WebCT to Blackboard
These days, the Learning Management System (LMS) is a major part of any university. It's a complex collection of hardware, software, and data that delivers online instruction to thousands of students in hundreds of courses. It's tightly integrated with student records, authentication and identification systems, and Gigabytes of course material. And it needs to function smoothly, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. At Iowa State, that role is filled by Blackboard; a new and improved system that replaces the previous WebCT software.
Blackboard has a redesigned interface that is simpler to use and incorporates new social media tools to foster student engagement. It also provides more opportunities to collaborate with publishers and other outside suppliers and has new productivity tools to improve efficiency for students, faculty, and the institution. For those faculty with specific needs best met by Moodle, we do maintain a hosted solution through Moodlerooms that is used for a small number of classes; but Blackboard is the primary LMS.
Staff from ITS and the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) began planning the transition from WebCT to Blackboard more than a year ago. First, the new LMS was brought up on a server to test its integration with authentication, student records data, and other core Iowa State systems. Once it was running smoothly, a pilot program during the fall 2010 semester gave ITS and CELT staff the opportunity to work closely with a small group of faculty to learn the new software.
During spring of 2011, a larger test allowed about 70 courses to be put on the new system and for more faculty to get acquainted with the new features that make Blackboard Learn a more powerful and flexible system.
Finally, over the summer, courses were migrated to Blackboard 9.1 from WebCT using an automated process. All course structures, teaching materials, and other elements were brought over and merged into the new environment with little or no need for changes. Hundreds of Gigabytes of information were transferred, checked, and made ready for faculty to take advantage of the new tools they now have at their disposal. In all, there are now about 1200 courses on the Blackboard system.
WebCT isn't going away just yet, though; there are still about 400 courses on that system and ITS will continue to operate the server. By the summer of 2012, however, all courses will be moved over to Blackboard, which is now the flagship product and will be the focus of the supplier's upgrade efforts. We can expect to see new updates about every 60 to 90 days.
So far, the transition has been a smooth one and faculty, staff, and students can look forward to using the new LMS to enhance and extend learning at Iowa State.
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