Chico Chooses Its Next-Generation Learning Management System

Extensive vendor presentations, two rubrics, and a diverse committee chosen from all parts of campus were important components of California State University, Chico's approach to choosing a new Learning Management System (LMS).

At CSU, Chico, 90% of students and 60% of faculty depend on WebCT Campus Edition (CE) regularly. With all campus courses automatically loaded into WebCT and usage continuing to increase 12 percent per year, it was clear that the WebCT CE solution Chico has relied on for nearly 6 years has been pushed to its limits. "A move to a more robust and intuitive solution is essential if Chico expects to continue to meet faculty and student demand for a highly dependable, feature-rich online environment," says Bill Evans, manager of Distributed Learning Technologies.

A committee of 16 was formed including co-chairs Laura Sederberg, manager of the Technology and Learning Program; Cindy Jorth, professor of foreign languages and literatures; and Evans. "Cross-campus representation was critical to the selection process," says Sederberg. "We designed our process to consider the perspectives of faculty from various colleges, as well as students, department chairs, deans, administrative staff, representatives from the Academic Senate, advisory groups, accreditation committees, and those responsible for technical support and sustainability."

"It was important for everyone to share in the vision of what an enterprise LMS is, and what it can and should do," Evans explains. "Throughout this process, all of us on the committee became well-informed about the current capabilities of these products, how much they have grown-up, and the new realities of supporting a mission-critical, campus-wide LMS."

A pass/fail rubric was developed to establish whether candidate systems met minimum standards for deployment at CSU, Chico. It included user and supportability requirements such as accessibility, availability, compatibility with campus technology standards, track record, support, etc. If a product didn't meet these requirements, it was eliminated from further consideration.

The committee consulted the Gartner Group and received feedback from other institutions using candidate systems. "Gartner backed our own perceptions and supported what we were already feeling," Sederberg recounts. Open Source options like Moodle and Sakai didn't make the cut. "We looked at open source solutions and researched their cost, labor requirements, enterprise-wide integration, and track record, and decided they were not practical for Chico at this time," says Sederberg. Based on the initial pass/fail evaluation, only the BlackBoard Academic Suite and WebCT Vista made it to the second phase of the process.

"Our process evolved," explains Sederberg. "We started with five main categories: teaching and learning, academic program assessment, support and sustainability, enterprise integration, and institutional partnership. Various sub-committees analyzed the categories and developed questions we wanted to ask LMS vendors." A detailed best-fit rubric emerged, along with an extensive question-set.

"It was important to have everyone's input when developing the rubric and questions," explains Evans. 'We used the rubric to document our findings and record impressions rather than give either product a final score." Representatives of Blackboard and WebCT were invited to campus for two days of presentations and discussions with the campus community. As a result of these sessions and additional research, areas of distinction emerged and were highlighted in the committee's LMS Strategic Review report.

The committee noted the ease with which faculty and students could likely move from one WebCT product to another, the significantly easier course migration process, and WebCT's positive track record in the CSU. At the conclusion of the three month process, the committee recommended WebCT Vista Enterprise Edition .

For more information, visit http://www.csuchico.edu/tlp/LMS2 or contact Laura Sederberg or Bill Evans .

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