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Latest LMS News: Five Things the University Community Needs to Know.

January 30, 2017
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The University of Minnesota is in the final semester of the Moodle and Canvas learning management system (LMS) evaluation and getting closer to determining what an LMS must do to support teaching and learning now and in the future. Here are five things to know about the current state of the evalutation:

1. The University is in the last semester of the Canvas pilot.

In 2014, the University joined the Unizin consortium. As part of the contractual agreement, the University was obligated to pilot Canvas as a potential replacement for our current learning management system (LMS), Moodle. After the first year (2015-2016 academic year) of the pilot, data from faculty, students, and academic technologists showed strong, positive reactions to Canvas’s features, functionality, and usability. The technical evaluation also determined that Canvas is well-positioned to support the University’s ongoing feature and performance growth needs. In April 2016, the Executive Vice President & Provost, Interim Vice President of Information Technology & CIO, and the University Librarian approved an extension to formally evaluate and compare Canvas and Moodle through spring 2017. The formal report of the results of the second year of the pilot will be available in April 2017.

2. The University is looking to the future in envisioning a system that will provide a “Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE)”.

Participation in the consortial effort of Unizin, coupled with an annual roadmap review of the LMS platform/system, became a catalyst for developing a vision for the future of teaching and learning at the University of Minnesota.  This prompted a broader study of a set of integrated tools that can grow with the advancement of higher education. A framework for this future growth and flexibility is outlined in an article sponsored by EDUCAUSE and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, called The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE). A core principle of a NGDLE highlights a shift in focus from an LMS as the sole system for learning technology, to being only one part of an integrated and interconnected environment of tools. This environment could provide a learner-centered, open, and interoperable platform able to support new models of learning, such as competency-based education (CBE) and personalized learning.

A NGDLE at the University of Minnesota would require the complementary expertise and collaboration of functions performed by the Provost, Libraries, OIR/Analysts, and UMN technologists throughout the University.  We expect that University faculty, staff, and students will request and need tools that align with the emerging NGDLE functionality and vision. These tools include open, learner-centered applications and services that improve the creation, curation, and delivery of digital content, enhance student advising, and utilize learning analytics. Along with the LMS evaluation, the University is determining if there is an appropriate path towards a NGDLE.

3. The system-wide University community is weighing in on the decision through ULTA, a recently formed University-wide committee.

The LMS is one of the most widely used enterprise tools at the University of Minnesota and is critical to a good teaching and learning experience for students and instructors.  To help ensure the best decision will be made, a variety of reports and activities are underway.  One important step in ensuring the best decision, and including the input of faculty, is the recent establishment of a new committee, University Learning and Technology Advisors (ULTA). Chaired by faculty member Lee-Ann Breuch, ULTA serves as an important voice of faculty and consists of 28 faculty members representing each college and campus in the University system. Since November 2016, ULTA has been meeting regularly to review data and reports surrounding the LMS transition and Unizin membership proposal and providing representation from their respective colleges. ULTA will provide a recommendation in the form of a formal report to the Executive Vice President and Provost and Interim Vice President of Information Technology and CIO by March 31, 2017.

As the reports are completed and presented to ULTA, the University community has access to the ULTA website where they can review the same reports. Faculty members are also encouraged to provide feedback directly to their ULTA representative for consideration in their LMS recommendation.  A draft of the report will be available online in early March 2017 for public viewing and comment.

4. If Canvas is not chosen the way Moodle is delivered will change. 

The University’s onsite Moodle instance as it currently exists is not sustainable and will not serve the needs of the University into the future. Ever-increasing resources have been needed to keep the core system running. Recurring unplanned outages and service slowness are now more common due to Moodle design limitations (inability to scale to anticipated future user volume) and the growing complexity of maintaining the infrastructure that supports it.  This was determined following an analysis that was conducted by the Office of Information Technology (OIT) during the fall semester of 2016.

As a result, the University must consider a move from its current LMS platform.  Changes in technology over the past decade have brought changes to the LMS market.  Having the LMS hosted “in the cloud” through a “Software as a Service” (SaaS) provider is a growing trend in higher ed institutions. Data shows that these platforms provide great benefits in system reliability and stability (LMS Market Dynamics, Spring 2017, p. 4, e-Literate Big Picture, Mindwires LLC).

The University is reviewing two SaaS solutions: Canvas and a SaaS hosted Moodle solution. How a SaaS Moodle solution will differ in features, usability, and ability to migrate courses from the current onsite version of Moodle is under evaluation.

5. A formal transition plan for either Canvas or a SaaS-hosted Moodle option will be forthcoming.  

Any timeline for an LMS transition is tentative until colleges and OIT’s transition team can confer. Our current on-site Moodle system and the new system, whether Canvas or a SaaS-hosted Moodle, would run as parallel systems for a time, with delivery of live courses phasing out as the transition completes. Student survey data from the pilot makes it clear that students prefer not to have to use more than one LMS for their courses, so the University should aim for the shortest transition time it can realistically support.  

Based on the experiences of other institutions, a tentative timeframe of 18 months to two years is realistic. After that point, content from old courses on Moodle servers would remain archived (and retrievable) as the University’s Moodle 5-year lifecycle process plays out.

OIT will offer support for faculty and college IT during the transition, regardless of the system selected. Once the LMS decision is made, a transition team will be assembled to work with colleges to create a program of support that fits their needs. Support may include online resources, drop-in sessions, online and face-to-face workshops, and temporary staff assistance.

If you would like to learn more, review the proposal and reports on the ULTA website.  In addition, public demonstrations of Canvas, a SaaS hosted Moodle solution and a Unizin ‘open house’ are being scheduled in February and March.