This is a guest post by Jim Farmer, instructional media + magic, inc.
UPDATE: With his permission, we have appended an email response by LSU CIO Brian D. Voss in the comments section of this post.
On Saturday, November 3rd, MoodleRooms Michael Penny reported that Louisiana State University would be moving to the Moodle Learning System. LSU is a Major research university enrolling more than 30,000 students, including more than 1,600 international students, and nearly 5,000 graduate students. LSU has more than 1,200 full-time faculty members and a staff of more than 3,000.
Because their process was public, we have access to valuable details that are not often available for institutional decisions such as this one.
The decision was announced to the LSU campus October 31st in a post that read:
LSU’s Flagship Information Technology Strategy, or FITS, Task Force for Teaching and Learning submitted its recommendation for a single learning management software to the chief information officer for action. The Task Force recommends that Moodle, an open-source learning management resource, replace the University’s two learning management tools, Semester Book and Blackboard. This recommendation follows a nearly year-long process which involved input from the entire campus community.
This replacement will begin with the Fall Term 2008. Other campuses in the LSU system are expected to follow the LSU approach.
The Final Report of the Course Management System Subcommittee released September 14th recommended:
Moodle provides the greatest potential for meeting critical instructional and administrative needs quickly, efficiently, and effectively while stabilizing long ‐term costs. Moodle will provide local control and administration, while enabling the University to leverage considerable resources and support from the large Moodle user community.
The Committee also cautioned:
Cost savings that will result from the termination of Blackboard licensing and support must be dedicated to the support of Moodle. They should not be redirected to non ‐CMS initiatives.
The Subcommittee evaluated five CMS alternatives–Blackboard, ANGEL, Desire2Learn, Moodle and Sakai–and Moodle as a service. Blackboard, ANGEL, and Desire2Learn as well as Moodle had the functionality the Subcommittee had identified for evaluation.
IN 2003, LSU announced their “Flagship Agenda.” “The goal was to improve our standing as a nationally competitive flagship university.” Late 2005 Chief Information Officer Brian D. Voss initiated the Flagship Information Technology Strategy (FITS). A plan was published mid-2006. The plan initiated study in ten areas. Action Item 7.01 emerged to “Provide a single course management system.” The Subcommittee reported on September 14th and on October 31st, added appendices to the report including the Summary of Requirements, Critical CMS Requirements (Deal breakers), Request for Information, the responses to the Request for Information, the evaluation criteria, and the cost analysis.
The evaluation revealed Blackboard, ANGEL, Desire2Learn, and Moodle “met all deal-breaker requirements.”
Sakai does not meet the deal ‐breaker requirement associated with course archiving. Its projected implementation cost considerably exceeds the University’s current CMS expenditure ‘footprint.’ Professional IT developers for Sakai are more expensive than those for Moodle, due to Sakai’s use of JAVA RSF programming language and Moodle’s use of PHP. Also, Sakai’s quiz module, Samigo, has been removed from the core of Sakai, due to data loss.
In the cost analysis (Appendix H), the Subcommittee estimated feature completion for Sakai would cost $248,000. They estimated it would cost $120,000 to develop Batch SIS Integration, Post Grades, Predictive Grades for Students, Section Support, Split/Merge Sections, and Cross Listing; $100,000 for Blackboard since Section Support is currently available.
Based on information provided to the Subcommittee, the annual license for Blackboard would be $330,000, Desire2Learn $300,000, and ANGEL $260,000. The cost of a sixth option—Moodle as a service from MoodleRooms—was $85,000 per year. The costs for personnel at the campus for both Moodle and Moodle as a service were $173,000 for a system administrator and two Moodle PHP Developers (and estimated for Sakai at $228,000 for the same three positions). The costs for equipment and for local staffing of Blackboard, Desire2Learn, and ANGEL were not estimated.
Similar to UCLA, the Subcommittee first elected to use an open source solution:
The committee found attractive the potential for custom development of CMS applications via an open source solution rather than a vended solution. Open source is better suited for the development of LSU‐specific mission‐critical features in the most cost ‐ and time ‐efficient manner. By adopting an open source solution, the University can set priority for the development of applications and features, will avoid future escalation of license and support costs associated with vended solutions, and can directly control the quality of technical support. Open source inherently provides greater flexibility to meet pedagogical needs of the University. Given the rapid changes in what faculty and students desire to see incorporated into any CMS, open source is the better choice as we look towards the future.
At the Albuquerque MoodleMoot in February of this year, Stephan Schwartz described [MP3] the decision process at UCLA. The first decision was to use an open source solution; the second decision was to use Moodle. The issue was based on (1) the need to locally add features and functions not yet available with products, (2) adapt to the rapid changes going on, and (3) framework that would support deep integration with other systems. UCLA emphasized the quiz capabilities, maturity of the product and the community in their evaluation between Sakai and Moodle.
The subcommittee was established by the Teaching and Learning Task Force during the fall of 2006. The subcommittee was given the charge to recommend a single CMS solution as stated in FITS Action Item 7.01. The committee included representatives from the University Registrar’s Office, LSU Libraries, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Center for Instructional Media Services, University Information Systems, and Division of Continuing Education, three undergraduate students and one graduate student and faculty from Agronomy, Biological Sciences, Education. Engineering, and Law. The Final Report was reviewed and accepted by the Teaching and Learning Task Force. The recommendations were also reviewed by the Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, and student government.
Learning From the LSU Experience
Faculty at both LSU and UCLA expect further development of teaching and learning methods will require technology support not yet available in current course management systems. Both also believe integration with other campus systems is important.
Both emphasized a broad dialog on the alternatives, with an emphasis on users. In both processes faculty were important since these are the “tools” they will use in teaching and possibly in research. LSU emphasized student experience—students should have to learn only one system.
Cost does matter. LSU has produced a cost analysis consistent with the experience of other implementations. Both investment and long-term operational and maintenance costs are included.
The LSU Office of the CIO supported a broad, open, and well-documented process. They have made available their extensive documentation to the higher education community. We are grateful for their willingness to share their experience.