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.
Jim Farmer says
In a subsequent email exchange LSU CIO Brian D. Voss added perspective to the LSU decision. With his permission, this was his comment:
One of the things I’m most proud of is that our IT strategy (FITS) was community crafted, and our focus is on implementing key parts using that same strategy — community leadership. So you know, as CIO, I stayed away from the year-long examination of CMS (as I am not a teacher, or am I a student I hardly felt qualified to render opinion). IT folks were involved as support for the process (we investigated the details of the products and hosted versions for examination by the task force members), but these are not by-and-large technology decisions; so we didn’t make them such. While technology is key to delivery of 21st century instruction and learning, it should not be the focus, and I believe in this case it was not.
I do want to update you on the fact that, indeed, our plan is take the ‘financial footprint’ of our existing implementation and re-invest funds/savings back into the broader process. Not only are we positioned now to host a much larger segment of the courses in a CMS (using Moodlerooms headcount pricing model), we’re also bringing on staff in the area of CMS administration and application enhancement development. But we’re not stopping there — there are enough savings that we are bolstering our support for faculty use of CMS. We’re taking the final bits (if you call over $100K annual ‘bits!’) of savings and throwing it at another FITS action item — 7.07, which deals with increasing faculty support for use of technology in teaching. On top of some strategic funding increases we received this year — which allows us to add four (4) positions to 7.07 already, this additional resource almost completely satisfies the Task Force implementation plan for this item. This is a point we didn’t envision we’d achieve for several more years! And having human support not only satisfies the community desire (stated in the recommendation on CMS) but also positions us for a more successful implementation.
In evaluating CMS, I do think the community members were cost conscious. This was not an exercise in ‘day-dreaming’ about what we’d do with unlimited resources, and everyone here is hypersensitive to funding issues and constraints given the State’s history of funding (and occasionally de-funding) of higher ed. But what I find impressive is that the group said, basically “Look … we’re spending $X on CMS today — let us continue to spend that, but get more of what we need for the same money.” And that is precisely what administration is going to do– keep the budget the same, but vary how it’s being spent to get more bang for our buck. This understanding between the “guilds” (academic/faculty) and the “sphere” (administration) is another key result of the way we’ve done strategic IT planning. We’re not setting people at odds in the process — we’re building cohesion. Both sides are finding the other far more reasonable than they had historically believed.
Thanks again for casting a light on what we’re doing at LSU. If you
keep watching, I think you’ll see that we’re making significant progress on implementing the FITS across the board — not only in teaching and learning IT, but also in research, general infrastructure and access, user support, security and policy, information systems, and communication. Forgive me if my pride in our community and its advancement of IT shows a little too boisterously!
Brian D. Voss
Chief Information Officer
Louisiana State University and the A&M College
Mark Norton says
Two quick responses:
1. Samigo is a fully support core tool of Sakai as of 2.4.0.
2. RSF is not a programming language. Rather, it is one of the presentation technologies supported by Sakai. One of many.
I wish LSU complete success with Moodle. Moodle has a lot going for it and it’s selection is quite understandable given the factors involved.
Now that this article is two years old, I was wondering if there has been an update to the opinions of Moodle at LSU. Particularly what the thoughts on the LMS is now and whether they would recommend the Moodlerooms system for other Universities. We are in the process of investigating the use of Moodle for our online school so we would definitely appreciate the knowledge.
Michael Feldstein says
Joe, here are some notes about LSU’s Moodle journey by a Penn State person who visited LSU recently: http://www.personal.psu.edu/atb3/blogs/no_day_wasted/2009/12/notes-about-moodle-from-louisiana-state-university-site-visit.html