WebCT to be upgraded by 2013

by Frankie Olito / Beacon Staff • December 8, 2011

The long outdated WebCT Learning Management System (LMS) will soon be replaced as college administrators search for a more advanced platform. 

After Blackboard, a corporation that specializes in education software, discontinued the development of its WebCT online learning platform, Emerson is beginning a year long search for a new LMS.

The college currently uses WebCT to provide faculty with a place to upload coursework, assignments, and syllabi. Students can also turn in work and view grades via the site.

According to Jenn Stevens, the creative instructional designer at Emerson, Blackboard bought WebCT in 2005 to eliminate competition, but did not develop the system further. After years without progress, the company decided to discontinue the use of WebCT and is now endorsing Blackboard Learn, a new LMS system.

“Opening up the technology and removing barriers so you can focus on the fundamentals, manage outcomes, and improve performance in real time,” said Blackboard on their website about Blackboard Learn.

After the discontinuation of WebCT, Emerson is left with two choices: to update to Blackboard's new system, or to look for a new system entirely.

Stevens said the school's Instructional Technology Group will explore every option.

“We can reevaluate what Blackboard has to offer or look at other venues,” Stevens said. “It is a good opportunity for us to look at the whole landscape.”

In addition to exploring options, the switch gives the school a chance to update to a more modern system.

“WebCT is yesterday's product,” Neil Davin, the technology support manager said.

Stevens agreed.

“WebCT is creaky and old. It's not the best system,” she said.

The college's other choices are Moodle, Sakai, Desire 2 Learn, and Canvas. Each of these systems have the same basic functionality, said Stevens. 

Both Davin and Stevens said the main priority in finding a new system is to look for the best usability. In choosing a new system, it is important to see how usable it is for both students and faculty, according to Stevens.

Stevens said the process to completely change to a new LMS system will take about a year, with the new updates installed by Spring 2013.

“It is pretty substantial. There is a lot of hard work,” Stevens said.

The first steps began this month when the IT team created a survey on WebCT's homepage for faculty and students to determine the needs of the users. The survey asks what students want from these systems and how they currently benefit from them.

In the survey, students are given the chance to sign up to participate in choosing a new LMS. The team said they wish to put together a focus group to test different systems.

“[We will have] heavy tech users, and people who are not comfortable with technology. We will talk about how they use technology at Emerson,” Stevens said.

As of Dec. 1, there were about 470 students and 61 faculty members who completed the survey online, according to Davin.

Like Emerson, many colleges are in the same process after Blackboard's decision to discontinue WebCT, Stevens said. Colleges like Tufts University, Brown University, University of Massachusetts, Boston University, and Duke University are all experiencing the same situation. Blackboard was unable to be reached for comment about the conflict. 

“There is a lot of upheaval in the LMS market,” Stevens said.

David Veltser, a sophomore marketing major and IT Lab Desk Assistant, said he uses WebCT once a week for two of his classes.

“It's a centralized place,” Veltser said. “It helps out students in the long run.”

He also said he has no problems with WebCT, and joked that a new LMS would be better only if it had games.

Stevens said he thinks there will be a positive reception to the new system.

“Most people are going to be thrilled,” she said, “but there will be some hiccups.”