Education and technology are intricately linked. Just as calculators and computers replaced the slide rule and abacus, our current tools are constantly being updated to give students and instructors the best learning experience possible. The easiest way to do that? Learning management systems (LMS), software applications that administer, document, and deliver course material. Now, Information Services and Technology (IST) and the School of Business are pulling together to deliver a seamless LMS experience for their students.
In Spring 2017, School of Business Vice Dean Kyle Murray started talking about an ambitious new project: moving the School of Business from Blackboard (their existing LMS) to eClass (the university’s centrally supported LMS).
“I think there’s always been this idea of how we can get everybody onto just one system,” says Jozef Kupnicki, Relationship Manager for IST. “Of course, the problem with that is if you don’t have a good incentive, no one wants to move.”
When most faculties moved to using eClass several years ago, the School of Business already had an adequate solution in place with Blackboard. The system met their needs, their faculty were already set up on it, and at the time, the hassle of moving to an entirely new LMS outweighed the benefit of switching.
“Blackboard worked well,” Kyle recounts. “It’s not that it wasn’t functional or didn’t do its job… it’s just that, at best, it did the same job as eClass for a lot more money.”
After looking at the numbers, Kyle and Jozef got to talking. Jozef offered to conduct a functional comparison between Blackboard and eClass, and once the School of Business executives reviewed his findings, they decided that a move to eClass made sense not just for financial reasons, but for their student and faculty success, too.
“Price was the primary driver for switching to eClass, but it also opened up some avenues like blended learning, and it integrated us into the rest of the university,” says Kyle. “One of the big advantages of eClass is that we have support for the tool other faculties are using, and we have access to the add-ons that other people have.”
Moving the School of Business from Blackboard to eClass was no easy task; there was no “lift and shift” option, and there was no easy way to transfer data between the two systems except to do it manually. As a result, the project team took a very people-focused approach and gave users 18 months to move their information to eClass. They targeted who could start using the system early, who was going to be using the system most, and who would be impacted hardest. Together, they laid out a plan that allowed them to deal with issues proactively instead of reactively.
“In the Winter 2018 term, we had a handful of professors in Business switch over to eClass voluntarily,” says Tashie Macapagal, Project Coordinator for IST. “They gave their feedback, and we used that feedback to help transition with the spring and summer courses. Then we kept sending regular communications right up to Fall 2018, when the switch to eClass was complete.”
After the School of Business finished their move to eClass, the project team waited anxiously for weeks, ready to put out the impending fires. But they never came. The move went almost flawlessly, and according to Tashie, the project wouldn’t have been nearly as successful if IST and the School of Business hadn’t done so much heavy work up front.
“We had a lot of open communication with Business, and it was one of the most rewarding projects to work on because all that hard work and planning we put in at the beginning paid off at the end when the entire faculty had to move over,” she says. “We also had great sponsorship from Kyle, so whenever we needed an answer from him or an approval, he was quick to respond and always upfront with telling us what he needed for his faculty.”
Jozef echoes that sentiment, adding, “There were so many different pieces to this project. Everyone from executives down to our analysts had some type of input along the way. It’s a whole puzzle, and just like a puzzle, everyone was needed to make the picture complete.”
Now, the School of Business’ approximately 135 professors are all on eClass. Students taking courses with other faculties no longer have to switch between Blackboard and eClass, professors can take advantage of a bank of eClass knowledge, and users have access to an entire team of eClass analysts who can always pick up the phone or meet face-to-face.
“This is the easiest decision I’ve made as Vice Dean,” Kyle claims. “We had an expensive alternative that we could get for free, and the free version is a little bit better. That’s as easy as decisions get, and everybody seems pretty happy with it.”