Blackboard Transition Project

SUNY LMS Replacement and Transition Project

Since Spring 2007, SUNY Oswego has been using ANGEL as its learning management system (LMS) for fully online, blended, and web enhanced classroom courses. Faculty and student usage has grown every term such that the LMS  has become a mission-critical instructional technology with an incredibly broad impact.

 

In the spring of 2009, Blackboard acquired ANGEL and its current customers. Blackboard is working towards transitioning its ANGEL customers to its Blackboard Learn application. Support for ANGEL will be provided through the middle of 2014. Before that point campuses using ANGEL must opt to either migrate to Blackboard or select an alternate LMS  and migrate courses and faculty and student accounts to that system.

 

Given the widespread adoption of ANGEL as the replacement for the SUNY Learning Network’s (SLN) Lotus Notes system, Blackboard is used at roughly 90% of the SUNY campuses (counting ANGEL, WebCT Blackboard platforms). Recognizing the benefits of a unified selection process in terms of both student experience and cost containment, SUNY entered into contract negotiations with Blackboard in order to create the most favorable pricing possible that all SUNY units could leverage. Provost David Lavallee issued a memorandum to all college presidents outlining this value proposition and urging them to take advantage of this new system-wide contract and migrate from ANGEL or WebCT to the new Blackboard Learn platform.

 

The proposed agreement between SUNY and Blackboard ensures that ANGEL campuses maintain the key functionality they presently have in ANGEL at the same price they are currently paying for ANGEL licensing. This contract also guarantees the license cost with a moderate annual adjustment for three years and provides an additional three-year renewal option.

 

In tandem with SUNY negotiating efforts, the Directors of Online and Distance Learning and Environments (DOODLE), a SUNY-wide professional organization for online learning, was asked to perform an evaluation of alternatives to Blackboard. This project, chaired by Greg Ketcham, found the learning management systems under review were essentially identical in terms of key teaching tools and functions.  Given that functionality was not the prime criteria for evaluation, other facts such as ease of content migration and operating costs were weighted more heavily. The full details of the report can be read at http://wiki.sln.suny.edu/display/LMSEVAL

 

The need to provide a smooth a transition from ANGEL to another system is a paramount concern for faculty and support staff alike.  In order to retain Angel and WebCT customers, Blackboard is heavily invested in providing migration tools that ease faculty tasks in converting from one system to another. The SUNY Learning Network is taking a leadership role in developing the migration tools in partnership with Blackboard. These efforts will likely provide an easier transition path as compared to migrating to other choices such as Moodle or Desire2Learn.

 

Campus Technology Services (CTS) and Extended Learning have been actively involved in evaluating and testing replacement LMS options. Although the end date for ANGEL at 2014 may seem to provide ample time to evaluate, select, test and migrate to another system, we actually face fairly significant time constraints. The time window in which we can conveniently “switch off” ANGEL for upgrades, patches or other work is increasingly small, given how widespread ANGEL instructional usage is on our campus.  Considering the work done by SLN and System Administration and the SUNY Provost’s request for LMS standardization throughout the system, it is the recommendation of CTS and Extended Learning that the campus follow the migration path from ANGEL to Blackboard Learn. This recommendation is supported by the Provost’s Council.

 

With the availability of reliable migration tools and faculty development workshops on Blackboard, we anticipate beginning a pilot transition to Blackboard in 2013. Based on our prior experience in migrating course content, and faculty and student account  from Notes to ANGEL, it is expected that an 18 month (3 term) phased migration will allow us to provide the appropriate level of faculty and student support needed for a project of this scope.

 

Blackboard’s product line may evolve, change, or even consolidate over time. As of July 2011, Blackboard transitioned from a publicly traded company to being privately held, with it’s acquisition by Providence Equity Partners, a financial investment firm. Providence has prior experience in this type of transaction, as one of the equity firms that acquired and privatized SunGard (the company the provides our Banner student information system) in 2005. Moving from a publicly traded to privately held firm may allow Blackboard greater leeway in focusing on innovative product development and lessening the need to report continuous growth to shareholders. By the same token, Providence may seek to increase profit margins by cutting unprofitable product lines or via headcount reductions. How this acquisition will affect customer support and product development remains to be seen, but bears careful watching.

 

Finally, we need to recognize that instructional technology and, in particular, the Web continues to evolve rapidly. Given the advances in Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 collaborative applications, the emergence of mobile apps, the increasing amount of content provided by publishers and via open learning projects, as well as the likelihood of “disruptive” innovation emerging from avenues yet unimagined (as seen in tablet and mobile computing), it is entirely possible that what we think of as an LMS may evolve, mutate, or combine with other systems in new ways, or perhaps even not be central to online learning in the not too distant future.  A three year window on a stable system that continues SUNY’s existing support relationship with Blackboard allows us time to see how the state of online learning evolves and to plan for the next generation of learning management, whatever that may resolve into being.