Friday, July 29, 2011

How to migrate to a new LMS:

Migrating to an LMS is a challenge. I've been through two transitions, but both at small schools. I can imagine the difficulty a larger school would have. 

I was speaking with an Instructure representative this week and it was brought up how long the process is for selecting and migrating to a new LMS. Selecting an LMS isn't like typical software purchases. Taking on a project like this (or selling it for that matter) is not easy.
While I was at BBWorld I was asked about our process for changing so I thought that this would be a good way to share it. I warn you that this is a long list, but it illustrates all the hurdles along the way. 
This list is probably missing some stuff, so feel free to comment and I'll add changes and fixes. Also, if you are going through a transition at your school feel free to leave a comment on how your process is working out and which product your are switching to.
  1. Have a clear leader/champion who will follow the process all the way through.
  2. Meet with appropriate groups to get buy in on the process and determine available resources for the project (faculty stipends, LMS budget, IT staff and available hardware).
  3. Announce the process to all faculty. Solicit participants for the search committee and pilot group.
  4. Select the group of faculty, staff, students and administration that will be part of the search/pilot committee. Keep in mind that you don’t want the group to be entirely made up of high-end users and early adopters.
  5. Create a list of features and catagorize them as essential, important, and good to have. Create a rubric for evaluating tools. Write list of questions for each LMS company to answer (RFP). It might be appropriate to use a survey get feedback from students and faculty as to which features are most important.
  6. Have the leader and 2-3 people (Instructional Designer, IT admin, Faculty representative) meet with as many vendors as possible to get demonstrations. I would guess that the following LMS products should be evaluated: Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Instructure Canvas, Moodle, Sakai, and a publisher system such as Pearson or Epsilon). It might also be appropriate to at least discuss the benefits and costs of open-source products. Consider out-of-the box systems such as Brainhoney or SharePoint LMS. This process might take several months and involve in-depth research and vigorous debate.
  7. The leader should narrow down the options to the top 2-3 systems (based on feedback) and create a proposal for the search committee including the evaluation rubric, LMS choices and proposed timeline and milestones.
  8. Meet with the search committee and get feedback on the proposal and create the pilot group.
  9. Request and setup a sandbox for the 2-3 LMS’s being evaluated.
  10. Make revisions to the proposal and send back to search committee.
  11. Meet with pilot group.
    1. set expectations including time commitments and compensation (if any).
    2. determine who is piloting each LMS. Have at least 3 faculty evaluating each LMS and be sure that there is a good mix of courses created from scratch and migrated from the prior LMS.
    3. set minimum criteria for all pilot courses such as syllabus, discussion board, submission, rubrics, gradebook, etc.
  12. Begin working with pilot faculty to create courses and begin teaching with the tool.
  13. Have an Instructional Designer create the exact same course in each LMS being evaluated. Provide opportunities for faculty and students to see demonstrations of each system.
  14. Meet with pilot group at the beginning of the semester and have them evaluate course migration and course creation process.
  15. Set up formal demonstrations for the each LMS being evaluated. Invite entire search committee to attend each demonstration and have them fill out the rubric for each tool.
  16. Hold LMS open-houses in computer labs, library and/or faculty technology center and get feedback from students and faculty.
  17. Meet with pilot students and faculty as needed during the semester to provide proper support.
  18. Contact other schools who use the LMS products being evaluated and get feedback about important issues.
  19. Meet at the end of the semester to collect feedback (qualitative and quantitative) from student and faculty experiences.
  20. Compile all data and feedback. Create a summary.
  21. Present findings to the search committee. Allow for: feedback on process, product debates, additional presentations from LMS companies, and/or student testimonials.
  22. Have committee make a recommendation.
  23. Create a recommendation/proposal for administration to give final approval.

Transition phase:

  1. Announce the change to faculty and students. Describe the migration process and timeline.
  2. Create a new team(s) of people who will be involved with the implementation. Should include faculty early adopters, faculty technology-neophytes, training staff, IT/SIS staff, registrars office and other necessary individuals.
  3. Meet with groups to discuss:
    1. Benchmark/milestone reporting
    2. Promotion/marketing plan
    3. Training plan
    4. SIS integration
  4. Have IT staff begin technical implementation. This can be much shorter if you are using a hosted solution, but there will still need to be some key questions that need to be answered.
  5. Have LMS system administrators and IT staff collect list of questions to be answered by the group(s). These types of questions might be:
    1. What is the heirachy structure for the school?
    2. Will there be separate domains of implementation (for separate campuses or programs)?
    3. How should courses be created (automatically via SIS, manually, faculty request)?
    4. How will courses be migrated (by faculty, by staff at faculty request, all courses moved)?
    5. What should the default new course contain?
    6. Are there specific features that should be turned off (such as student photos or bios)?
    7. What is the timeline for course creation and student enrollment?
    8. What policies and procedures should be created?
    9. When should system upgrades be completed?
  6. Collect answer to all of the implementation questions from appropriate groups and implement.
  7. Create promotional materials to prepare students and faculty for the change.
  8. Develop training plan and begin creating documentation, workshops, webinars, and online courses. Remember to create materials for faculty AND students.
  9. Hold training sessions at a variety of times. Be sure that faculty have plenty of time to get trained before the following semester.
  10. For at least one semester have both LMS platforms available for use, but set a drop-dead date and clearly communicate dates.
Advice and random thoughts:
  • Remember all stake holders throughout the process including students.
  • Get top-down process approval before beginning the process.
  • Set up an incentive plan. It could be stipends for faculty who are early-adopters. It could also be non-financial items such as equipment for teaching (small video/still camera, headset/microphone, iPod/iPad, or presentation remote). It could also be special services such as having an IT/training staff member attend class and introduce their students to the new LMS or a personal transition/migration hour with technical staff.
  • Be sure to have a plan to promote the new LMS and communicate clearly with all involved. For example, it might be appropriate to have a few minutes in each department faculty meeting.
  • Have success stories and positive reasons for the change (focus on the good new features, not the crummy old system).
  • Make a decision based on what is the best fit for the future. It is easy to get caught up on trying to match exactly what your current system does.
  • The expense should not be a deciding factor in the choice, although an increase in cost might be the reason to begin the evaluation.
  • When considering cost, remember that the LMS is very similar to any building on campus- students will probably end up spending more time in the LMS than they do a typical building on campus. The cost is justifiable.
  • The LMS has become the most important technology at most universities. Yes, people use their email all the time, but try having your LMS down for an evening during the last week of a semester.
  • Collect as much data as you can throughout the process. Prepare to share your experience with others going through the process.

Monday, July 18, 2011

BBWorld 2011

It has been a long time since I have written an entry for CanvasGuy. This is because my primary roll at Westminster has changed. I am no longer working with our project based programs, instead I am working with the campus as a whole which means I’ve spent more time working with ANGEL (Blackboard).

Don’t get me wrong, I am still a huge fan of Canvas, but I am not in a position to use it regularly so I don’t have much to offer as far as new experiences and news. That is, until last week.

Last week was BBworld 2011 (Blackboard annual users conferences). At the last minute I was given permission to attend so that we can learn more about our transition from ANGEL. While we were there Instructure made an un-sponsored appearance. They rented out a bar and caused quite the stir. They had Darth Vader and Chewbacha with lightsabers, so of course they attracted a big crowd (the free drinks probably helped as well).

I enjoyed mingling with many of my friends at Instructure (shout out to: Brian, Sunny, Heather, and Matt). The atmosphere was fun and lively. There was a lot of excitement in the air. I was very impressed with the bold move to do what they did. My colleague from Westminster, Nichole, was with me and ended up winning the drawing for one of the lightsabers.

The best part of the evening came when we went back to the Blackboard party with lightsaber and free tee-shirts (that say “OMG, I cheated on Blackboard in Vegas”). Nichole was instantly inundated with people asking where she got the lightsaber. Another lightsaber showed up from the other  winner at the Instructure party and she is actually an employee of Blackboard.

During the fake sword fights and picture taking one of the Blackboard VP’s came up to us and talked to us about Instructure. He asked something to the effect of “do you think that this is a classless thing to do? If we showed up at competitor’s conference and did what they did we would be vilified.” My response to that was “The big boys can’t get away with it, but a small upstart can”. Perhaps that isn’t fair, but some companies become so big that they can’t use tactics like that. Big companies like Blackboard, Microsoft or Google become part of the “evil empire” just because they are perceived to be too big. Who wouldn’t cheer for the small band of rebels who fight the big empire? Everybody that I talked to had an opinion about Canvas and was very interested to see how they evolve over the next year and wished them a lot of success.

I tip my hat to Instructure for being gutsy enough to do what they did. Only time will tell if it was worth it. Till then, I’ll chalk this one up as a small victory for the rebellion.