From time to time people ask if UQ has considered alternate Learning Management Systems (LMSs). The current strategy is standardise the student eLearning experience around Blackboard, but to add more advanced capabilities through external tools connected using the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard. This is believed to be the fastest and lowest-impact way to enhance our blended learning experience, and has been endorsed by the Technology Enhanced Learning Strategy Committee (2013). They key arguments informing this strategy are:

  • In order to provide a basic level of consistency and quality for students, the main trend in Australian higher education LMS movement has been away from fragmented customised environments towards 'vanillarised' off-the-shelf (OTS) environments, that are centrally provided and supported. Once Universities have achieved this they typically don't change LMS, because the change cost outweighs any advantage.
  • The type of competitive advantage that attracts new or better students have been achieved at a layer above the LMS technology, in the way the LMS is used. For instance some universities are offering more flexible study options in their post graduate programmes.
  • UQ is always evaluating the opportunities, and would have no hesitation in changing LMS for the enterprise's benefit. The provision of an LMS system is a substantial undertaking requiring significant application of professional skill and attention. The UQ LMS is an integral core part of the learning environment for many courses attracting 85,000 logins per day. There are many issues to consider. Both proprietary, and open source LMS's, have pros and cons.
  • A university needs to be careful to fully leverage the system its on. There will always be a new LMS around the corner. If a university spends too much time waiting for the next big thing it will always fail to leverage its current system.
  • Change-over costs are extremely high. Any new system would have to be sufficiently better for long enough to justify change, not just better in one small area, and not just for a short time. Changeover costs include retraining 3500+ staff, and rebuilding 3,000+ courses and would conservatively amount to $10-20M. Any advantages of an alternate system would have to justify that cost, and be expected to remain better for a significant number of years. There are many new systems emerging on the market. A large enterprise can't change LMS every 3 years.
  • LMS functionality is far from the biggest issue for eLearning in higher education. Leveraging functionality through training and design support is a much larger capability gap that requires attention. The main opportunity is to provide better support for coordinators that want to embrace the technology that is already available. Changing LMS would set a university back by 2-3 years compared to adding support services for their existing LMS. 
  • Most universities choosing alternate LMS's have only been able to do so because they had not yet achieved a broadly adopted central and consistent eLearning environment. There is no clearly better system available, and a change would set UQ back 2+ years.
  • Its not plausible to say that UQ's current LMS is not an excellent choice for delivering high quality programmes if the largest supplier of courses to Open Universities Australia has and will continue to use Blackboard to achieve this, and other Go8's like The University of Melbourne are using it . The current LMS is a well proven platform for delivering online fee-paying accredited degree-earning courses, with high levels of student satisfaction. G08 universities have been winning awards on versions of Blackboard dating back to 2005.
  • History has shown that a centrally provided system will be upgraded more regularly and deliver more new functionality at a lower cost than multiple custom systems (e.g. personal/school level/faculty level). Trying to support disparate systems is suboptimal. Supporting multiple LMS’s is unlikely to be cost effective or affordable. Three  UQ units have attempted to run supplementary LMS's (including Moodle and Canvas) and discovered it to be unsustainable, and disruptive to undo.
  • While there is occasionally support for moving to one new system or another, there is far greater resistance to any unnecessary change. 

The look and feel and functionality for Blackboard will be updated next in the upgrade to Ultra. Also in the next few years UQ is likely to change the way it hosts Blackboard to Software as a Service (SAAS). To the course coordinator this will have no more impact than a typical upgrade, but its expected that Blackboard will offer more capabilities more quickly over time under this hosting model.

Surveys

A number of different surveys indicate that staff and student satisfaction with the UQ LMS is quite high, and that: a) staff need more training on the systems we have, and b) students want the staff to engage with the systems we have. Examples of broad feedback on the LMS include:

  • The 2012 Student Barometer Survey that showed both international and domestic students are pleased with the Blackboard LMS, but would like courses to be better organised.
  • The TEDI student survey (2006) that showed students like blackboard, but they want academics to use the LMS in a consistent common way (therefore UQ has a minimum presence requirement).
  • TLS random sample surveys (every 6 months) that consistently show most staff are satisfied with the tools provided, but want more training.
  • Independent reports like the one from Niche Consultants (Sept 2009) that said “From the students’ perspective, Blackboard is an effective and essential learning tool….  Their key source of frustration lies in Blackboard not being used  in  all  courses  and  not  being  used  consistently  between  courses.”  Research into Perceptions of Blackboard at the University of Queensland” (Niche Consultants Sept 2009)
  • Advanced users who say “I hear lecturers listing off things you can’t do in Blackboard and the other tools and for every one they mention I know how it can be done. They just don’t know how to use it” (Winner: UQ Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning 2011 (individual award)