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Preparing for a Smooth LMS Transition

By Sue Workman, VP & CIO, Case Western Reserve University And Tina Deveny Oestreich, Sr. Director, Teaching and Learning Technologies, Case Western Reserve University

Sue Workman, VP & CIO, Case Western Reserve University

A well-planned learning management system (LMS) transition will provide many benefits to your learning community, potentially including reduced costs, increased adoption, simplification of technology and support infrastructure, and increased faculty and student satisfaction with instructional technologies. However, evaluating whether to keep or change the campus LMS and the possible subsequent implementation of a new system require a well thought-out plan, a good deal of lead-time and no shortage of staff effort.

In 2016, the Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) IT Strategic Plan, prompted a year-long LMS exploration resulting in a decision to unify into a single enterprise LMS system. The decision represented a significant simplification from the multiple LMSs previously in existence in various schools at the university. The exploration revealed that there are pros and cons with each LMS, and the choice of system depends on campus culture and priorities. Therefore, it is important for each institution to evaluate its own systems within its own community.

“The thorough nature of the project turned the task of gaining campus-wide buy-in to move to a new LMS into an easy conversation within the university’s governance model.”

CWRU began the LMS exploration project by creating a project team to:

• Determine how the enterprise LMS (and other LMSs) were being used on campus and determine campus satisfaction with existing systems
• Include the entire university community by creating advisory committees of faculty, staff, and students
• Identify the top LMS choices to be part of an in-depth evaluation
• Analyze and report findingsto the community
• Navigate through campus governance to gain buy-in for the decision reached by the advisory committees’ recommendation

Using a Data Driven Approach to Decision Making

From the beginning, a data driven approach was applied to the project, investigating the usage rate of the primary LMS in place and which of its features were actually used by faculty and students. It was discovered that the LMS was used in only approximately 40 per cent of courses, and that the community used only a small subset of its available features.

In addition, faculty and student surveys showed that a significant percentage of the faculty was frustrated with the old system and did not know how to use it well. Students communicated that they did not really care if the old system remained in place or if a new one was adopted; they just asked that faculty actually use the LMS.

The data analysis was presented to two advisory committees created for the project: one for faculty and staff, and one for students. Work with the committees resulted in choosing to pilot three different LMSs over a calendar year and compare the findings of the pilots with the primary system already in place. The advisory committees were given the opportunity to use all of the systems being evaluated in sandbox spaces and also invited to attend vendor presentations. As a result, two systems emerged as being preferable to the old system, and one of those ranked highest in ease of use and student satisfaction.

Tina Deveny Oestreich, Sr. Director, Teaching and Learning Technologies, Case Western Reserve University

At the end of the evaluation, data was collected from faculty and students, LMS administrators, and instructional designers and summarized in a 50-page report that included surveys, usage data, pilots, reactions to vendor demonstrations, and sandbox uses of the systems. Due to the thorough and inclusive nature of the project, what initially seemed like an almost impossible task – gaining campus-wide buy-in to move to a new system, became an easy conversation within the university’s governance model. Not only did the Faculty Senate vote unanimously to move to the recommended new LMS, they also provided their endorsement encouraging faculty to use the new system for the benefit of the students. Other distributed LMSs are being phased out.

A Quick Transition Benefits Students and Staff

Finally, the Faculty Senate agreed with the recommendation from advisory committees to make the transition quick: the decision to move to a new system was made in late September of 2016, and the following spring and summer semesters became the only optional semesters for faculty to use the old system. Therefore, by the fall of 2017, all students had all courses in the new LMS greatly reducing their confusion from having courses in two or more systems. As an added benefit, the quick transition allowed the LMS team to focus on communication and training to help faculty make the move as painlessly as possible, as opposed to having to split their time in supporting two systems over a number of semesters.

While the end result was successful, it must be noted that such a monumental project is time-consuming and can involve some difficult conversations with team members eager to make progress. At times during the project, the team grew tired, and vendors found the in-depth evaluation process to be long. However, the thanks and accolades from the campus community gave a great deal of satisfaction to the project team and also eased the transition to a new system. Taking time to build relationships and get buy-in paid off in spades during the implementation.

The transition has been relatively quick and smooth. While the new system is not perfect, CWRU achieved its goals for the project and realized a 140 per cent increase in the use of the enterprise LMS, lower campus costs, and a simplified LMS landscape. Students are thankful that their needs have been addressed and more faculty are using the enterprise LMS to share important class information with them.

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