Raise your hand if you are worried about managing a transition to a new campus learning management system (LMS).
No doubt you already have more work than people or time to do that work. You are juggling 24/7/365 educational technology demands with a staffing and organizational model designed to support a very different reality. Your faculty have invested years in learning your existing LMS, and you are worried about how they will react if asked to re-build their courses and learn another system.
My advice is to put these worries aside.
If done correctly, and resourced properly, a campus LMS transition process will yield an amazing set of benefits. Perhaps surprisingly, these benefits will have less to do with any feature or usability improvements in whatever LMS you choose. Rather, the benefits that will accrue to your campus on participating in an LMS transition process will have everything to do with the conversations around teaching and learning that a campus LMS transition will spark.
My campus is in the middle of a transition from Blackboard to Canvas. If you are interested you can check out how the LMS evaluation process was managed at Dartmouth this Learning 21 site, and read about the current status of the transition to Canvas on this site.
How has our community benefited by undertaking this LMS selection and transition process?
1. Engaged Campus Conversation About Teaching, Learning, and Technology
The process that was set up on our campus to evaluate our LMS options was absolutely fabulous. It included an LMS Evaluation Steering Committee, a Project Core Team, and a set of Executive Sponsors.
What made the LMS selection process so terrific was that it was both inclusive and transparent. The Steering Committee was made up of a cross-section of faculty, administrators and students. This group of 24 developed into a tight and trusting team, one that met regularly enough to develop a shared vision of the process. The process was managed by a set of experience project managers and educational technologists. This Core Team engaged in extensive campus outreach, including focus groups, surveys, and workshops. Everything about the process was publicly shared on the L21 website.
For instance, here are the demos from three of the LMS providers we considered:
- Blackboard, demo recording, January 29
- Desire2Learn, demo recording, February 4
- Canvas by Instructure, demo recording, February 5
All of this work to build an inclusive and transparent community around the LMS transition decision resulted in a set of great campus conversations on the future of teaching and learning. We had faculty, students, and staff from across the college engaged in an informed discussion about how teaching and learning is changing. These discussions often moved far beyond the narrow question of what LMS to choose, and would touch on larger issues of how people learn and the potential of new teaching methods and new learning technologies. The process resulted in an amazing amount of energy and goodwill around thinking about teaching and learning.
2. Learning from Peer Institutions
In crafting the LMS selection process the members of the Core Team spent a good deal of time talking with colleagues at peer institutions. They learned all they could about what sorts of governance structures worked well, and what resources were needed, to pull off an LMS selection and implementation process.
One of the wonderful things about higher ed is our willingness to share what we know. I was deeply impressed by how much time and effort colleagues and other institutions devoted to helping our institution figure out how to move this project forward.
3. Re-Aligned Organizational and Staffing Models
Across higher ed, I see a shifting of technology organizational structures towards models better suited to support teaching and learning. This large scale shift in the organizational structures of academic IT departments towards the learning has, I think, been under appreciated as a real sea change in higher education. I actually think that the shift in resources from administrative to academic computing is the most important edtech story of our times.
Campus LMS transition processes can be one important catalyst for this shift in campus IT organizational structures. The fact is: you can’t pull off an LMS evaluation and transition without bolstering your learning technology team.
4. Strengthened and New Relationships
What is so cool about making this transition is that learning designers have the opportunity to meet with every single faculty member about their courses. With the goal of providing a terrific level of service and support to faculty in the LMS transition, the Instructional Technology and Design team is working with all Arts and Sciences faculty on helping them transition their courses. (Faculty in our professional schools work with learning and technology professionals in their own divisions).
These collaborations between faculty and learning designers go far beyond the mechanics of a new LMS. They surface discussions of the educational goals, and of strategies that are available to help achieve these objectives. Often these strategies are not technological in nature, and may only touch tangentially on the new LMS.
The process of needing to switch the new LMS opens up a window to have discussions about teaching that may not have otherwise occurred, and to strengthen relationships between faculty and the non-faculty educators on campus. These conversation may result in a course that has has new flipped or blended elements, or one that includes more opportunities for active learning during the class session. Many, if not all, of these practices were always possible with the old LMS--but the opportunity to have these conversations and build these relationships enables these new teaching practices to emerge.
I could cite many other benefits to an LMS transition: On our campus we will see, for the first time, all of our faculty (including in the professional schools) leveraging a common online platform for teaching, something that will create new opportunities to share and learn from each other. This creates new opportunities to share and learn from each other. Working through the LMS evaluation and transition process catalyzed our community to build new organizational competencies and skills around change management, communications, team formation, vendor relationships, and project management. .
The bottom line is that an LMS evaluation and transition process, if done right, can have benefits that go far beyond those accrued by the switch to the new technology.
So, go ahead: take the plunge. And then share back: We’d love to hear your campus experience with LMS evaluations and transitions.
Joshua Kim is Director of Digital Learning Initiatives at DCAL, the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning Initiatives and served on the campus LMS evaluation committee