Case Study

Unifying Learning Technologies

UK university taps open source technology to broaden eLearning opportunities

The University of Strathclyde Glasgow is tackling technology on two fronts right now, with a Moodle implementation currently underway and Learning Technologies Partnership Network coming soon.

The Move to an Open Source LMS
The projects come on the heels of a recent University Management Committee meeting where the two recommendations were reviewed and approved. Howard Ramsay, VLE project leader, said the move to adopt Moodle came about after an outside consultant determined the open-source virtual learning environment to be one of three solutions that could answer the university's need for an online learning management/course management system.

The decision was backed up by both internal and external investigations into the university's wants and needs, said Ramsay. According to Ramsay, the team sat down and decided what criteria had to be satisfied and used a scientific method of breaking everything down into sub-criteria. It then weighted the criteria and figured out which were most important.

For example, he said, the school wanted a solution to replace its current off-the-shelf solution (LearnOnline/WebCT) that could be duplicated across the entire campus in a seamless fashion.

The institution, while known for its "local innovation," is actually quite decentralized in nature. "Innovation often happens in individual departments or faculties, and not everyone can make use of it," said Ramsay. By using an established, open-source utility, Ramsay said, the university hopes to help propagate these local innovations across the institution.

By using an in-house platform, Ramsay said, faculty and staff felt as if they would be "isolating themselves somewhat." He said WebCT is still in use and will continue to be provided during academic year 2009-2010. All WebCT classes will be migrated to the new platform by summer 2010, with WebCT ceasing service in September 2010.

Learning Technologies Partnership Network
As the University of Strathclyde Glasgow pushes to meet those timelines, the institution is also establishing a Learning Technologies Partnership Network to provide ongoing support and enhancement for its new "unified model," according to Ramsay. The partnership will comprise learning technology advisors, learning systems developers, educational developers, and learning service multimedia developers.

Ramsay said that the Learning Technologies Partnership Network will develop and promote usage of innovative technologies in teaching, learning, and assessment. He expects the new group to help create a more cohesive, sharing environment in the currently decentralized university.

"We came to the conclusion that there wasn't so much duplication of effort as there was insufficient learning across the various parts of the institution," said Ramsay. "We want to gain efficiencies by drawing these areas of expertise to a central point of liaison."

Ramsay said the creation of the Learning Technologies Partnership Network is still in its infancy and that the school's human resources is currently finalizing details regarding the group. "We're trying hard to make sure that as many stakeholders are considered in this process, especially our students and academic leaders," said Ramsay.

Once the details are worked out, Ramsay said, he expects the new network to improve the student experience and help the university save money by maximizing its existing resources. Ramsay said the school recognizes that the move to a more centralized system won't be easy to achieve. "This isn't going to happen overnight," he said.

European rules governing the disposal of data will also come into play as the University of Strathclyde Glasgow completes its technology upgrade. "We have to keep a careful eye on what we do with the data as we migrate from one platform to another," Ramsay said. "We have to be able to access the older data for a specific period of time. Here in the UK, the rules are pretty strict when it comes to that."

On the cultural side, Ramsay said he's seen some concern over the school's use of an open-source system, but added that feedback has been largely positive. He said the extensive research and consulting work that was completed before making the decision has also gone a long way in convincing stakeholders of the value of moving over to Moodle.

"We checked out some of the other offerings, and found a lot of companies talking about how great their student management systems were, and how well they were supported," said Ramsay, "but none of them told how or why those systems were built like Moodle did. That really sold us on the system."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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