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Cal State Chico Shifts to Blackboard LMS

California State University, Chico will be sticking with a Blackboard product for its course management. The university will be upgrading to Blackboard Learn release 9.1 from WebCT Vista over the next couple of years.

The recommendation came after a year-long evaluation process, which began in spring 2010, when a committee comprising faculty and academic technologies staff reviewed potential learning management system contenders. The committee narrowed its choices to two: Moodle 1.9 and Blackboard Learn 9.1.

The committee interviewed reference campuses and conducted student and faculty surveys at Chico State. Instructors had the opportunity to watch demonstrations of each and try out "sandbox" versions so that they could rate the functionality and usability of the systems and assess how well course content migrated. The final recommendation of Blackboard was vetted by the provost and the Council of Academic Deans.

Users at the 15,000-student institution cited Blackboard's ease of use and ranked the platform higher over Moodle in 10 categories of tools--including file upload, content management, announcements, assignment dropbox, gradebook workflow, linking to a Web site, and discussions, among others. A technology evaluation noted Blackboard's migration path for Vista content; its Content System, "which provides for sharing content at various context levels"; as well as its Community System, "which yields a wealth of community enrollment, management, and customization capabilities including the ability to host other tools and systems under [the] Blackboard frameset."

"The ability to utilize the full breadth of the Blackboard Learn platform and to move beyond courses with content, community and collaboration tools was big for us," said Scott Kodai, manager of Distributed Learning Technology and Classroom Technology Services. "Our faculty members use our LMS both broadly and deeply and they are excited about the opportunities for managing content and leveraging Blackboard's support for open standards to use other learning tools that can be easily integrated with their courses."

In January 2010 Blackboard said it would support two industry standards, Common Cartridge and Basic Learning Tools Interoperability. These facilitate sharing of educational content and resources among faculty members.

A tentative deployment timeline suggested that Chico State will make Learn 9.1 available to faculty in spring 2012. Vista support will continue at least as long as fall 2011, "and possibly longer," a Web site about the migration stated.

The university expects to participate in Blackboard's "Product Development Partnership" program, where it will work directly with Blackboard developers on the design and potential delivery of new features. It will also be part of the Blackboard Idea Exchange, an online community of customers that share best practices, get early product peeks, and comment on company strategy, trends, and standards.

"We're excited about the ability to help shape the direction and future of the Blackboard Learn platform through Blackboard's product development and community programs," said Kathy Fernandes, director of Academic Technologies. "These programs empower us and provide a constructive framework to help us identify, prioritize and communicate features we want to see in the pipeline. It allows us to help build on a powerful LMS instead of modifying code to bring the LMS up to Chico's expectations."

Blackboard said 1,200 institutions have moved or are planning a move to Release 9.1, of which 200 are coming from a WebCT platform. Blackboard and WebCT announced their merger in October 2005.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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