Case Study: CMS in Transition: Managing Change

By Joanne Dehoney
Director, eLearning, TELR
Ohio State University

Rebecca Andre’
eLearning Consultant, TELR
Ohio State University

In a relatively short time – three years – e-Learning offerings at The Ohio State University (representing supplemental, blended and fully online courses) grew to include a significant share of total courses. In FY04, 1,643 instructors in 135 departments at the university offered 2,507 courses (3,487 sections) through WebCT. Forty-five thousand students--about 77% of the student body--had a WebCT account in FY 2004. Large first year courses in the departments of biology, statistics, chemistry, and theater depended on WebCT’s course management and testing functions – unaware that WebCT 3.2 was really not designed to manage the high load. Given the importance of robust and scalable courseware to the university’s educational mission, it was time to explore CMS options.

In June 2003, the Office of the CIO determined that the WebCT environment would meet Ohio State’s needs for no more than twelve to eighteen more months. A committee of 42 OSU administrators, systems engineers, and faculty users, representing multiple colleges, formed three groups to review policy, product strategy, and stakeholder CMS perspectives. Four CMS finalists (WebCT, Desire2Learn, Blackboard, and Angel Learning) were thoroughly tested by users from across the university. In winter 2004, the recommendation of the majority of team members was to purchase Desire2Learn (D2L). Ohio State’s eLearning support organization, Technology Enhanced Learning & Research (TELR), was given responsibility for the implementation.

Moving from a reasonably entrenched system to something completely unfamiliar is not a task to be taken lightly, particularly for an institution as large as Ohio State. For TELR the central challenge would be to meet the needs of large numbers of students and instructors with a small number of support personnel. Six months of planning went into the D2L implementation effort before TELR even finalized the licensing agreement. Planning covered every detail of the project from an 18-month projected calendar of communications, to service level agreements with internal partners such as the Help Desk, to user support.

We are currently about half-way through the implementation with many significant milestones behind us. Overall, the change has been reasonably trouble-free, especially from the viewpoint of faculty and students. Our complete project assessment will not take place for another eight months, but interim results suggest that three aspects of the implementation—attention to branding and visual identity, diverse and modular instructor support, and prioritizing the development of bridging applications—have helped us manage change.

Branding and Visual Identity

To create identification with the new learning environment, TELR branded D2L at Ohio State “Carmen,” a reference to the OSU alma mater song, “Carmen, Ohio” ( The TELR visual design team came up with an appealing graphic identity, revising it in response to feedback from students, faculty and staff. The Carmen icon is now instantly identifiable across campus, and anchors not just the CMS interface, but also our campus communications and advertising campaign. We believe this attention to brand has been a key component of fostering acceptance of the new system.

Modularized Instructor Support

TELR developed an array of options for learning about Carmen that de-emphasizes one-to-one consultation and promotes system exploration. Instructors can explore the system on their own through an animated Flash? tour, interactive “WebCT to Carmen” comparisons, a tool-based help system or a scenario-based instructional site. An online community of practice facilitates collaboration and provides one of several communication paths for TELR to share information about the system. For those who prefer instructor-led learning, TELR designed a mix-and-match selection of mini-workshops. The longest— at 90 minutes —is the complete system overview in which instructors use one of their own courses as the instructional case. Instructors are encouraged to stack workshops to suit their schedules. About 400 instructors have attended a workshop in the past three months, and only a fraction of these have required follow-up assistance.

Bridging Applications

Based on feedback from faculty and an analysis of help desk calls, TELR developed a set of custom applications to manage aspects of using the new CMS that fall outside the system itself. First, we refined the software that packages WebCT files for transfer to Carmen until 90% of transferred courses required no hand touch-up. TELR also devoted significant time to the development of a website that helps faculty plan their move to Carmen and optionally select training. Behind the scenes software parses their prior use, if any, of WebCT to recommend an optimal schedule for the move. The software manages the workshop seats, waiting list, and email notifications and queues courses for transfer. Other applications manage many of the customization requests the TELR team would otherwise receive from faculty. The self-service aspects of the custom applications appeal to faculty and divert mundane tasks from professional staff to technology.

Through planning, several paths emerged to smooth the change process. TELR’s investment in branding, diverse and modular instructor support, and custom application development have helped the implementation stage for Ohio State faculty, staff and students. In all three cases and throughout the project, our objective has been a user-centered implementation that also respects the talents and dedication of the institution’s technical and academic support staff.

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