WebCT heading offline at Akron

“Approximately 20,000 students at the University of Akron log in to more than 1,300 courses on WebCT each semester. That will end soon. In 2005, WebCT was bought out by Blackboard, a Learning Management System company, which announced it would retire the program.”

Approximately 20,000 students at the University of Akron log in to more than 1,300 courses on WebCT each semester.

That will end soon.

In 2005, WebCT was bought out by Blackboard, a Learning Management System company, which announced it would retire the program. Approximately 30 other colleges in Ohio use WebCT and now are searching for a replacement.

In general, WebCT was built in the early ’90s, and the reason why Blackboard has not supported it is because it is an outdated system, said John Savery, UA’s director of learning technology. We’ve had WebCT since ’97, and after 10 years of time and investment and learning how to use it, it’s time to move on.

Students worried about the change have been given a unique opportunity to help choose the replacement for the outdated WebCT. Last week’s edition of Zipmail included a link from the department of learning technologies to a survey students can take to help decide the new LMS.

We’ve had 225 students who have completed the online survey, said Suzanne Testerman, senior instructional designer in learning technologies. Last weekend alone, probably 75 of that was students. I got a huge influx of surveys after Zipmail went out.

So far, only 25 students have volunteered to be on the advisory committee to select a new LMS.

We’re not going to make this decision for faculty and students, Savery said. We want them to say what it is they want. All of them look great on paper. It needs to get to the point to say I want to do this, and can I do it with this application?

In general, most LMS companies look the same and will hardly vary from the basic function found on WebCT.

The truth of the matter is, there are a lot of common features, Savery said. A different log-in screen, some different colors, but the general learning management system will be the same.

While there is a lot of similarity between the new systems and WebCT, Testerman said people fear change.

We know this is going to be a change, we know it’s going to be upsetting and we know there is going to be turmoil, but we’re going to try and use good planning to prevent it, Savery said. There are approximately 1,300 individual course guides or group sites on the server right now and they’re going to have to move to the new site.

Other institutions switching LMS companies include Ohio State University, Stark State, Lorain County Community College, Sinclair College, Clark State and the University of California-Los Angeles. UA is currently running WebCT 4.0.

What works well at the University of Akron will not meet the needs at Kent State or Ohio State, Savery said. There are a lot of tradeoffs in whatever decision we make. Everywhere you look people are using different things.

Testerman agreed.

It’s based on their needs. Every faculty and student body is different, she said. It’s not a cookie-cutter solution.

Savery said he doesn’t see any advantage in delaying the process forever.

Pick the one you like and the one that fits your needs and move forward.