Imperial College’s virtual learning environment (VLE) is set to undergo an overhaul in time for next September, following a two year process to determine a successor for the College’s current VLE.
The new system, known as Blackboard Learn, was decided upon by a working group established in order to replace the current Blackboard CE8, which is set to be unsupported by education technology company Blackboard itself, and which has, by their own admission, “become quite dated”. The VLE Review Working Group was established by the E-learning Strategy Committee in February 2010.
During 2010, an extensive consultation process with students and staff was undertaken, leading to a a specification of requirements for the replacement VLE. A shortlist was drawn up, with four systems put forward for consideration.
Two of these were proprietary (Blackboard Learn and Desire2Learn) and two open source systems (Moodle and Sakai). Representatives from these services were invited to provide a demonstration and answer questions from Imperial. Following this, Moodle and Sakai were eliminated from the process, with pilot programs of the remaining systems organised.
The pilot phase for the shortlisted systems ran from September 2011 to March 2012, including staff and students across College. This provided Imperial with the opportunity to test both systems, looking at functionality, usability and technical aspects. Whilst neither system was found to be perfect, a review of the outputs from the pilot phase found that Blackboard was the better system for Imperial. The working group will be keeping a 'watching eye' on developments in the VLE world, in particular the emergence of cloud-based VLEs.
The working group ultimately recommended Blackboard Learn as the new College VLE, with the additional suggestion of College ‘keeping an eye’ on the emergence of new cloud-based VLEs.
Deputy President (Education) Jason Parmar, who sits on the E-learning Strategy Committee, commented on the relationship between the current Blackboard system and Blackboard Learn: “It’s quite important to note that these are two completely different systems – the only thing they have in common being the name. [The new system] might as well be called WhiteBoard.”
He continued: “I would like to thank the Working Group for their extensive student consultation throughout the entire process, most notably through myself and the previous two Deputy President (Education)’s (Alex Dahinten and Jonathan Silver) as well as usability testing with students whereby students were given the opportunity to test and score the two piloted systems”.
Blackboard Learn will provide new functions such as a built-in wiki. It was praised during the pilot program for its design and layout, and its comparative ease of handling to Blackboard CE8. A launch scheduled for September 2012, and implementation will progress from this point onwards.