Transitioning From Blackboard to Moodle

Software is a rapidly transforming beast. No matter which type of software you learn and come to appreciate, inevitably you are going to need to update your skills and adapt even when the upgrades seem difficult at first. We don’t always like it but we know that in order to remain competitive in the academic world this is a reality.

A related truth is that when our learning management system, Blackboard creates a new version, aspects of the system that we come to know and love, change, such as how the discussion boards or the grade center functions. Sometimes the changes are wonderful, they save time and they make life easier for us. Other times they create havoc.

Lo and behold, it’s that time again and the latest version of Blackboard, Blackboard 9 has changed significantly though we have decided not to upgrade. Saint Mary’s College has instead moved forward with a transition to a new open source learning management system called Moodle. For now we are referring to this new system as “GaelLearn” until one of our campus literary types can come up with a better name.

Ironically, the latest version of Blackboard looks and feels more like Moodle. Blackboard feels the burn that open source is making on it’s potential revenue streams as more educational institutions are riding the wave of on-line learning therefore, Blackboard is making a last minute ditch to adapt before open source systems become too popular.

Rather than force our community to learn this new version of Blackboard while also footing a hefty price tag increase, we’ve decided to opt with Moodle, a flexible system that has received many outstanding reports from other campuses. Two case studies that you can refer to for information on the process of transitioning to open source learning management and specifically from Blackboard to Moodle, are San Francisco State University and Louisiana State which have recently made smooth transitions to Moodle.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term open source, in brief, it is free software distributed openly while allowing users to manipulate the underlying source code to suit their individual needs. See a more detailed definition here: http://www.opensource.org/osd.html. Open source has become very important to higher education as many campuses participate in the open education community by contributing code and educational resources that allow for individuals to alter works to their own specific academic needs. Academics are also working together to create options free open source textbooks available on the internet. Some examples include: Open Educational Resources, http://www.oercommons.org/ and Wiki Books, http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Main_Page offer free alternatives to expensive textbooks.

We are no longer dependent on proprietary companies to decide what is best for us. Just as the music industry and the publishing world have shifted their reliance on big publishing companies to disseminate work, the creators of software have also followed suit; or rather they have taken it upon themselves to design their own suit … from scratch. We want you to help us design a learning management system that is specific to you and your students needs. Moodle will allow us this possibility. It’s easy to learn and it’s powerful.

Although there are differences between Blackboard and Moodle, you will see that the functionality is the same and even better in many cases. Although the interface may not appear as slick, you can still upload documents, provide links to web sites and video, build assignments to be turned in electronically, produce grades and create wikis, blogs and podcasts.

Our goal is to completely transition to Moodle over the next two years so don’t be left behind. During this transition, the two systems, Blackboard and GaelLearn (Moodle), will run side-by-side allowing plenty of time for migrating course materials and to receive proper training. The Instructional Technology Team is here to support you during this transition. Please feel free to contact us at anytime should you wish to learn more or to receive hands-on training in Moodle. We look forward to working with you and want to assure you that we are here to help you!

Please note – We would like to invite additional faculty members to join the faculty advisory committee on Moodle. Please contact Carmel at 925-631-8003 if you are interested in joining. We will meet twice each semester to help with the process of rolling out the new system and shaping the look and feel of Moodle to meet the specific needs of our campus.

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