Quick Aside, before we get started:
A quick summed up glossary.
VLE = Virtual Learning Environment: an online College specific location where tutors can put multimedia resources for their students to access.
LMS = Learning Management System: similar to a VLE but with more tracking statistics and analytics available for learners.
ATP = Advanced Teaching Practitioner: a member of the Myerscough teaching team who acts as a digital, teaching and learning champion for an academic area.
So the story so far…..
Basically we’re changing our VLE, it’s been a tough decision but after liaising with tutors and working as VLE admins behind the scenes we’ve realised that our VLE is dying a slow death and can no longer keep up with the evolving needs of our staff and students.
Can you not just fix it…?
Well we’re in a bit of a bind. We currently have a bespoke VLE created by one of our developers, who had put over a few years worth of work into it. However he has now left the college and we can’t find anyone to replace him, most VLEs need a developer working behind the scenes to help them run smoothly and efficiently.
So we’re between a rock and a hard place, we’re minus a programmer so the bespoke system, created from a Moodle base, has no more progression within it and we’re too far away from the original Moodle to simply transfer back. So we have the only option of getting a completely new VLE or LMS which has updates, backups and support.
But which one?
Our first step was to have a look around and talk to other colleges on what they used. One of them came out as the most widely used: Moodle.
Moodle is the system to use! We hear everyone cry…..well we’ve had a look at the latest one (in this point of time it’s Moodle 2.9.3) and we’re not so sure.
It’s a fantastic system, don’t get us wrong. It’s brilliant in initial cost (it’s free to get), great for potential Moodle Moocs, used across many colleges so has an amazing community behind it with a lot of innovative and enthusiastic people pushing it forward, every so many months there’s updates (though this can be a massive disruption for the VLE users, depending on how it’s implemented) and it’s familiar for most staff and students (whether it was used previously in high schools, other educational establishments or simply by staff from previous places of work).
But here’s the clincher….to implement it smoothly and effectively you need a web developer/programmer, someone to constantly work the back end of the VLE.
So we’re back to square one.
If we even took out the developer issue, say we got help from another college; which a few have kindly offered, Moodle just lacks a certain sort of…….appeal?
It’s hard to explain but like we stated before it’s familiar, like many VLEs it’s made too easy to fall into old habits and make it into an online repository, rather than an online learning hub and it’s not exactly the forefront of LMS and VLE software any more. The issue for us is that we’ve had a bespoke system, evolved from Moodle, for so long, that Moodle seems like a step back rather than forward. In a time where technology is taking leaps and bounds to evolve, shouldn’t our virtual learning platform?
Also, on a more cynical note, other VLEs and LMS options usually cost, so Moodle usually always wins from that aspect.
So what happens if you take the cost of out the equation…..?
After extensive research and having previous experience of multiple VLEs and LMS systems, plus what tutors and students want from online learning, there were a few choices which stood out.
Blackboard – Again this unfortunately, though an operational and useful VLE system, didn’t fit with the college. It’s been implemented before here but was changed after a year or so’s implementation. Even the new updated version just didn’t seem to suit our needs.
WebCT – is a tool that facilitates the creation of sophisticated World Wide Web-based educational environments. It can be used to create entire on-line courses, or to simply publish materials that supplement existing courses. To be used it needs a developer or team of developers, so that’s off the cards.
Sacchi – Though a brilliant system and used by a few universities and colleges around the UK, the issue with it again is that it needs a team of developers, graphics designers and more behind it to run it effectively. In fact those universities and colleges that do currently use it have teams upon teams of developers behind it.
Canvas – a great system used by a few universities and colleges across the world, so has a large and innovative community behind it, updates which don’t disrupt everything every 3 weeks and the best bit…..it doesn’t need the college to hire developers, as the price paid for the system includes a large team of these.
So for our purposes Canvas is the way forward. However when you put the cost back into it, as this is the real world, Canvas costs a lot of £££ compared to Moodle which is free. You have to start fully comparing the two to see if you’re getting your monies worth, compared to what we already have and what we wanted from the system.
Bloom (current VLE) vs Canvas vs Moodle 2.9.3
Green = has that feature
Yellow = doesn’t have that feature
Blue = Need a developer to implement/progress and maintain that feature
After comparing all the systems on paper, Canvas LMS came out on top. It has all the features we wanted and needed, that’d been asked for previously and pretty much ticked every box.
Next step towards a solution…..
We wanted to see demos of the VLEs in action, the only true way to see a VLE is to see a demo or have a go yourself.
So we arranged a visit to another college (#myeteamontour) to see Moodle, taking with us an Advanced Teaching Practitioner (ATP) for a tutor’s perspective, and had a brilliant demo of how they successfully implemented it. There was some fantastic practices going on with using online facilities, marking systems etc. Again they had a developer behind the scenes working on it all, which was for us, the only downfall. A lot of the parts we loved about Moodle, he had personally designed. The ATP had positive feedback but seemed worried that it could seem overly complicated and that it seemed to be taking a step back from everything that had been accomplished on our custom made VLE.
We then had a demo from Canvas. We again included ATPs, but also included heads of academic areas and some senior management in the demo so that they could get a handle on the LMS. The feedback from the tutors was overwhelmingly positive and included phrases such as ‘this is how a VLE should be’…‘has everything we want and wanted from Bloom (our current VLE)’ and ‘grading online will be so much easier’ From this we realised something we hadn’t counted on, analytics and feedback options are important to teachers more so now then ever. The future of e-learning is now moving away from the VLE and towards the LMS, to be inclusive of collaboration which can be monitored and analysed easily while presenting students with a more interactive online environment.
For us an LMS like Canvas is the solution…
Is Canvas the destination?
For us as a college, yes.
We’re hoping for Canvas and have put forward that proposal, though you never know how these things go! After talking with other colleges who have implemented it, or are currently in the process of implementing it, one thing is clear, after all the calculations for cost in hiring a team of developers, time spent, how the system works, updates and tutor and student feedback, Canvas came out top over all other systems previously used.
We’ve still got a way to go but we’re definitely on the right track……
A few useful links:
Links to Top 10 things LMS buyers need to know:
An interesting discussion from 2009 about ‘The VLE is dead’ definitely worth a watch:
VLE or LMS: Taxonomy for Online Learning Environments: