WebCT, software developed at UBC

Document Sample
WebCT, software developed at UBC Powered By Docstoc
					Considering an Enterprise Course Management at UBC Summary for Deans Meeting, January 12, 2005 BACKGROUND The University of British Columbia is recognized as a global leader in the innovative use of technology to support teaching and learning. This reputation is built upon the innovation and talent of its faculty, who have developed exemplary technical solutions (software, hardware) and more importantly, academic solutions (online programs, unique teaching approaches). UBC’s ability to develop creative, original approaches to “eLearning” is rooted in an institutional culture, codified in Trek 2010, which encourages, rewards, and supports experimentation, discovery and systemic change in teaching and learning. Today, UBC is at a critical juncture with respect to sustaining growth in e-Learning:

  

  

Our students, particularly incoming students, expect UBC to provide a reliable, stable, web-based infrastructure, and they expect their instructors to provide information resources and to communicate with them electronically. The University is expanding through programs such as the MD Undergraduate Expansion and DTO, plus we are opening a new campus in the Okanagan. We are being challenged to take on more students, while ensuring academic excellence and promoting a learner-centred environment. Through Trek 2010, the University has committed to continuously improving the digital environment, providing professional development opportunities to faculty and staff, recognizing and rewarding excellence in teaching, supporting flexible and lifelong learning opportunities, providing quality services to distance learners, and expanding its global reach. Distributed support for learning technology varies across and within faculties, creating challenges for faculty and staff that strive to meet the new and increasing demands of students and the University. Faculty members have demonstrated that they will use technology, but are reluctant to invest more time without more support. WebCT Campus Edition, a key piece of the technical infrastructure and the software that serves as our primary online course delivery platform, is becoming a limiting factor.

THE CASE FOR ACTION: Enterprise Course Management System UBC’s Course Management System, WebCT Campus Edition (CE), is used in all faculties. There are over 900 WebCT-enabled courses taken by 30,000 students per year, 20,000 of whom use the system each week. By late 2003, it had become clear that the current system was nearing the end of its useful life as an “enterprise” system as UBC’s needs outstripped its capabilities. WebCT CE is based on a technical design that dates to the mid-1990s. As the product ages, vendor support will be significantly scaled back in January 2007, meaning no further updates will be provided, only “work-arounds”. Although the product has been continuously improved over time through successive releases (and UBC is operating the most current version of WebCT CE), the foundation of the system was never meant to be used with the volume of students or courses that are active at UBC. UBC-based innovations (such as the creation by Arts ISIT of CT Connect, an integration tool used with the Student system) helped keep things going. But despite best efforts, the system was overloaded and difficultto-manage, leading to increasing reliability problems with limited technical options for improvement. Faculty members and the distributed learning technology community identified the need for a system that would scale to the demands of our large campus, meet our increasingly sophisticated needs, and enable proper integration with related systems such as the Student Information and Library Management systems. In the normal cycle of software product development, a new generation of enterprise Course Management

1 of 6

Considering an Enterprise Course Management at UBC Summary for Deans Meeting, January 12, 2005 Systems had appeared, including the next generation of WebCT, known as Vista, as well as products from other sources. SCOPE OF WORK: CMS Steering Committee In early 2004, after considerable discussion with both faculty and the staff who support e-Learning in academic departments, the AVP Academic Programs and AVP Information Technology struck the CMS Steering Committee. Its mandate was discussed at the Committee of Deans in February 2004: to "ensure the UBC course management system works well for all students, faculty, and staff by making university-wide decisions in consultation with local units". The Committee has concentrated on the key tasks of identifying which system will be supported over the next 3-5 years and helping to define the support implications of increased usage to both faculties and central administrative units. The Committee undertook an evaluation of UBC’s requirements for an enterprise Course Management System. As described in Appendix A, our needs include:        Reliability Support for pedagogic innovation Efficient and easy-to-use tools Content sharing User roles and security Branding and multi-institution support Scalability and integration

They also sought to determine the available options for upgrading UBC’s Course Management System to meet those requirements. This process involved several steps, including:      an assessment of the current situation regarding CMS usage at UBC determination of the key business drivers and constraints regarding an upgrade definition and evaluation of available options for UBC’s Enterprise CMS a discussion of strategies for moving forward an analysis of the costs and benefits associated with the options identified

Three alternatives were considered as potential solutions to address our needs: 1. move/upgrade to the enterprise generation of WebCT (Vista) 2. move to a different enterprise commercial product (e.g. Blackboard) 3. move to an open source alternative (e.g. Sakai) A fourth option, choosing not to pursue an enterprise CMS solution, was not deemed viable due to existing and growing use, and the reality that the majority of UBC’s peer institutions already have an enterprise system. The committee considered each of these three alternatives, but did not undertake an exhaustive evaluation of them all. Rather, it was agreed that an in-depth analysis (business case) should be performed on one of them. WebCT Vista was chosen as the model. The goals of the detailed analysis were to:    develop a reasonable model for addressing our requirements understand total cost estimates for any enterprise-level CMS, both in the faculties and centrally create an information base to enable meaningful discussion with Deans and other decision-makers on next steps and directions

2 of 6

Considering an Enterprise Course Management at UBC Summary for Deans Meeting, January 12, 2005 PROGRESS TO DATE Course Pilots: During the summer and fall, 2004, several WebCT Vista courses were piloted at UBCV and UBCO. The committee felt it was important to identify what types of support systems were needed in distributed and centrally positioned units. The analysis is intended to represent a best effort to identify the current and projected instructional and technical support needs within both faculties and Central Systems in order to ensure that UBC students, faculty and staff have a stable, reliable infrastructure for online learning. Faculty and Students: Web-based survey responses from 105 faculty and 5900 students are currently being analyzed by PAIR. Preliminary analysis indicates that students and faculty rely upon WebCT to improve management of course activities, increase communication opportunities and access content resources. In general, they are satisfied with WebCT, but express frustration with the slowness of the system under high load, a lack of flexibility with the interface and administrative inefficiencies. Overall, students do not feel that they need more training and support, but recognize that the character of the online environment is instructor-dependent. Faculty are satisfied with the support and training they access, but indicate that more of both would encourage deeper use of the system. Some faculty members have no local support. Instructional Support: Instructional support staff in almost all faculties/units are overloaded and struggling to provide timely support to instructors. This situation limits the ability of UBC to derive the full benefits from any CMS. As the number of students that are not campus-based increases and the need to coordinate activities with UBCO grows, UBC will need to increase instructor support services due to time and distance issues. Technical Infrastructure: WebCT CE system architecture is an outdated technology built upon a flat file structure that is unable to accommodate the volume of current use. This increasingly results in an unstable, unreliable environment characterized by frequent data corruption and slowness of the application under peak load. The lack of a proper, relational database also restricts UBC’s ability to leverage the wealth of data on system usage which could be used to better understand teaching and learning behaviours, track student progress, identify at-risk students, and collect and manage information that can be used to support accreditation requirements of professional schools. Campus Edition supports a functional model (one course, one faculty member, and limited roles) that limits UBC’s ability to explore and support creative teaching and learning approaches. Critical drawbacks include: lack of support for large multi-sectioned courses, limited integration capabilities (e.g. library system), limited content sharing between courses, faculties, or institutions and lack of support for Faculty/School branding and multi-institutions. WebCT will reduce support for Campus Edition 4.1 to category B by January 1, 2007. This means that vendor support will be limited to providing known workarounds; no software updates, improvements to existing or addition of new functionality. In several years, UBC will operate on essentially unsupported software for its mission-critical learning system. Risk Assessment: With usage increasing each year, the probability of a system failure increases as technical limits are pushed. All reasonable and possible steps to mitigate operational risks are being taken, including immediate application of new patches, ongoing performance and system response time analysis, and ongoing analysis/evaluation of hardware solutions. While the university could continue for some time in this situation, if a failure did occur, the support staff will be challenged to fix it. Technical limitations in the WebCT CE architecture result in a single point of failure at the application server level. If there was a full failure of the application server hardware, it could take up to a week to rebuild it

3 of 6

Considering an Enterprise Course Management at UBC Summary for Deans Meeting, January 12, 2005 and recover depending on availability of replacement hardware. Given the level of usage, this would severely impact UBC students and faculty. KEY ISSUES Implementation Cost Estimates The cost estimates found in Appendix B, totaling $3,650,080 for a 3-year implementation project, are a reasonable approximation of the overall cost of implementing any enterprise Course Management System. The figures are based on the detailed analysis of costs, using WebCT Vista as the benchmark. Costs associated with a different commercial product, such as Blackboard, would be of similar magnitude, and would necessitate increased costs and change management issues as faculty and staff learn an entirely new system with which UBC has no in-depth knowledge. Open source options, notably Sakai, would eliminate license fee costs (approximately $530,000 one-time fee for perpetual licensing, using Vista as the benchmark for license fees) and would add costs for application support and possibly application development. Teaching and Learning Support While each faculty decides on the appropriate level of teaching and learning support for their instructors, the benefits of strong support practices and adequate training can be described as follows:  Increased opportunity for scholarly exchange, resource sharing and best practice development  Improved ability to adequately support and scaffold student learning  Efficiency gains as instructors are able to perform their course design and instructional activities in less time with higher quality  Workarounds, with attendant costs, are reduced or eliminated  Time spent in rework and error correction is reduced  Less time wasted in experimenting with the system, less effort required when short cuts are known and exploited  Instructor and staff morale improves with an enhanced sense of community, competence and control It is crucial that each faculty be provided sustained funding for this important support role. Based on information gathered to day, estimates suggest that the current support levels should be doubled ($1 million). Operations and Technical Support In order to sustain the operation of the enterprise Course Management System after implementation, annual operating costs will be required to support the technical operation of the system. These costs include hardware and software support agreements as well as technical resources to operate and support the system. In addition, a capital allowance for system maintenance and enhancement is required to ensure the system is kept current and upgrades in hardware for additional system capacity can be implemented. It is estimated that an additional amount of approximately $325,000 annually would be required for the ongoing operation and sustainment of any system after the completion of a 3 year implementation project.

NEXT STEP Consult with Committee of Deans for advice on defining a process for direction-setting and decision-making.

4 of 6

Considering an Enterprise Course Management at UBC Summary for Deans Meeting, January 12, 2005 APPENDIX A - Summary of Requirements Analysis The benefits of an enterprise CMS are difficult to measure in dollars. Instead, they relate more to intangibles such as reducing the operating risk, improving the student experience and providing instructors with new tools for teaching their courses. A summary of the key benefits is provided below, mapped to the high level UBC Requirement for its CMS.
Course Management System: Required Features Reliability: UBC considers its CMS to be a mission critical system. Students, Staff and Faculty count on the system being available on a reliable basis. Outages during exam times can have a severe impact for the University. The CMS must be capable of providing 7x24 service with only minimal scheduled outages. Support for Pedagogic Innovation: As new methods of instruction are explored, and as more fully on-line courses are developed, the CMS tool must provide support for pedagogical innovations. More efficient Course Management: Second only to reliability, Instructors indicate that the course management system should be easy to use and save them time in routine tasks. Content Sharing: The CMS should support content repositories that can be shared at the institution, faculty or department levels. The system should have the ability to create templates that can be used for both setting design standards and for sharing content. Support for multi-section courses: The CMS should provide support for courses that have multiple sections, each with a separate instructor or multiple sections with the same instructor. User roles and security: The system should provide distinct roles for students, instructors, course designers, help desk, teaching assistants, auditors, and administrative support at several levels. Role definitions should be finite enough to provide flexibility in the system authorizations while maintaining ease of administration. Brand Identity and Multi-Institutional Support: Must be able to support multiple institutions, providing separate branding and administrative support at this level. This is important to UBC as it moves forward with the integration of UBCO and the medical college expansion. In addition, distinct branding is important for schools that compete at the international level, particularly professional schools like the Sauder School of Business. Architecture: The system should be developed using mainstream tools and current technologies. Skills for supporting the underlying technologies should be readily available. Scalability – The course management system (CMS) should be scalable in order to handle the forecast growth in the usage of the system over the next several years. In particular, the addition of UBCO and the Medical School expansion will put significant increased demands on the system. Integration: The CMS must be capable of easily integrating with other tools. Software Development Kit (SDK) and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) should be available so that this integration can be build by UBC staff without the need to rely on WebCT to develop it. Library System Integration: The CMS chosen should be able to seamlessly integrate with UBC’s library system Endeavour. Students should be able to perform searches of the digital library content from within their WebCT course. Faculty should be able to readily include library resources into courses. Reporting: The CMS should be capable of providing concise reports regarding system and tool usage with little or no effort. These reports are required for a variety of reasons including such things as: professional accreditation, identifying students at risk, tracking student activity, and monitoring pedagogical value of course design – how students are using the system, performance reporting, and monitoring usage of tools. Vendor Stability: The vendor of the CMS product must be financially stable and have a long term vision for the development of the product. Ideally, UBC would have the ability to develop a relationship with the vendor and influence product direction.

5 of 6

Considering an Enterprise Course Management at UBC Summary for Deans Meeting, January 12, 2005 APPENDIX B: Cost / Benefit Analysis Using WebCT Vista as a Model Cost Analysis These cost estimates are based on a 3-year implementation strategy. Costs include both implementation costs as well as ongoing annual operating costs. In addition, an allowance for ongoing capital projects in Years 4 and 5 has been estimated to ensure that hardware capacity upgrades for increased system usage and software upgrades are funded.

UBC Vista Implementation Cost Summary
Scenario - Perpetual Vista license, Sun Solaris Hardware
Cost Category WebCT CE Operating Costs Operations and Technical Support Faculty/Unit Instruction Support *** WebCT Vista Operating Costs Operations and Technical Support Faculty/Unit Instruction Support *** Vista Implementation and Ongoing Capital Costs Operations and Technical Support Staff Faculty/Unit Instruction Support Hardware Upgrades WebCT Licenses (excl annual support) Other Licenses (Oracle, Powerlinks, etc.) Training Costs (materials and courses) Travel & Accomodation Facilities Expert Consulting Assistance Other Contingency (10%) Total CMS Costs Current Funding Budgeted Operations and Technical Support Faculty/Unit Instruction Support *** Additional Funding Required for Vista Implementation $1,787,632 Additional Funding Required to Realize Full Benefit of a CMS Tool Faculty/Unit Instruction Support *** $1,000,000 $1,376,104 $486,344 $343,507 $322,553 Year 1 $330,184 $330,184 $1,000,000 $228,626 $228,626 Year 2 $119,424 $119,424 Year 3 $119,424 $119,424 Year 4 $89,757 $89,757 Year 5 $59,755 $59,755

$377,480 $377,480 $1,000,000 $1,389,200 $532,200 $402,000 $200,000 $0 $50,000 $10,000 $30,000 $0 $50,000 $0 $115,000 $1,886,104

$377,480 $377,480 $1,000,000 $499,440 $301,440 $88,000 $0 $0 $0 $5,000 $10,000 $0 $50,000 $0 $45,000 $996,344

$569,143 $569,143 $1,000,000 $194,606 $104,606 $0 $40,000 $0 $20,000 $0 $0 $0 $30,000 $0 $0 $853,507

$578,191 $578,191 $1,000,000 $194,606 $104,606 $0 $40,000 $0 $20,000 $0 $0 $0 $30,000 $0 $0 $832,553

$1,738,822 $468,822 $200,000 $242,000 $528,000 $50,000 $40,000 $10,000 $0 $50,000 $0 $150,000 $2,297,632

$510,000 $1,000,000

$510,000 $1,000,000

$510,000 $1,000,000

$510,000 $1,000,000

$510,000 $1,000,000






These numbers are still being verified

6 of 6