Feb 07 2010


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Background information:
The Ottawa Catholic Board has been using Blackboard since the early 2000s to design and deliver online courses.  What started as an experiment with adding online content to traditional delivery courses soon evolved into a full fledged distance learning program for high school and adult students.  Teachers were paid to develop an assortment of courses that were in demand in night school and summer school.  These course offerings were seen as a natural extension of the Continuing Education department’s mandate.  In this way, more students could be reached and the additional skills learned from using online curriculum could prepare them for post-secondary where distance education was quickly gaining popularity.

There was likely a stringent evaluation process when the choice was made to purchase Blackboard as the platform from which to launch our own distance education program.  In spite of the hefty price tag, Blackboard was user-friendly for course designers, teachers and students.  Most designers were given a half-day in-service with a cd containing Ministry curriculum expectations.  It was assumed that the designer would become the teacher, therefore allowing ongoing edits and additions to the content and the assessment structure of the course.

One factor that may have tipped the scale in favour of Blackboard was the rumour that the Ministry of Education was to soon choose Blackboard for their own e-learning program.  This would ensure compatibility of the courses our Board had paid to design and the possibility of selling our existing catalogue of courses to the Ministry or at least enhanced compatibility between two distance education providers.  This was not to come into being as the Ministry chose Desire2Learn when they launched their elearning Ontario program.

The Proposal:
In his book  Technology, Open Learning and Distance Education (1995), Bates elaborated the ACTIONS model to address the key components that should be considered when choosing learning technology.  These include accessibility (access) and ease of use (user friendliness), both from the point of view of the designer and the user.  Changes in organizational structures to accommodate this new type of learning (organizational issues) are deemed an important factor. A critical factor for evaluation is cost, both the cost of hardware and software as well as the cost of training and support.  It is these 3 factors that I would like to use as a basis for comparison between Blackboard and Moodle.

According to Andrew Trotter (2008), Blackboard is the dominant product in the US elearning market for higher education.  It meets all the criteria that our Board might have, but its major obstacle is its high cost.  In a recent interview, Robert Long, our Coordinator of Learning Technology and Support, stated that he recently secured a contract with Blackboard for $214 000 to support an estimated 10 000 users.  He added that a basic yearly user fee could be as low as $14 000.  Mr. Long said that Moodle is indeed a contender in Blackboard’s market most especially because of its affordability.  Moodle is open source software that allows its users to utilize the basic functions while adding on more sophisticated elements as they become more comfortable with its features. (Trotter, 2008)  The best thing about Moodle is that it is free!  That is not to say it is without cost.

Mr. Long elaborated on the costs and strategy involved in adopting Moodle as our LMS.  Moodle requires the use of a server to host the files.  He estimated a small Optiplex (Dell) server could be purchased for as little as $2000.  The cost of administration for this server would be the salary of a Board technician.  Mind you, the technician would only have to provide support for the server a few hours per week.  Duties comparable to administering a data base could be added to a technician’s existing job.  Moodle can also be hosted by an outside host company for a reasonable cost.  However, Mr. Long advised against that mostly for security reasons.  It is best to keep all sensitive and personal records within our own organization.  This is also why it is best to host Moodle on a central server rather than let teachers experiment with it and have them choose the host.

Further costs would involve the training of teachers who would like to use Moodle in their classroom as well as those wanting to create distance education courses for the Board.  There are already Board Educational Technology Consultants who could provide this training so additional costs are minimal.

If we are to look at migrating from Blackboard to Moodle, it is important that all users be considered.  In this case, the ease of use for either of these Learning Management Systems is roughly equivalent.  The biggest advantage Moodle  might have is the enhanced ability to communicate with parents.  The older version of Blackboard has no provision for a membership for parties not enrolled in the course.  This development is seen as one of the main reasons for using an LMS in the K-12 market. Where previously, teachers were using blogs and websites to allow parents to check on homework and grades, an LMS like Moodle allows for increased communication, wikis, assessment tools and a repository for all their resources.  In fact, York Region District School Board is the largest k-12 user of Moodle.  Their teachers have found the ability to connect all stakeholders (parents, students and classroom teachers) to be the single most useful feature of this LMS. Further examples of large scale k-12 implementation can be found at  The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

Learning Management Systems are an essential tool in the 21st Century classroom.  If the Ottawa Catholic Board is looking for a cost effective way to have more teachers adopt a uniform method of course delivery, it is only sound management practice to use a product that is affordable and has proven to be accessible and easy to use for all parties.  Moodle is the right choice.

Works cited:

Bates, A. (1995). Technology, Open Learning and Distance Education (Routledge Studies in Distance Education) (1 ed.). New York: Routledge.

Implementation Study #3: Moodle | K-12 Open Technologies. (2008, January 17). K-12 Open Technologies. Retrieved February 7, 2010, from http://www.k12opentech.org/implementation-study-3-moodle

Long, Robert. Phone interview. 3 Feb. 2010.

Trotter, A. (2008). Blackboard vs. Moodle Competition in course-management market grows. Digital Directions, Spring/Summer 2008, p. 3-3 Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=32694654&site=ehost-live

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