I am perplexed and excited all at the same time. Why? We were Moodle when Moodle wasn’t cool. Now stop it you rabid Moodle fans, I too am a Moodle fan. However, when we started in 2004 I will tell you that it wasn’t that trendy among higher ed IT Managers/CIO’s to embrace an open source solution.
It has been a fast seven (7) years of Moodle use at Western Oklahoma State College. We began in 2004 , took our time and our full conversion from WebCT from Moodle was done in 2007.
Our single sign on integration with Google Apps was in place shortly thereafter and we have been working on improving our ability to do creative things with instructional technology which has helped increase our online enrollment rather than having to think about what LMS we should be using.
Why have we been able to do this? As an institution we have been able to change IT to a resource for achieving institutional goals rather than letting IT get bogged down in cost cutting and day-to-day operations. We began back in 2004 by changing our name. Although we still use the term IT as needed our first step was to change the name of our department to Learning Support Systems. It was part of setting a vision for what IT at Western Oklahoma State College could be. We wanted the IT staff and the rest of the campus to hear the word learning every time we spoke about ourselves to reinforce the concept that our mission is to support the learning objectives of a learning institution.
Some of our changes such as the adoption of Moodle may have started with a discussion of how to save budget and I have even said at times we did it because we were broke, but even at that time our primary intent was to reallocate resources from paying a commercial licensing fee to paying for a person who could help teachers do a better job of teaching with technology. I really think as we have moved forward we are at point in which most cost saving measures implemented are a result of a strategic implementation rather than cost being the driver. I am perplexed that it has taken so long for Moodle to catch on in other places and frustrated(but not surprise) that cost is often the reason an institution will look to Moodle as an LMS solution but I am excited that a very good tool is continuing to make a larger and larger impact.
For a couple of years after we adopted Moodle I was a little confused by the “avoidance” of the open source LMS solution, but as I have continued to observe the LMS market and have seen a lot of movement toward Moodle as shown in the graph above I think I really understand. Here are a few thoughts. IT managers as a whole are a conservative group. I find it ironic that in a world of rapid technological change and in a field which the heart and soul of a person’s work world is changing constantly that there are a group of souls who make your local CPA look like the crazed gambler at the horse races who bets on every the 1000 to 1 longshot entry in every race. Sure there are a few out there trying new technologies driving institutional strategy, but as a group IT managers are risk averse. Sure they are good at identifying and minimizing risk in their organizations’ information technology environments and for a long time I think that was very sufficient. This strategy has been sufficient because IT has always held the keys to the IT kingdom. In the past for a user at my institution to gain access to really powerful IT tools they had to come through me (or whoever happens to be your friendly neighborhood evil IT manger/CIO/CTO). However, I would say 5 or 6 years ago I started noticing something. I use to call it an emerging trend but now call it an amazing trend in which the enterprise cannot keep up with the innovation and availability of consumer based tech tools. The perfect example since this is a Moodle discussion is the availability of the LMS. In 1999 I had to use the LMS the institution provided., but as time has passed I can now buy a hosting package from a hosting company that does Super Bowl Commercials and for $10 receive as just one piece of that package a one click Moodle install. Amazing, I or one of our faculty can start my own school!
The availability of robust open wireless technologies, free online storage, powerful applications such as Google’s Gmail and a host of other services and applications were beginning to increase the pressure to provide equivalent or better services. Administration, faculty, and student expectations for the provision of adequate technology resources began to increase rapidly in spite of the limited financial means of our institution. I would continually get questions about why we weren’t using a particular product or why one of our systems could not do a particular function. Many times the question had developed because someone was using a free web-based tool. Essentially a perspective had started to develop in which whatever Google did yesterday you as an institution are expected to do today. Maybe the greatest related challenge in being a small rural community college participating in a sea of online courses and programs is the expectation from students you will provide not only quality programming but the exact same student services for online students you provide for your on campus students. The questions seemed to be increasing while legitimate answers to these questions were decreasing. Back in the old days when we were a WebCT shop no one would have dreamed of creating their own WebCT LMS install. With access to the source code everyone on the planet has the ability to create their own LMS install and thus their own learning system. My grip on my IT kingdom was lessening each and every day.
Some entities may have moved because of the whole Blackboard patent saga, but now many institutions are in the position we were almost 10 years ago(which means I really like where Western is at). Many are moving because they are broke (wrong reason to move). I will also suggest there is a real positive to hard economic times because it forces people to actually make decisions. Open source has made sense to me for a long time and I have come to the point that in the LMS market if you really look at it honestly, nothing but an open source solution, such as our friend Moodle, really makes sense. In terms of the core functionality that is used daily there is ultimately not a lot of difference between any of the LMS products. Especially if one looks sat the educational deployments out there which provide primarily text and links for students and then attempts to call that online instruction.
I don’t think I realized this was the case for a long time, but Moodle, as it has done on many issues, has taught me this. Shortly after we finished our conversion to Moodle our state IT Manager’s group for information technology, Council for Information Technology pulled together as series of demonstrations on all of the Learning Management Systems that were available in 2007 -2008. We looked at all the commercial biggies such as Blackboard, Angel, & D2L as well as many other minor commercial products. Based on our extremely popular(on our campus anyway) move to Moodle I thought I would offer a Moodle “dog and pony show” for the our statewide comparison and guess what? There was not any interest in hearing about the open source solution. We had finished a fairly comprehensive comparison of products only a couple of years earlier and basically Moodle won us over. We had a commitment from our institution to roll any cost savings we incurred into people who could help us support Moodle. We did this and really have never looked back.