Three colleges, each with entirely different cultures and needs, adopted Desire2Learn within one semester. The Ventura County Community College District, located right above Los Angeles in Southern California, had to switch from WebCT before the contract expired mid-semester, Spring 2010. After WebCT was bought by Blackboard, service and support had dropped substantially for the district’s 3 colleges, Ventura College, Moorpark College, and Oxnard College. The system was often down for periods of time that greatly effected online and hybrid courses. Instructors were struggling and students were confused, unable to complete their exams and assignments.
At the same time, both the Chief Information Officer of Information Technology for the district and campus leaders in Distance Education realized that it was time to find another option that didn’t strand students and instructors consistently. The CIO, Dave Fuhrmann, created a Task Force that included administrators and faculty at each campus to decide on a new vendor and lead the implementation of a new learning management system. The task force included key distance education faculty members and administrators from each campus.
The task force knew that it wanted certain functionality in the new LMS, but most of all they were looking for consistency in support and a company that wouldn’t be bought by Blackboard. They chose Desire2Learn and moved forward with the implementation immediately. The contract for WebCT was going to end in the middle of the next Spring’s semester and Blackboard wouldn’t extend the contract. That left only one semester for implementation.
The task force worked with the district IT administrator for Desire2Learn, Marc Boman, to make functionality, permission, and design decisions. Marc narrowed down decisions ahead of time by offering mock-ups and limited options, given that the committee didn’t have much time to work with. Marc worked closely with the Desire2Learn implementation team to launch Desire2Learn in the extremely tight time-frame that wouldn’t have been possible without their high-level assistance.
A pilot group was created of the bravest online instructors willing to live test their courses in the Fall of 2009. Although they had never used Desire2Learn before and had minimal training, they jumped in and tested the system on behalf of the district with their classes. In the meantime, district IT and the Moorpark College Instructional Technologist developed support materials. Moorpark College and Ventura College started offering trainings for distance education faculty, though Ventura College faculty preferred one-on-one trainings (which was their previous training model). Oxnard College’s faculty joined the other colleges’ group trainings and conducted their own one-on-one trainings.
The campuses each struggled with the adoption of Desire2Learn to different degrees in the first year, primarily due to significant campus support changes. Each campus had a distance education local expert to support faculty on each campus prior to the full launch of Desire2Learn. After Desire2Learn went live for all distance education courses in the Spring of 2010, one left the first week, one left in the middle of the semester, and one left near the end. Two of the colleges experienced a lag in distance education progress and training due to the gap left by the absenses. The district, along with the 3 campuses, decided to hire the same position at each campus- an Instructional Technologist. Two of the three also planned on hiring assistants and design specialists in the following year.
Once acclimated, the new Instructional Technologists at Ventura College and Oxnard College worked on establishing distance education procedures, processes, organization, and trainings. This development is ongoing on both campuses, led by the Instructional Technologists and Design Specialists. Moorpark College already had a distance education committee and processes established by faculty and retains only one Instructional Technologist support and training position. The Instructional Technologists started working together with each other, holding a group meeting each semester to share progress on each campus. The District CIO is now making an official Instructional Technology committee for the district to encourage the collaboration.
The number of courses offered in online and hybrid formats through Desire2Learn continue to increase, although the California Community College budget restrictions are causing classes to be cut overall, regardless of format. Moorpark College, which offers the most distance education courses, increased steadily with the regular trainings. With the budget concerns, classes are now decreasing while web-enhancement through Desire2Learn is increasingly rapidly. Both Ventura College and Oxnard College are seeing their online and hybrid format classes grow steadily as their training and support increase.
Acceptance of Desire2Learn among faculty increased quickly due to the steady support and increased trainings. The consistency of the system has not gone unnoticed by those who remember what it was like prior to D2L. With each new upgrade, instructors feel confident that Desire2Learn is improving and will continue to positively progress. The fear of distance education is waning, as instructors look at the convenience of an online gradebook or automatic grading.
Lessons Learned: Technical
Work closely with Desire2Learn to alleviate the stress on your organization. Despite the extremely short time frame we had for transition, our district IT D2L administrator was able to make the near-impossible happen due to the D2L implementation team. Their level of support and guidance made it possible for one person to lead the technical implementation for 3 campuses at once within only 1 semester.
As a technical advisor to the process, limit the options for a committee that includes many people. If the committee members are given too many options, or worse yet, the gamut of flexibility of the system, decisions will be painful and cost the organization too much time. Allow the group to choose between select options, mock-ups, and filtered choices. If something doesn’t seem right to them, they will speak up and ask if it can be changed. Otherwise, the technical advisor for the process can listen to the feedback and see what can be done to please the group, after the session.
Lessons Learned: Organizational
First of all, do not sign contracts that end mid-semester. A year long transition probably would have resulted in better adoption across all 3 campuses at once.
Centralization of technical administration is good, and district-wide collaboration is best. Although District IT manages the technical side of the LMS, there are campus experts in distance education that were included from beginning to end. Only key people were included that understood the need, urgency, and distance education’s purpose. Inclusion of faculty members that have a voice on campus and also understand distance education were necessary for this implementation to move forward at the speed it did. Each campus also has their own local expert that supports the system and offers one-on-one training and daily support. Then, the D2L server administrator, who works for the district IT and not a particular campus, is able to see the events and usage on each campus from a macro level. His higher level support is invaluable to each campus, and his insight into each campus is invaluable to district IT.
If possible, have more than one support and training role at each campus. The gaps created by the absence of Instructional Technologist positions frustrated faculty and slowed down necessary distance education organizational development. Build up your stand-alone resources, trainings, and distance education committees to foster continued distance education (and Desire2Learn) support during organizational changes.
Below is the slide presentation for Fusion 2012: