More About PolyLearn (Moodle)

Last updated: 9/30/11


top-20-lms-software-solutionsWhat is a Learning Management System or LMS?

A learning management system stores and manages course content and activities online. At Cal Poly, the primary learning management system (LMS) is the Blackboard course management system.  ITS also supports Learning Objects for wikis and blogs and Respondus for quiz development. In addition, some faculty use unsupported tools to meet their teaching needs. Since the number and types of tools that can be used to support teaching and learning is growing rapidly, Cal Poly would like to provide a more flexible and customizable technology platform to meet the needs of faculty and students.

What is Moodle?

Moodle was originally developed by Martin Dougiamas, an educator and computer scientist. Moodle is an open source (free - no license fee), open standards learning management system. Open source applications are more customizable than proprietary systems and have no licensing fees. Developers can extend Moodle's modular construction by creating plugins for specific new functionality, and many free third-party Moodle plugins are available. As of February 2011, Moodle had a user base of 49,428 registered and verified sites, serving 40 million users in 4.2 million courses. (moodle.org). (Wikipedia, 2011). Plug-ins include:

  • Activities (including word and math games)
  • Resource types to enhance course content (files, folders, labels, URL’s)
  • Question types (multiple choice, true and false, fill in the blank, etc)
  • Various application development and system integration resources

If you would like to learn more about the component structure of Moodle, you may wish to view a video created by Tomaz Lasic, who is an Education Researcher at Moodle headquarters in Perth, Australia. Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-p2KqU7QD4

Has Cal Poly decided to move to PolyLearn (Moodle)?

Yes. Cal Poly will adopt Moodle as its centrally supported learning management system beginning in Spring 2012. ITS will support both Moodle and Blackboard during a transition period beginning in Fall 2011 with the expectation that Blackboard will no longer be available as of Spring 2012. Over the past year, ITS consulted with faculty and student advisory committees and conducted Moodle evaluation pilots with faculty and students. At the same time, ITS assessed Moodle technically and contacted other universities which are using Moodle. The response to Moodle has been overwhelmingly positive.

What version of Moodle will we be using?

Cal Poly chose to implement Moodle 2.1, which is the most recent version of Moodle that is currently released.

What is PolyLearn?

PolyLearn is Cal Poly’s branded version of the Moodle learning management system software.

What is the difference between PolyLearn and Blackboard?

For a great overview of the differences, please view the PolyLearn Compared to Blackboard video (opens in new window).

Do I have to go to training workshops to learn to use PolyLearn?

Not necessarily, though workshops are a great way to work with your peers and to have questions answered immediately. If you prefer to work more independently, you may request access to the online Intro to Moodle course, view the video tutorials, and email specific questions to polylearnsupport@calpoly.edu. Visit the Fall Faculty Workshop page for more details.

When will courses have to be transitioned off of Blackboard to PolyLearn?

Faculty should begin the transition to PolyLearn now. Winter 2012 is the last quarter that courses can be taught using Blackboard. There are additional details about the transition in the timeline below.

Fall 2011

Course development for faculty interested in Winter 2012 implementation will take place throughout the Fall quarter "to say," Winter 2012 course shells will be available on October 1, 2011 for all faculty to begin course development.

PolyLearn Fall Faculty Workshop information page.

PolyLearn (Moodle) and Blackboard systems running in parallel.

Winter 2012

PolyLearn (Moodle) available for all faculty to complete their course transitions off of the Blackboard environment.

Training and transition support available (coming soon).

PolyLearn (Moodle) and Blackboard systems running in parallel.

Spring 2012

Blackboard will be turned off early in Spring 2012 when the license expires.

Only PolyLearn can be used for active Spring courses.

There will be a short window of time for faculty to finalize course transition for inactive courses at the beginning of Spring quarter, but it is important that this time is used for finalizing the transition only.

When can faculty begin course development in PolyLearn?

Winter 2012 course shells will be available on October 1, 2011. You may access them at the My Classes Channel in the My CalPoly portal on this date.

How will existing Blackboard course materials be migrated?

Course content will not be migrated automatically from Blackboard to Moodle, and some changes in course "setup" will be an inherent part of transitioning to a completely different system.

The reason automated migration will not be done is that programs designed to move and “map” content between the two disparate systems have met with only limited success.  While course migration may seem an attractive option, in reality, most faculty have opted to “start fresh” as they learned to use Moodle.  In fact, NOT having existing and potentially obsolete content in unexpected locations within Moodle was actually preferable; it enabled them to capitalize on improved file management functionality in Moodle and to structure and design their Moodle courses to best advantage.

Transition support teams will provide software, training workshops/labs, and other resources to assist faculty to move content to the new system. Trained support staff and student assistants will also be available to assist individual faculty members to move course content.

Guidelines for transferring course materials from Blackboard to PolyLearn

It will take some time for you to make a plan, attend training, set up courses and transfer the materials. We have developed two approaches (explained in this text tutorial or this video) to assist you. Once you determine the approach you want to take, you can get a head start by extracting static content out of Blackboard, organizing your materials, uploading them into PolyLearn, and linking to you content. You may also wish to consider taking our Transferring Files from Blackboard to PolyLearn hands-on workshop.

Are other CSU campuses piloting or using Moodle?

Based on the CSU investigation in May 2009, which recommended that Blackboard and Moodle are the best options to meet teaching and learning needs and accessibility mandates for the CSU, seven campuses have moved to Moodle from Blackboard or Blackboard Vista (WebCT). Four campuses are actively piloting Moodle to determine whether or not it will meet their needs, and several other campuses have expressed interest. As part of the Moodle Pilot, Cal Poly is participating with the CSU-wide Moodle Consortium, which includes the Moodle Common Interest Group and the Standards and Practices Groups to enable campuses to work together to develop and share Moodle code enhancements, support resources, and system administration strategies. These efforts are facilitated and supported by the Chancellor’s Office, and participation is completely voluntary.

What were the results of the 2010 - 2011 Moodle Pilot?

Three Cal Poly faculty members participated along with their students in a Fall 2010 Moodle pilot. During this pilot, we surveyed the faculty members and their students to determine if Moodle could support Cal Poly’s teaching and learning needs.

All three faculty participants preferred Moodle to Blackboard and spent ten hours or less to learn to use Moodle.

Of the 73 students who participated in the Fall 2010 survey, 78% preferred Moodle over Blackboard and 89% would recommend Moodle to a friend. Students spent between one and three hours to learn Moodle, most choosing to learn by trial and error rather than asking for help or using online tutorials.

For complete survey results see Fall Faculty Results and Fall Student Results.

During Winter 2011 we expanded our evaluation to 18 faculty members, 23 courses and approximately 600 students drawn from a variety of disciplines and technology backgrounds.

Of the 152 students who participated in the Winter 2011 survey, 77% preferred Moodle over Blackboard and 72% would recommend Moodle to a friend. Students spent between one and three hours to learn Moodle, most choosing to learn by trial and error rather than asking for help or using online tutorials.

For complete survey results see Winter Faculty Results and Winter Student Results.

Several Fall and Winter faculty participants have already requested to teach additional courses in Moodle. While this may not be possible since the Moodle Pilot system has limited resources and is administered by another CSU campus, this is indeed an encouraging sign.

Fall 2010

Phase I Pilot (3 faculty, 3 courses, approximately 100 students)

Winter 2011

Phase II Pilot (18 faculty, 23 courses, approximately 550 students)

Spring 2011

Phase III Pilot (20 faculty, 28 courses, approximately 766 students)

What can you do now? Start to prepare your files to move into Moodle. See guide for assistance.

April 2011

Based on recommendations, the decision to use Moodle 2.1 as the new LMS is announced.

May 6, 2011

Moodle Open Forum from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. in 03-213 (Silo)

Summer 2011

Production Moodle system, training materials, and transition strategies will be developed.

Pilot participants will be provided instructions and support for transitioning from the pilot Moodle environment to the new PolyLearn (Moodle) environment.

Why did Cal Poly consider a different LMS now?

There are several reasons to consider a change in the campus LMS:

  • The number and types of tools to support teaching and learning is growing rapidly. To better meet the needs of faculty and students, Cal Poly would like to provide a more flexible and customizable technology platform, which includes current technology and allows for adding new technology as it becomes available.
  • Cal Poly's current licensing contract with Blackboard expires in March 2012. By then, our current version of Blackboard will no longer be supported by the vendor. This forces us to choose between a new version of Blackboard or a different learning management system.
  • The next generation of Blackboard has major changes to the look, feel and functionality and the level of effort to change to it is comparable to moving to a completely different system.

These factors provide an opportunity to consider change.

How did Cal Poly narrow the options to Blackboard and Moodle?

Fortunately, a lot of the work to identify and evaluate LMS options had already been done by other universities. Also the CSU sponsored and facilitated an extensive investigation of many different LMS’s with participation of faculty, staff, and students.
Based on the information from other universities, an analysis of the LMS products, and CSU pilots involving many campuses, the CSU has recommended that campuses use either Blackboard 9.1 or Moodle.

Cal Poly would like a more responsive, reliable, customizable, and cost effective system than our current version of Blackboard.  Since Moodle has no licensing fees, allows easier customization, and has a reputation for high reliability, we decided to pilot Moodle. 

What factors influenced which LMS the campus will support?

ITS worked with faculty and student advisory committees, ran pilots with volunteer faculty, and gained experience running Moodle.  Information from all these efforts was used to make a final decision.  Some of the more important considerations were:

  • Functionality that meets the current needs of faculty and students as expressed in annual surveys conducted by the faculty and student computing advisory committees, namely the IACC and SC3. In addition to standard LMS features like grading and quiz creation and management, we are evaluated a broad range of attributes of the systems like ease of use, end user customization, etc.
  • Ease of learning the system, availability of training and support materials.
  • The flexibility and openness of the system to provide additional functionality to faculty and students at a reasonable cost to the campus.
  • Support for mobile access.
  • The reliability, performance, and stability of the system; the availability of support if problems occur. Both Blackboard and Moodle have large user bases and others who can help support the product in addition to that provided by the organization that created the system.
  • Total cost including software licensing, hardware, personnel costs for support, etc. Universities that have switched to Moodle from Blackboard have generally seen costs rise in the 25% to 50% range during the transition year largely due to the costs of supporting two systems. Costs then fall significantly due to the lack of licensing costs. Blackboard costs have risen and are expected to continue to rise. In addition, since Blackboard is proprietary, adding additional functionality beyond what is in the base system can be expensive. For example, adding mobile device support is currently an additional cost.
  • Support for accessibility. Cal Poly is committed to providing systems that support the learning of all Cal Poly students.
  • Ease of integration with Cal Poly systems.
  • Availability, quality and ease of integration with other important components of a learning platform. For example, ePortfolio, Assessment, Course plug-in modules.

Is there risk associated with using an Open Source product like Moodle?

With open source software, upgrade development and support is the responsibility of the campus rather than the vendor. This presents some challenges, but Cal Poly has a strong IT infrastructure that is well positioned to support open source applications. We currently use and support open source for the My Cal Poly portal (uPortal), web servers (Apache), web content management (Drupal), and operating systems (Red Hat Linux). A number of other CSUs have or are likely to adopt Moodle. This gives us a strong user community with whom we have close ties.

Are other CSU campuses piloting or using Moodle?

Based on the CSU investigation in May 2009, which recommended that Blackboard and Moodle are the best options to meet teaching and learning needs and accessibility mandates for the CSU, seven campuses have moved to Moodle from Blackboard or Blackboard Vista (WebCT). Four campuses are actively piloting Moodle to determine whether or not it will meet their needs, and several other campuses have expressed interest.  As part of the Moodle Pilot, Cal Poly is participating with the CSU-wide Moodle Consortium, which includes the Moodle Common Interest Group and the Standards and Practices Groups to enable campuses to work together to develop and share Moodle code enhancements, support resources, and system administration strategies.  These efforts are facilitated and supported by the Chancellor’s Office, and participation is completely voluntary.

What version of Moodle are other CSU campuses using? 

Campuses implementing Moodle for the first time, have opted to use Moodle 2.0 rather than 1.9 because the functionality in the new Moodle is excellent and requires less customization than 1.9.  CSU Fullerton and Cal State Los Angeles are currently in the process of implementing Moodle 2.0.2. Moving directly to the newer version will mean that users will be spared the considerable interface changes between the old and new Moodle. 

CSU campuses such as SFSU, Humboldt, and Monterey Bay who are already in production on Moodle 1.x are implementing the 1.9.9 shared codebase in Fall - primarily because Moodle doesn't have content migration between 1.x. and 2.x until version 2.1 is released.

Cal Poly will continue to work closely with the CSU Moodle Consortium; we will all share our expertise and experience with Moodle and work to develop the CSU 2.1 shared codebase throughout 2011-12.

What other universities use or are committed to moving to Moodle as their primary Learning Management System?

A few examples of universities using Moodle are:

  • Open University of the UK (Completely online with 180,000 students – one of the largest universities in the world)
  • Louisiana State University (30,000 students)
  • San Francisco State University
  • University of Minnesota (51,000) moving in 2012
  • North Carolina State University (31,000 students) moving in 2011
  • Idaho State University

To see what some other universities are saying about their transition to Moodle visit

University of Minnesota: http://www.oit.umn.edu/moodle/transition/index.htm
Bethel University: https://www.bethel.edu/offices/tlt/resources/moodle/faq-moodle-transition
Florida International: https://ecampus.fiu.edu/moodle_transition.php
Southern Oregon University: http://www.sou.edu/distancelearning/moodlepilot.html and https://sites.google.com/a/pilot.sou.edu/moodle/moodle-news/moodlemaniabegins

Didn't we just have a Blackboard change? How can I teach when you keep changing technology?

A commercial vendor like Blackboard requires customers to upgrade to newer versions on a regular basis and eliminates support for older versions as they age. We do not have a say in what versions they will support or require, nor what changes in user interface or functionality are implemented. This gives Cal Poly less control over the pace of technology change than participating in an open source product such as Moodle. In this case, we must move off our current version of Blackboard no later than March 23, 2012.

On the other hand, as an open source product, even older versions of Moodle will be supported by its user community as long as they can be properly secured. It has also been Cal Poly’s experience with open source products that their user interface and general design tend to remain more stable over time than commercial systems because its large user community has greater influence on what changes are incorporated into the core design of future versions. Even if we don’t change to Moodle after the pilot, faculty will still have to change technology. The new version of Blackboard is so different from our current system that the required learning curve would be equivalent to that of transitioning to Moodle. We believe that a change to Moodle will allow us to pace technology change on our own schedule.

What is Blackboard Learn 9.1?

Blackboard LLC was founded in 1997 as a consulting firm to provide technical standards for online learning applications. Blackboard’s vision was to provide a user-friendly means by which college professors could put course information, including syllabi, reference sites, and study guides, on the Web. In 1998, Blackboard merged with CourseInfo LLC, a course management software provider and startup company at Cornell University, and the merged company soon released their first software product for online learning. Blackboard’s continued growth and the expanding public profile was driven by acquisitions. Blackboard Learn: Course Delivery.  (Wikipedia, 2011)

How can I give you my feedback regarding the LMS?

We would be happy to hear your thoughts on how Cal Poly’s learning management system can better serve your needs.  Particularly, we would like to know about the features that are most important to you and the problems with the current LMS that you would like to see resolved. Please send your feedback and questions to Luanne Fose, Ext., 6-7360 or email polylearnsupport@calpoly.edu

 

last updated 9/30/11