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Queen's University

Spring 2010 Newsletter

From WebCT to Moodle: There's a new LMS in town

Moodle Logo: the letter m with a graduation cap"Students today have different options for learning." So says Mark Hostetler, Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Global Development Studies. Acknowledging the ever-expanding role that technology plays in our lives, and learning how to effectively incorporate it into the educational experience, has become a key factor in meeting students' expectations for learning.

Professor Hostetler taught DEVS-100 as a Continuing and Distance Studies (CDS) course in the summer of 2009, and, mindful of what students would miss by not having the in-class or tutorial learning experience, was keen to supplement his WebCT course materials with online tests, discussion forums and streamed video. Integrating film clips within WebCT was somewhat complicated, requiring additional software and a basic understanding of HTML.

Once the standard in learning management systems, WebCT has been provisioned to Queen's through ITServices since 1999, with more than 2500 courses developed thus far. However, the sale of WebCT to Blackboard in 2005, and an end-of-life date of 2011 for WebCT 4.1, the version currently in use at Queen's, has provided an opportune moment to re-evaluate the LMS options now available.

Moodle, an open-source software platform, currently enjoys a significant user base of approximately 32 million users on close to 50,000 registered sites. Following an ITServices evaluation process in early 2008, Moodle emerged as the preferred LMS for further investigation. ITServices then conducted a pilot project of about 2,000 students with Moodle in September of 2009.

As course coordinator of DEVS-100 in the fall/winter of 2009-2010, Hostetler agreed to participate in the ITServices pilot project. In general, he has found that Moodle offers more options and settings for multimedia, tests and assignments, and discussion forums. He also found that they are technically less complicated; for example, in Moodle, he found the integration of multimedia content is more convenient and streamlined, and was able to stream film clips without additional software or HTML.


Overall, Moodle is probably easier to use and has more functionality than WebCT


In familiarizing himself with Moodle, Hostetler identified some functionality that he found more flexible than in WebCT. For example, he believes Moodle's broader choice of online discussion group settings will allow him to promote greater interaction between the students in CDS courses, thereby enhancing their collaborative learning experience. Moodle is also richer than WebCT in the types of evaluation tools that are possible.

All in all, Hostetler is pleased to be using Moodle. "Converting to Moodle was a challenge because I was familiar with most aspects of WebCT, and Moodle often worked differently. Overall, Moodle is probably easier to use and has more functionality than WebCT, but it takes some getting used to."

To date, student feedback from the ITServices pilot has been very positive - the vast majority liked Moodle, found it easy to use and believed it helped in their learning. In addition, all the faculty members involved in the pilot, including Hostetler, have requested new courses in Moodle for upcoming terms.

The Faculty of Applied Science also became interested in exploring LMS alternatives to WebCT in early 2009, and after pursuing their own evaluation and development process last summer, they have been running a concurrent Moodle pilot project in the fall and winter of 2009-10. With over 1,000 students participating in close to 20 courses, the feedback from course surveys thus far has been positive, and the Faculty plans to move forward with Moodle in the future. "It's a very powerful tool for project-based courses where there isn't a lot of classroom interaction," says Brian Frank, Director of Program Development for the Faculty of Applied Science. "To our knowledge, Moodle is the best package to meet our needs."

Based on the success of the pilot projects, ITServices will be making Moodle widely available this spring for the development of courses to be offered in the fall of 2010. Please check the ITServices website for information about Moodle showcases and training workshops occurring later this winter and spring.


To learn more about Moodle, including how to request a Moodle course, please visit the Moodle web page.

An edited version of this story appeared in The Gazette, February 22, 2010

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