Take action: Selecting a vendor for a shared LMS initiative
Gather stakeholders—including faculty, students, IT leaders and others—for honest discussion.
In California, it was crucial to include student representation in the statewide committee that examined various LMS candidates, says Jory Hadsell, executive director of California Community Colleges’ Online Education Initiative.
That positive approach allowed college constituency groups to focus on the end goal of student learning.
“People came into the process with closed minds, and after hearing from students and doing very deep dives into various product options, some of the committee members expressed that they would ‘vote against their own interests,’ such as keeping the LMS they knew and loved, to do what was best for students,” he says.
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Find out what components really matter to various constituents.
For a joint teacher-training program at two universities in North Carolina, the shared LMS had to be fully customizable so that instructors could use it effectively.
“Within the LMS market, everybody says they allow you to customize, but for competency-based education, we really have to be able to slow down the timeline, speed up the timeline and allow students to work at their own pace without driving the instructor crazy,” says Michelle Soler, director for competency-based education and assessment at the University of North Carolina System office.
In addition, the Competency-Based Education Project required an LMS with a flexible user interface.
“This program is geared for full-time employees, so they are working at different times of the day,” says Diana Lys, assistant dean of educator preparation and accreditation at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Education.
“We needed a platform with tools that would reach them in different modalities.” Brightspace LMS from D2L was ultimately chosen.
Choose a vendor that goes above and beyond.
This means working with a provider that’s willing to take the time to understand the needs of constituents.
For example, perhaps a rep will agree to “demonstrate the product in a faculty-friendly way, and stay to answer everyone’s questions for as long as it takes,” Hadsell says, adding that Instructure “put aside the normal marketing approach.”
Provider reps listened to college system leaders as well as people on the ground to better understand local concerns as well as what can be a complex dynamic between individual colleges and the system office.
“They have been willing to send people wherever we have asked, and to choose … staff who can explain the product in-depth and who have real online teaching experience,” he says.
Nancy Mann Jackson is an Alabama-based writer and frequent contributor to UB.