Amy Thornton worked in the instructional technology department of the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) for more than a decade where she administered numerous Blackboard technologies and spearheaded its upgrade from Wimba Classroom to Blackboard Collaborate web conferencing.  Amy is now at Columbus State University (GA), but because numerous schools throughout the world are currently going through this same upgrade process, we want to share Amy’s 4 questions to ask yourself when planning your upgrade.

1. How many Wimba users are there at your institution?

The answer to this question can affect how you will roll out your upgrade whether in cohorts, pilot or to everyone at once.  You must also consider your resources in terms of availability for training, support, and documentation.  You don’t want your staff to be overwhelmed by the workload of supporting this transition along with any other duties they may have.

2. What is your school’s upgrade strategy?

If you are like us, you have too much to get done and not enough people or time to do it.  It’s the world of higher ed!  Unless you have more staff than you know what to do with it (if you do…can I borrow a few), it is important to take into consideration what is on their plate.  I’m sure this is not the only thing they will be working on.  You will need time to update documentation, construct the messaging of promoting the move, work with any 3rd parties to address any issues (e.g., helpdesk – internal or external), testing of the new technology inside and outside the LMS.  Depending on your answer to the first question, does a phased approach make sense rather than rolling it out all at once?  Doing a pilot first can give your staff some additional time to work on documentation, learn the new technology, get feedback from your pilot group, and work through any potential issues.  When doing a pilot though, it also means you will be supporting two different products (technologies) at once, which can put added strain on your staff.

3. How will you communicate the upgrade to your school?

There are many ways to distribute information on a university campus.  Each campus has a different culture, so you know what works on your campus.  If distributing the information via e-mail, remember to start early and keep the information brief and relevant.  Folks are most likely to skim their e-mails especially if they are long, so ensure that you only include must-know information and chunk the information.  Chunking is not only useful for course design!  Provide your faculty with the language they need to give to their students, so the same consistent message is getting out there, or at least you are doing everything you can to ensure this.  Some editors are out of your control.

When making a move to a new platform, especially one that is quite a shift, it is important to keep the messaging positive.  Promote the features your users will gain by making the move.  Assure them that you (your staff) will be there every step of the way to provide support and even “hold their hand” if necessary.  This is also a great time to promote the use of a virtual classroom to those who never used Wimba.  One very important decision to make before beginning your promotion campaign, decide on what terminology will be used to describe the new platform (e.g., web conferencing, virtual classroom, Blackboard Collaborate, etc.).  Consistent messaging is a must.

4. What resources are available to you?

When making the move, take advantage of any and all resources at your disposal.  If you have a helpdesk whether internal or external, make sure and keep them in the loop so they can help field those 1st tier support calls as this might help in updating your documentation, knowledgebase, and/or messaging.  Don’t forget Blackboard Collaborate provides virtual workshops which can help get you over the hump when trying to train a large user base.  It offers the flexibility to allow your faculty to login from anywhere.

The most important thing to remember is to stay calm.  You don’t have to have all the answers from the beginning.  For those off the wall questions, that’s when you turn to your Blackboard Collaborate folks and beg for help!

To learn more about upgrading, visit our upgrade page at: http://bbcollaborate.com/upgrade

 

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