Photo Fabián Avella, Head of Information and Technology Systems at Inalde Business School.

A Successful Blackboard Open LMS Migration

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Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Sep 08, 2018 – Click here for the Spanish version

Twenty-four years ago, when Fabián Avella joined the Universidad de La Sabana as a systems analyst, LAN networks did not exist, and the internet as well as email, as we know them today, were just a dream for some of the world’s biggest companies and universities. Nowadays, these and other similar technologies have become ubiquitous, and their existence is generally ignored unless they fail users. Having witnessed the evolution of these technologies gave Fabián, in one way or another, the perspective not to take anything for granted, a fundamental part of his work at Inalde.

During the past 24 years, Fabián completed a specialization in Computer Management and a master’s degree in Information and Technology Systems. The latter was possible due to a grant and resources given to him by Inalde, the renowned business school of Universidad de La Sabana, in Colombia, which welcomed him four and a half years ago. Since then, he has worked in development, system maintenance and different technology-related areas within the institution. Fabián sat down for an interview with Blackboard to share the most relevant aspects of Inalde’s recent migration from its previous learning management system to Blackboard Open LMS, which he personally oversaw, like so many other implementation changes throughout his entire career.

The Case Study Method

In order to understand Inalde’s case study, it is essential to clarify that this institution is considered Colombia’s leader in the use of the case study method, known worldwide and applied at the most prestigious universities globally. It is based on the analysis of diverse business scenarios within different companies, areas, and sectors within diverse markets, in order to train managers to make better decisions.

In Inalde’s case, the method itself was an important factor in the migration process. This is because the printed paper has traditionally been considered a fundamental part of the case study method, to the extent that breaking away from it was going to pose a huge challenge. Because of this, when Fabián arrived at Inalde and was tasked with getting the new LMS platform ready, he realized that there would be some resistance to change. Nonetheless, he had full support from the school’s top management.

Although the institution’s aim was to implement a technological platform to facilitate the educational process and to highlight the importance of using the latest digital tools, the need to preserve traditional methods was essentially based on the importance of protecting both methodology and high-quality standards, key characteristics of a business school like Inalde. 

The Method of Persuasion

As a result of the paper versus digital challenge, and under the leadership of the administrative and financial management teams, Fabián and the systems team went ahead and developed a pilot test with Moodle. They came up with a strategy that included using Moodle in a short course in order to check its functionality, considering the resources that would allow the test’s launch, while making the appropriate adjustments before using it along with the other programs.

According to this model, the case studies are defined, and Inalde’s ​Academic Planning area obtains and sends them to the Publications division, so the programs can be added to the platform. In the meantime, professors can also include materials that may be used as supplements.

The future of the entire project and determining which areas needed fine-tuning depended on the success of the pilot plan. However, a single semester was enough to prove just how useful and reliable the new platform was. Its stability, ease of use, and the ability to be able to print the necessary materials convinced them to continue pursuing the virtual platform. The new system helps Inalde save resources, and the platform can be adapted to user preferences.

Uploading cases to the virtual environment involved some new administrative tasks, however, such as considering security and permission agreements with the different business schools for the use of each virtual case. In addition, watermarks were added to the documents to make it clear that content use was for pedagogical purposes and for a specific program and date.

Why Migrate to Blackboard Open LMS?

Blackboard Open LMS has its own servers, and more importantly, fast and efficient communication channels. As a result, it’s possible to understand when something goes wrong and know how to fix it in a short period of time. Fabián knew Blackboard Open LMS would give him a big chance to minimize the risk of unexpected shutdowns or high demand problems, as well as a better DRP (Disaster Recovery Plan) management. Stable security measures are essential to avoid any issues that may seriously harm business school operations.

Although the decision to migrate was not immediate, Fabián became interested in this possibility and researched the advantages of Blackboard Open LMS, as well as other systems that could serve as a learning management system, all while trying to find the right moment to carry out the migration. The four main reasons that convinced him to choose Blackboard Open LMS were:

  1. Secure connection and 24/7 service guaranteed.
  2. Blackboard Open LMS supports a responsive web version, which is a necessity rather than a characteristic, as it guarantees access to the platform from any device. The absence of this functionality equals being relegated.
  3. Blackboard Open LMS’ mobile app is a huge advantage, as it eases the UX on mobile devices. In addition, it frees Inalde to explore all kinds of tools and features and to think about the future.
  4. Lastly, for an organization that is strengthening its IT resources, it is indispensable to have SAAS tools (Software as a Service), considering the advantage that hiring a good service provider can bring peace of mind with respect to technical and technological resources.

When to Migrate

Determining the best time to migrate is essential. Inalde chose to migrate at the end of the year, but not during the holidays. This allowed program assistants, those with the highest contact with the end users (known as ‘participants’), to be present during the process. While it would have been better to wait for the platform’s demand to go down, it was also key that part of the staff was present to witness the migration. To support the migration, a “Zero-day” was established for all the information to migrate to the new platform. Blackboard made this process possible.

Fabián also saw the opportunity to implement other planned changes, such as the website’s refresh, led by marketing. Before migration, the platform log in was through Inalde’s website which implied a risk: If the site crashed, there would be no way to access the platform. As Blackboard Open LMS has its own login page, as well as high connection stability, completely relying on Inalde’s site for the login was finally eradicated.

Preparation Phase

Great care was placed in keeping as much of the old interface design as possible, with more modern features, but still familiar to users. After all, platform changes affect end users the most, and this type of migration intends to minimize confusion. To this end, the Snap graphic theme was very useful and saved valuable time for Inalde to focus on other migration aspects.

Another vital point that Inalde was clear about before the process began, was for training to take place prior to the launch. This way, those responsible for the platform and publishing would be able to answer all types of requests from day one.

Furthermore, avoiding trauma at all costs was a priority. “Blackboard provided me a test site that shows how the platform will work once its finished, as well as its contents and navigability. That’s why I was confident about our ability to avoid failures relating to system compatibility or other demands. The transition from our previous platform to Blackboard Open LMS was seamless, almost unnoticeable,” said Fabián. This peace of mind can be attributed to the effectiveness of the communication channels, and that pre-work that was completed with ample time, as well as an organized team.

Communicating Changes

For those on the development and maintenance side, like Fabian, the new features may be striking. However, changes might cause panic among users, and what was meant to be an improvement in service could become the opposite. With this in mind, and to avoid confusion, Inalde sent an announcement to teachers, PROA advisors (those who provide support to participants) and program assistants.

It was determined that the look and feel of the interface would not represent big changes, and as a result, participants were not informed prior to the launch. This is why Inalde opted to inform all program attendees, so they could interact and respond to participants’ doubts and questions. As a result, they have not received any negative feedback about changes or the performance of Blackboard Open LMS to date.

“The absence of complaints or claims is without a doubt the best indicator in our case. This was a successful transition void of any trauma at every level of Inalde’s operation,” said a pleased Fabián.

A Trusted Service

Service failures are not allowed, as per Inalde’s slogan and promise to its students. Therefore, expectations are, by all accounts, the highest. “Knowing the importance of how reliable technology must be, makes us understand the importance of working with suppliers and allies that guarantee the perfect performance of all of Inalde’s systems,” says Fabian.

Trust is something that Fabián takes very seriously, and he knows that earning it, is essential. “When a supplier guarantees communication and accompaniment and offers guarantees on the correct functioning of all systems, we can trust them,” concludes Fabián. Blackboard Open LMS allows him to develop trust with users and with Inalde as a whole.

Fabián does not work for recognition, quite the opposite: In matters of technology, reliability is a must, and the standard is flawless work. Therefore, the satisfaction of a job well done is what matters the most, with Blackboard there to support him and Inalde every step of the way.

Photos by: AFP Carlos Vargas