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Moodle at Dickinson
LIS has been evaluating Learning Management Systems for more than three years. Dickinson was among the earliest adopters of Blackboard in 1999. In the intervening ten years there have been requests for additional capabilities which are available only in extended product offerings at a substantial additional cost. At the same time, open-source software applications were becoming mainstream. Open-source software applications are community-built, peer-reviewed and the source code is generally free of charge. Some well-known open source products are the Linux operating system and the Mozilla Firefox browser.
Learning management systems offer a fairly standard set of basic functions. Minimally, they all allow for email and group creation, document repositories, gradebooks and course calendars. Most faculty members at Dickinson use Blackboard primarily as a repository for syllabi and readings. Moodle can easily handle this task as well as all the familiar functions of Blackboard.
Many faculty members have expressed interest in having all their courses automatically created in Blackboard and their students enrolled in those courses. At the base product level we were not able to interface with Banner to accomplish this systematically. The usual procedure for a faculty member to create a new Blackboard course is to request the course and then manually enter each student. The upgrade to the next level of product which allows Banner integration would more than double our annual license fee.
LMS Bake Off
In the Fall of 2008 we conducted an LMS usability study comparing the features of Moodle, Sakai and Angel (http://lis.dickinson.edu/Teaching/LMS-bake-off-FAQ.html). Moodle and Sakai are both open-source products. The timing of the Fall 2008 usability study was significant in that the economic climate made cost-savings a priority. LIS determined that Dickinson could implement and maintain Moodle using existing resources, saving the college the annual cost of maintaining Blackboard. While Sakai is also open source, LIS was not confident that it could be implemented and maintained in-house.
Based on our evaluation and given the economic conditions, it was decided that we would pilot Moodle in Spring 2009. Nine faculty members piloted Moodle and were generally very positive about their experiences.
LIS assembled a team of technologists to implement Moodle. The new production Moodle is integrated with the Dickinson Gateway.