At the outset of the process, changing an LMS has very little to do with didactics and technology, but rather with tedious legal and organisational preparation. Long before the monumental Vienna project actually started, a dedicated team at Fronter began to consult several faculties about their specific requirements in order to compile a comprehensive wish list. Special attention was given to appropriate pricing. Fronter scored very high in this regard, according to Peter Rastl, Director of the University’s Computer Service. “Fronter’s bid to the University of Vienna’s tender for e-learning infrastructure software and services had the most attractive cost-benefit ratio.”
A comprehensive list of requirements
In addition to a list of basic functions, special emphasis was placed on scalability (150,000 users in the cluster operation), supported client versions, interoperability of content, and data exchange. Another focus was appropriate interfaces to fit the specifications of the administration system. The connection to the University’s comprehensive administration system, particularly to the central application system and the grade export mechanism, was an important requirement. Yet another desired function of the new platform was fulfilment of the long-term aim to map curricular structures in the LMS.
Fronter also implemented features to drive usability. These include enhancing accessibility, embedding groupware functionalities, multilingualism, editing and authoring tools, testing and evaluation, a suitable assignment tool, and the flexibility of the system to be adjusted by style sheets and templates.
Fronter project manager Thomas Boe Frederiksen explained: ”With our solution, we optimally support the modularisation of classes, as well as the embedding of e-learning and blended learning classes into the University’s curriculum. In terms of the Bologna Process, Fronter is absolutely focused on the learner and learner’s collaboration.”
The University of Vienna purchased a campus license that covers the whole University and hosts the system on its servers. The agreement includes a five-year plan for Fronter upgrades, as well as support and training. Starting in October 2008, Fronter has now completed the transfer of some 4500 courses from the old platform onto the new Fronter system.
How to make the change
A very short implementation period of just eight weeks requires pragmatic solutions. Approximately ten employees from the central IT service centre – administrators, programmers, support staff, editorial staff, web designers, and instructional designers – combined forces to produce the huge effort needed to meet the tight deadline.
In February 2009, the old platform was shut down. At the start of March 2009, eGate began functioning as the pivotal access point to all e-learning services at the University: connecting the two learning management systems to the administration’s central application mechanism was an absolute novelty. Fronter developed migration tools for the learning modules and test questions from the old provider, and Moodle absorbed parts of it, since import modules for Blackboard formats already existed. The permanent support desk at the Central Information Service, which has six full-time employees, guaranteed technical support for teachers during the transition period. These multifactor consolidation efforts allowed a relatively smooth transition. According to Annabell Lorenz from the University of Vienna, “Fronter has always worked in an open, constructive, and solution-oriented way with the greatest possible involvement of the client and has always requested intensive feedback. “
At OEB 2009, Annabell Lorenz, University of Vienna, Austria, will present Elk Test in Austria. Evolutions of a Large-Scale LMS Change and Its Consequences. A Critical Outline as part of the session Pioneers in Learning Technology for Online and Blended Learning on Friday, December 4, 11:45 – 13:15.