Updated learning management system more efficient, user-friendly
By Neale McDevitt
It has been said that all good things must come to an end – but that isn’t necessarily true. Sometimes they just need a little sprucing up.
Take myCourses, for example. While it has only been in operation at McGill since 2005, the online learning management system has become an integral part of academic life here. The system was designed to help instructors provide course materials online, engage with students and provide opportunities for them to interact with one another. It provides tools to enable everything from sharing lecture notes, readings and other files with students to providing learning experiences to help enhance their critical thinking skills and evaluate their progress.
But when it comes to technology, six years is an eternity. And even before McGill’s contract with WebCT, the vendor that provided myCourses, was drawing to a close in 2011, plans were being implemented to see how the system could better serve its users.
“It was an opportune time to look at whether we had the right system or if we needed to find something else,” said Sharon Roy, Director, Content and Collaboration Solutions.
Roy and her team undertook the painstaking task of polling students and faculty in a use-case analysis of the system. “Basically, we asked people ‘How could we improve myCourses?’” said Roy.
Users speak out
People weren’t afraid to voice their opinion. Included among the elements that were identified as needing some sort of update were better collaboration spaces; improved ability for faculty to share content with others or on the Web; and the capability for users to customize the system to suit their needs.
Once this data was compiled, a Request For Information (RFI) was issued, basically inviting vendors to come to campus to make their respective pitches.
“We gave them quite a lengthy document outlining our requirements,” said Roy. “Then it was their turn to show us exactly how well they could meet our needs.”
The sessions were open to faculty and were livestreamed so that people across the University could see what each vendor offered and offer their feedback. That feedback was essential.
“The purpose of an RFI is to refine your requirements to make sure you’ve really pinned them down,” said Roy. “Sometimes you think you know what your needs are but when you see what is actually possible you often modify them quite a bit.”
In the end, the decision was made to go with the provider Desire2Learn (D2L), a Canadian e-learning company. “They were able to meet all of our needs,” said Roy. “We really like that it meets main requirements like the ability to customize spaces and to share content and provide full interactive collaboration spaces. People will be pleased.”
The Great Migration
The formal launch of the new myCourses was held on March 1 and the migration of content from the old system is almost complete. By the time instructors teaching summer courses log in to begin their planning, they will be working entirely in the new system.
Roy encourages instructors and TAs who will be using myCourses to consult Web tutorials and the IT knowledge database for articles on it and to take advantage of one of the workshops that will be offered daily until, as she puts it, “people stop showing up.”
“This is a major change and we’re providing lots of support,” she said. “When faculty log in they will be very reassured because they will see their materials and they will find information about how they can best present it according to their needs.”
For more information regarding content migration and training information, go to the official project website www.mcgill.ca/lms.