New online learning system being considered at Pierce

The possibility of adapting a single Learning Management System (LMS) for the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) was recommended as feasible by a taskforce through the Feasibility Taskforce Report on Thursday, March 6.

The LACCD is composed of nine colleges which are: Pierce College, Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, Los Angeles City College, East Los Angeles College, Los Angeles Harbor College, Los Angeles Mission College, Los Angeles Southwest College, Los Angeles Valley College and West Los Angeles College.

Within the nine schools, there are currently two LMS’s being used which are “Moodle” and “ETUDES”, according to Wendy Bass, the distance education coordinator at Pierce College and member of the taskforce.

Pierce’s current LMS is Moodle, which is used as a tool by faculty members and students for both online and face-to-face courses that are “web-enhanced” by the system. The current annual cost for Moodle, Bass said, is $37,000 under an enterprise license that allows all of the classes to use it.

The Los Angeles Trade-Technical College (LATTC) is the only other institution in the district that uses Moodle, according to Bass.

The taskforce that recommended the feasibility of the single LMS was created in May 2, 2013 by the Distance Education Stakeholders. This was done in order to investigate the pros and cons of a district-wide system and to see if it would be possible to have just one system, according to the Feasibility Taskforce Report.

By offering a single LMS throughout the district, faculty and students would be able to receive extended technical support, faculty members would receive uniformed training, and each college would pay a possible lower cost, according to the Feasibility Taskforce Report.

However, according to the same report, a potential over reliance on one system, training costs, retraining of faculty and the migration of current data from one LMS to the other might become issues.

For some faculty members, like Joseph Perret, professor of computer applications and office technologies, a big concern is the cost of a single LMS.

“If you look at the cost today for Pierce to use ETUDES, it would cost us over $100,000 a year,” Perret said. “Moodle is an open source program whereas ETUDES is a company that has to cover their cost.”

A possible manual transferring of data from one system to the other and the compromising of features that Moodle offers is also a concern for Perret.

“Moodle makes our classes rich and vibrant and there is so much stuff available for the Moodle environment,” Perret said. “Etudes is a lot simpler.”

A concern from faculty member Amy Sirott, associate professor of computer applications and office technologies, is whether the new LMS would still be offered for all of the classes taught at Pierce.

“At Pierce, there is a huge number of web-enhanced classes compared to our online classes and it helps student success,” Sirrot said.

Among the requirements for the possible new LMS, the taskforce is searching to keep the system available for both online and web-enhanced classes, according to Bass.

“I am fighting for that,” Bass said. “Any LMS we are looking at would get an enterprise license for the district so that all classes would be able to use it.”

There is no certainty on whether Moodle would remain the governing LMS or if the switch would bring ETUDES to Pierce or possibly different systems like Blackboard or Desire2Learn, according to Bass.

“We don’t know which LMS it would be,” Bass said. “A request for a proposal would go out and any LMS could bid for it.”

As of now, the move to a single LMS is just a probability since the state has a proposal that might implement a district-wide LMS and also a state-wide system.

“If there is a state LMS, we may all actually be able to use it for free,” Bass said. “So, we are not moving forward right now.”

If a single LMS is brought to a vote, all faculty members will be given a chance to vote either in favor or against the proposal as long as each voter attends the demonstrations made by vendors, according to Bass.

“The main focus is student success,” Bass said. “It’s not about saving money at all. It’s really about what is best for the students.”