WebVista to be discontinued in 2013

The University must now decide the future of course software.

by Brent Renneke

The vender of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs most commonly used course management system, WebVista, will drop support after January 2013, forcing users to find a new option for their course Web sites. The announcement by Blackboard, which bought WebVista in 2005, forces the University to find a replacement for the course management system that is used by more than one-third of the UniversityâÄôs academic courses, according to a spring 2009 survey by the Office of Information Technology. ItâÄôs a replacement that is making some faculty nervous. âÄúI donâÄôt know what I am going to do if WebVista disappears,âÄù Michelle Driessen, director of general chemistry, said. Driessen, who recently started an online course entirely in WebVista, said she worries that some of the aspects of her course Web site will not transfer. What exactly Driessen and her fellow WebVista users will transfer to is to be determined. In May 2009, the University appointed the Future CMS workgroup to determine the future of course management systems at the University. Moodle, which has been used at the University since 2006, will continue its presence at the University for the foreseeable future, Scott Barnard, a senior educational technology specialist, said. âÄúThe question is whether weâÄôre going to have a second course management system,âÄù Barnard said. Barnard said the second option in question is Blackboard Learn, a platform made by WebVistaâÄôs current vender. Blackboard would prefer the University to move to their new product, but the University is less sure about the transition, Steve Cawley, vice president of the Office of Information Technology, said. âÄúWe are very committed to Moodle,âÄù he said. âÄúWe have not made any commitment to Blackboard.âÄù Some faculty, however, may not be ready to show Moodle the same commitment. The reasoning for preferring WebVista or Moodle is due to the differing features the two systems offer, according to findings by the Future CMS workgroup. For her online course, Driessen said she does not feel that Moodle offers the necessary resources to continue her course in the current format. âÄúI would have to go to an outside source for online homework,âÄù she said. âÄúIt would cost the students $25-$40 a semester.âÄù The workgroup said that, for these reasons, a second course management system is a strong desire, especially among faculty. Among students, the addition may not be as much of a concern. âÄúI donâÄôt really see too much of a difference between [WebVista and Moodle],âÄù first-year Carlson School of Management student Angela Offerman said. âÄúI thought Moodle was pretty easy with everything being in one place.âÄù Whether Blackboard Learn will be added to Moodle as a second option for professors will be determined in the workgroupsâÄôs final report, which is due March 1. Another concern among instructors is the time necessary to complete the transition from their current WebVista site to the appointed replacement. âÄúFaculty do not necessarily like to be forced to change when they have research or courses to teach,âÄù Cawley said. The burden caused by this forced change can be lessened with Blackboard Learn, Barnard said. âÄúIt would be an easier transition from a technical point of view from WebVista to Blackboard Learn,âÄù he said. Driessen says the prospect of the University choosing to not carry Blackboard Learn is unsettling. âÄúIt would make me really sad to have to find some other way to teach my class when we actually have a function available,âÄù she said. Despite the time commitment, microbiology professor Leslie Schiff said she does not see WebVista users ending their course management system all together. âÄúIf the U decides to go with Moodle, it will take me many, many, many days, but I will turn my [WebVista] site into a Moodle site,âÄù she said. âÄúI wonâÄôt be happy, but IâÄôll adapt.âÄù