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Friday, December 19, 2014

UNM preps to replace WebCT

New online system to be phased in by summer

news@dailylobo.com

Freshman Ada Duran said having to use two types of online coursework systems during the same semester has complicated her academic life.

Duran is one of many UNM students caught between the phasing-in of the new UNM Learn online system and the phasing-out of the older WebCT system.

“All my assignments are on WebCT, but I actually use both,” she said. “I think either one would be OK, but I figured out it’s kind of confusing in a way because you have to remember what goes with what.”

Duran uses WebCT for written assignments but uses UNM Learn for readings. Professors using UNM Learn can post documents and readings directly to the site without requiring students to download PDF files or Word files, as WebCT does.

Duran said that although accessing both sites is not a hassle for her, the process might be difficult for some.

“I’m a very organized person,” she said, “but I know other people who are not as organized would be confused about that.”

She added that she prefers WebCT over UNM Learn.

“I find them really similar, but I’ll stick with WebCT, though not because it’s better,” she said. “I would actually stick with WebCT just because I’m kind of used to it.”

Because Blackboard, the software developer for both WebCT and UNM Learn, no longer provides updates for WebCT, the switch to UNM Learn is very important, said New Media and Extended Learning (NMEL) Director Debby Knotts.

“With the vendor no longer supporting the WebCT product and moving all of their support to the newer product that is covered under our perpetual license, the timing was critical to move to the newer product,” she said.

Knotts said NMEL has been planning the transition to UNM Learn for more than two years, and has slowly implemented the switch from WebCT since the summer. She said NMEL introduced UNM Learn to about 1,700 students last semester, and this semester UNM Learn is going full-scale. She said professors had the choice to keep WebCT or to switch, and that the number of professors using each is split about 50-50.

The planning for the switch did not come at an additional cost, Knotts said. The University did not hire outside consultants and kept the people who were involved with WebCT to work on UNM Learn, she said.

With WebCT, professors can post text anywhere on the course page and students can receive announcements directly in their email, but according to the website UNM Learn does not yet have that discussion tool, which Blackboard says is in development.

“Many love it, others do not,” Knotts said. “There are new feature enhancements that will not be available until summer and fall, which might address some of our parity concerns. Yet generally we are hearing the new features are providing improved functionality.”

These enhancements would include the addition of a discussion tool like WebCT’s, a mobile app and a Facebook-like social media aspect.

Knotts said the social media aspect would include a ‘like’ system on UNM Learn similar to the one used by Facebook, where students can like and share documents and readings uploaded by the course’s professor, as well as like and recommend classes they’ve taken.

Senior Diana Weber said that although she has gotten used to WebCT in previous courses, UNM Learn is easier to navigate.

“I really like WebCT, but so far I don’t hate (UNM) Learn,” she said. “(UNM) Learn is a little bit more straightforward in the way everything is organized. You click on this tab, and everything is there.”

Knotts said that UNM Learn will “go fully live” this summer, which she said will allow students to transition smoothly into the fall semester.