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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

LTS replaces WebCT with Latte

Published: August 31, 2007
Section: News

A new online course management system called LATTE, or Library and Teaching Technology Environment, will replace WebCT after nearly ten years of use, said sources within the office of Library and Technology Services (LTS). Approximately 200 courses will make use of LATTE during the fall semester.

Concerns about the viability of WebCT Vista came to a head during the Fall of 2006, the first time WebCT Vista was the only online course management system in use at Brandeis. Over the course of last year, the rapid growth of the Vista database resulted in many incidents of system downtime. In some of these instances, course documents were lost, with some of those files proving to be irretrievable.

In addition to the problem of system downtime, LTS staff members were also concerned about the difficulty of using WebCT Vista. Chief University Librarian Susan Wawrzaszek explained, the WebCT interface is not intuitive, its clunky, and hard to learn. UNET help desk worker Ben Harris-Kornblith 10 agreed. He said, WebCTs counter-intuitive and it didnt work oftenbut it served its purpose and thats all that really matters.

In light of these problems, Library and Technology Services began investigating other options for online course management systems. After investigating various options, senior LTS officials including the Vice President and Vice Provost for Libraries and Information Technology, the Chief Technology Officer, and the Chief University Librarian concurred in the recommendation to adopt Moodle for the University's next learning management system said, Wawrzaszek.

The recommendation was proposed to an advisory committee of faculty and students as well as to the faculty chairs of arts and sciences lead by Dean Jaffe[and] the Committee for the Support of Teaching, Wawrzaszek explained. These recommendations were followed by another to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Marty Krauss. It was a long process of explaining our recommendation, said Wawrzaszek, it was faculty and the University administration who said yes, we need to change, [LATTE] seems to be the correct recommendation.

LATTE is the Brandeis name for the online course management system Moodle. Moodle is an open-source non-proprietary software, which means it is available to the general public. Because of the nature of the program, Moodle offers more opportunities to develop a system that would meet Brandeis needs. Wawrzaszek added, we are looking totake the opportunity to develop Moodle software for the Brandeis community while remaining part of the Moodle community. In this way, the Moodle development that occurs at Brandeis has the potential to be incorporated into the braoder Moodle community. Thats definitely our goal, said Wawrzaszek.

Wawrzaszek also explained that LATTE had more features than its predecessor. LATTE offers different ways to organize class materials including topical organization or weekly organization, she said, adding that its much more flexible for faculty ot set up a course. It offers more options in terms of forums, wikis, and blogs.

Unlike WebCT Vista, Moodle carries no acquisition fee. Wawrzaszek said that when considering new course management systems, we wanted to consider whether we should stay with a proprietary system like WebCT or switch to an open source system. Moodle, said Wawrzaszek, offers all of the functionality of any proprietary out there. While Moodle has no license fee, Wawrzaszek explained that the cost of running Moodle is similar to that of WebCT. The expense has shifted, she said. Instead of paying for the software package, the expense now lies in developing and maintaining the service and technical infrastructure.

In order to ease the transition from WebCT to LATTE, LTS began LATTE workshops for faculty in April. Were working with faculty anyway we can, said Wawrzaszek. There will be workshops available to students as well.

Prof. McIntosh (ANTH) was pleased with the workshop she attended. I went to one intro LATTE workshop which was very clear, she said in an email. McIntosh added, so far it looks easy to learn and superior to WebCT, but I haven't even touched on its many advanced features-I feel like I've been given access to a 747 and I've only learned how to use the coffee maker in the galley. As my courses ramp up, I'm sure I'll be learning more.

Student response has been positive as well. Desiree Murphy 10 commented, at first, I was annoyed [by the switch]but then when I looked at it, I really liked it. It was a lot more organized. The readings are all right there. I dont need to click the folders.

LTS has also hired five students as LATTE technical support specialists to assist the faculty. One of these specialists, Phuong Ho 08, said in an e-mail that we were introduced to LATTE and had the opportunity of testing its many features and really getting to know the course system. She added, it was a collective learning experience where we were training primarily to assist faculty members.

Along with answering e-mails, phone calls, and face-to-face questions in the Faculty Resource Center from faculty and students, Ho and the other support specialists assist faculty with the process of building their course pages. Additionally, some of us werepart of the content migration team, where we worked to move faculty members' WebCT materials to their new LATTE course pages, Ho said.

While LTS has implemented programs to assist professors in the transition to LATTE, some courses will still make use of WebCT this semester. Wawrzaszek commented, were very much encouraging faculty to use LATTE but were sensitive to the fact that faculty have come back from sabbatical and dont have time to learn the new system.

Wawrzaszek clarified that Brandeis is in the third year of a three-year WebCT license. We wouldnt look to renew the license, she said, were just working off the final year of the existing license. She continued, we would like to think that everyone will find LATTE so easy to use that in Spring 2008 every course will be using LATTE. We dont know if well quite make it but definitely by Fall 2008.