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Migrating to a new institution-wide learning management system: Challenges for staff development

Kel Jackson and Nic D'Alessandro
Flexible Education Unit
University of Tasmania
This paper outlines the planning and development of a new staff development package to facilitate the implementation of WebCT Vista at the University of Tasmania. It explores the issues and challenges that change presents as the University migrates from the 'comfort zone' of WebCT Campus Edition 3.8. The change has provided the opportunity to reappraise our staff development and support activities for online teaching and learning, and to take a closer look at the climate in which that staff development takes place and the implications that this has for planning and future development. What has emerged is a flexible suite of inter-related but relatively independent resources and staff development activities that can be adapted to particular end user needs and circumstances and utilised by a range of staff development providers - at both central and local (school/faculty) level.


The University of Tasmania is to adopt WebCT Vista 3.0 as its centrally supported learning management system (LMS) beginning semester one, 2005. Vista will replace WebCT Campus Edition, which has been the central LMS at UTAS since the University first moved strategically into online teaching and learning in 2000. Over 2004, Vista 2.0 has been piloted with a limited number of units, whilst Campus Edition maintained as the primary LMS. The Flexible Education Unit (FEU) at UTAS is responsible for both WebCT administration and provision of training and support for staff and students.

The changeover to Vista presents the FEU with two major challenges. The first is to migrate current Campus Edition users-staff and students-across to Vista as smoothly and seamlessly as possible. Staff comfortable with using Campus Edition will need to be convinced of the merits of the change, and provided the necessary support as they venture outside their 'comfort zone'. The challenge will also be to encourage them to further explore and exploit the capabilities and opportunities for online teaching and learning that Vista presents. The second major challenge is to leverage Vista to mainstream adoption of online teaching and learning at UTAS. Some 25 percent of current undergraduate units have an online presence, strongly suggesting that, in Rogers (1995) characterisation of the diffusion of an innovation, we have only attracted the innovators, early adopters and a proportion of the early majority. The majority of staff remains untouched and/or unmoved by calls to adopt online teaching and learning as part of the University's expansion agenda for flexible teaching and learning (University of Tasmania Teaching and Learning Development Plan 2004-2006).

To meet these challenges, a major activity and imperative over 2004 has been the development of an appropriate staff development and training program for Vista and suite of complementary support resources. These will replace the current Campus Edition specific resources and the purpose designed introductory training program, Serving It Up (SIU). The imminent implementation of Vista as the main LMS has provided the FEU with impetus to review and critically reflect on the strengths and limitations of the current staff development program and associated support resources, the changing institutional climate, and to generally consider the challenges that a change in learning management system will present and how they might be met.

Reflections on staff development and support for WebCT Campus edition (3.1-3.8): 2000-2004

Up to the present, the FEU has supported and promoted online teaching in two primary ways:
  1. Provision of a range of central and school based staff development/training programs, in particular Serving It Up. The SIU program, designed for those new to WebCT, was developed for UTAS by staff of the Teaching and Learning Centre at the University of New England in 2001. (See Clarke et al., 2002, for a description of the design, development and initial delivery of this program at UTAS.)

  2. Maintenance of a Supporting Teaching Online web site, which provides staff with access to a range of resources and information.
These services have been in place for around three years and raise the key question-what have we learnt from our experiences? More particularly, what has worked well; not so well? What impediments to success have there been? How can these experiences inform the move to Vista?

Identified strengths of Serving It Up

The following strengths have been derived from course evaluation surveys, and discussions with course participants and course facilitators.

Identified limitations of Serving It Up

Limitations in SIU itself and its implementation at UTAS emerged in the years it operated, particularly the following:

Articulation of SIU with other support resources

A range of resources and dedicated web site were developed to support staff in online teaching and learning, independent of the development of SIU. Materials available online through Supporting Teaching Online (STO) included UTAS policies and procedures, design and development advice and information, maintenance and evaluation advice, and 'Help' sheets on the use of the various WebCT tools. Because of their independent development, they were not integrated with the SIU training resources, and duplication existed. Hence there was a need to rationalise and integrate resources, and to provide a single gateway portal for all training and support resources (a feature of the adapt initiative at Griffith University - see Collom et al., 2002).

Specific challenges that the change to Vista presents

Vista has a significantly different interface to Campus Edition 3.8; there are new tools and changes in the way old, familiar tools work, and new ways tools interact with each other. A number of staff have expressed concern that, having just got up to speed with Campus Edition, they now face the need to re-learn how to use the LMS. Fear has also been expressed by some staff that their current online units may need to be reworked or rebuilt in some way because of migration problems, necessitating further work on their part. The perceived need to re-learn and perhaps rebuild is creating a climate of apprehension, and it's therefore critical that the changeover is managed sensitively. This means: These requirements mirror Rogers' five determinants for the diffusion of an innovation throughout an organisation: advantage, compatibility, simplification, trialability and observability (Rogers, 1995).

Vista also challenges staff regarding their use of learning management systems-to think about creating learning environments and seamless learning pathways (Oliver, 2000), rather than thinking of the tools in isolation. This is a challenge to both current WebCT users and new staff who may come into staff development programs with pre-conceived ideas about online teaching and learning and how they will use the LMS (e.g. for posting content such as lecture notes).

Changing climate for staff development in online teaching and learning

The environment for both UTAS faculty staff and staff within the FEU has changed appreciably since Serving it Up was first introduced. We have seen the following:

The emerging design

Based on the lessons learnt from Serving It Up, an analysis of the climate at UTAS and understandings of factors for successful adoption of innovation gathered from the literature, the following design and resultant materials emerged to support staff development for online teaching and learning through Vista. To overview, we have put together an integrated package of professional development/training activities and support resources that can be configured (mixed and matched) for a variety of learning contexts-individual self paced, or face to face workshops facilitated by centre support staff and/or school/faculty staff. Whilst the resources are inter-dependent, the individual components are effectively learning objects, which can be selected and repackaged in various ways. All objects are openly available to UTAS staff through the one web portal/repository - Teaching and Learning Online ( With this design approach we have built in much greater capacity to support a distributed or integrated model of staff development and training (Reid, 2002). The main components are as follows:

Teaching Online Essentials (TOE)

The core of the staff development initiative is the Teaching Online Essentials (TOE) program, which replaces Serving It Up. It has three basic components:
  1. Foundations workshop: This is a face to face workshop, designed for all intending users (designers, teacher/instructors), and of around 2.5 hours duration. This in turn is modularised to facilitate unpacking or spreading over a number of shorter sessions: Two modules (Introduction to Teaching and Learning Online and Preparing for Teaching Online) primarily address the pedagogy and the potentials for online teaching and learning and how staff can prepare for it, as well as promote discussion about the value of online teaching and learning and concerns staff may have. Two further modules (Exploring the Student View in Vista, and Exploring the Teach View in Vista) immerse participants in the Vista environment from the perspective of both a student/learner and online teacher. Their primary purpose is to stimulate interest, showcase aspects of online teaching and learning (the use of different tools) and get participants comfortable with the technology-all within a guided social environment. Exploration is through a fictitious Introduction to Unidentified Flying Objects course, which provided the developers with ample scope for the imagination and has provided much amusement to participants. It has allowed us to use rich media and demonstrate facets of online teaching and learning in a light hearted way that, judging from the reaction of staff so far, has helped to break down the barriers of scepticism. These exploratory modules are sufficiently rich in activities that participants can return and explore them further outside the confines of the foundation workshop.

    The completion of the foundations workshop is a point where some staff may choose to exit, after having put their TOE in the water.

  2. Pathways modules: These are self paced modules presented through the Vista interface, immersing participants as learners in the Vista environment. They focus on five key areas; online communications, collaboration, assessment, engagement with content, and building a course. Within these modules are tutorials that walk participants through the use of particular Vista tools to achieve educational ends. The modules put educational purpose at the forefront. Each takes around 1.5-2 hours to complete.

    Flexible pathways are provided for designer/ developers, and teacher/instructors; there are four modules in all to choose from, with a minimum of two required for TOE certification. Optional pathways (e.g. with respect to the tutorials they take, depth of detail) are provided within a number of modules. The pathways modules thus take into account the different roles in Vista (designer, instructor, teaching assistant) and cater for the different teaching or development interests/purposes staff may have, and to some extent the different levels of competence and willingness to engage with computer technology.

    The tutorials within are generally scenario based, and participants are guided through the Vista tools to solve the educational 'problem' to achieve the desired outcome. The two panel approach successful in Serving It Up is used, with the main (left) panel/screen as their play/test bed/building shell or instructor ready unit. Participants now have access to a range of ready to use materials (content, assessment tasks and questions, communication topics etc.) to build or teach with. These materials are drawn from or based on the Unidentified Flying Objects unit they should already be familiar with, and the numerous activities show how different parts of the unit were built. Notwithstanding, participants who wish to build their own unit as they go have the option to do so, using the instructions provided in the right hand panel. These tutorials complement, but do not duplicate the tool focussed help guides available, which are now woven into the training modules/tutorials as appropriate.

  3. Plenary face to face workshop: This workshop is designed as a two hour forum for reviewing earlier modules, airing issues and concerns that have arisen from their experiences, and for planning or actioning their online teaching.
Together, these three components will require around 8-10 hours of a participant's time (depending on pathways chosen). Breaking the program into around 1.5-2.5 hour chunks was seen as optimum for busy staff seeking an opportune time window. The overall timeframe planned for centrally offered university-wide programs is around two weeks; school based program timeframes are to be negotiable, to fit staff availability.

Because of the modular nature of the program, participants will not necessarily have to remain with the one training cohort, but can exit and re-enter at another time of offering at recognised points in the program.

Completion of TOE will satisfy the University's Base Quality Assurance Standards for Units with Online Components regarding staff training. Submission of a self assessment skills checklist will be taken as evidence of completion of a self paced pathways module (along with the record of access and enrolment), and the basis for certification of participation/completion.

TOE delivery options:
TOE can be offered centrally by FEU staff, or adapted and offered for school/faculty focussed staff development programs. The modular structure, and 'learning objects' nature of the resources allows for unpacking and rebuilding to meet specific 'client' needs and circumstances. School or faculty based TOE can be facilitated by either FEU staff, local support staff or leaders using the resources developed for facilitators, or taught collaboratively. In this way, the innovators and early adopters within faculty can share their ideas and experiences and help trigger a 'critical mass' of adopters (Macchiusi & Trinidad, 2000).

Post-TOE advanced modules and self paced options

A suite of five advanced modules for self paced, 'on demand' online study are in the design phase. They explore advanced use of particular Vista tools, and the management capabilities of Vista, and articulate with the UTAS Exemplary Quality Assurance Standards for Units with Online Components.

Single modules and tutorials developed as part of TOE or advanced training are to be available online on demand, with requests made online and records of access maintained. This will give staff access to the materials they want even if they cannot, or do not wish to enrol formally in TOE for whatever reason(s). They also will have the option of progressively completing modules and fulfilling the requirements of TOE over a longer timeframe. Groups of staff can also choose to workshop a particular module.

Other design features of TOE and online modules

Whilst TOE was developed to support the implementation of WebCT Vista 3.0, we have preserved an element of design flexibility regarding the actual LMS platform. The Vista specific resources are effectively learning objects that can be easily updated and/or replaced as necessary. So while preserving the overall training strategy, it allows for version updates in Vista or even a change in propriety LMS.

Templates and resources have been designed to allow for easy re-badging and reconfiguring by other institutions, and other resources kept free of UTAS identification. This gives UTAS the opportunity to offer other interested parties access to the resources on either a commercial or collaborative basis.

Supporting those staff migrating from Campus Edition to Vista

A three pronged support strategy has been adopted and implemented throughout 2004:


We hope that we have achieved a number of things with this design:
  1. A staff development program that meets the needs and levels of readiness of individual staff -the structure of the program is consistent with the sorts of staff development activities advocated for staff at different levels or stages of engagement with online teaching and learning (Wilson & Stacey, 2003; Ellis & Phelps, 2000; Wills, 1998); a program that '...uses incremental steps to match readiness levels of the mainstream staff and exposes them to a less risky journey to moving online' (Wilson & Stacey, p.547)

  2. 'Just in time' training and support through the provision of readily available or on demand resources matched to specific needs, learning preferences, and time staff have to devote to upskilling

  3. Overall increased flexibility regarding staff access training and support (in what, where, when and how), a need identified by Shannon & Doube (2004). Support is now 'flexible, appropriate and adaptable' (McNaught et al., 2000, p.131) and able to be customised to individual need

  4. Building blocks of resources, activities and support that can be assembled for individual school use and used by school based staff alone or in collaboration with FEU staff. The latter will hopefully lead to collaboration between central and operational staff on team based projects situated in the local professional environment (Spratt et al, 2003).
Evaluating the effectiveness of the design will be an imperative over the coming year, as we too move out of our 'comfort zone' and explore new ways of supporting staff of faculty.


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Authors: Kelvin Jackson: Flexible Education Unit, University of Tasmania, Locked Bag 1341, Launceston, TAS 7250.
Nic D'Alessandro: Flexible Education Unit, University of Tasmania, Locked Bag 1341, Launceston, TAS 7250.

Please cite as: Jackson, K. & D'Alessandro, N. (2004). Migrating to a new institution-wide learning management system: Challenges for staff development. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 458-467). Perth, 5-8 December.

© 2004 Kel Jackson & Nic D'Alessandro
The authors assign to ASCILITE and educational non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to ASCILITE to publish this document on the ASCILITE web site (including any mirror or archival sites that may be developed) and in printed form within the ASCILITE 2004 Conference Proceedings. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the authors.

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