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The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Drexel launches eLearning platform in time for summer

Drexel University launched Drexel Learn, a new e-learning platform that replaced both the Bb Vista (also known as WebCT) and Blackboard Classic platforms previously used by the University, June 25.

Blackboard Learn powers the new Drexel Learn platform, as Blackboard had previously distributed incarnations of Drexel e-learning platforms. Learn combines features from WebCT, Blackboard Classic and ANGEL Learning. ANGEL was acquired by Blackboard Inc. in May 2009, and early versions of Blackboard Learn were launched in April 2010.

While features that were in Bb Vista and Blackboard Classic may have changed or be presented differently, no significant features were removed. Users of the Classic platform will notice fewer changes than those who exclusively used Bb Vista.

However, the biggest change was made to the mail and messaging feature.

“Mail in Learn is more Classic-like, while the Messages tool in Learn is more like what they experienced as Mail in Vista,” Mike Scheuermann, associate vice president for instructional technology support, wrote in an email “That is, [Classic] acted like an external email client while [Vista] was internal to the Learning Management System (LMS).”

Some of the new features include a notifications panel, collaboration tools like Wikis, the ability to embed dynamic multimedia content, and a total redesign of the look and feel and course themes. Core functionality like assessments remain relatively the same, but they have received small tweaks like a timer bar that helps keep track of progress.

According to Scheuermann, students will enjoy the fact that “Learn’s codebase was developed for more modern browsers and with more advanced user interface techniques. Students will appreciate wider support of newer browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari) and a switch from Java applets to Ajax components. Students will enjoy two key outcomes from this: no more browser check on login and a much-improved and smoother interface.”

Other subtle user experience improvements include being able to open multiple windows or tabs, and to download attachments directly.

Learn will also have increased accessibility from mobile devices. The DrexelOne Mobile app, which previously featured integration with Bb Vista, will be updated by the Office of Information Resources and Technology to include limited Learn functionality.

“Over the summer, some parts of [DrexelOne Mobile] will likely show less data than they did before,” Ken Blackney, associate vice president for core technology infrastructure, wrote in an email. “Once the interim release for summer is issued, we’ll begin working on a fall update … that will expose a level of data and functionality similar to [what was available] with Vista. However, Learn has a companion mobile app that provides far greater Blackboard features than DrexelOne Mobile ever had or ever will.”

Learn’s native mobile app is available on iOS, Android, BlackBerry and WebOS, and it allows users to view and interact with course information such as announcements, discussion threads, grades, tasks and more.

“To connect to Learn, they just have to launch the app, search for Drexel and choose the entry labeled Drexel University,” Scheuermann said.

The Department of Instructional Technology Support has been working on the rollout of Learn for the past 18 months and created a migration roadmap to move to the new platform.

“In tandem with the provost’s office, IRT worked with representatives from every academic unit and many administrative ones. Overall, and together, rather than moving to Learn quickly and before it was ready to meet Drexel’s needs, we used the roadmap to guide us to a successful LMS launch this summer as the latest significant milestone of our collective efforts,” Scheuermann wrote.

Drexel also participated in an early-release group of colleges and universities that received early access to the service pack and shared feedback with Blackboard and each other.

IRT did not launch Learn earlier due to a lack of several important administrative features that were later implemented in a service pack provided by Blackboard. These features included Banner integration, support for cross-listing and merging sections, and distributed administration.

As of June 23, no classes are being created in Bb Vista or Blackboard Classic. Ongoing courses that started before June 23 will continue to be hosted in their native platform.

“During this time, [IRT] would like to encourage students to log into either Vista or Classic, as necessary, to get any files they may have there that they would like to keep,” Scheuermann wrote.

Scheuermann noted that “most faculty and students will be up and running just fine in the Learn environment very, very quickly. Like other apps that we all enjoy, it is more about getting acclimated to some naming convention and navigation nuances than anything else. But Drexel students and faculty are doubtless up to the task. Plus, for any others, there are myriad support and training and information channels that have been and will remain open, vibrant and engaging well into the future.”

Scheuermann also wrote, “It is important to let everyone know that this move to the Learn LMS was inevitable. … Blackboard Inc. was on a path to move all clients into the Learn LMS. Hence, for Drexel and others, it was not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’”

Students who have questions about the Learn platform and its features can visit the Student Orientation course that is available in Learn or click on the help icon in the upper-right corner of the Learn interface. Students can also find video tutorials provided by Blackboard on IRT’s website at http://tri.gl/DrexelLearnHelp. They can also contact the Drexel Online Learning Team at olt@drexel.edu.

Drexel Learn is accessible through DrexelOne or at http://learning.drexel.edu.