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Project Background:

Why are we replacing Blackboard Basic at Tufts?

Blackboard "Basic" has been a supported service for Tufts University Schools of Arts & Sciences and Engineering, The Fletcher School, the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy, and student organizations since 1999. When first offered, Blackboard, then known as "CourseInfo," provided a simple set of online tools allowing instructors to post documents, send out class e-mail, and conduct online discussions. It also provided a vehicle for students to submit digital files. At the time, it was a secure and state-of-the-art online course management system.  

In 2001, Blackboard created an advanced "Enterprise" version of their LMS platform. Backboard Basic continued on, in name, as a subset of the Enterprise toolset. Blackboard's Enterprise-level systems contain teaching, learning, and collaboration tools not currently available in our Blackboard Basic system. The set of tools for teaching and learning that was available to our instructors and students in 1999 is essentially the same set of tools that is available to our instructors and students today. Blackboard Basic is a legacy system in Blackboard Inc's product line. The Basic platform is no longer advertised among the available Blackboard products on the company web site, and Blackboard provides no instructor or student manual specific to its functionality. Blackboard now sells its Basic version only to schools with 3,000 or fewer users, whereas we at Tufts have approximately 10,000 active Blackboard users. 

Although the toolset has remained basically the same over the years, the hardware and software configurations have changed dramatically. These changes have forced Tufts to continue to follow an "upgrade" path while still remaining in the Basic version with its product limitations. Each new configuration change, though it has provided no additional teaching or learning tools, has, however, introduced numerous "bugs" which diminished and in some cases even eliminated features of the simple toolset available in the previous Basic version. 

The significant problems surrounding Blackboard's Basic platform and Blackboard support are not the only reasons for the proposed migration to an alternative learning management system. These limitations, while not ideal, are usually manageable to some extent, and various workarounds have been developed to mitigate their effect on faculty and students. 

The primary reason to move to a more advanced and feature-rich learning management system is quite simply that Tufts faculty and students deserve better opportunities to work with contemporary educational and collaboration tools. 

The fields of educational technology and course management grow exponentially each year. Many collaboration and communication tools, not found in Blackboard Basic, have become standard in contemporary LMS platforms. These platforms are no longer used solely to provide digital substitutes for in-class handouts or to email a class. University instructors are discovering and developing new dimensions of teaching, learning, and interaction powered by a rich array of online tools. 

Last year the IT Committee in Arts & Sciences and Engineering voted unanimously to investigate alternative learning management systems as a replacement for Blackboard Basic.   

This year, UIT Academic Technology and a core learning management system team are partnering with the Schools of Arts & Sciences and Engineering and The Fletcher School, and with interested faculty, students, and staff on the Medford campus to identify an appropriate new platform to support teaching, learning, and collaboration into the future. We look forward to exploring the options and to selecting an outstanding new platform with you!

Please send us your questions related to the project. We will follow up with anyone who'd like to explore particular questions or ideas about the LMS project.

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