Switching to a new Learning Management System (LMS) or hosting partner can be a bit of a daunting project for any institution’s already-busy IT team. When choosing an LMS provider, a valuable partner doesn’t just help with the implementation, integration and other processes. They also provide unlimited expertise and support to ensure you’re maximizing the functionality and capabilities of the learning platform.
Our recent live panel discussion with Southern Oregon University, Dean College, and MidAmerica Nazarene University offered attendees the opportunity to hear directly from our clients. They discuss how they navigated their LMS selection process, what considerations led them to transition to Moodle by eThink, and how they are using open-source Moodle to meet their eLearning goals. Get the recap here!
Our “Why We Moodle” Panelists
Our distinguished panel consisted of leaders from three institutions. Each provided unique insights into the LMS experiences and Moodle use of three different types and sizes of institutions.
Hart Wilson from Southern Oregon University
Hart began assisting faculty at Southern Oregon University with Blackboard in 1999 and led the adoption of Moodle in 2011. She has worked at SOU for the last 19 years and has worked as an an Instructional Designer for about 8 years since her time there.
SOU is a 4-year public university with 6,200+ FTE with about 5,000 being students.
Ted Burke from Dean College
Ted has worked at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts for 12 years as a library director. Located only 30 miles from Boston and Providence, RI, Ted serves close to 1,600 students at this suburban New England university as an instructional designer, Moodle end-user administrator, faculty workshop instructor, and more.
Marty Crossland from MidAmerica Nazarene University
Marty Crossland has served as the Associate VP for Instructional Technology and Online Education, the Chair of Computer Information Systems Department, and a Professor of Computer Information Systems at MidAmerica Nazarene University for almost 8 years.
MidAmerican Nazarene University has about 1,900 students and is located in Olathe, Kansas.
Our Higher Education LMS Q&A…
Q: Discuss the history of Moodle at your institution. Can you highlight the pre-Moodle by eThink days and what you were doing before working with our team?
Hart: SOU was an early adopter of Blackboard. We were on “Blackboard basic,” which was really dire for quite a while until we shifted over to Moodle in 2011. We’ve always been hosted and just moved over to eThink during our Christmas break in 2017.
Ted: Dean College was also a victim of Blackboard. We wound up leaving Blackboard in 2008 and coming to Moodle. We’ve been working with Moodle for 10 years now and the platform is great. eThink is our third Moodle provider and by far the best. Now that we have eThink as a service provider we’re doing a lot more than we did in the past.
Marty: I came to MidAmerica Nazarene U in early 2011 and they were already utilizing Moodle. From my understanding of our history, we were also on Blackboard before Moodle. It’s all been hosted with one provider up until our move with eThink earlier this year.
Q: What led you to change and switch service providers?
Hart: We were ready for a change. We didn’t want to continue with our current host for a number of reasons: lack of customer service, they had mandated upgrade schedules that didn’t fit our calendar, inaccurate active user calculation method that cost us money. And, it was also prohibitively expensive to add plugins which we were particularly interested in. eThink impressed us with their customer service orientation and partnership benefits. We were especially excited to have a real-time SIS integration, upgrade schedules that meet our needs, and plugin accessibility for our site at no cost. eThink’s extensive experience migrating clients from our prior host made the migration process a breeze. eThink’s range of services more than justify their rates and we had no problem making that case to our administration.
Ted: We were generally happy with our Moodle provider but we didn’t find them to be forward-looking. They would answer any questions we had and help us to implement tools we wanted, but they were never proactive in telling us the things Moodle could do or what we could take advantage of. eThink being a Moodle partner was a huge advantage to us. We believe in the product and wanted to support it, but we lacked the personnel to contribute directly to the Moodle project. We decided to transition from our prior Moodle provider to eThink and the overall experience was very smooth. We’re glad we made the switch.
Marty: What caught my attention was eThink being both a Moodle and an Ellucian partner. We are a Banner institution and often struggle to get information back and forth between our Banner SIS and Moodle at the right times. One of our main focuses was a deeper integration with those two systems.
Q: Discuss any challenges you might have come across during the migration and implementation processes.
Hart: At first, I was really anxious I would lose admin control transitioning to eThink. I found that we still have the level of control needed to batch-create courses, utilize Banner, and request plugins and solutions with consultation from eThink along the way. All I do is put in a ticket and eThink makes any changes or fixes. We don’t have to worry about setting up the theme, taking care of updates, or any of that other stuff – it’s all taken care of for us. As far as the migration experience went, that was really very smooth. eThink had a very clear roadmap of how you get from where you are over to their site.
Ted: We had a short two-week window between the end of the spring term and the beginning of summer courses where we could fit our implementation process in. We encountered a few delays on our end getting things open for eThink, but despite delays caused by us, eThink helped us meet our deadline and our new instance up and running in time. It was very smooth and eThink was with us all the way.
Marty: With our student population consisting about half traditional students, normal fall/spring semesters and the other half adult and graduate students who take courses year-round, we also struggle to find an ideal upgrade time. The eThink team was very accommodating completing the process during a small window during the summer. We also greatly benefited from our SIS integration with eThink. As Hart mentioned, the instant a student makes a schedule or course change, that change reflects instantly over in Moodle.
Q: What are some new and exciting plugins and solutions you’ve been able to start using since implementing Moodle by eThink?
Hart: Probably one of the most recent plugins we’ve added is the Scheduler. The Scheduler allows instructors to set up online office hours for students. There, they can easily make and discuss appointments with the ability to set reminders.
Ted: We’ve been able to reproduce traditional paper ballots for teacher/course evaluations and host them on Moodle. For us, it streamlined what was a very time-consuming process managed by various administrative assistants. That functionality in Moodle proved to be our best go-to application.
Marty: We’ve been looking for awhile now for a granular way to give permission to department admin assistants, deans, and chairs to visit an online course and go in and observe what’s going on. This is especially useful for departments with a lot more hands-on management of their courses. The eThink team helped us create this process and organize our categories. We’ve been continuing to implement it across departments.
Q: Having been with eThink now for a little while, how have we met your expectations or excelled and are there any areas we can improve?
Hart: I’m happy to add my heaps of praise to your staff because they are truly helpful. I’ve had tickets answered after hours and on weekends despite the coastal time differences. Responses from the help desk staff are friendly and helpful. It just always feels like we’ve got friends back there. They really are our partners in making sure that we have a quality LMS experience to provide our faculty and students.
Ted: One of the pleasant side effects with our move has been customer service and the support from the techs at the help desk. Whenever we’ve had an issue or requested an accommodation or modification of some sort, within 24-48 hours at the latest (but often on the same day) those changes are made for us. When I get “Can we do this?” questions from faculty or my boss, a simple phone call or ticket usually gets a response right away. We really think that you’ve excelled with help desk, customer support, and always being available.
Marty: I can’t say enough good things about how willing and available eThink was in helping us complete a hectic migration project. We’ve also had opportunities to request new features, receive help troubleshooting, and work on new initiatives. It’s all gone really well, with fast turnaround and responses and action within hours rather than days.
Q: Any advice for anybody considering a Moodle change or LMS review?
Hart: My advice is if you’re currently self-hosted, don’t be afraid to give up control of your site. You’ll still be able to call the shots in a lot of respects. However, you don’t have to worry about security patches, upgrades, backups, or anything else that keeps you awake at night. If you’re currently hosted, eThink has lots of experience in migrating installations and make it pretty painless for you. Their customer service is as good as they (and we) say it is. We’re really just happy to have a true partner with Moodle.
Ted: Consider more than just the bottom line or the cost of the service. When we changed providers, the cost was pretty close to what we already paying. However, we found that eThink is very competitive in their pricing model for the level of service they provide.
Marty: When it comes to self-hosting, unless you’ve got a pretty dedicated IT team to help you manage your LMS, I’d say it’s worth considering added support. Having had one other host and now hosting with eThink, eThink not only helps keep the system running but actually allows us to get more out of our LMS so we can do a better job servicing our students and faculty.
Here at eThink, we believe there is no truer testament to the level of high-touch support eThink provides than hearing from our eThink clients themselves. You can listen to the full panel webinar below.