Moodle NMU Adopts New Course Management System

NMU has adopted Moodle as its new course management system, following extensive evaluation and a four-week feedback period. The move was necessary because Blackboard Inc., which owns WebCT, will end all support by 2013. Matt Smock (Instructional Design, Technology, and Media) said the transition won’t happen overnight, but in stages, with full implementation targeted for the winter 2011 semester.

The WebCT contract expiring in July will be renewed for another year to give faculty an opportunity to learn the new system. Training sessions will be held regularly, beginning in June. For the fall 2010 semester, no new WebCT courses will be created, but faculty who already have courses in that system for fall will have the option of converting to Moodle.

Smock’s staff analyzed three systems:  a commercial product, Blackboard Learn, and two open-source systems, Moodle and Sakai. Each was evaluated based on previously established criteria developed through conversations with faculty and observations supporting WebCT. Cost was not factored into the evaluation.

“We concluded Moodle’s toolset, workflow and functionality best meets the needs of NMU faculty and students,” he said. “Moodle provides a teaching-centric method for organizing course elements on each course’s home page and is compatible with the Respondus lockdown browser and Respondus exam builder used at NMU.

“Most WebCT tools and functions have Moodle counterparts. However, Moodle and WebCT features are not a one-to-one match. Moodle has some additional features, such as a built-in Wiki tool, easy integration of RSS feeds, and an NMU-customizable log-in screen. There are also some gaps—limited blog tool, less publisher-produced content and no internal mail tool—that may potentially be filled by Moodle add-on tools and complementary software.”

Because WebCT is a proprietary system that uses encrypted files, Smock said there is no tool available to automatically copy content from the WebCT course shell to a Moodle course shell. His staff and student employees in the Center for Instructional Technology in Education (CITE) will do the work manually.

“Faculty will need to review their courses after migration and work with us to resolve any issues or questions. We can’t promise that this transition will be completely painless, but our intention is to take on as much of the migration work as possible so that faculty can continue to focus on teaching.

Two informational forums with demonstrations were held on campus the week of March 29. These were followed by a four-week feedback period, during which faculty were able to experiment with the system in a “sandbox” course on the Moodle test server and register their opinions.

“Based on feedback received, some of the gapsparticularly the internal mail toolare being addressed during implementation,” Smock said.


An NMU-specific name for the course management system will be announced later this summer. Questions should be directed to


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Updated: April 30, 2010

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