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October 12, 2012 by Steven D. Brewer

I've been disappointed to hear that the campus is being pressured to switch back to Blackboard from Moodle. I was contacted by an associate dean to explain why we shouldn't switch. I chatted with him for a bit and then drafted this message as a followup this morning:

Moodle is designed to support innovative pedagogy. Blackboard has been designed to be marketed to administrators and offers a very traditional, top-down, teacher-centered perspective on education. Moodle has been designed by a community of innovative educators that have been dissatisfied with traditional offerings. Moodle supports a much broader range of student-centered pedagogical styles. It is exactly these kinds of innovative approaches that the campus needs and that our faculty are demanding.

Using Free Software (*see below) represents an investment in the campus. The money that would otherwise be provided to a vendor can be invested in more and better staff that can install and support a Free Software product. These staff are then available to the campus and represent a higher-level of expertise that the campus can call upon to solve problems and tailor solutions to our enterprise.

Using Free Software enables the campus to participate in a community of innovation. Vendors often make it prohibitively expensive to build any kind of custom solution on top of their platform. By using a product that can be understood, modified, and extended, our staff can provide functionality that meets our needs better than a vendor that must conform to general market demands. Furthermore, the solutions that we build can be shared with a community of people that are also innovating and sharing their solutions.

Furthermore, using Free Software empowers our staff to actually fix problems. Vendors are notoriously poor at addressing technical shortcomings of software products. Staff that can solve problems locally enables us to directly address our own concerns and prioritize how they get fixed.

Finally, there are great potential synergies between Moodle and Drupal. The campus has already adopted Drupal as a content management system. Moodle is based on the same underlying software foundation (the "LAMP" stack of Linux, Apache, Mysql, and PHP) and the staff that are supporting one can "talk the same language" as the ones supporting the other. Much of the expertise developed for supporting one platform is applicable for supporting the other. Going forward, this synergy will make it easier to build solutions for the campus that require articulation between the two platforms.

I've copied Sigrid Schmalzer from History who shared with me her enthusiastic email supporting Moodle. I hope together we can build a persuasive case that the campus should continue to embrace Moodle and not be thrown back to using a commercial vendor for a learning-management solution.

*In much of this, I refer to "Free Software" which has a very specific definition which may be important to understand for the purpose of some of my argument, e.g.:


Note that "Free Software" does not mean "freeware" or "open source software", which are different things.

I hope we can organize a successful campaign to keep Moodle. It would be really depressing to be forced back to using Blackboard again.


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