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ITS votes to transition from Blackboard to Sakai by 2014

Sakai learning management system will be more cost-effective, efficient

By fall 2014, Blackboard at UNC will be a thing of the past.

The Information Technology Executive Steering Committee passed a motion Monday to begin a three-year transition from Blackboard to Sakai as UNC’s learning management system, starting next year.

The Sakai Pilot Study at UNC began in fall 2008 with 18 courses. This fall it has grown to 81 courses with 120 sections.

Jeffrey Pomerantz, a professor in the School of Information and Library Science, said Sakai has several advantages that make it a qualified replacement.

“Sakai and Blackboard are functionally very equivalent,” he said. “Sakai makes it easier to create subgroups in a course, and tests and quizzes are easier to manage.”

Sakai’s cost also gives it a significant advantage.

According to the study, the current cost to support Blackboard on campus is approximately $620,000 per year. This fee does not include failover and disaster recovery capabilities, which would require a one-time upgrade of $250,000 plus $100,000 annually.

Sakai is estimated to cost $332,000 per year. Unlike Blackboard, Sakai is open-source and carries no licensing costs.

These differences will allow site administrators to tailor Sakai more to their individual needs, committee members said during the meeting.

Some administrators said they weren’t pleased with Blackboard’s customer service.

“Blackboard typically sends out representatives to talk about upgrades,” said Charles Green, the assistant vice chancellor for teaching and learning at ITS. “But we typically don’t see our feedback reflected in the following version. Our customer service relations with Blackboard have not been stellar.”

He added that the switch will allow teachers to learn to use technology more effectively in the classroom.

“This is probably the best opportunity we’ve had in a decade to actually engage faculty and talk to them about using technology in their teaching,” he said.

Max Beckman-Harned, student government’s technology and web services committee co-chairman, said he believes Sakai will offer students more opportunities than Blackboard.

“We can only use Blackboard for academic courses because of license fees,” he said. “With Sakai, it might be possible for student groups to get Sakai sites for their own purposes.”

Sophomore Matt Adam-Houser said he has used both programs and is more inclined toward Sakai.

“I prefer Sakai because it seems more intuitive,” he said. “Blackboard has problems with submitting things. That never happens with Sakai.”

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