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UNC’s switch from Blackboard to Sakai might be complete sooner than expected

Sakai might kick Blackboard off campus faster than expected.

The number of courses that have switched to Sakai is more than double what leaders of the project expected.

The goal for this semester was to have 650 courses using Sakai, but a recent report showed that 1,372 courses have begun using the new online learning management system.

“It’s going a lot better than expected,” said Larry Conrad, vice chancellor for information technology. “We’re all shocked but the numbers are incredibly encouraging.”

Sakai’s lower cost is also a welcome change in light of recent budget cuts, but Conrad said the change isn’t based on finances at all.

The cost of maintaining Blackboard is about $620,000 per year, while Sakai will only cost about $332,000 per year, according to a study the University conducted before choosing Sakai. UNC is paying for both services right now.

“We’re not changing it to save a few bucks,” Conrad said. “We’re changing because we genuinely believe Sakai is a superior product and if we save some money along the way, that’s great.”

Administrators have planned to require all professors to switch to Sakai by December 2012. While the move is proceeding faster than expected, some students are irritated by the transition.

“(Sakai) is not as organized as Blackboard, and the school being partially on Blackboard and partially on Sakai is irritating,” said Sara Lust, a junior from Denver, Colo.

Focus groups held before Sakai was proposed found that students generally held similar views, said Jan Yopp, dean of summer school and chairwoman of the committee that recommended the change to administrators.

“They just wanted the University to pick a system,” she said.
Although a larger amount of classes have switched than expected, Conrad said he thinks many professors will use Blackboard until they are required to switch.

“Just because of the nature of what we’re doing, there are always going to be people who will wait until the absolute last minute to change,” Conrad said.

Paul O’Connor, a lecturer in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said he is going to use Blackboard until the last semester that he can because of its emailing system.

“I use Blackboard because it does everything I need it to do,” O’Connor said. “I’m not going to switch over until they make me.”
Conrad said administrators were first attracted to Sakai because of the prominence of universities already using the program, such as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“When you look into this metaphorical pool that we’re jumping into, you have to look around and see who else is in this pool and they were all big players,” Conrad said.

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