California State University seeks new online learning system

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California State University system is on the hunt for companies interested in offering a new online learning platform to its students. 

Earlier this month, it issued a request for proposals for a new learning management system that could potentially serve its 23 campuses. It closes the solicitation Monday evening. 

The RFP is part of a larger effort to offer professors access to technology that helps students learn. 

Kathy Fernandes, lead for the CSU project, wrote in an email to StateScoop that dependability in an LMS is critical. 

“If an LMS goes down, it can be very problematic since faculty and students are depending on it to be a functional piece of the teaching and learning happening (assignments, quizzes, tests, discussion forums, content, links to relevant course materials, etc),” she wrote. “The LMS is mission critical.”

Currently, the CSU system has a contract with ed-tech company Blackboard, and most of the system’s campuses use Blackboard’s system. While Blackboard’s contract expires June 2017, it still may be included in future vendor lists, and only one or two campuses would be expected to leave the platform. 

The RFP is expected to yield multiple qualified vendors, allowing campuses to choose which vendor best fits their needs. 

“Every campus has their own culture, technical architecture, skilled staff, and strategic priorities; hence, every campus makes their own decision on which LMS best fits their campus,” Fernandes wrote.

CSU, Long Beach does currently use Blackboard’s system, instead it maintains a LMS through Desire2Learn on an individual contract since 2014. Meanwhile, the campuses at Sacramento and Chico currently use Blackboard systems, but host and manage it on site.

“What’s happening is people are starting to migrate to a manage-hosting environment [at Blackboard’s out-of-state facility] but they haven’t all done that yet,” David Rowe, manager of distributed learning technology at CSU, Chico, told StateScoop. “Nine campuses have agreed to move in that direction.” 

The schools Blackboard does host run through the company’s cloud environment in Virginia. 

Chico opted to host its own Blackboard system because it already had a stable infrastructure and its employees have received training in technology contingency plans, Rowe said. 

“The administration, faculty and students on each campus are best to determine what LMS fits their campus needs, budgets, and strategic priorities. To think that one LMS is a one-size-fits-all in the large CSU system with approximately 450,000 students and 25,000 faculty, isn’t feasible,” Fernandes wrote.

CSU’s budget strain may impact what LMS and hosting method campuses select. Indeed, Rowe said Blackboard quoted Chico “something like $120,000 a year to manage that service for us.” 

Looking ahead, campuses are waiting to parse the information from the RFP before committing to a LMS, Rowe said.

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California, CSU, David Rowe, Education & STEM, Innovation, Kathy Fernandes, Software, State & Local News, States, Tech News
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