COVID-19 Update: June 9, 2020

COVID-19 Update: June 9, 2020

Message from the Association President

Dear Colleagues,

I understand that rumours have been flying around about the university bringing in a new Learning Management System (LMS) this summer, so I wanted to write to give you some information, which will hopefully reduce anxiety regarding this issue.

I was told at a meeting on Friday afternoon about the University’s plan to bring in a new LMS for fall courses. I was not pleased that the FA had not been consulted in the development of these plans, and I made that clear. Having said that, I do think that the new system the university is planning to purchase, and the supports they are putting in place to help faculty implement it, will be a positive development for FA members.

The new LMS plan has not been officially announced yet because it is still in the early days of the purchasing process. The administration will be holding a meeting with Chairs and Directors this morning to provide some details. I was told that the transition to a new LMS system is necessary, because the administration has determined that our current CourseSpaces platform will not reliably service the large number of courses being offered for fall, and there would be many system crashes and other disasters, creating major frustrations for faculty and students alike.

The expectation is that the new system will be available in “sandbox” form — ie for faculty to develop courses in — by the end of June. I hope that this is not an overly optimistic expectation. It will be available “live” for students in mid to late August. Certainly the new system should be a major improvement for faculty. It apparently has 99.9% reliability and many features that faculty (and students) have complained our current system does not have.

I was told that approximately 90% of courses can be transitioned from CourseSpaces to the new system automatically, without any work on the faculty member’s part. It seems likely that the faculty member will then have to check that all aspects of the course are intact in the new system, and in some cases it may not be quite as seamless as they suggest. Nonetheless, it does sound as though it will not be much work at all for most faculty to transition courses, and then they will have a much better system to work with.

For a minority (I was told less than 10%) of courses it will be more work to transition the courses and it will have to be done manually. I was very pleased to hear that the university is in the process of hiring several new qualified learning design and ed tech people, as well as hiring and training 80 co-op students to provide support for faculty in the move to the new LMS and with online teaching more generally. There should therefore be a significant number of qualified support people to provide assistance to those faculty who need to transition courses that can’t be transitioned automatically.

I have been told that these supports and the new system will be available by the end of June, which will give faculty two months to make the transition, and learn the new system, which is supposed to be much easier to learn than CourseSpaces.

FA members have been complaining about CourseSpaces for years. In our recent survey we heard a significant number of concerns about CourseSpaces, and about the limited amount of support currently available for those transitioning to online teaching. The new pandemic realities have forced the university to invest in a better, more reliable system and to provide for supports to help faculty both make the move and work with the new system that they would not have done​ in less desperate times.

The FA has been advocating for more support for faculty with the additional work of online teaching, so I’m pleased that the university is doing this, although we would have preferred if this had happened sooner in the summer and with more consultation with the FA and with faculty members.

If you have already created a CourseSpaces online course for the fall, you just need to wait until the new system is in place (hopefully by the end of June), and hope that your course is one of the 90% that can be transitioned automatically.  If it must be transitioned manually, as I have said, the university is currently hiring experts in the field, as well as 80 co-op students who will be trained in this work. I have been told that these new support people will be able to do a significant amount of the work involved in the transition.

If you are in the middle of creating an online course with CourseSpaces, you could continue working on it, in the hope that your course is one of those that can be transitioned automatically. However, my advice, for what it is worth, is that if you can afford to do this, given other summer plans, that you stop working on CourseSpaces and wait until the new system is in place before continuing to work on your fall courses. That seems the safest route to avoid extra work, if it is possible for you. Any work you have already completed on CourseSpaces should (in 90% of the cases) be able to be transferred automatically to the new system, and you can continue working setting up your courses in that system when it is available. As I mentioned above, your Chair or Director should be receiving more information about the new system, and the supports that will be put in place, at a meeting this morning, so they should be able to provide you with more information. The university is apparently planning on sending out more detailed information about the new system to all instructors, when more information is available, I believe by sometime next week.

I know that additional changes are very challenging at a time when we are all working very hard and already dealing with many changes and uncertainties. Again, I don’t think the timing is the best here. Nonetheless, I do appreciate that the university is purchasing a system that will be easier and better for faculty, sessional instructors and students. And they are spending money to provide you with the help necessary to make this work, hopefully with minimal additional stress.

I will write as soon as I have more information about this transition. I also hope to have news soon about other supports I am discussing with the university regarding providing further assistance and accommodations for faculty facing particularly major workload challenges at this time.

All the best,

Lynne Marks
University of Victoria Faculty Association
Email: [email protected]

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