Spread throughout the greater Toronto area, Seneca College (http://www.senecac.on.ca/) has five major campuses and several smaller ones. With a combined student body that now exceeds 90,000, Seneca has been in a long-term growth mode in the use of technology to support teaching and learning. As our eEducation infrastructure has expanded, we encountered two major challenges related to effective management of content and course materials.
The first challenge involved managing the update and distribution of content and course materials used in courses. Typical of other large institutions, Seneca offers numerous introductory level courses with multiple sections every semester. Many faculty members teaching several sections of the same course find that adding and updating the course materials, posted in their My.Seneca (Blackboard) course sites, across multiple sections is time consuming. It is also sometimes difficult to keep track of which version of a document is posted in a course. A centralized management and version control of the common course materials was needed to increase the efficiency of such a complex system. The other challenge involved creating appropriate mechanisms for users on campus, particularly faculty, to share content with each other. In addition many students, faculty, staff and administrators have to teach, work, learn and travel between campuses so there was an urgent need for virtual hard drive space to facilitate the storage and sharing of materials.
To address learning content management needs the Blackboard Content System was selected to complement the Blackboard Learning System and Blackboard Portal System (Seneca had previously been chosen as a Content System Product Development Partner ). With the Blackboard Content System a document or learning object can be posted once and all course sections can simply link to it. What this means is that when a syllabus or file has to change mid-semester, that change would have to be made in just one document, not 15 or 20 times, once for each section. Being able to store course materials in a single location also makes better use of digital storage space. The Content System provides easy access to documents through its virtual hard drive. Version controls, permissions and workflows allow users to work together on projects regardless of their physical location. The Blackboard Content System also tracks changes to individual resources, so faculty sharing resources with each other are able to maintain multiple versions of a single resource, further facilitating collaboration.
Initially the Content System was installed on our test server BbTEST (the data on the test server is a replica of what is on My.Seneca) and it was tested by the Information Technology and Telecommunications Services Department and a select group of testers. In the spring of 2004 a pilot project was initiated to specifically test the “Virtual Hard Drive” for information storage and sharing. For the Pilot Project the Content System was installed on the Blackboard production server, My.Seneca, but access to it was limited to the Pilot group. The pilot group had some difficulty with sharing documents with colleagues as the process to search for shared documents was not intuitive. However, the overall impression was that the system was robust and easy to use. Based on feedback from the initial test group and the pilot participants, documentation was developed and revised, system settings suitable for the Seneca environment were determined and the challenges of the system were identified. In addition the My.Seneca database server was upgraded to handle the increased usage that was expected after implementation.
The initial pilot program was so successful that the Blackboard Content System was made available campus-wide in September. As well as the challenges encountered during the pilot there have been many success stories from our users and a host of lessons learned along the way. After only 4 weeks in production there are over 14,000 user directories on the Content System.
During the upcoming months the focus will be on expanding the capabilities of the Content System and integrating ePortfolio management and library digital asset management – eReserves to enhance teaching and learning at Seneca. To help inspire continuing creative activity we will be working with faculty members during professional development workshops and sessions. The "My.Seneca Stars" program will seek out people who are using unique and creative techniques and encourage them to share those ideas, projects and learning objects with colleagues.
Seneca will also begin building a new repository soon. We are indeed fortunate that the Manager of Systems and Innovation at Seneca, Santo Nucifora, has deep experience with using and developing Building Blocks, Blackboard’s open architecture, to extend the Blackboard platform with custom developed features and applications. Our long-term vision is to not only facilitate and encourage sharing among Senecans but to also allow faculty at other schools to search the Seneca repository and access learning objects stored in the Repository. It is an ambitious project.
For more information please contact:
Valerie Lopes – Professor, Academic eLearning LiaisonValerie.Lopes@senecac.on.ca
JoAnna Hunt –Application Systems Administrator : JoAnna.Hunt@senecac.on.ca