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Supporting Mission Critical eLearning Services - Part one

Part one - Support Models for eLearning Infrastructure

In a typical campus environment like NTU, the stakeholders responsible for supporting the eLearning infrastructure include the Computer Centre (CC) and the Educational Services Centre (ES). Though there is no single solution that best fits all campus organization structures and culture, it is feasible for any institution to consider adopting one of the following models.

Model A

 

  • CC is responsible for all domains - networking, server hosting, operating system administration and eLearning application.

 

Model B

 

  • CC is responsible for IT related domains networking, server hosting and operating system administration, except the eLearning application.
  • ES focuses only on eLearning application administration

 

Model C

 

  • CC is responsible for networking, server hosting and operating system administration.
  • With the servers hosted at CC Data Centre, ES co-shares the responsibility of operating system administration with its focus remaining on eLearning application administration.

 

Model D

 

  • CC is responsible only for the networking support.
  • ES is responsible for all IT related domains except networking. This includes server hosting, operating system administration and eLearning application administration

 

Earlier in May 1999, NTUs’ Centre for IT Services (CITS) initiated an eLearning pilot run using an eLearning platform called TopClass. After 12 months of usage, only 22 courses went on-line. The reasons behind the limited success in this trial, based on user feedback, were essentially due to the user-unfriendliness of the graphical user interface, proprietary database format and pricey business model (US$7.50 per user per year). During this 1 year of trial run, Model A was adopted with CITS providing services in all IT related domains.

Following this trial, it was decided to explore what was available for on-line courseware delivery and management platform on a campus wide basis. A eLearning team was formed in early 2000, led by the Director of the Centre for Educational Development (CED) with an IT Manager and a Courseware Specialist. During the transition from TopClass to the new platform, Model B was adopted with CED focusing on eLearning application administration, and CITS providing support for networking, server hosting and operating system administration.

When the University embarked on this new eLearning project, CED undertook a process of due diligence to select a suitable platform and system with c areful use and selection of professor-friendly tools.

NTU made the decision to move from the platform used in the pilot, and adopted Blackboard as its courseware and learning management platform ( www.blackboard.com ). With its large user base and community it was assumed that this courseware management system would evolve, receive community feedback, and provide new tools and better features that would continuously enhance the learning experience for students.

When edveNTUre was soft launched in May 2000, the support model C was used with CED co-sharing the responsibility of the operating system administration with CITS, with the former focusing on the eLearning application administration. Owing to the shortage of professional IT staff, the Centre for IT Services (CITS) allocated 2 Systems Analysts (on a part-time basis) to help administer the operating system and tape backup of the SUN Enterprise E10000 server hosted at CITS. The IT Manager from CED was responsible for administering the eLearning application services and the server operating system. The two CITS Systems Analysts assisting CED had other additional responsibilities, and consequently, could only provide partial attention on the system administration of the CED eLearning servers.

In April 2002, it was proposed to move the eLearning servers from CITS to CED and form a core team of dedicated eLearning IT staff to take care of eLearning services. Approval was given in June 2002; this new setup is congruent with Model D. In January 2003, CED set up a full-fledged data centre (with proper power/air-conditioning, fire/security measure) called eLearning Operations Centre (EOC); all eLearning servers hosted at CITS were successfully moved to CED EOC in January 2003. With the commissioning of CED EOC, the two CITS Systems Analysts relinquished their support duties with CED. CED has been providing full self-support for all eLearning server administration and network operations with the small number of CED EOC team members. At present, the eLearning Operations Centre (EOC) team has a total of two professional IT staff and six technical staff; they provide campus wide support for edveNTUre eLearning services (23,000 students and 1,300 professors) and the lecture theatre PCs. The edveNTUre eLearning services included supporting the back-end eLearning servers, front end phone/email/walk-in support, networking, systems security, tape backup, daily systems maintenance and anti-virus preventive measures.

Figure 2 below shows a photograph of the EOC, while Figure 3 captures the overall eLearning infrastructure.

Figure 2: eLearning Operations Centre

Figure 3: NTU’s eLearning Infrastructure

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Author: Chye Seng LEE, Daniel Tiong Hok TAN

04 July 2004

VLE: Blackboard

 


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