Transitioning to a Collaborative Learning Management System

A new approach to learning management systems


This screenshot is an example of what the home screen
will look like for those using the new
NYU Classes, based on Sakai CLE.

In November 2011, NYU announced plans to replace NYU Blackboard. In its place will be NYU Classes, an open-source learning management system (LMS) powered by the Sakai CLE platform. This new service is currently in an exploratory phase, with NYU-wide implementation scheduled for Fall 2013.

When NYU’s Teaching Technology Committee reviewed the University’s learning management needs, they selected Sakai CLE to power the new NYU Classes learning management system. Sakai CLE (Collaborative Learning Environment) is an open-source platform developed by an active community of peer institutions (see sidebar), which will allow NYU to move away from the current single-source commercial product which limits customization.

The Sakai CLE platform that powers NYU Classes brings traditional LMS functionality together with the flexibility for content contribution and participation, making it the best candidate to become the University’s primary learning management system.

Participatory culture

New information and communications technologies are modifying the learning landscape by allowing students to become content contributors, authors, and producers within their formal learning environments. This “participatory culture,” according to University of Southern California professor and media theorist Henry Jenkins, is “one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another.” In his paper, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Jenkins outlines four ways in which people are part of this participatory culture:

  • affiliations (membership centered around media outlets)
  • expressions (self-production or contribution of media)
  • collaborative problem solving (to develop new knowledge by teamwork)
  • circulations (subscription to a blog or wiki for knowledge transfer)

NYU’s transition to NYU Classes will provide a platform that supports all of these forms of participation within a university-level academic environment, and enable NYU and the Sakai community to continue to develop the platform as academic needs evolve.

Transitioning to NYU Classes

Phase one

The project to transition NYU from Blackboard to NYU Classes is currently in the first of three phases. Since the beginning of the Spring 2012 semester, 18 faculty members from across the University have been exploring the functionality of this new platform, with full integration into their courses. The goals of the first phase are to better understand how the system works and determine what customizations can be implemented to better serve the NYU community moving forward.

Donna Quadri, a phase one faculty participant, used NYU Classes for her hospitality marketing course at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies this spring. Quadri, who has been teaching this course since 2004, typically used technology in her classroom to share videos, distribute tests online, and support a virtual collaborative environment for her students. Using NYU Classes, she has found that the system offers her students the opportunity to take ownership of their own learning paths:

The most compelling thing so far has been the ability to give students more responsibilities (“rights”) to create forums, list events on calendars/schedules, and to participate more robustly in their education… My students have a great deal to contribute and the process of education with a “hands-on” approach allows them to refine their contributions and replicate them by embracing new and better tools.

In addition, Quadri remarked upon the importance of providing a participatory learning environment to foster innovation among her students.

Shirley Birenz, another first-phase faculty participant, opted to work in a “sandbox” test environment in order to better learn the system before using it for actual coursework, and to be able to share her experiences with fellow faculty at the Dental School. Birenz expressed her eagerness about being an early adopter of the new system:

Learning new technology has always been exciting for me, and being part of something from the ground up has many advantages both professionally and personally. I am the tech “go to” person for my department, so learning the new platform will help me to assist my colleagues when the platform is officially launched. Personally, I love the challenge that learning new applications and technology offers: trying to figure out how things work and what is the most efficient way to accomplish the task at hand.

Phase two

Preparations for the second phase of the transition to NYU Classes will begin in June 2012 with upgrades to the production environment based on feedback and data from usability testing. Beginning in the Fall 2012 semester, NYU Classes will support approximately 300 faculty members from several NYU schools, departments, and global sites, as well as several thousand students.

Phase three

Full implementation of NYU Classes is slated for Spring 2013, at which point it will serve as the University’s primary learning management system.

An open-source community

The Sakai community consists largely of universities, colleges, and commercial affiliates who contribute both time and talent toward supporting and developing the platform. NYU joins peer institutions, such as the University of Michigan, Indiana University, and Stanford University, who have also made the commitment to use Sakai as their primary learning management system. The Sakai community also supports faculty via various professional development groups, such as the Sakai Teaching and Learning Group. The move to Sakai CLE signals support to the entire Sakai enterprise and positions the University firmly in an international community of developers, technologists, and educators.

More information about the ongoing transition to NYU Classes can be found at the NYU Classes Project website. For community members who have already made the transition to NYU Classes, support is available at the new NYU Classes support website.