Representatives of the Illinois State University community met for the first time at the end of January to launch the Next LMS project, which will bring a new learning management system to campus. Since then, this advisory group has been hard at work deciding the requirements for the platform that will replace ReggieNet.

Many voices, one goal

“We spoke with several groups around campus, stakeholders like the Student Government Association, to get initial ideas and feedback. By the end of 2021, we found people who are not only passionate about the mission of ISU but also represent students, faculty, academic advisors, support staff, and many more,” says Dr. Yojanna Cuenca-Carlino, who is co-leading the project on behalf of the Office of the Provost.

Cuenca-Carlino and her co-leader, Dr. Rosie Hauck, asked deans to nominate representatives for their colleges. They recruited others from constituency groups such as the University Teaching Committee, University Technology Advisory Committee, Student Government Association, University College, and the Academic Senate.

Using survey data in which students, instructors, and staff identified ReggieNet’s strengths and weaknesses, the advisory group has compiled criteria that will be used to evaluate potential replacements, with an emphasis on “must have” features. So far, the advisory group has added more than 50 items to the rubric it will use to evaluate the Next LMS.

“Students and instructors have told us over the years that ReggieNet actually does some things quite well,” says Hauck, who is the executive director for the Office of Advanced Technology Support for Faculty in Technology Solutions. “But we also recognize that there is a need for advanced features like a dedicated app for students or a better grade book experience for faculty.”

Through March 18, members of the campus community can highlight additional “must haves” by taking a brief, three-question survey.

While the advisory group considers how a new LMS can best support teaching and learning, a separate technology team is already planning to migrate content from ReggieNet to whatever new system is adopted, and to ensure that it works properly with the University’s complex digital ecosystem.

“People often use the term ‘ReggieNet’ to describe many of the digital tools used at Illinois State,” says Hauck. “For example, students and parents will call the class registration system or the student housing portal ‘ReggieNet.’ But in truth, ReggieNet is actually a product called Sakai, a web-based system for supporting both face-to-face and online classes. It’s one part of a much bigger whole. Our mission is to replace that piece of the much larger puzzle with something that is more robust, more future-proof, and to develop a transition plan that won’t be a burden to students and teachers.”

Why replace ReggieNet?

ReggieNet first came online in the early 2010s, at a time when using web-based class space was seen by many faculty members and students as optional.

“Over the last decade, that mindset has changed,” notes Cuenca-Carlino. “In the early days, maybe 50% of regular for-credit courses used a learning management system. Now that number averages each semester at closer to 99%, even before the forced transition to remote learning during the pandemic.”

As an open-source system, Sakai used to be supported by a large community of users at colleges and universities around the world. In recent years, however, that community has been shrinking. In addition, as Sakai’s market share has dwindled, it has become less likely to receive attention from third-party software developers. The result: Products from other educational software companies and textbook publishers are less likely to fully integrate with ReggieNet.

Next steps

Members of the Next LMS project have worked closely with the Purchasing Office to plan next steps. Acquiring a new learning platform for Illinois State University represents a substantial investment. As a part of a state institution, the advisory group must follow specific rules when exploring options with vendors.

Fortunately, some potential vendors have an existing relationship with the Illinois Public Higher Education Cooperative (IPHEC), an alliance of all 13 public universities. This will allow the advisory group to move quickly. Members will explore publicly available information and work with each potential vendor to provide demonstrations of features and functionality.

Dr. Yojanna Cuenca-Carlino (left) and Dr. Rosie Hauck (right) lead the Next LMS Advisory Group through the process of replacing ReggieNet with a new system.

Current plans call for identifying a Next LMS candidate before the end of the spring, before deciding how to proceed with pilot programs, which will involve faculty and students. The vast majority of classes will still use ReggieNet during the 2022-2023 academic year.

A successful test phase will allow the Next LMS teams to make a final purchasing recommendation to the University administration.

“After that,” says Cuenca-Carlino, “the question becomes, how do we transition from ReggieNet to the new system? And how do we do that as smoothly as possible with minimum disruption to teaching and learning? We’re already thinking about that, of course. Our advisory group, our technology group, and our leadership team continue to reach out and talk with colleagues at other campuses who have already made a successful switch from Sakai. We hope to have a few successful models to choose from.”

Once the Next LMS and a transition plan are identified, there’s still work to do. Partners in the Technology Support Center and the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology will need to develop resources and training for the entire campus community.

Updates on the project will be available at Members of the campus community can always use the link on that page to ask a question or offer a comment.

“It’s time to get excited,” says Hauck. “This is something that’s been a long time in coming, and we’re now taking concrete steps to make this a reality. At the end of this, we expect to offer everyone something modern, user-friendly, and ultimately, integral to student success.”