Twenty-four years ago, when Fabián Avella joined the Universidad de La Sabana as a systems analyst, LAN networks did not exist, and the Internet as well as Email as we know them today, were just a dream for some of the world’s biggest companies and universities. Nowadays, these and other similar technologies have become ubiquitous, and their existence is generally ignored unless they fail users. Having witnessed the evolution of these technologies gave Fabián, in one way or another, the perspective not to take anything for granted, a fundamental part of his work at Inalde.
During the last 24 years, Fabián completed a specialization in Computer Management, and later a master’s degree in Information and Technology Systems. The latter was possible due to a grant and resources given to him by Inalde, the renowned business school of the Universidad de La Sabana, in Colombia, which welcomed him four and a half years ago. Since then, he has worked in development, system maintenance and different technology-related areas within the institution. Fabián sat down for an interview with E-Learn Magazine and shared the most relevant aspects of Inalde’s recent migration from its previous learning management system to Blackboard Open LMS, which he personally oversaw, like so many other implementation changes throughout his entire career.
The Case Study Method
In order to understand Inalde’s case study, it is essential to clarify that this institution is considered Colombia’s leader in the use of the case study method, known worldwide and applied at the most prestigious universities. It is based on the analysis of diverse business scenarios within different companies, areas and sectors in different markets, in order to train managers to make better decisions.
The above is underscored as the method itself was an important factor in the migration process. The reason for this is that printed paper has traditionally been considered a fundamental part of the case study method, so much so that breaking away from this pattern was going to pose a huge challenge. Because of this, when Fabián arrived at Inalde and was tasked with getting the platform ready, he realized that there would be some resistance to change. Nonetheless, he had full support from the school’s top management.
Although the aim of the institution was to implement a technological platform to facilitate the educational process and to highlight the importance of using the latest digital tools, the need to preserve traditional methods was essentially based on the importance of protecting both methodology and high-quality standards, key characteristics of a business school such as Inalde.
The Method of Persuasion
As a result of the paper versus digital challenge and under the leadership of the administrative and finance management teams, Fabián and the systems team went ahead and developed a pilot test with Moodle. They thought out a strategy that included using Moodle in a short course to check its functionality, considering the resources that would allow the test’s launch while making the appropriate adjustments before using it with the other programs.
According to this model, the case studies are defined and Inalde’s Academic Planning area obtains and sends them to the Publications division so the programs can be added to the platform. All the while professors may include materials that may be used as supplements.
The future of the entire project and determining what areas needed fine-tuning depended on the success of the pilot plan. However, a single semester was enough to prove just how useful and reliable the new platform was. Its stability, simple usage, and the advantage of being able to print the necessary materials, convinced them to continue pursuing the virtual platform. The new system helps Inalde save resources and the platform can be adapted to the user’s preferences.
However, uploading cases to the virtual environment involved some new administrative tasks such as considering security and permission agreements with the different business schools for the use of each virtual case. In addition, watermarks were added to the documents to make it clear that content used was for pedagogical purposes and for a specific program and date.
Blackboard Open LMS has its own servers and, more importantly, fast and efficient communication channels. As a result, it is possible to know what is happening and how to fix it in a short time. Fabián knew Blackboard Open LMS would give him a big chance to minimize the risk of unexpected shutdowns or high demand problems, as well as a better DRP (Disaster Recovery Plan) management. Stable security measures are essential to avoid these issues that may seriously harm the operation of business school activities.
Although the decision to migrate was not immediate, Fabián became interested in this possibility and researched the advantages of Blackboard Open LMS, as well as other systems that could serve as a Learning Management System, all while trying to find the right moment to carry out the migration. He said that the four main reasons that convinced him were the following:
1. Secure connection and 24/7 service guarantee.
2. Blackboard Open LMS supports a responsive web version, which is a necessity rather than a characteristic, as it guarantees access to the platform from any device. Absence of this functionality equals being relegated.
3. Blackboard Open LMS’ mobile app is a huge advantage, as it eases the UX on mobile devices. In addition, it frees Inalde to explore all kinds of tools and features and think about the future.
4. Lastly, for an organization that is strengthening its IT resources it is most relevant to have SAAS tools (Software as A Service), taking into account the advantage that hiring a good service provider can bring peace of mind with respect to technical and technological resources.
When Is It the Best Time to Migrate?
Determining the best time to migrate is essential. Inalde chose to migrate at the end of the year but not during holidays. This allowed program assistants, those with the highest contact with the participants, to be present during the process. While it would have been better to wait for the demand of the platform to go down, it is also key that part of the staff is present to witness the migration. To support this migration, a “Zero-day” was established for all the information to migrate to the new platform. Blackboard made this process possible.
Fabián also saw the opportunity to implement other planned changes, such as the website’s refresh led by marketing. Before migration, the platform log in was through Inalde’s website and this implied a risk: if the site crashed, there would be no way to access the platform. As Blackboard Open LMS has its own log in page, as well as a high connection stability, the total reliance on the site for the log in was finally eradicated
Great care was placed in keeping as much of the old interface design as possible, with more modern features but still familiar to users. After all, platform changes affect end users the most, and this type of migration intends to minimize confusion. To this end, the Snap graphic theme was very useful and saved valuable time for Inalde to focus on other migration aspects.
Another vital principle that Inalde was clear about before the process began, was for training to take place prior to the launch. This way, those responsible for the platform and publishing would be able to answer all types of requests from day one.
Furthermore, avoiding trauma at all costs was a priority. “Blackboard provided me a test site that shows how the platform will work once its finished, as well as its contents and navigability. That’s why I was confident about our ability to avoid failures of system compatibility or other demands. The transfer from our previous platform to Blackboard Open LMS was transparent, almost unnoticeable,” said Fabián. This peace of mind can be attributed to the effectiveness of the communication channels, and that pre-work was completed with ample time, as well as an organized team.
For those on the development and maintenance side, like Fabian, the new features may be striking. However, changes might cause panic among users, and what was meant to be an improvement in service could be the opposite. With this in mind, and to avoid confusion, Inalde sent an announcement to teachers, PROA advisors (those who provide support to the participants) and program assistants.
It was determined that the look and interface would not represent big changes and thus, participants were not informed prior to the launch. This is why Inalde opted to inform all program attendees so they could interact and respond to participants’ doubts and questions. As a result, they have not received any negative feedback about changes or the performance of Blackboard Open LMS to date.
“The absence of complaints or claims is without a doubt the best indicator in our case. This was a successful transition void of any trauma at every level of Inalde’s operation,” said a pleased Fabián.
A Trusted Service
Inalde’s slogan is that service failures are not allowed. The programs’ users, known as participants, are on their way to become, or already are, members of top management areas across many types of companies. Therefore, expectations are, by all accounts, the highest. Because of this, they consider “knowing the importance of how reliable technology must be, makes us understand the importance of working with suppliers and allies that guarantee the perfect functioning of all of Inalde’s systems.”
Trust is something that Fabián takes very seriously, and he knows that earning it, is essential. “When a supplier guarantees communication and accompaniment, and offers guarantees on the correct functioning of all systems, we can trust them,” says Fabián. Blackboard Open LMS allows him to project trust to users and to Inalde as a whole.
Fabián does not work for recognition, quite the opposite: In matters of technology, reliability is a must, and the standard is flawless work. Flaws are, precisely, what attracts attention. Therefore, the satisfaction of a job well done is what matters.
Fabián Avella, Head of Information and Technology Systems at Inalde Business School.
AFP Carlos Vargas