Learning and Teaching Systems and Services Consultation


The Advisory Committee on Academic Computing (ACAC) is initiating a consultation process regarding the future of online learning and teaching systems and services at Ryerson. The consultation is in partnership with:


In the late 90s Ryerson’s Digital Media Projects (DMP) office sponsored a consultation that resulted in the selection of the WebCT learning management system. Years later, a second consultation process, also managed by the DMP, led to WebCT’s replacement with Blackboard in 2003. Over the years, both systems have generated negative comments from faculty and students. The current Blackboard system is frequently cited as not offering the kinds of collaborative tools needed for teaching and learning. It does not offer full-featured Wikis, blogs, real-time interactive virtual classrooms, or a modern dynamic Web interface. The system has also proven to be so fragile that the Blackboard portal is no longer used by Ryerson to provide login services or present the my.ryerson.ca home page. Blackboard is only used to host online courses under the Online Courses and Organizations tab. Blackboard has also been difficult to safely customize and integrate with other applications like RAMSS.

When Ryerson adopted Google Apps for Education it got more than Gmail. Every student and instructor has the ability to share and collaborate in real time on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Google Groups can be used to facilitate this sharing and can also be used for threaded discussions. Google’s collaboration tools surpass the usability and features of Blackboard’s collaboration tools. Consequently, it is not unreasonable to expect that Google Apps will increasingly be used for learning and teaching to complement Blackboard. While individuals who need advanced capabilities beyond what is available in Blackboard have been asking CCS for improvements for a long time, the Chang School’s Digital Education Strategies team is an example of an organization that also needs more capable tools. They offer an increasing number of sophisticated distance education course offerings. Not every instructor wants to make advanced use of online collaboration and sharing tools. Some find using Blackboard’s relatively simple interface to post a course outline, lecture notes and references is all they need.

Even though there have been few improvements in Blackboard’s software since Ryerson adopted it, the rest of the learning management industry has been evolving. Open source projects like Sakai and Moodle have matured as have hosted services by providers like Desire2Learn and Instructure. More recently, Google App Engine based LMS add ons to Google Apps have become available. While interest in large-scale online courses is a recent phenomenon (MOOCs) government interest in distance learning is not. In Ryerson’s Strategic Mandate Agreement with the Government of Ontario there are two sections of particular interest:

Expanding Technology‐Enhanced Course Delivery 

Technology‐enhanced learning provides students with a richer and deeper educational experience. Ryerson has a unique set of resources to address the technical, pedagogical and curricular challenges of integrating technology‐enhanced learning into existing course content. Ryerson has developed and implemented interactive tools such as online role‐playing modules, response‐driven quizzes, interactive case studies, competency mapping, communication assessments, interactive tours and videos. The University currently offers a range of courses featuring technology‐enhanced learning through hybrid and blended delivery that provides students with a mix of online and in‐class instructional delivery. Eight international institutions use Ryerson’s open‐source videos to deliver learning.

While the University has a strong underlying infrastructure to advance technology‐enhanced education, developing enhanced content requires significant initial investment. Ryerson requests Government funding to accelerate the process of delivery transformation, to upgrade 75 degree courses per year over 5 years. This investment will support quality by providing a richer learning environment for students, increasing opportunities for interaction with instructors and classmates, and enhancing productivity by allowing instructional time to be used in a more efficient and focused manner.

Online Learning and Distance Education

Ryerson is a leader in online university education in Ontario, offering 282 degree‐credit courses, 186 non‐credit courses, 3 degree programs, and 23 certificates fully online, as well as 5 blended degree programs and 20 blended certificates. Ryerson’s substantial investment in online course infrastructure enables the cost‐effective development of 50 to 60 new online courses annually. Appendix Figure 6 shows the percentage of courses available online in Ryerson’s undergraduate programs. All of Ryerson’s online course content will be AODA compliant by Spring 2013. To support the Government’s commitment to expanding online learning, Ryerson will provide leadership and share expertise in online learning with other institutions. As an active participant in the Ontario Online Institute, Ryerson will double its annual creation of online courses, thus increasing the number of full degrees offered online. It targets producing 120 new online courses per year for five years, bringing Ryerson close to Athabasca University’s number of online offerings. OTO funds will be required to support this acceleration.

The full text of Ryerson’s Strategic Mandate Agreement is available here:


There are no predetermined conclusions for this consultation. In the end a decision may be made to keep Blackboard and integrate it with Google Apps or an entirely different approach may be adopted. Similarly, there is no predetermined decision about how learning systems and services should be provided at Ryerson. We believe a widespread and in depth consultation with the Ryerson community is important before the Advisory Committee on Academic Computing can formulate a recommendation on how to evolve Ryerson’s learning and teaching systems and services.

Consultation Process

To facilitate a consultation that has real opportunities for breadth and depth a subcommittee of ACAC has been formed that includes:

  • Brian Lesser, Director, Computing and Communications Services
  • Restiani Andriati, Manager, Digital Media Projects office
  • Sally Wilson, Web Services Librarian.
  • Fangmin Wang, Head of Library Information Technology Services
  • Catherine Beauchemin, Faculty, Department of Physics
  • Maureen Reed, Faculty, Psychology and Director, Learning and Teaching Office
  • Dalia Hanna, Manager, Learning and Teaching Office
  • Naza Djafarova, Director, Digital Educational Strategies, The Chang School
  • Jason Nolan, Faculty, School of Early Childhood Studies, and Director, Experiential Design and Gaming Environments Lab
  • Melanie McBride, MA Candidate, Communication and Culture
  • Michel Kouadio, Director Technology Planning and Innovation, FCAD
  • Dimitri Androutsos, Faculty Dept. Electrical & Computer Engineering, ACAC Chair

(Additional faculty and students will likely be invited to join the subcommittee.)

The process will begin in the Winter 2013 term and will likely include:

  1. A consultation Blog at LMS.blog.ryerson.ca
  2. Community seminars and presentations on issues like hosting options, privacy and the cloud, different teaching/learning approaches and demonstrations of software tools, use of learning objects and sharing across universities.
  3. Availability of other LMS systems for experimentation and discovery
  4. Community Requirements and Suggestions Survey
  5. Expansion of the Learning and Teaching Conference to discuss learning and teaching systems and services – especially as they relate to pedagogy.
  6. Request for Proposal
  7. Town Hall presentation of results and requests for comments
  8. ACAC recommendation to Ryerson’s Executive

We estimate that the earliest date that a new learning management system might be available would be as part of a pilot (or beta test) in the Fall 2013 term. If a new system is selected will not be widely available until sometime in 2014.

While the focus of this consultation is on facilitating learning and teaching, systems and services must also be assessed for alignment with Universal Design for Learning (UDL), accessibility, cost-effectiveness, privacy, security, reliability, and usability.

We invite you to participate in the consultation process and welcome your comments and suggestions.


Ryerson’s Institutional Vision, Proposed Mandate Statement and Priority Objectives: http://goo.gl/xDqPJ

Some Learning Management Systems

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

14 thoughts on “Learning and Teaching Systems and Services Consultation

  1. I’m grateful to all those involved for getting this initiative off the ground, and I look forward to participating as fully as my schedule will allow to help provide Ryerson with the input needed to make the best possible choice.

    For what it’s worth, I think that while Sakai, Moodle, etc should be considered seriously, we should also consider a Google-based solution. I personally have found Gapps to be very useful for my courses; I am very interested in finding out how out others are using Gapps in their teaching, and look forward to the development of “best practices” in this regard.

  2. Is this the “consultation blog” referred to in the post? If so, is this the place to which we are invited to “participate in the consultation process” and make comments and suggestions?

    • Yes, it is! Comments are moderated (to avoid spam) so they may not show up immediately. Comments here are one way to participate. There will be other events where you can participate and a requirements survey too.

  3. Hi, I don’t know if this is the kind of comment you are looking for, but as a mature Chang School student, I am noticing that some of the online texts appear to have been rushed to get them online and/or in print to the detriment of the content. Some of the things I have noticed are: poor explanation of concepts, terrible syntax in sentences and paragraphs (e.g. certain chapters of text that were obviously written by instructors for whom English was a second language, which leads to difficulty in understanding), general lack of proofreading, questions for e.g. Chapter 2 that include material for chapters we have not addressed yet (e.g. Chapter 3) where you must answer the questions in order to be able to access the online text for the next section of e.g. Chapter 2. I am pleased to say these issues are not always the case, as the text for the Business Law course I am taking now is excellent. I would be happy to give more information if this is something you can address.

    • Hi Jannette, thank you for taking the time to provide feedback on the quality of course content. While this forum is more about the learning management system (current Blackboard), I would like to follow up on your concerns about content. Please forward me any additional information you would like to share about the course number or title, if you have taken more than one online course demonstrating these challenges, please list them. I will work with my team to improve the materials. Best, Jenni
      Lead, eLearning Initiatives

  4. I am glad to notice the assurance that UDL, accessibility, security, usability and privacy will be taken into consideration at the onset instead of as an add-on or retrofit later.

  5. As a current Chang School student, I appreciate the opportunity to comment on this and the challenge it must be to find an application that scales.

    For my part, I’m in favour of the adoption of a FOSS solution that offers data security and the basic functionality that Blackboard offers, with the promise of roll-your-own modules so that each institution can meet their own needs and contribute to the upstream source. Something like Moodle seems to be along the lines of an ideal, although I can’t comment on the maturity of its feature set since I haven’t used it.

    In principle, however, I personally will not use cloud applications like Google Apps. I prefer to keep my data local – if it’s published, I’d prefer a decentralized peering system. Monolithic data warehouses outside of the control of local institutions distort our relationship to our data, and I do not believe they should be supported. It’s fine if students individually choose to use those tools, however IMHO our educational institutions shouldn’t force us onto a Facebook or Google track, given that open and secure decentralized solutions are better and less corrosive to personal privacy in the long run.

  6. Thank you for this opportunity to continue discussing the digital future of Ryerson U. As a student (an alumni), I appreciate the democratic and co-creative approach, and I’d like to congratulate the Advisory Committee on Academic Computing (ACAC) for their leadership and innovative boldness.

    I’ve been working for the province, designing and implementing the K-12 provincial e-learning strategy. I’ve learned a thing or two about LMSes, LORs, and friends, since 2006. Before we actually jump into discussing the pros and cons of each solution available out there, I wish we take some time to reflect about where the university wants to be in the next five years. Tools are of secondary importance.

    To achieve its vision and mandate of being a center of innovation and entrepreneurship, student focused, providing an innovative emphasis on creativity, experiential learning, online learning… Ryerson obviously needs to insource the greater part of the learning management service, developing a center of excellence, working closely with the supplier, enterpreneurial students and the community. Why not being ambitious, contemplating the possibility to service other postsecondary organizations, in Canada and abroad?

    Furthermore, LMSes are so tied to the learning and teaching activities that they become a strong component of the organization’s identity. For many students the tool is the university, as it may impact close to 100% of their experience. Great care must be given to selecting the LMS suite, but stopping there would be a costly mistake. The service management will make the student experience good or bad. There needs to be a very strong partnership with the service provider (whether the licensing terms are restrictive or open source, whether there is one or many providers). Ryerson needs to carefully explore open source solutions which offer the greatest opportunities to control future development and governance (vs ever-waiting for an important functionality).

    Sometimes, we need to challenge the LMS model, which is based on the rather old classroom and binder metaphor. We need really focus on student centered learning. How can we make it easier for students to access materials, to collaborate, to re-organize, to co-create, to communicate, to remember, to test their understanding and their skills? Current solutions do not always exist out there, and Ryerson needs to be bold enough to invest in its own students, professors, and entrepreneurial capacity to build the key innovative pieces that will flip the learning and teaching dogmas upside down.

  7. As a Chang school student in online writing courses, I found the Blackboard discussion board really old-school and outdated. I hated the time it took to navigate between different threads, and found the text-only format restrictive. I’m really glad you are researching and discussing how to make the interface more visual, friendly and accessible for both students and teachers .

    Consider integrating synchronous tools such as Blackboard Collaborate or Adobe Connect or others like them, so that there is a possibility of real-time chats and conversation. Even a weekly “open office” hour with an instructor would make an online course more direct and personal.

  8. There is an implicit assumption that the LMS is necessary, essential, good. And now all we have to do is decide on which mega-corporation to marry. Aren’t we missing an opportunity to interrogate some of the assumptions of the LMS – especially the idea that student learning is best when it is “managed” by a “system”. There is now a pretty substantial body of theory about effective online learning and very little of it would subscribe to the big-box monolithic Blackboard management model (except as an efficient way to package content and manage grades). A much bolder possibility might be to abandon the idea of LMS all together. Or, if that is too scary and disruptive, to find some balance between the industrial model of Blackboard and the loose structure of open, networked authentic learning on the other. WordPress Multi-User might fit the bill. Are we, as an institution, narrowly committed to the LMS?

  9. Hi there,
    My name is Simone and I’m a reporter and Managing Editor of Live at the Ryersonian. I wanted to speak to someone in regards to this project for a story – about 10-15 minute interview is all I require. Please email me back as soon as possible.



  10. In speaking to the Chairs in our faculty to see what they want from technology, a question came up about student peer evaluation in Blackboard. Apparently it can be done, but it is clumsy. Maybe the committee could add this to the list of must-haves (or at least nice-to-haves) as other LMS options are evaluated?


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