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)