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National eLearning Platform

Information for Projects and Support Centers

On June 27th '03 the Swiss University Conference has decided to establish a eLearning platform on a national level. It has been decided to acquire the learning management software WebCT Vista for a 2 years pilot phase. It is planned to add at least one additional, complementary product to the national platform. It will be operational in Spring '04. The national platform project has been initiated by the Swiss Virtual Campus (SVC)

This information page should answer the most important questions for all those who are interested in using the national eLearning platform. If you don't find an answer to your question, please contact Rolf Brugger.

What is this national eLearning platform?

An eLearning platform is a piece of server software, that allows students to subscribe to and visit online courses, tutors to communicate with their students and course designers to create online courses. Such software solutions are also called learning (content) management system, course website software etc. - as a short cut, we will further call it platform.

The platform will be operated on a national level, and it is available to all higher education institutions (universities, universities of applied science, federal institutes of technology).

What software will be used for the platform?

It has been decided by the Swiss University Conference (SUC) to use WebCT Vista during a two years pilot phase. The decision to choose Vista was mainly based on the platform evaluation, that was conducted by the edutech group in Spring '03.

WebCT Vista is not the best platform in the world. Typically, a single product can not solve all problems - especially in such complex cases as learning and teaching software for higher educations institutions. It is therefore planned to add at least one more complementary product/solution to the national platform.

Who will operate the platform?

The server will be operated and maintained by SWITCH. The Vista application however will be managed by edutech. Therefore, the contact partner for course developers will be edutech.

When will the platform be available for use?

It is planned to install the software during august '03. If everything works fine, the server should be ready to use in september '03

Who is allowed to use the national platform?

Basically, the platform can be used by all Swiss higher education institutions. However, during the pilot phase, the acquired license can only cover a limited number of students. Currently this number is 10'000 seats (one seat = one student enrolled in one course). (This license of 10'000 seats could be extended, if the national platform is resoundingly successful and if accounting problems between universities can be solved.)

Due to these limitations, the following seat distribution policy is suggested:

  • the national platform is primarly dedicated to current and future SVC-projects
  • every interested Swiss higher education institution will be allowed to run at least one test and evaluation course. Depending on the number of seats used, considerably more than one course can be developped for testing purposes.

Will there be a training and support offer?

Certainly! In a first phase, edutech will provide introductory courses and technical help. Later, a training and support infrastructure will be established on a national level.

Is it possible to migrate existing courses to Vista?

The course formats of WebCT CE (Campus Edition) and WebCT Vista are not compatible. According to WebCT, a migration tool exists that converts WebCT CE courses into the new Vista course format. We haven't tested this yet. According to experiences of WebCT Vista users and our estimation:

CE course using standard funtions without tweaking the system
The main conversion should be automatic. Manual corrections might be necessary to adjust the layout
CE course using unofficial and undocumented tweaks and optimizations of the system
We have to assume that migration will be problematic. In many cases, it will be difficult or even impossible to migrate "tweaked" functions of WebCT CE. The conversion of the course content and quizzes, however, should still be possible
Worst case scenario
The course structure has to be rebuilt from scratch. 1) Pack all HTML pages in a zip archive, 2) upload and unpack the archive on the server, 3) rebuild the course structure - every single content page needs to be arranged in the hierarchy of chapters (this takes 1-2 minutes per page). The quizzes need to be re-imported (if they are available in WebCT proprietary format or in IMS-QTI format) or manually reconstructed in the online quizz editor.

Edutech will provide migration support for all SVC projects.

How much will I be charged if I use the platform?

Nothing. During the 2 years pilot phase the entire platform including licenses, maintenance, support and training will be fully paid by the SVC.

It is yet an open question what will happen after the 2 years pilot phase:

  • The optimistic scenario is, that the national platform based on Vista is a real success. All implicated partners understand that it makes sense to consolidate the platform. They are willing to make the necessary financial contributions, very much like they are paying SWITCH to operate the national network.
  • The realistic scenario (if no severe problems are encountered) is that the SVC will continue to fund the platform until 2007. Also, some institutions are willing to extend the services of the Vista platform, and some aren't. The interested institutions will contribute to the funding pot in order to get full access to the platform to all of their students. They might also want to stop operating their own local WebCT CE server.
  • The pessimistic scenario is that Vista flops, and alternative solutions have to be applied.

More questions?

For all questions not answered here, please contact Rolf Brugger at the edutech group.

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