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Communications of the ACM

Designing a Learning Management System to Support Instruction


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As educational technology becomes more prevalent in higher education, teaching is no longer restricted to face-to-face (F2F) instruction. For university courses, the combination of e-learning and F2F teaching increases accessibility, flexibility, and choices for interactivity [10]. This leap in instructional productivity can be accomplished with a Learning Management System (LMS), which is often used as the platform to support e-learning and hybrid online F2F courses. Traditional instructional activities such as presenting information, managing course materials, and collecting and evaluating student work can be completed online using an LMS. Recently, a growing number of universities have employed LMSs to support their courses [9]. Some universities have even developed their own LMS to better integrate with their existing instructional resources or just to cut costs.

Many LMS products are commercially available, such as Blackboard (www.blackboard.com), Desire2Learn (www.desire2learn.com/), ANGEL|LMS (www.angel-learning.com/products/LMS/default.html), and IntralearnTM LMS (www.intralearn.com/Products/intralearn.aspx). Sometimes the terms "Course Management Systems" (CMS) or "Learning Content Management Systems" (LCMS) are used to indicate similar systems.


Before investing time and money to develop technically advanced tools, it is necessary to investigate the needs of the faculty.


An LMS provides an array of tools and functions to support teaching and learning, usually including course management tools, online group chat and discussion, homework collections and grading, and course evaluation. Some LMS features are more technically sophisticated, such as holding virtual office hours, reminding students about the deadlines, and dividing students into groups for online projects [12]. Other programs can separately archive content for use in multiple courses. Some programs allow teachers to create ePortfolios to collect and store student's journals, projects, and tests [3]. As more LMS products are developed, new technically sophisticated functions are created.

The variety of functions and features of LMS should provide more choices and increase the use of the system. Studies about the actual use of LMS programs reveal that some functions are used more often than others [1, 7, 11]. Woods, Baker, and Hopper conducted a survey of 862 faculty members at 38 institutions who used the Blackboard Learning Management System. They found that few faculty members used LMS functions to assess students or to promote community [11]. Most faculty used instructional functions, such as publishing syllabi, sending email, and providing readings. The communicative and interactive features were largely unused. In Grant's qualitative study, some faculty members relied on Blackboard CourseInfo to post scanned material in the absence of the copying services [7].

The results of actual LMS use at universities suggest it is important to examine the teaching needs of the faculty before designing such a system. If the functions and features do not suit faculty needs, or the technical complexity is too difficult, the use of such functions and features is limited. Before investing time and money to develop technically advanced tools, it is necessary to investigate the needs of the faculty.

What makes an LMS popular among a faculty? Can faculty members with little technical computing knowledge become proficient at using an LMS system? The LMS development experience at National Taiwan University (NTU) presents an instructive case that answers these questions.

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Design and Development of the NTU LMS

A team at NTU's Computer and Information Networking Center designed and developed its own LMS in 1995 and called it the CEIBA system (https://ceiba.ntu.edu.tw/). The main CEIBA interface is in Chinese. An English interface is available and English content construction is possible for faculty who wishes to use it, especially for those who offer international courses (see Figure 1). Initially, it was created as a system for faculty to place course supplements online. In 2001, an educational technology support team was formed to redesign the CEIBA system as an instructional management system. The total number of courses using CEIBA has grown from 100 in 1999 to 2,300 in 2005, and then reached 4,100 in 2007. This number does not include graduate seminars, physical education, or service courses that may also use CEIBA. The total number of faculty members who placed courses online also has grown from 60 in 1999 to 1,246 in 2007.

CEIBA (version 4) was redesigned to focus on the teaching aspects of using an LMS. User support was increased to help faculty members overcome the technological barriers of using an LMS.

Instructive design. CEIBA teaches users about instructional design. The system was based on instructional design traditions in educational technology from scholars such as Gagné, Briggs, and Wager [6]. While providing tools for online instruction, the LMS informs faculty members about instructional design steps such as setting goals, making the structure explicit, encouraging interaction, and including evaluation. In addition, CEIBA enhances faculty knowledge about the courses and students. The LMS assists professors with the following functions:

  • Course syllabus: To build a CEIBA course Web site, a faculty member goes into a course introduction page, where there are course titles, course objectives, course evaluation, and grade assignment. These choices force the faculty member to lay out the information about the course before the course starts.
  • Course schedule: After completing the course introduction page, faculty members advance to a weekly outline page. They type in the first date, and the rest of the 17 weeks of weekly class sessions appear automatically. A professor can enter the weekly topics and go into the weekly course pages that are linked automatically to the topics.
  • Class roster: CEIBA connects to the registrar's office and retrieves information from the student records. The faculty automatically receives updated student records data throughout the term. Professors can print out the class list, and can send email to individuals, small groups, or the entire class.
  • Student homework: CEIBA allows students to submit homework online to professors. The LMS has an option to allow sharing documents with other students. With this feature, students can show homework with a professor's comments to other students.

Inclusive design. CEIBA accommodates both novices and experts. The LMS has features that allow experts to quickly bypass step-by-step pages designed for novices. CEIBA was designed to prevent experts from getting frustrated by features for novices, while shielding novices from the complexity of technical systems of advanced functions. The LMS offers the following:

  • Course creation: Professors are given three ways to create a course. Faculty members can link to their own course Web sites, import course outlines or the entire course from previous CEIBA courses, and create new courses.
  • Content editing: An online Web page editor is available. Although the functions of the editor are simple, the editor provides tools for novices to manipulate text, typefaces, bullets, hyperlinks, and graphics.
  • Student grouping: CEIBA allows a class to be divided into groups. It also allows two classes to be combined to use the same interface, mainly for professors who have two or more sessions of the same class.
  • Interactive activities: CEIBA has a course resource sharing board, an announcement board, a discussion board, and a voting board, to which the teacher can post announcements and questions.

Support personnel. A team of instructional specialists support faculty members using CEIBA. The support team conducts general workshops on how to use CEIBA, as well specialty workshops on how to use Web editors, graphic editors, and video editors. The support team answers questions submitted by email and through Web forms. The support team also provides help for individual professors who come to the office in person. For faculty members who are interested in developing multimedia material, but who do not have the equipment, software, or expertise, the support team works with them in a dedicated multimedia studio. For large introductory courses, such as Chemistry 101 and Physics 101, the support team worked with the departments to develop professional quality of videos of their lab procedures.

Combining instructive design, inclusive design, and support personnel has made a big difference. After the organizational and system function changes were made, the results were noticeable. A growing number of professors started using CEIBA. A survey was conducted in June 2007 to determine CEIBA usage. Questionnaires were distributed at the end of the spring semester, and 182 out of 620 professors who used CEIBA during that semester responded.


One of the barriers limiting LMS use at universities is the fear of technology. Professors in the arts and humanities often feel they do not possess the ability nor have the time to learnto build Web-based course material.


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Results of the CEIBA User Analysis

Professor participation. One of the barriers limiting LMS use at universities is the fear of technology. Professors in the arts and humanities often feel they do not possess the ability nor have the time to learn to build Web-based course material. With the redesign of LMS and the assistance provided by the support team, CEIBA usage increased greatly among the faculty without science and engineering backgrounds. Figure 2 presents the total number of professors using CEIBA between 2000 and 2007. The College of Arts and Humanities recorded the highest number of faculty using CEIBA, surpassing the number of users from the engineering department. The results suggested that arts and humanities professors are no less interested or capable of building online resources for their courses than their engineering counterparts.

Teaching methods. In terms of overall satisfaction, most of the professors ranked the richness and flexibility of CEIBA functions well above average. Over 95% of respondents felt that CEIBA was equipped with instructional and management functions that serve the user needs. Over 85% felt CEIBA was easy to use, had clear guides, and the support team was helpful and quick to solve problems. In terms of the impact of using CEIBA, about 90% of the professors felt their courses were more complete and structured after using CEIBA. Indeed, 80% of professors responded that the contents of their courses were enriched by using CEIBA, and their students' learning results have been improved.

Many professors indicated their instructional strategies and teaching styles had changed. About 80% of professors felt that their interaction with students had increased, and their teaching styles had become livelier. About 75% of the professors responded that their knowledge about media had increased, and 60% stated that their skills in Web page construction had increased as well. Over 95% of professors predicted they will continue to use CEIBA in the future. Of the 620 professors who used CEIBA in spring 2007, about 16% were new users of CEIBA, about 55% had one to three years of experience, about 22% had four to six years of experience, and only 6% had over six years of experience.

Function avoidance. Many of the CEIBA functions are designed to increase student interaction with professors and other students. The table on the preceding page lists the frequency of the usage of interactive functions. Many professors reported that they did not use interactive functions. The results showed the functions that provide information about the course were used by over 90% of the professors who participated in the survey. About 85% to 90% of the responding professors used group email and announcement boards to disseminate information. On the other hand, functions that encourage interaction and sharing were not used as often. About 65% of professors never used chat rooms, homework sharing, or voting functions.

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Conclusion

As the case of the NTU illustrates, it is possible to increase LMS usage by professors from all disciplines. The survey results confirmed previous studies that showed the most frequently used functions are not necessarily the technically advanced ones [1, 7, 11]. Rather, the functions critical to providing course information for faculty and students are used the most. As Laurillard indicated [8], university courses are still dominated by lecturing or information giving. However, instructive design, inclusive design, and personnel support for systems like CEIBA can increase users among both faculty and students.

More recent development of LMS also tends to focus on more diverse design and personalized services [4, 5]. Given the positive response from the NTU professors, one can see that it is possible to design an LMS to meet the needs of faculty members without extensive computer skills. CEIBA attracted large number of professors from arts and humanities, and was widely used across departments and colleges at NTU.

Teaching is a complicated process. Instructional support requires software designers to consider a fuller scope of instructional process. As Boyd pointed out [2], interaction and thus the cultivation of community is crucial in sustaining and expanding a professor's academic life. As much as interaction is essential in F2F instruction, it should be carefully fostered in Web-based instruction. Therefore, building interaction in class would require a lot more work than to incorporate interaction tools in a system. An instructionally supportive LMS must build on the faculty's understanding and knowledge of instruction.

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References

1. Akpinar, Y., Bal, V., and Simsek, H. An e-learning content development system on the Web: BU-LMS. In Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Information Technology Based Higher Education and Training. (Istanbul, Turkey, May 31June 2, 2004), 239243.

2. Boyd, G Toward the webversity: Managing to clone scholars and researchers via the Web. In Perspectives in Web Course Management. B. Mann, Ed. Canadian Scholar's Press, Toronto, ON, 2000, 6977.

3. Ceraulo, S. Benefits of upgrading to an LMS. Distance Education Report 9, 9 (May 2005), 67.

4. Chevrin, V., Derycke, A., and Rouillard, J. Project Ubi-Learn: An intermediation infrastructure for multi-channel accesses to future LMS. In Proceedings of the Advanced International Conference on Telecommunications and International Conference on Internet and Web Applications and Services. (Guadeloupe, French Southern Territories, Feb. 1925, 2006), 7.

5. Dagger, D., O'Connor, A., Lawless, S., Walsh, E., and Wade, V.P. Service-oriented e-learning platforms: From monolithic systems to flexible services. IEEE Internet Computing 11, 3 (May/June 2007), 2835.

6. Gagné, R., Briggs, L., and Wager, W. Principles of Instructional Design, 4th Ed. HBJ College Publishers, Fort Worth, TX, 1992.

7. Grant, M. Learning to teach with the Web: Factors influencing teacher education faculty. The Internet and Higher Education 7, 4 (Nov. 2004), 329341.

8. Laurillard, D. Rethinking university teaching: A conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies, 2nd Ed. Routledge/Falmer, New York, NY, 2002.

9. National Center for Educational Statistics. Distance education at degree-granting postsecondary institutions: 2000-2001 U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC, 2003.

10. Rosenberg, M. E-learning strategies for delivering knowledge in the digital age. McGraw-Hill, New York, NY, 2001.

11. Woods, R., Baker, J., and Hopper, D. Hybrid structure: Faculty use and perception of Web-based courseware as a supplement to face-to-face instruction. Internet & Higher Education 7, 4 (Dec. 2004), 281297.

12. Yildirim, S., Temur, N., Kocaman, A. and Goktas, Y. What makes a good LMS: An analytical approach to assessment of LMSs. In Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Information Technology Based Higher Education and Training. (Istanbul, Turkey, May 31June 2, 2004), 125130.

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Authors

Hsiu-Ping Yueh (yueh@ntu.edu.tw) is the associate director for the Center of Teaching and Learning Development, and an associate professor at the Department of Agricultural Extension at the National Taiwan University.

Shihkuan Hsu (skhsu@ntu.edu.tw) is an associate professor at the Center for Teacher Education at National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan.

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Footnotes

DOI: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1330311.1330324

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Figures

F1Figure 1. A sample English CEIBA page from a biology course.

F2Figure 2. NTU professors using CEIBA between 2000 and 2007 by college.

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Tables

UT1Table. Survey results of CEIBA at NTU at spring 2007.

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