Migration experiences

We found examples of institutions using all of the different implementation approaches. In some cases there was no single approach right for the whole institution.

Imperial College London allowed its faculties the freedom to manage implementation in their own way and they chose a range of approaches from Big Bang through to a three-year implementation period. The approach chosen by each faculty depended to a large extent on their own expertise and staff resource. The approach worked well at the time although, with hindsight, the project manager feels she would probably apply more central coordination and greater provision of standardised templates in a future exercise of this type.

Big Bang was a lot of hard work over the summer but it was much easier afterwards not to have dual support requirements.

Julie Voce, formerly e-Learning Services Manager at Imperial College London

It does however seem as though many institutions want to get their implementation projects completed as quickly as possible and small scale piloting followed by a 'Big Bang' approach is a common model.

The University of Hull took a 'Big Bang' approach to changing VLE in 2016-17 following a period during which any courses that wanted to do so were able to pilot the new system. The University Executive favoured a 'Big Bang' approach because it was a major investment and they wanted to start realising the benefits as soon as possible. Academic staff were equally in favour of a rapid implementation because they felt their existing VLE was no longer fit for purpose and there was considerable enthusiasm for change. Staff found the new system very easy to use and did not want to run two different VLEs in parallel.

If we had tried to stagger implementation we would have got more negative feedback from staff. The consensus was to start using the system the vast majority felt was so much better. Why would we carry on using a system that's not fit for purpose when we've got one we really like?

Chris Turnock, Interim Director, Learning and Teaching Enhancement Directorate,
University of Hull

Imperial College London undertook a review and procurement process in the period 2010 - 2012 and adopted a somewhat unusual approach.

It was decided to identify the two suppliers who best met the institution's needs and undertake piloting of both systems before coming to a final decision. This required a lot of effort but Imperial wanted to be certain that it had come to the best decision to meet its needs in the long term.

The piloting involved both staff and students and was made as realistic as possible although it did not involve live courses. The pilots lasted three to four months and showed them the realities of each system from installing it themselves to looking at how migration would work and how much tidying up of existing data was needed.

It was not easy for staff to fit in this piloting on top of their day jobs but Imperial College London found the exercise particularly valuable as it allowed them to thoroughly check out all of the suppliers claims about the capabilities of their products. It made a difference to the final outcome as the supplier selected after the pilots was not the top scorer on paper.

Following the piloting Imperial was confident that it was going into the implementation phase well prepared.

The University of Huddersfield piloted a new VLE in four of its seven schools in 2018. The University decided on this approach in order to satisfy itself that their chosen supplier was fully able to meet the criteria in the requirements specification and to deliver exactly what they said in their tender response.

Finding suitable courses to use for the pilot threw up a number of issues as modules are often reused on a number of courses. The University was however able to identify eight pilot courses in the four schools which are relatively stand alone.

Following the pilot, the plan is for the institutional rollout to take a 'Big Bang' approach. There will however be one year parallel running for some courses that do not follow a standard academic year to ensure that students don't have to make a change part way through the year.

Glasgow School of Art opted for a 'Big Bang' approach to implementing a new VLE for a number of reasons:

  • They are a small institution with very few staff working on developing and supporting the VLE so maintaining two systems for a pilot phase was not feasible for the support team;
  • All elective modules in the institution are cross curricular making it impossible to isolate a particular group to pilot a new system so all students would have ended up needing to use both VLEs.
Top tip

Migration strategies such as moving a year at a time, starting with the first year students, can work well if you have a three-year course but not so well in other circumstances e.g. a six year medical degree.