Student senator raises concerns over lack of consultation over new system

new learning platform is set to replace Blackboard Learn at the University of Ottawa beginning in the spring 2017 session.

According to Jean-Philippe Dubé, a fourth-year computer science student at the U of O, the shift to the new D2L platform was a collective decision made by the administration and members of the University Senate.

Dubé said that the university’s contract with Blackboard Learn will be expiring soon, and it “cost a lot of money to the university.”

“Instead of renewing the contract, the university wanted to look for other solutions,” said Dubé, who is in his second term as a student senator. Dubé was not part of the process himself, but said it took the Senate about a year to reach a verdict.

According to Timothy Lethbridge, vice-dean of governance at the U of O’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, “Blackboard is awkward and older software that lots of people are complaining about, including me. And our contract with them was about to end. We either had to renew or look elsewhere”

Dubé also said it is “worth mentioning that some people on the Senate were not happy with the outcome of the decision” as the university is going with an external contractor for the D2L platform.

“The university signed a five-year contract, so that sort of locks us in,” said Dubé.

However, the university also used an external contractor for Blackboard Learn, and a poor relationship between the contractor and the university was part of the reason why they moved away from Blackboard in the first place, according to Dubé

“Some people feel that we’re going through the same cycle again … we don’t know what (D2L) is going to be like five years from now.”

When it comes to the decision making process that lead to the adoption of this platform, Dubé also raised concerns about a lack of consultation.

“What disturbed me a little was that only a few people got involved with the decision and there was not much transparency in that.”

However, According to Lethbridge, this lack of consultation was due to a “sealed bid process” that can’t be open.

“Following standard procurement practices the university formed a committee and evaluated bids,” said Lethbridge.

“Best practices for procurement require secrecy so that each bidder doesn’t know who the other bidders are, and so details of each bid are not known by the other bidders. This works like a ‘sealed bid’ auction, although evaluation is based not just on price but also on features, quality and other evaluation factors,” said Lethbridge.

According to Lethbridge, “sealed bids overall tend to solicit the lowest bids and as a result can help to keep university costs down, which is good for everybody including students.”

While the D2L system is apparently a known platform within universities in Ontario, Dubé has yet to see the new platform despite being a student on the Senate, which he found to be “concerning.”

“I believe that there needs to be improvements in the university’s procurement process in that regard,” said Dubé, suggesting that students and faculty members should be testing new technology at the university before it is implemented.

Dubé advises students to get familiar with the new platform once it is implemented for the spring 2017 term, and to report problems immediately so that issues don’t arise.

“There’s a lot of promise that it’s going to be a smooth transition … but I would say to the students to be ready,” said Dubé.