WebCT Campus > Vista > Future?

Written by James
13
Dec

A fascinating and in-depth evaluation of WebCT Vista form IRRODL (via someone, can’t remember who… sorry!).

I particularly like this article as it goes into depth over pricing:

“The WebCT Vista Academic Enterprise edition is the latest version, released in 2004. One WebCT user, the New Mexico State University, indicates (2003), that the company “is scheduled to discontinue support of its Campus Edition version in December 2006 leaving only the Vista edition of the course management system available and supported.” At that point, NMSU estimates that its annual licensing and running charges will rise from $40,000 to, in the first year of Vista operation, $650,800 US…

…According to Young (2002), CE pricing has risen steadily and can range from $7,000 to $30,000 US, depending on student enrolment and licensing options; but the cost of operating Vista is in the “six figures”. The CE license is based on an annual subscription available in two forms: Institution or Focus. The Institution license is determined by number of full-time students in the institution, while the Focus license is limited to a maximum number of users, generally 3000 (EduTools, 2004). Vista also has two types of licensing…

Together with other expenses and the obvious alternatives:

…There are so many tools in WebCT Vista that a major support effort is required to teach instructors how to use it. It is feasible that an institution might regard the costs of running such a complex training program as being be better spent on hiring Web designers and other specialists to create a customized in-house solution, which only adds new tools as the teachers and students require them….

Now I can guarantee you that if you get a system like this one in place you will have to commit a huge amount of time and effort to training, and then when you realise that you’ve stuffed it all up (well, it kinda stuffs itself up as it moved from version to version every 6 months…) you will be unhappy.

You’ll be especially unhappy when you finally get it right only to realise that you’ve now spent millions locking yourself into a product you don’t own. Ahem.

Finally a mention to the open source alternatives and movements paints a not-too-glossy picture for this particular megalosaurus:

“….With so many comparable open source softwares emerging for course management, containing more varied features than WebCT, one has to wonder: how long can such costly proprietary products survive? In the case of WebCT, the short answer to this is – possibly two years. If, as has been suggested, the vendor will no longer support earlier versions than Vista after 2006, it will either gather massive upgrade payments from many of its clients in the interim, or will lose them altogether to the new OSS systems. So is this WebCT’s last attempt to make large amounts of money in the face of the growing OSS challenge, its “last hurrah?”….”

However, I think it’ll take a lot longer. In this case we’re talking about a company that, as well as having the lions share of the market (together with Bb) and enormous user hook in as a result (sound familiar?) also gets it’s users along to rather well-located conferences (which I’m sure more than pay for themselves), to take training courses through them (which have to pay form themselves, looking at the costs) and seems to have the best exec. customer relations manager in the world.

If they’re hooked on to a revenue model where they need to double / triple in the next few years then they might be in a little bit of trouble, but not too much I think. If they aren’t going to bang up prices as much as put forward here then I think it’ll take an ELE to make a change… there must be a lot of comp. science students out their trying to hack & build viruses for these, mustn’t there???

  1. The logic goes something like this:
    1) We’ve just done Y2K for our student records management and finance/HR systems
    2) That’s millions of dollars on admin systems
    3) L&T and research are our core business
    4) Shouldn’t we spend millions on these systems too?

    The idea that we could actually spend the millions on supporting the learners and the teachers rather than proprietary licences hasn’t actually occurred to University executive management…

  2. James, the first paragraph that you cited above just got it plain wrong. WebCT is discontinuing support of the existing Campus Edition *code base*, not the campus edition product line. You should expect to see a Campus Edition product, based on a sub-set of the Vista codebase, with licenses analogus to the current Campus Editions one, sometime in 2005 I seem to think. I know there was a mailout to that effect at one point; the best I could find on the web was http://www.webct.com/service/ViewContent?contentID=23632402. While you may well have many legitimate issues with WebCT, I guarantee you that if your institution is a WebCT adopter, CE 6, based on innovations developed in Vista, will be light years ahead of what they were able to do with the PERL codebase and file storage system on which existing installs of CE depend.

    WebCT hasn’t necessarily done a fabulous job with their messaging our outreach, especially in the blogging community, but I would suggest that if you are seriously concerned about it as a product, or about its future (especially if you are a current customer), then ask your product rep directly and escalate it up the ladder in that company if you aren’t happy with the response you are getting. I have read many of the IRRODL product reviews before, and they are often o.k., but this particular one definitely had some issues with accuracy and editorial bent. Cheers, Scott

  3. Wow Scott,

    Thanks for the info, if it is as you say it is then IRRODL should do a serious review of its review!

    Cheers, James

  4. I’m unconvinced that switching to a VLE that shares nothing but a name with your current VLE (Campus -> Vista), even if the current price differential is artificially maintained by removing large amounts of already implemented functionality, is going to be an easy or enjoyable task. If you’re going to expend all that time, money and effort on switching systems, retraining and hiring new technical skill sets, then that’s probably a good time to take a look at your other options.

  5. Here is the relevant excerpt from the letter Scott Leslie references in his post. This was sent from WebCT to our customers on February 17, 2004.

    “Our WebCT Campus Edition offering will continue to be a foundational element of our product line. As always, WebCT remains committed to WebCT Campus Edition and will continue to provide solutions that meet the broad range of needs of institutions across the higher education community. Our next major release — WebCT Campus Edition 6.0 — is targeted for availability in the first half of 2005; WebCT Campus Edition 6.0 will run on a relational database and will include a wide range of new features and enhancements to our existing teaching and learning tools. We do not expect license fees for this new release to increase significantly over current license fees.”

    At Educause 2004, we further announced the following regarding Campus Edition 6.
    http://www.webct.com/service/ViewContent?contentID=23632402

  6. Phill Brook-Carter

    I have spent this semester using Vista for online delivery both to on-campus and off campus students. Last year I did the same with CE, and I can safely say that I believe Vista is far better than CE. From the perspective of stability, ease of communication, management of permission levels, timed permission-based release of online quizzes , marking of those quizzes and delivery of results immediately to students it proved effective and fast. It was a good (quick and simple) way of setting up small group discussions for our PBL approach and more importantly the students found it simple to use.
    Having waxed lyrical on the benefits, it has taken lots of time to set up (transfer from CE was a flop) and quite a few sessions with training staff, and the students. I was still left wondering “what has this done for us that the previous In-house web-portal system did not?” (setting aside costing lots of $ time and effort). I put this to a colleague as I was sure I must have been missing the “big picture” but his reply was “nothing”.
    These proprietory software intregration packages for education re-invent the wheel at great cost, time, and confusion. As I instructed students in how to access and post to discussion groups the one question (from them ) that I had no satisfactory response for was “why do we have to use this system and can we not use the web-portal to do the same thing” The only answer that I had to hand was that the University had decided to!
    No doubt in future starting students off with this system will make them very familiar with it, but if you have to pay per annum is it truly worth it? Does it actually provide an educational benefit (as I fail to see the cost benefit)?

  7. Thanks for teh comment Phil, I’d agree with you on many points there especially the problem of educational benefit… or lack thereof.