With Penn State’s large student population, any software used by the university must be up to the challenge of servicing thousands of users.
Penn State has long used ANGEL as its course management system — but the system hasn’t been in effect without scrutiny.
Terry O’Heron , Penn State’s program manager for ANGEL, said, “approximately 85,000 students with at least one active course section use ANGEL.”
Despite its widespread use, there is always the question of whether or not ANGEL is the best system for Penn State.
ANGEL is used in the classroom as a course management system. The system allows professors to facilitate courses by posting quizzes, homework and other resources to the site.
Penn State piloted ANGEL in fall 2001, and the program went university-wide in spring 2002, O’Heron said.
Both the program and its user base have grown significantly since its introduction.
In spring of 2002, there were 2,000 active course sections on ANGEL. Currently, ANGEL hosts 12,700 active course sections, O’Heron said.
Although ANGEL is widely used across campus, Penn State did consider using a different system.
In May 2009, Blackboard Inc . acquired ANGEL.
Rodney Erickson , then-provost and Kevin Morooney , the chief information officer, charged a committee with looking into the idea of continuing with ANGEL or moving to choosing a different system, O’Heron said.
Ultimately, Penn State chose to continue with ANGEL.
O’Heron outlined the most important factors the university considers when contemplating new software.
The university looks at scalability, performance, usability and features and supportability, he said. The university also considers what sort of training and documentation the software company provides, O’Heron said.
According to O’Heron, the most important factor is the program’s ability to handle the large amount of user traffic. There are approximately 18,000 people at Penn State using ANGEL at the same time, O’Heron said.
Despite its various applications, many users feel the system could be improved.
David Brown, a senior lecturer in the Economics Department, teaches three sections of ECON 102 (Introductory Microeconomic Analysis and Policy.) There are approximately 1,000 students enrolled in the three sections combined.
Brown uses ANGEL to post student grades and assignments and to communicate with his students.
“It’s a bit clunky to use,” Brown said.
Brown said his biggest issue with ANGEL occurs when he attempts to view the grade book, saying the system crashes if he attempts to view too many student grades at one time.
“It can be frustrating,” Brown said.
Dirk Mateer , a senior lecturer in the economics department, recognized the need for a course management system at Penn State.
“Any course management system is the backbone of any class,” Mateer said.
Despite the necessity of the system, Mateer did recognize problems associated with ANGEL.
He especially took issue with ANGEL’s internal communication system.
“I don’t like the communication platform. It isn’t very robust,” Mateer said.
Mateer also expressed his willingness to try a new management system should Penn State choose new software.
“There’s enough quirks in ANGEL that, if someone could build something more intuitive, I’d be delighted to try it,” Mateer said.
Many universities have chosen alternative systems.
Michigan State University currently uses ANGEL but is in the process of transitioning to a new system.
In July, Michigan State chose to move away from ANGEL and begin a two-year transition process to new software, Desire2Learn, said Beth Bonsall, the communications manager for MSU Information Technology Services.
MSU began transitioning away from ANGEL because the “development of future versions of the product would cease,” Brendan Guenther, the director of IT Services Teaching and Learning, wrote in an email.
Before choosing Desire2Learn, MSU piloted several other course management programs, such as Moodle, Guenther said in an interview.
“Moodle would struggle to meet the expectations of large institutions [such as MSU],” Guenther said.
Ohio State University is another large university that chose an alternative to ANGEL.
According to the Ohio State website archives, in 2003, the university commissioned a team to look at different options for a course management system.
According to the website, the team found “neither Blackboard nor ANGEL acceptable CMS solutions for Ohio State, as they do not have the basic functionality required by Ohio State.”
In an email, Valerie Rake, the Virtual Learning Environments Support and Communication Lead at Ohio State explained the university’s decision to choose Desire2Learn as its course management system. The program is branded at Ohio State as Carmen.
Desire2Learn was chosen because it “provided the best combination of a rich and flexible set of features, an accessible interface for instructors and designers, and a supportable back-end infrastructure,” Rake wrote.
Ohio State implemented Desire2Lean in 2005, Rake said. The university is planning its next update for May 2013. As of right now, the university is not looking to change course management systems, she said.
Ohio State is “exploring new options for developing applications to support the mobile needs and expectations of instructors and students,” Rake wrote.
According to its website, Temple University utilizes Blackboard, version 9 as its course management system.
The University of Pittsburgh uses Blackboard 9.1 as its course management system, according to its website.
Blackboard has expressed its intention to support ANGEL indefinitely. Penn State will continue to use ANGEL as its course management system, O’Heron said.
However, Penn State continues to improve and update the system.
Next semester, Penn State is planning to release an enhancement survey where students, faculty and staff can vote on improvements for ANGEL, O’Heron said.
Penn State will then determine the most popular enhancements and “how best to implement the preferences of faculty, staff and students,” O’Heron said.