To improve access to higher education, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities implemented a management system from Desire2Learn based on the Microsoft mission-critical platform. The schools have simplified management and access with the centralized solution, which has achieved nearly 100 percent uptime. In addition, the new system will support future growth and enhances online services.
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is a higher-education system that includes 24 two-year colleges and seven universities. Based in St. Paul, with campuses throughout the state, it is the fifth-largest education system in the country. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities has approximately 430,000 students in credit and noncredit courses.
||We don’t have to worry about performance issues with the Desire2Learn and Microsoft system—it’s very important to us that it’s there every day and people can get online.
Instructional Management Software System Administrator
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities
At first, each institution operated its own learning management system (LMS), which students and faculty used to check grades and manage coursework. By 2002, the schools were ready to upgrade as software licenses expired and renewal rates skyrocketed. In addition, managing multiple LMSs had become difficult. “We were running Windows environments, UNIX environments, and Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server data management software,” says Michael Condon, Instructional Management Software System Administrator at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. “Maintaining a robust heterogeneous environment was challenging, and going with a single solution was an opportunity to simplify.”
Scalability was also a concern. More students were taking advantage of technology-enhanced classes, which provided some or all of the coursework online. Condon says, “Regardless of the metric—whether enrollment, courses offered, logins, page hits, or other measures of system activity—we saw a consistent annual growth in system use of approximately 25 percent.”
In 2004, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities migrated all of its online courses to an LMS from Desire2Learn, a Microsoft partner with Silver Hosting and Silver ISV competencies. “When we went through our selection process, the Desire2Learn® Learning Environment on the Microsoft platform was what the faculty wanted,” says Condon. “This was the solution that offered the most robust and user-friendly environment.”
The LMS at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities includes Desire2Learn software and Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise running on the Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise operating system. To ensure availability, the LMS operates on four clustered server computers in a failover configuration with two active and two passive nodes. Five instances of SQL Server 2008 R2 run on separate IBM System x3850 X5 server computers, and the solution also includes 18 application servers set up in a failover cluster.
Enrollment in online courses has grown from 23,000 students in 2004 to more than 100,000 in 2011. In addition to handling assignments, discussion forums, and other content, the LMS processes approximately 20,000 quizzes each day. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities also plans to offer 25 percent of its credits online by 2015 and expects that running the Desire2Learn Learning Environment on the Microsoft platform will deliver the required scalability.
However, enrollment metrics do not fully reflect the solution’s capabilities. Chuck Morris, Instructional Management Software System Administrator at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, points out that in the past the system hosted mostly documents, but today’s students want a more interactive environment that includes web-based applications. “Over time, we are seeing a more experienced set of users who work with it differently,” he says. “The scope of the Desire2Learn and Microsoft platform has increased, and we’ve observed more faculty offering exams and more students using discussion boards and other tools.”
The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system has improved access and availability by running Desire2Learn software on the Microsoft platform. With a more scalable platform, the schools can support growth and offer an innovative approach to education.
Centralized and Improved Access to Learning Resources
By implementing a streamlined solution from Desire2Learn and Microsoft, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system has simplified administration and improved access to online resources. “With Desire2Learn, and Microsoft we can send students and faculty to one point of contact that is available to everyone,” says Karen Wenz, Instructional Management Software System Administrator at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. “It’s a huge benefit to have a central system and for students to know that wherever they go to school they’re going to use the same online learning system.”
Improved Availability with Nearly 100 Percent Uptime
A more scalable, reliable solution has also improved availability for staff and students. “The solution just works, and that’s critical,” says Morris. “We don’t have to worry about performance issues with the Desire2Learn and Microsoft system—it’s very important to us that it’s there every day and people can get online. And if we do have a problem, we can get it resolved very quickly.”
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities reports near-continuous availability throughout the school year. Morris says, “I submit a monthly report to an advisory council about our performance, and most months we’ve had 100 percent availability with Desire2Learn and the Microsoft platform.”
Better Scalability and Support for Innovation
Equally important, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities can continue its innovative approach to education. In addition to offering more online courses and resources, teachers also want to expand the system with access to social- networking tools and other online resources. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is confident that the Desire2Learn system can meet the technology needs of future generations of students. “Our growth rates haven’t come close to maxing out the Desire2Learn and Microsoft platform,” says Morris. “We believe the system will continue to scale to the level we need for future use and development.”
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