New course management program to replace WebCT

Adelle Whitefoot

Northern Michigan University started using a new course management system this fall called EduCat for hybrid, web-enhanced face-to-face classes and online classes.

EduCat will replace WebCT, the former course management system.  Any courses that are using WebCT this semester will be switched over to EduCat by the beginning of Winter semester, said Matt Smock, the NMU director of instructional design, technology and media.

“There might be a few exceptions. Professors who are retiring at the end of the winter semester, we won’t force to migrate a course over (to EduCat) just to use for one semester,” Smock said

EduCat is powered by an open source course system called Moodle, a software package for creating internet-based courses and websites.  NMU is switching because the vendor that supports WebCT will no longer be licensing the software, said Smock. NMU’s license with WebCT expires in July 2011.

“We had to switch to something,” said Smock.  “Whether we switch to another commercial product like WebCT or an open- source like Moodle.”

An open-source course management system like Moodle doesn’t require the purchasing of a license every year and gives NMU more freedom to design the website.  NMU is allowed to copy, use and modify Moodle, provided that they agree to provide the source to others, not modify or remove the original license and copyrights, and apply this same license to any resulting work.

“It’s basically built by its users,” said Smock.  “There is a central group at that manages all the development, but people work on programming improvements on it all over the world.”

Darlene Walch, dean of academic information services, said she is optimistic about the switch to EduCat.  Walch hopes that EduCat will be at least as easy, if not easier to use than WebCT.

“One advantage of EduCat is that we will be relying on our NMU programming staff expertise to help troubleshoot rather than having to contact a vendor and wait for a response,” she said.

Walch worked with various faculty and staff to assess options and prepare to migrate from one system to another.  Her main involvement is to help staff get the resources they need to implement and support EduCat.

“It will look a little different than WebCT,” said Walch.  “But we have tried to preserve the functionality that faculty and students experience with WebCT.”

Some features available in EduCat include the course syllabus, course schedule, announcements, discussion modules, exams and quizzes, assignments, reserve readings and tutorials.

“We concluded that moving to an open-source system could offer some flexibility we wouldn’t have in other products,” said Walch.  “For example, we have more opportunity to tailor introductory screens with NMU specific information.”

Students can access EduCat at There are instructional videos under the Student Resources link to help educate students on how to use and navigate the EduCat website.