Why Team Chat?
Chat is not a new technology, and it was the decommissioning of an old one that generated the need for a replacement. When UBC announced plans to discontinue the Blackboard IM license in January 2016, ETS reached out to the two primary Education faculty users and collaborated on a needs assessment. Both instructors used BB IM to support their teaching in fully online courses. What worked well about the existing chat tool? What were the limitations? What could be improved?
Dr. Mari Pighini wrote that she found BB IM very helpful for quick questions and check-ins with students. She found it unique in that it used custom status messages to indicate availability, providing greater flexibility outside of office hours or dedicated Collaborate session times. The desktop app eliminated the need to log in to the LMS, making spontaneous connections between her and her students possible. The spontaneity of this instant messaging facilitated real-time feedback, which enhanced teaching and learning.
Dr. Marianne McTavish wrote that BB IM was “extremely helpful for [students] and it made the course run smoother for me.” “If I can answer a quick question… it makes my life and their life so much easier and they feel as if they are in a face to face class.”
In 2015, the Faculty of Education and Faculty of Arts were the main users of chat as a learning technology, and this was an important collaborative relationship. The technology landscape was very different than when BB IM was implemented in 2010, so we took the opportunity to step back and identify additional features that could be used to support teaching and learning. Adoption of Slack was growing rapidly in 2015, and we knew it had potential as a learning technology, but it is not compliant with FIPPA privacy legislation. Open source chat projects such as Rocket.Chat and Mattermost provided us with the opportunity to pilot team chat on UBC servers for over two years without paying a license fee. It is not practical to create a Request For Proposal for a new type of technology, making open technologies ideal for pilots.
From the OpenETC community website:
“Open-source educational technologies are not often considered as viable institutional options in highered as advocates face challenges competing with commercial vendors responding to standard IT procurement practices. RFP processes typically favour commercial applications and limit open-source involvement in the educational technology space at most institutions. Open-source software relies on the development of communities of both developers and users in order to be successful. The success comes from sharing knowledge about how the software is constructed and can be utilized. The OpenETC pools expertise and resources to support shared infrastructure. We promote inter-institutional collaboration and provide shared open-source platforms enabling co-creation and sharing of open educational resources and approaches to open pedagogy.”
- Faculty of Education collaborated with instructors on case studies
- Worked with LT Hub to generate primary and secondary requirements
- Adapted Tony Bates’ SECTIONS framework into an evaluation rubric. Pedagogical, technological, usability, and accessibility requirements were considered.
- Environmental scan, test installation of two finalist candidates, user testing
- Final choice: Mattermost
In the first year of the pilot, Mattermost was implemented in two courses, one cohort, and one student-led community in Education’s Master of Educational Technology (MET) and Master of Education in Early Childhood Education (ECED) programs. Instructors and students said they found it useful for just-in-time communication with their instructor and classmates. In all, the team chat pilot at UBC consisted of over 60 teams, over 1000 users, and almost 150,000 posts. There were many steps and stops and starts along the way. This project would not have been possible without the valuable contributions of LT Hub, CTLT, and UBC IT staff and leadership.
At UBC, we utilize a technology evaluation framework to manage the adoption of new tools into the learning technology environment. The goal of this framework is “to provide an evidence-based summary of the effectiveness of a learning technology in different UBC-specific contexts to inform decisions regarding adoption, use, and support of the technology”. This is a rigorous process, requiring feedback from students and instructors who have experienced the technology in a course environment.
- Pilot began April 2016
- Evaluation phase spanned 2017W1 and 2017W2 terms
- 10 courses from Faculty of Education and Arts participated in the evaluation
- Seven instructors and one TA gave in-person feedback
- Over 200 students completed online surveys about their experience.
- Evaluation report went to Learning Technology Governance in April 2018
- Mattermost becomes officially supported learning technology for the September term (2018W1). A one year license has been signed for the 2018 Academic Year.