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E-learning Environment

An E-learning Environment supports teachers and students both inside the university and out. The E-learning environment is available anywhere at any time and provides a digital interface that allows intormation to be shared, discussions to be held and feedback to be given on students’ academic performance. A correctly deployed E-learning environment can make education more effective and efficient. The implementation of learning analytics allows teachers to use the information generated in the E-learning environment to develop insight into the learning process and academic progress of their students.


Utrecht University holds a licence—purchased through SURFMarket—for the Blackboard E-learning environment that is valid until December 2015. When this licence expires, EU legislation of government procurement demands that we start a tender procedure to procure a new E-learning environment licence. Any provider of E-learning can respond to our request for tenders, and the provider whose tender best matches our requirements will (by law) be awarded the contract. That means we don’t know yet who will provide our next E-learning environment or what software might replace Blackboard.

Still Blackboard in 2016
The tender process is lengthy and intensive, which means that the potential successor to Blackboard won’t be implemented before the start of the 2016/17 academic year. The Blackboard licence will therefore be extended in December 2015 and Blackboard will remain available for use in 2016. Irrespective of what E-learning environment we will have afterwards, we have bought archival services from Blackboard, so we will be able to meet our data retention obligations.

Support during the conversion
The switch from Blackboard to a potentially unfamiliar E-learning environment is an enormous change that will create a lot of extra work for many university employees. Naturally, we will offer what support we can to lighten that workload. We will provide additional information on this support when more is known about the future E-learning environment.



As the university enters a new process of change, we are presented with new opportunities; We can work together to formulate the best possible set of wishes and requirements that our future E-learning environment must meet to help Utrecht University provide high-quality education. No longer a generic, classical learning environment, but a personalised one, optimised to meet the needs of individual students and teachers. Once we have our complete package of requirements, we’ll start the European procurement procedure to find the E-learning environment provider best able to meet those requirements.

The process
SURF, the collaborative organisation for ICT in Dutch higher education and research, has considered the E-learning environment of the future based on input from a large number of experts in Dutch higher education. Their thinking on a Digital Learning and Working Environment (DLWO) is recorded in the Vision on DLWO work book (Dutch only). In order to test SURF’s theoretical framework in practice and discover what does and does not work, a group of computer science students have, at Utrecht University’s request, conducted an experiment in which they prototyped an E-learning environment called Hippocampus 1.0. SURF’s information and our own findings from the Hippocampus experiment have been used to draw up a document containing Utrecht University’s vision on the extended DLWO and the role of the E-learning environment in it.

Because implementing an E-learning environment takes several months, a decision was made to start the procurement process in 2015 according to one of two possible scenarios: sending out our own invitations to tender or outsourcing procurement to a third party (SURFMarket, in this case). Depending on that choice, the new E-learning environment will be deployed at the start of the 2016/17 academic year (if we procure it ourselves) or the start of the 2017/18 academic year (if we outsource to SURFMarket). A third scenario will be considered only if neither of the first two yields an E-learning environment that meets the University’s requirements. In that third scenario, the University will commission the creation of a new E-learning environment that does meet its requirements, but only after the initial procurement process has been (unsuccessfully) completed.


The aim of the E-learning Environment subproject is to determine what users at Utrecht University need and want from their future E-learning environment. By users at Utrecht University we mean everyone who comes into contact with the learning environment, including teachers, students, key users, functional administrators, information managers, and ITS employees.

We welcome your input through an advisory group
To collect input about the wants and needs of E-learning environment users, advisory groups will be founded at each of Utrecht University’s Faculties. Members will include representatives from the E-learning environment user base. Another advisory group will be instituted for functional and technical administration. This will allow us to formulate a complete requirement package for the E-learning Environment European procurement procedure. At the moment, these advisory groups are still coming together. To become involved, please communicate your interest to the head of Educational and Student Affairs or Educational Policy at your faculty.