A Short History of SPARK at UMass Amherst

The SPARK Learning Management System (LMS) was in use for on-campus courses at the University of Massachusetts Amherst from January 2006 until January 2013.

SPARK was the local name for the Blackboard Vista LMS, originally known as WebCT Vista, which was an upgrade to the WebCT Campus Edition LMS. WebCT was originally introduced on the UMass Amherst campus in 1997. Five faculty taught courses on the first installation, which ran off of a server in Doris Peterson’s office in OIT. Over the years, more and more instructors adopted the LMS as a preferred way to deliver course content online. When the campus upgraded from WebCT Campus Edition to WebCT Vista (locally known as “SPARK”) in 2006, 469 instructors were using it for 566 courses.

Blackboard Inc. acquired WebCT in 2005, rebranding the LMS from WebCT Vista to Blackboard Vista (still known locally as “SPARK”). In early 2010, when Blackboard announced that Blackboard Vista would no longer be supported after January 2013, there were 1104 faculty teaching 1464 courses. At its peak in Fall 2010, SPARK was being used by 1151 instructors, teaching 1727 courses, with over 80,000 student “seats”.

The LMS Review process in 2010 led to the campus deciding to change its default LMS to Moodle (the process is documented on the FutureLMS blog: blogs.umass.edu/futurelms). After two pilot semesters (Spring & Fall 2011) instructors were offered two semesters (Spring and Fall 2012) during which they could choose to move to Moodle or stay in SPARK. In its last semester, Fall 2012, SPARK had 101 faculty teaching 124 courses with 6939 student seats. Moodle in Fall 2012 had 1270 instructors teaching 1853 courses.

The SPARK license expired on December 29, 2012. At the last minute, OIT was able to reach an agreement with Blackboard for a limited administrative license that will allow OIT to get course materials off of the server for six months. If you have materials on SPARK that you did not back up in time, contact the Instructional Media Lab (545-2823, instruct@oit.umass.edu).

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