The Evolution of WolfWare: A Brief History

By now, the NC State community is quite familiar with WolfWare, the DELTA-powered enterprise suite of academic technologies and course tools. When the WolfWare interface underwent significant updates in January 2014, 90.2% of NC State students used at least one of the learning management systems (LMS) supported through WolfWare, and 60% of all course sections used WolfWare or WolfWare Classic.

However, far fewer instructors and students who use WolfWare may be familiar with where it came from–or even what it is exactly.

Beginnings: WolfWare Classic

Step back to 1993, when the Department of Computer Science at NC State replaced its existing homework submission system with a Unix command-line program called Submit. The only problem, of course, was that Submit ran on Unix computers–not the increasingly popular Windows and Mac computers.

When Computer Science staff began work on Submit 2.0, they quickly realized that adding a variety of other features would make the program more beneficial to the campus as a whole. Simultaneously, higher education was facing a growing demand for effective online instruction that provided more sophisticated tools for building online content and more efficient means for managing computing infrastructures.

WolfWare creators
WolfWare developers (left to right): Jeff Webster, Lou Harrison, Charles Brabec, Ellen McDaniel and Tim Lowman

In early 1999, a development team came together to create the original WolfWare, a Web-based system to support any course taught at NC State. The development team consisted of IT staff in the Department of Computer Science; Engineering Computer Operations (now Information Technology and Engineering Computer Services [ITECS]); and PAMS Computer Operations (now College of Sciences Computer and Information Systems).

What WolfWare provided was an online interface for both the behind-the-scenes course development that instructors and departments manage, and the front-end content delivery that students access. Then and now, WolfWare offers automatically-generated class rosters and email lists, discussion utilities, and secure directories for assignment submissions and other Web materials.

After an initial pilot in nine classes in fall 1999, the first production version of WolfWare was made available for general campus use in fall 2000. Even in 2014, nearly 3,000 course sections at NC State still used this original suite, now known as WolfWare Classic.

The WolfWare Classic Logo

Like WolfWare, the suite’s logo has seen a lot of changes since its initial release in 1999. The original logo, still used in WolfWare Classic, was created by NC State web developer Charles Brabec. The image is a rendition of the head of a white wolf, superimposed on a red-lit full moon.

The moon was generated using a NASA lunar map, and wildlife artist Doug Lehnhardt gave permission to use his White Wolf painting for the wolf image. Much of the inspiration for the logo was drawn from the Eric Woolfson song, “Funny You Should Say That,” performed by the Flying Pickets on the Freudiana album of the Alan Parsons Project.

WolfWare Classic logo.
The WolfWare Classic logo.

WolfWare Today

Launched in late 2009, the current WolfWare is both a website–providing access to and management of courses and course technologies–and a concept that encompasses the entire suite of academic tools available at NC State. WolfWare now offers a comprehensive and growing suite of tools focused more on pedagogy than just content delivery and course administration, including Moodle and Blackboard Collaborate.

“The changes were a direct response to people’s comfort with the web and their desires to do more online with their courses,” said Lou Harrison, director of educational technology services at DELTA and one of the original WolfWare creators.

But WolfWare didn’t just reflect the new ways instructors and students were using technologies–it helped change the way many instructors actually taught their courses.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt WolfWare has changed teaching at NC State,” said Marty Dulberg, senior coordinator of instructional technology and support at DELTA. “It allowed instructors to start flipping the classroom–they could do more interesting things in class and less administration and bookkeeping. And it let students collaborate and start teaching each other.”

For all the ways WolfWare impacts NC State, DELTA’s efforts with WolfWare have extended well beyond the campus, drawing attention from other communities.

“We have really demonstrated leadership in the Moodle community, based on the size of our installation and the maturity of our governance at NC State,” Dulberg said.

What’s Next?

Beyond regular maintenance and occasional updates, such as the recent addition of My Mediasite to the WolfWare suite, DELTA is working to pull all the available academic tools and technologies at NC State into WolfWare. The goal throughout these efforts is a more convenient, holistic point of access for instructors and students.

“We’re constantly slipping in improvements, and we’re working to put all the tools you need to teach and learn in one place,” Dulberg said.

And what about WolfWare Classic? The plan now is to gradually phase out the original suite as the remaining features of its functionality are replaced with newer technologies.

“WolfWare Classic has served us well for more than 15 years,” Harrison said. “Now it’s time to focus on newer technologies.”

Once the final decision is made, instructors will have two full years to migrate their course content to the current WolfWare.

Visit wolfware.ncsu.edu.

2 responses on “The Evolution of WolfWare: A Brief History

  1. Dr. Ellen McDaniel says:

    Thanks for this story. Here’s a little more. http://classic.wolfware.ncsu.edu/pubs/wwsummary.pdf How many learning management systems will follow this first one, which was built during the Wild Wild Web frontier days?

  2. Jonathan Champ says:

    This is a great summary of the history of WolfWare! I’m proud to be a part of the team!