Gina Roberts and I spent a year reviewing CMS (course management sytems) packages for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. We used an in-house evaluation form that covered technical, instructional, and support issues. Between Gina and myself we reviewed not only popular packages, but the not so prominent ones as well. There are MANY out there and I know we only scratched the surface. We narrowed our selections down to three, WebCT,
CourseInfo by Blackboard, and Lotus Learningspace. We reviewed all three packages again and narrowed that field to two, WebCT and CourseInfo, to present to a Faculty Focus Group.
The Faculty Focus Group consisted of 8 on-campus faculty members and 1 distant faculty member. The skill level ranged from advanced (current CMS users) to beginner (as in basic computer). We loaded demo copies of the software on our server and took the group through the process of creating the course with mock files and media. We spent two 4 hour days on each package. The faculty were asked to evaluate each package based on a scaled down version of the evaluation sheet we had used earlier. The vote was 9-0 in favor of CourseInfo.
We have been running CourseInfo for a month with a pilot group of courses, 17 currently and a cap of 20-25. The faculty are very excited about CourseInfo. The interface is very clean and instructionally sound; knowledge of HTML is NOT required, but can be incorporated; it handles native file formats beautifully; allows for synchornous and asynchronous communications; is a dream to administrate; and the tech support at Blackboard is very responsive and friendly.
As an instructional technologist supporting faculty integrating technology into their curriculum it was very important to find a package that was user-friendly and pedagogically sound. We also wanted to chose something that would grow with our University’s efforts in online teaching and learning. We see our current efforts as being “phases” of online delivery. CourseInfo supports Web augmented course design and complete online delivery of material.
Blackboard, Inc. is professional company with a large support staff. They have improved on the product every year for the past three years. They listen to their customers and have an academic focus. We were disappointed with other CMS packages that attempted to meet the needs of both the business world and the academic world because the needs are so diverse. They are also a major player in the IMS initiative and have a meta-data component built into the content upload area. Our campus is an IMS testbed and we found CourseInfo to be a perfect fit on many levels.
The package is very flexible and allows for a variety of uses. Our library staff is going to pilot a “Virtual Reference Librarian” with CourseInfo. Essentially they will use the chat feature of CourseInfo to assist
students with questions via the Web. They will have virtual hours when they monitor the site and respond to questions. They will also upload their instructional materials and HyperStudio stacks for students to access.
We are looking forward to seeing this project implemented. There will also be traditional courses run through the interface with various levels of interaction.
For more information about CourseInfo, visit http://www.blackboard.net. Please feel free to contact me (information is below) with any questions you have regarding our evaluation process or our use of CourseInfo.
Rhonda J. Spearman
Web Instructional Technology Specialist
Innovative Technologies Collaborative
University of Tennessee, Knoxville