1. Central to our investigation of eLearning Technologies and Methods is gaining an understanding of Learning Management Systems (LMS) sometimes also called Course Management System (CMS) software. Chapter 1 of our text discusses the functionality of typical LMS/CMS, identifying four major categories. What are those categories?

According to our textbook, “The Power of eLearning,” the four major categories of LMS/CMS functionality are (Waterhouse, 2005):

  1. “Distribution of course information;
  2. “Student-instructor and student-student communication;
  3. “Student interaction with course resources; and
  4. “Online testing and grading” (p. 8).

2. Use the Internet to find three different course management systems. Provide the name, a URL and a brief discussion of what you can find out about the similarities and differences between the three that you find.

Below is a list of the three course management systems that I chose to investigate along with links to their websites, followed by a brief description about their differences and similarities:

  1. Sakai CLE (http://www.sakaiproject.org/sakai-cle)
  2. Moodle (https://moodle.org/)
  3. Blackboard Learn (http://www.blackboard.com/)

All three of these course management systems offer, in some form or another, the four major functions of an LMS/CMS. They all have the ability to distribute course information, offer student-instructor and student-student communication tools, allow for students to access resources, and allow instructors to offer and grade tests online.  The biggest differences I see are that some seem to be more simple and flexible and others robust in how they make these things happen.

Blackboard’s website was a little overwhelming; a new instructor might have a difficult time choosing what tools would be best to use in his/her course and may feel a bit overwhelmed as well. They appear to have much more to offer but, after digging deeper, they really offer similar tools to the other systems but they package it better. I would imagine that this is because they have more money for website design and marketing.

Both Moodle and Sakai offer many of the same tools, such as uploading media, testing and evaluation, collaboration opportunities and notifications. They are also both free because they are open-source software and therefore are more flexible than Blackboard. Because the user has full rights they have free reign to make changes; with Blackboard the user has to request that a change be made.

It was hard to get a true read on which system would be better for both students and instructors without really getting in there and playing with them, hands-on. Based on their websites, they offer much of the same tools but ease of use would have to be determined on an individual basis. How much experience does the instructor/student have with technology and how much would they need to use the system?

3. If you were going to create an online class right now, what LMS/CMS software would you use? Explain what you know about your system’s functionality in each of the four areas identified by the book. (If you don’t have access to LMS/CMS software just use Blackboard for your discussion in this area.)

If I were to create an online course right now, based on what I know from my own research and reviews I have read, I would really like to try Moodle. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to Moodle or any other CMS software except for Blackboard, as a student. Because of this I will use Blackboard as my choice for the purpose of completing this assignment.

Blackboard really does seem to have a lot to offer in the four categories that are important to online learning. First, for the distribution of course materials, Blackboard drive and the dashboard are all you would need to get important materials and information to your students. Blackboard drive is a drive installed on your computer that allows you to save and move files; it works with both Windows and Mac Operating Systems. Using this drive allows instructors to edit content right from the web making revisions much quicker. All of the important course information can be deployed to the students in various ways, all of which can show up right on their personalized dashboard. Upon login, students will see announcements, posts, updates, grades and a calendar with important dates. Course documents such as syllabi are easily accessed from here as well.

Student-to-student communication can be done using Blackboard features such as the Blackboard social network, discussion boards, wikis and email. The Blackboard social network also allows students and instructors to communicate with others outside of their own institution who also use the network. Student-to-instructor communication can occur using these same features as well as sending alert notifications through both text and email.

According to the Blackboard website, there are three main types of content that can be easily integrated into a course. Commercial Content is available through various publishers and would include materials that supplement the course textbook and enhance learning such as online lab experiments. Community-generated Content could include articles or materials authored by others outside of the course that may include articles, videos and web links. Finally, Instructor-generated Content would be authored by the course instructor and could include videos, podcasts, text files and slideshows.

Blackboard offers quite a bit in the way of testing and assessment. Instructors can create tests, deploy them and grade them and then offer feedback directly to the student.  There are also features that help identify where students are having difficulties so instructors can make adjustments to their lessons. Instructors also have the ability to align standards to course content so course objectives can not only be taught, but tested and measured.

4. Chapter 1 of our text identifies six steps for getting started with eLearning. Discuss each step and use each step as a springboard for discussing what you want to do with eLearning either now or in the future.

Step 1 – Ask yourself why
Determining why you want to start teaching an online course can determine how successful you will be. How committed will you be to spending time on something that your Department Chair is asking you to do? If I were a teacher I would definitely offer a course online for several reasons. One, it is exciting and it can offer such a richer learning experience to the student. Two, I like computers and think that learning the new technology and using it would be fun. Finally, online education is growing rapidly and isn’t going away any time soon so I might as well embrace it and change with the times. I would begin slowly of course but not at the basics; I have already accomplished some of the suggested goals in the textbook through work assignments such as sending mass emails and posting content on the web for others to access. Interactive course content and electronic communication beyond email would come last as that would take much more time to put together in a way that is student friendly.

Step 2 – Make a commitment
It is important to realize the amount of work that goes into creating an online course before jumping in. It isn’t simply coming up with a new course outline or revamping your syllabus; it’s about finding and/or creating appropriate content, setting up electronic tests and grading systems, and posting EVERYTHING a student could possibly need to be successful since they won’t have the benefit of physically being in the same room as the instructor. In setting up my course I would try to create it as I teach a traditional course so that I can take the time necessary to set it up right. As I give the students an assignment in class I can work on adapting that assignment for the online course and decide how I can, at the same time, make it better so the students get more from the experience.

Step 3 – Develop a new vision for your course and how you teach
I have taught classes in the past but it has been quite some time. I taught computer applications in a traditional setting, which I made very hands-on. I prefer to lecture first and then do in-class assignments. During my lecture I would give handouts with important vocabulary words or visually show them parts of the application on an overhead and ask them what certain icons meant and what they did. I would always start with an example of how I might use a certain type of document in the real world and as a class we would brainstorm other ways it would be beneficial. I could use these same techniques in an online setting if I adapted them. Discussions could include questions on how they would use this in their lives. After reading all of the other posts the student would have a good list of ideas on how it could benefit them; ways they never considered. Quizzes could be used for testing vocabulary. For visual learners, YouTube videos are great for watching how a task is performed.

Step 4 – Determine the resources available to you
As the textbook says, it is important to know what resources you have before creating your course. Since I am at a new school I am not familiar with what would be available to me if I ever have the opportunity to teach online. I know that we use Blackboard and I know that we have a fairly good size Instructional Technology team. The first thing I would do when creating an online class is to talk to other instructors. They are a great resource to find out what works and what doesn’t. What do we have the ability to do? Which IT employee is the one to go to for help with Blackboard? How supportive is the Administration when it comes to expanding our online course offerings?

Step 5 – Acquire new technology skills and develop new instructional methods
As an online instructor you would have to have at least a basic level of computer skills to be able to use the tools available with the CMS software. I have the basic skills necessary to get started with online instruction and as a student that has taken several online courses I have some first-hand knowledge of what works and what doesn’t from a student’s perspective. I would speak to other instructors to receive pointers on what instructional methods they have found to work for them. I would definitely find out if my employer offered any type of courses through Blackboard for new online instructors so that I could become familiar with the tools available. Again, knowing what is available to me before getting started will make the process that much easier and the product that much better.

Step 6 – Plan
When creating a new online course, planning is essential for success. As I said in step 2, I would take my time when creating a course. I want to be able to do a good job and do it right the first time so that my students don’t suffer because of my lack of planning. The most important thing for me as a student in an online class is that it is organized really well. If I can’t easily find things then I will miss something, my grade will suffer and I will become completely frustrated. I have actually dropped an online course the first week of class because the course organization was so bad. That would be my first step in planning. How can I keep my content organized in a way that the students can locate things easily? Second, I would create my course around the course objectives. What content can I use, how can I get my students to interact and understand the content, how should I test their knowledge and skills? Once I gathered all of the necessary content and created all of the materials and information documents, I would look at the organization again and ask myself if anything needs to be changed before the course goes live.

5. Chapter 4 of our text discusses the functionality of specific LMS/CMS tools in terms of being for one-way communication, two-way communication or for organization. Explain the key differences between one-way and two-way communication and identify the tools your LMS/CMS provides for each type of communication.

The main difference between one-way communication and two-way communication is the absence of or the expectation of a response. One-way communication is a communication sent by one and received by another without the expectation of a reply. Two-way communication is communication sent by one and received and responded to by another. Examples of one-way communication could be announcements, course documents, web links and grade books.  Examples of two-way communication can include email, discussion boards, and chat rooms.

Blackboard Learn provides several options for both types of communications.  The course documents file allows the instructor to post course materials such as syllabi, articles, videos, web links, podcasts and slideshows. Supplemental materials from different publishers can also be posted to the course site so students can interact with the course content. Instructors can send announcements, updates and important calendar dates directly to the student, all of which will show on their personalized dashboard. Instructors can also send alert notifications through both text and email and can post grades and feedback directly through the grade book. For two-way communication needs, Blackboard Learn offers features such as a social network, discussion boards, wikis and email.

6. Consider how a CMS/LMS supports the three types of interaction (Student-Content, Student-Instructor, Student-Student) that were discussed in the first session 1 presentation. Specifically, list all of the tools or features that your CMS (as discussed in question 3 above) offers. Then identify each type of interaction that each tool would support. Finally, explain what you know about the strengths and weaknesses of each tool to support the type of interaction you identify for it.

The chart below shows a list of the tools available in Blackboard Learn along with what types of interaction each one supports.

 

Student-Content

Student-Instructor

Student-Student

Alert Notifications

X

Announcements

X

Assessment

X

Blackboard Dashboard

X

X

X

Blogs

X

X

Calendar

X

Collaboration

X

X

Discussion Boards

X

X

Dynamic Content

X

X

Email

X

X

Grade Book

X

Groups

X

X

Journals

X

McGraw-Hill Student Experience

X

Online Testing

X

Posts

X

X

Social Network

X

X

Updates

X

Wikis

X

X

As you can see, the majority of the interaction supported by Blackboard is Student-Instructor communication. One-way communications such as alert notifications, announcements, calendar appointments, posts and updates all push information out to the student and are all accessible in various ways for example, through the dashboard or via email or text messaging. The collaboration tool, blogs, discussion boards, email, groups, the Blackboard social network and wikis all allow two-way communication for both student-instructor interaction and student-student interaction. Online testing, assessment and the grade book all allow for two-way student-instructor interaction. The instructor publishes the test, the student takes the test and submits it back to the instructor, the system and/or instructor grades the test and the grade is given to the student. Journals are available for private, student-instructor communication. Student-Content interaction is available through publisher provided supplemental materials and instructor provided dynamic content. The dynamic content tool also allows for students to post their own materials such as slide shows and videos for the instructor to review. All of this content is easily accessible through the student’s dashboard as well.

All of the abilities listed above would all be considered strengths. It is difficult to say what the weaknesses are without using it first-hand. Gathering information on the product from the Blackboard website is, understandably, one sided…positive. It is also difficult for me to explain from experience what the weaknesses are because many of the tools in Blackboard have never been used in my online classes; I imagine that is because the instructors don’t want the student to have to learn too much technology to be able to take a course. I do know, because of this class, that one of the weaknesses of Blackboard’s collaboration tool is that it doesn’t allow for video conferencing, which is why we have to use Talkshoe.

Based on my research I can honestly say that Blackboard Learn has a lot of really useful tools for all three types of interactions. My assumption is that its biggest weakness is that offers too much for the average student. Sometimes simple is better.

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