Course Management | News
Blackboard Launches Free Web-Based Course Platform
- By Dian Schaffhauser
Blackboard has launched a free hosted course management service, one aimed at wooing individual instructors who lack access to automated course management or who are disaffected by the systems in use at their schools. The system, CourseSites is an online platform that enables faculty members in K-12 and higher education to set up Web-based class sites where they can post course materials, communicate with students, encourage collaboration, monitor performance, and manage grades.
As the company spelled out in a statement on the CourseSites Web site, "There is no license fee, no hosting fee, and no additional setup required for instructors to get started."
The new service is based on Learn 9.1, Blackboard's latest version of its popular commercial LMS. It's intended, Blackboard said, as an option for instructors looking to preview and test Blackboard's teaching and learning software before their institution makes a purchasing decision. It can also serve as a production-quality pilot environment for instructors whose schools are preparing to upgrade to the latest version of Learn 9.1.
The contents of the course are transferable to a full Blackboard installation. Likewise, an instructor can import a Blackboard course into CourseSites, though if the materials come from a version earlier than Learn 9.1, some differences will crop up. Also, the company said that faculty members who want to move materials from Campus Edition or Vista courses will need the help of Blackboard support. Currently, importing from Angel LMS isn't possible.
A user can build any number of Web-based course sites with the program but can only have five available to students at any one time. A FAQ on the site stated, "We think that's a pretty heavy teaching load and are looking out for your sanity!" Each site allows a maximum of 500 MB of file storage for course materials.
Once a course site is set up, the instructor can use an "invitation tool" to create e-mail messages for students and co-instructors. That enables those people to set up their own accounts and join the course. The service allows the initiator to see who has viewed and accepted the invitations.
The company said CourseSites differs from Blackboard Learn in a few ways. For one, it integrates Learn technology with features from Connect and Collaborate, two other Blackboard products. Connect is a communication service that allows a school to contact people via voice, text, e-mail, and social media. Collaborate is a virtual space for people to work together.
Other differences include a modified interface and the addition of the invitation feature. Also, all users, including the instructor, can log in through Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Windows Live, or Yahoo using account information for those services.
Students can be removed from a site by an instructor either individually or as a group, which also removes all information they've entered into the course, with the exception of discussion posts.
Support for both instructors and students, which is also free, is available through instant chat, phone, and help ticket entry.
CourseSites includes assessment tools from Respondus and content authoring tools from SoftChalk. The company said the new LMS service will expand in the future to include additional features provided by other partners.
"We want to reduce all barriers, whether technical, financial or administrative, to getting our best technologies into the hands of educators new to online learning products or unfamiliar with our latest offerings," said Ray Henderson, president of Blackboard Learn. "We're investing with a belief that CourseSites can become the most accessible option for introducing new educators to online instruction in the market."
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.