Calling All Course Management Systems: There's Undisputed Value in CMS, but You Need to Get the Lay of the Land before You Invest. (Technology)

Article excerpt

In only a few short years, course management systems (CMS have become an essential feature of instructional technology at institutions of higher education. After art, these complex software packages assemble multiple Web-based technologies into a single, coordinated suite of instructional services. Online discussion and messaging forums, calendars, syllabi, automated testing and grade posting, class and workgroup e-mail distribution lists and student portfolio pages are among their most used features Importantly, these systems provide Web page templates and text editors that significantly lower the HTML-editing barrier to putting course materials online. Now, the reading CMS products even make it possible to blend multimedia and other digital content into the basic delivery system. Speaking of the advance of technology!

On most campuses, CMS products supplement traditional classroom courses--proving effective for keeping up communication with and among students outside crass hours. But CMS has also established itself as a means of delivering online courses, providing communications, lectures and readings, and roster and gradebook management. Not surprisingly, these systems have facilitated the development of "hybrid" courses that meet once or twice per week in a classroom, and then move into the online mode.

RAPID GROWTH

According to the 2002 Campus Computing Project survey (www.campuscomputinq.net), nearly one-fifth of cortege courses use a course management system, and three-quarters of IHEs have adopted a standard system for the campus. A new study by the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR, www.educause .edu/ecar) looked at CMS usage in the University of Wisconsin system and Found that fatuity like the ability to pass class materials to students electronically, communicate with them (particularly in large-section courses), and return grades to students online. Content presentation tools are the most favored features of the CMS. The discussion and quiz toots and the gradebook are less widely used, perhaps because they appear more complex to master, but they are used intensively by faculty who do adopt them. The choice to use the CMS, according to the ECAR study, is driven mostly by an instructor's interest to solve a particular pedagogical problem and by experience gained from product training sessions.

The challenges of managing digital information for instructional purposes are also strengthening IHEs' commitment to the course management system. John McFadden, assistant VP for, Technology Services at Loyola College (MD), says the publishing industry's practice of bundling electronic content with textbooks is driving the need for a presentation environment. Moreover, the growing amount of digital information being used in the curriculum turn is pushing universities to find a way to store, retrieve, and deliver those materials. McFadden sees in the CMS a good toot to cope with the growing needs in academic content management.

THE ROI

Course management systems can be inexpensive to acquire and use on a small scale, but quickly add up to a substantial investment once beyond the pilot stage of usage. Stiff, entry-fever systems from the major vendors can be purchased for $5,000 or less. But full-featured packages start at around $50,000 and range through the six figures, depending on institutional enrollment and the advanced features selected. Total cost of ownership entails costs for servers and staff to provide technical support and training. Some vendors also offer ASP service, where they host the application and deriver it to campus via the Internet.

Carol Vallone, CEO of WebCT (WWW.webct.com), says that improved learning, higher retention and graduation rates, more efficient use of classroom capacity, and increased revenue through new instructional programs for an expanded enrollment of students can be achieved with course management systems. She cites the experience of the state university system of Tennessee, where five new degree programs for previously underserved populations have generated millions in new revenue. …