Course-Management Systems

Library Technology Reports, May-June 2005 | Go to article overview

Course-Management Systems


Course-management systems--which will be abbreviated in this report as CMS (not to be confused with content-management systems, also referred to by the abbreviation "CMS" and also utilized by libraries and other institutions for online-content management and also mentioned in this report)--are difficult to define because they can encompass so much. As described by Morgan, the major goal of a CMS is "to integrate a suite of teaching technologies into a powerful set of tools that make it easy for faculty to use technology in instruction" (Morgan 2003, 16).

Commonly included within the functionality of a CMS are synchronous and asynchronous communication tools, such as discussion board, online chat, and email. Organizational tools, including online calendar and syllabus, announcement board, and digital drop box, assist the instructor in managing the flow of information and content within the class.

Through online exams and quizzes, grading tools, and tracking course site use by individual students, the CMS can also help to streamline student assessment. Within the CMS, students and faculty can share URLs and digital documents, including assigned reserve reading materials.

Although the terms "course-management systems" (or "CMS") and "courseware" will be used throughout this report, be aware that this class of technology has a plethora of names:

* virtual learning environment (VLE)

* course-management software packages (CMSP)

* learning-management systems (LMS)

* course-management software (CMS)

* e-Courseware

* e-Learning courseware

* managed learning environment (MLE)

The genre of CMS technology can trace its roots to the mid- to late-1990s. Many of the early CMS were created within higher education in direct response to the lack of tools that supported online teaching. For example, WebCT was conceived on the campus of the University of British Columbia, Blackboard at Cornell University, and ATutor at the University of Toronto. While some of these systems were transferred into the commercial sector, others have remained as homegrown institutional systems.

The adoption level of CMS has increased dramatically. The annual survey of the Campus Computing Project, which includes more than 600 colleges and universities in the United States, "focuses on campus planning and policy issues affecting the role of information technology in teaching, learning, and scholarship" (from the Campus Computing Web site). According to the 2004 survey, at public universities the percentage of classes using courseware has risen from approximately 18 percent in 2000 to 43 percent in 2004. CMS use at private universities has risen at a slightly faster rate, from around 19 percent of courses in 2000 to approximately 47 percent in 2004 (Green 2004).

In spite of recent consolidations, there are still more than fifty course-management systems available. Some are extremely large, complex enterprise systems, while others are more streamlined; some commercial, and others open source.

You can find the most comprehensive look at course-management systems at the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications' EduTools site, which provides independent reviews and side-by-side comparisons.

Provided in this report will be brief overviews of some of the more commonly used or newsworthy systems, with particular emphasis on their levels of library integration.

Blackboard

Blackboard began as a project amongst students and faculty at Cornell University, but since has become one of the most popular commercial courseware systems available. Through the acquisition of competitors such a CourseInfo, Web-Course-in-a-Box, and Prometheus, the privately held company has grown in size.

Blackboard targets both the educational and business sectors with different academic and commercial suites of its product. …

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