+ Moodle and Other “Course Management Systems”

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According to Andrew Trotter, in Digital Directions, course management systems (CMS) are increasingly being used by teachers to distribute assignments, homework, and assessments to students and parents.

EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit group that promotes the use of information technology in education, offers a definitions of a  CMS:

At its simplest, a course-management system is a tool that allows an instructor to post information on the Web without that instructor having to know or understand HTML or other computer languages.

A more complete definition of a CMS is that it provides an instructor with a set of tools and a framework that allows the relatively easy creation of online course content and the subsequent teaching and mangement of that course, including various interactions with students taking the course.

The Teacher Education Center at Illinois State University offers this list of features in any good CMS:

  • Announcements
  • Calendar
  • Gradebook
  • Asynchronous discussion boards
  • E-mailing (internal) and/or external accounts
  • Online journal
  • Whiteboard
  • Dropbox
  • Document sharing, including digital pictures, audio and streaming video
  • Team areas that include tools for collaboration, managed by the instructor
  • Quiz. test, and survey options
  • User-activity reports

Moodle is perhaps the most popular rival to Blackboard.  It is free, while Blackboard charges for the service.

Moodle has a modular design that allows a teacher to start by using just a few of the tools, and then graduating to more.

Moodle was developed over the past decade by a global community of both commercial and noncommercial users led by Moodle, a donor-funded company based in Australia.

Under the terms of its open-source license, any user or contractor can use the software on an unlimited number of computers and modify the program to add unique or specially tailored functions.

There are outside hosts and programming companies which specialize in Moodle and can provide schools with technical skills they may lack.  The global community of users is also available for help. 

Trotter spoke to Amy W Junker, senior analyst at Robert W Baird & Co, an investment-research firm in Milwaukee.  She expects the K-12 market for course-management systems to expand.

High schools, in particular, may see them as a great way to help students prepare for higher education, which uses online and hybrid courses on a regular basis.

Players in the Industy

sole source: Andrew Trotter’s article in Digital Directions Magazine, an Education Week publication; Spring/Summer 2008.  www.digitaldirections.org

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