It was over a year ago—October 2007, to be exact—when we started seriously investigating options to replace Blackboard as our LMS. Although there are dozens of Learning Management Systems out there, our investigation focused on 4 systems. We examined a number of features. The list below isn’t complete (the full list has over 25 features), but includes some of our higher priorities:
- Overall ease of use
- Discussions can be linked to the gradebook
- Web 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis
- Synchronous communication (chat or whiteboard)
Blackboard has a number of issues that we wanted to address by moving to a new system. For example, the chat tool in Blackboard is sporadic at best. We tried repeatedly to get it to work without any real success. We could only have one person in a chat room at a time, and the process for installing the necessary plugins was cumbersome. Blackboard’s gradebook can be challenging to use both from our perspective of creating the gradebook and from the facilitators’ perspective of entering grades and comments. We really wanted a system where discussion forums could be linked directly to the gradebook since we use that tool heavily in our courses.
As for Web 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis, we’ve been using those tools in a number of existing courses by relying on external hosts. However, we listened to the facilitator and student feedback that said it could be confusing to submit content multiple places and juggle usernames and passwords on multiple sites. Concerns about the privacy of online conversations were also raised. We knew that if we could find an LMS that included these tools internally that we could alleviate those problems. Some courses will still continue to use external tools for various reasons, both technical and pedagogical, but having a “walled garden” where learners can be introduced to Web 2.0 tools in a safe, approachable environment will be a big advantage.
From our list of four systems, we eliminated two. The two systems we removed from consideration in this early stage both had issues with usability; we personally found them confusing in places. They were lacking in some of the tools we felt were important. They both lent themselves primarily to a linear, hierarchical course development model, where students were locked into following a prescribed path and everyone has to learn the same way. We also felt that neither of these systems provided any significant improvement over Blackboard. If there wasn’t going to be major improvements in how we could develop and teach, it wasn’t worth all the work to convert and train.
Once we had our top two choices, we could move to more formal usability testing. It’s one thing for us to evaluate how easy a system is to use based on our individual perception and experience, but quite another to set up a formal test and time how long people actually take to complete tasks in the system. That usability testing will be the focus of Natalie’s post next week.