Thursday, July 24, 2008

Can You Trust the 800-Pound Gorilla?

Moodle Course Management System  with a naviga...Image via Wikipedia
Until two years ago, my college used WebCt as a CMS or course management system. We switched that year to a smaller - though agile CMS - Angel. As you would expect, this was a big project, which included moving all of our existing courses from WebCT to Angel and re-training all of or faculty and staff invovled with distance education. The impetus for these actions was the purchase of WebCT by Blackboard. In the CMS world, Blackboard is the 800-pound gorilla - the Microsoft of their industry. Faced with transitioning to Blackboard or staying with WebCT - until their product lines merged, we picked option C instead. We've been extremely happy with our choice. Angel is an extremely easy to learn and user-friendly CMS and more importantly, AngelLearning is a really great, responsive company.

I talk to colleagues at colleges throughout the country. Many schools that faced the same choice chose to stay with WebCT - essentially putting off the transition, while others moved to Blackboard, but were often frustrated by the quality of WebCt courses imported into Blackboard. Another - even more adventurous - group has decided to forgo the commercial treadmill and opt instead for open source alternatives such as Moodle and Sakai - the Linux in our gorilla/Microsoft analogy. I'm skeptical of the following story. I just don't see Blackboard working to create an open source tool to connect/transition a Blackboard course into an open source alternative. If - a big IF - they did this, they would be creating a way for anyone unhappy with Blackboard - too expensive, too big, too unresponsive, whatever - to move their course to a free competitor. I'll believe it when I see it! Blackboard Says New Tool Will Synchronize With Competitor
Blackboard Inc. has teamed up with programmers at Syracuse University to let its course-management software connect with Sakai, a free open-source alternative. But some fans of open-source software have expressed skepticism about whether the company, which is known for its aggressive tactics, will deliver on its promise for greater openness.

Although Blackboard sells colleges licenses so that every course on a campus can use its software, some campuses that have licenses are dabbling with Sakai or other open-source software for at least a few courses or other services. The goal of the new software link is to let users seamlessly shift between courses and services that use Blackboard and Sakai, without having to go to another Web site or re-enter a user name and password.
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