EVALUATION OF COURSE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
Most advanced platforms provide some mechanisms for online testing and evaluation. They allow faculty to post a variety of exam types, randomize the test questions for each student, and limit the time available to each student to take the exam, automatically grade objective exams.
These platforms often allow the faculty to track the progress of students, graphically display the time spent on the computer performing certain tasks, and maintain an electronic grade book that permits the entry of objective exams and subjectively graded papers and reports. Some companies / platforms provide a variety of administrative functions. They may support online registration, online fees handling, student support, and even faculty support.
Course management systems (CMS), learning management systems (LMS), Instructional software applications, and course delivery platforms all refer to the software that support tools necessary to deliver training and educational materials online. Some platforms are more intuitive and easier to use than others. Most of them provide course templates that are simply filled with course content by the faculty member. Some platforms require the faculty to know limited HTML language while others have built-in Web authoring tools. Such tools allow you to create sparkling Web pages without the need to know HTML. The HTML is created in the background by the authoring software. You can choose colors, fonts, backgrounds, graphic files, and other features without having to leave the course delivery platform. Some platforms allow the faculty to introduce jpeg, gif, and animated gif files. Some will support multimedia capabilities including streaming audio and video. The pedagogically advanced platforms provide a variety of synchronous and asynchronous tools including email, threaded discussions, bulletin boards, and newsgroups. Many provide synchronous tools including chatrooms, voice chatrooms, whiteboards, and even videoconferencing.
Comparisons of Course Delivery Platforms
Because there are presently more than 60 online providers of course delivery platforms, it would be difficult to review them for all of these categories prior to selecting one for use in your company or on your campus. Educators and administrators could easily be overwhelmed investigating these online course delivery platforms. Fortunately there is good news. There are a number of Web sites that offer an evaluation of online course delivery platforms. Among the most useful and objective of these is provided by Bruce Landon at http://www.ctt.bc.ca/landonline/.
The site sponsor is the Centre for Curriculum, Transfer and Technology. A partial listing of course delivery platforms arranged alphabetically are provided in Table 7.1.Most of these platforms are available for comparative analysis at the Bruce Landon Web site. I have included two additional platforms*. There are several other sites available that provide reviews of online courseware and these are listed in Table 7.2
Table 7.1 A Partial Listing of Course Delivery Platforms
The Learning Manager
Top Class (WBT)
Web Course in a Box
Table 7.2 Web sites that Evaluate of Online Course Delivery Platforms (Adapted from Landon, B. 2000, Online educational delivery systems: A Web tool for comparative analysis, http://www.ctt.bc.ca/landonline
Bruce Landon Web site reviews of online educational delivery systems.
Distance learning for the rest of us
CM & CMS, Review, evaluation, adoption, training/support & deployment
Comparing software for online et teaching
Evaluation and selection of Web course management tools
Review of leading asynchronous web based course delivery systems
Review of leading synchronous web based course delivery systems
Survey of online education tools
A project to provide a useful Web tool for the comparative evaluation of online course delivery platforms was undertaken by Bruce Landon in collaboration with the B.C. Standing Committee on Educational technology, The Centre for Curriculum Transfer and Technology, The office of learning technologies, and the Center for Learning Technologies at Mt. Allison University. The project provides quantitative and qualitative data on online instructional software applications (course delivery platforms). The terms Instructional software applications and online course delivery platforms are often used interchangeably. The whole field of online education is filled with overlapping definitions and ambiguous terminology because it is an immature and rapidly expanding area. For our discussion, I prefer to use the term online course delivery platform since most applications today have expanded to include many functions. The evaluation data used on the Langdon Web site was obtained by soliciting raters from across North America and some participants outside of North America. Information was also gathered from software vendors and from examining case studies at various educational institutions. National peer reviewers also provided input into initial development of the site. You can obtain more information on the development and use of this site at http://www.ctt.bc.ca/landononline/backgrn2.html. A comparison table for all applications is available at http://www.c2t2.ca/landonline/sbsall.htmll.
The Landon Web site provides four options for comparing online educational delivery applications:
OPTION ONE. Review the Technical and Instructional specifications. Recommended for those who have ALREADY narrowed their choice to one or two applications or for those want to do a QUICK SCAN of possibilities without predetermining criteria/features.
OPTION TWO. Review by Criteria.Recommended STARTING POINT for educators UNFAMILIAR with the instructional functions and technical specifications of online educational delivery applications.
OPTION THREE. Review by Comparing Selected Applications by Selected Features in a Custom Table Recommended for those are preparing reports or presentations involving a subset of the applications on selected features/tools. The rows and the columns for custom tables are selected from a checklist of features and a checklist of applications. The table which is a complete overview of the information available can be made by selecting all features and all applications. The custom tables can be reorganized by exchanging rows and columns. The printable size of the table can be adjusted by changing the browser's font size (via the Browser View menu).
OPTION FOUR. Custom Application Evaluation. Previous version Recommended for those who want to set their own weights and values to the criteria to determine how scores for applications compare. This process involves selecting which criteria are important enough to rate and then rating the applications to be compared on each of those criteria. These weights and ratings are then entered into a customized form that computes the weighted average scores. Using weighted averages for determining the scores for the applications is explained in a brief demonstration , example and a white paper.