Course Management System

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This page was originally authored by Massoud Namini (2008)
Revised by Laura Macleod and Byron Kask (2009).


WebCT's Campus Edition 4

A Course Management System (CMS) is a software program such as WebCT, Blackboard, or Moodle where student learning is delivered online via the Web. A CMS shares similarities with a Learning Management System (LMS) such as NetDimensions EKP, Saba, and SumTotal but there are also differences between them, largely because of the purpose for which they were originally designed. Whereas CMS platforms were designed for academic learning purposes (Carliner, 2007), LMS were originally designed for workplace learning environments. It is worth noting that the differentiation between the two has blurred considerably since these systems were first developed. (Petherbridge 2007). In fact, many key features are now shared between the two kinds of systems.

Different Types of C/LMS

Course/Learning Management Systems C/LMSs can be broken down into several different types:

(Landon, Henderson, & Poulin 2006).


Pedagogical Issues and Concerns

CMSs offer a variety of tools to deliver course material and facilitate communication among students and between the instructor and students. They can be used for fully on-line distance course delivery, or to support regular course delivery (hybrid courses). Because C/LMSs emphasize self-paced study and individual exploration, while at the same time encouraging deeper and more sustained peer communication, it is evident that they are based on a constructivist approach and constructivist learning environment. Widespread acceptance of the use of C/LMSs has really only emerged in the last decade, so research into the effects of them on student outcomes is still in its infancy. While the jury is still out on student outcomes, it is clear that it does add a time burden for instructors. Knorr (2006) points out the dichotomy: "a relatively easy student interface, and a more time-consuming burden from the instructor's point of view." In spite of this, Knorr goes on to give three reasons why instructors would continue to use CMSs:

  1. providing a secure/private bulletin board,
  2. posting sudent grades,and
  3. posting solutions or private content.

In the same vein, Hazari (1998) stated that "faculty have to adjust to the new pedagogy that uses technology as an integral component in teaching." Until there is better research around student outcomes, particularly in large enrolment classes and in classes where the C/LMS is used to deliver a hybrid course, the instructor time investment will have unproven returns.


Key Features of CMS

  1. Communication Tools
    • Discussion Forum
    • Discussion management
    • File Exchange
    • Internal Email
    • Online Journal/Notes
    • Real-Time Chat
    • Whiteboard
  2. Productivity Tools
    • Bookmarks
    • Calendar/Progress Review
    • Searching Within Course
    • Work Offline/Synchronize
    • Orientation/Help
  3. Student Involvement Tools
    • Groupwork
    • Community Networking
    • Student Portfolios
  4. Administration Tools
    • Authentication
    • Course Authorization
    • Registration Integration
    • Hosted Services
  5. Course Delivery Tools
    • Test Types
    • Automated Testing Management
    • Automated Testing Support
    • Online Marking Tools
    • Online Gradebook
    • Course Management
    • Student Tracking
  6. Content Development Tools
    • Accessibility Compliance
    • Content Sharing/Reuse
    • Course Template
    • Customized Look and Feel
    • Instructional Design Tools
    • Instructional Standards Compliance
  7. Hardware/Software
    • Client Browser Required
    • Database Requirements
    • Unix Server
    • Windows Server
    • Company Profile
    • Costs/Licensing
    • Open Source


Using CMSs

The use of C/LMSs requires few specialized skills. For example, teachers/instructors are able to upload their existing documents in Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Acrobat, and other popular formats into templates without any file conversion. In other words, CMSs' are designed to enable teachers/instructors to use their already exising skills which were used in creating and formatting of their teaching materials. Most editing by instructors takes place in the "front-end" of the CMS so that, while they may make changes to their individual courses, they do not make changes to the whole CMS. Students using the CMS will only have front-end access.

Managing CMSs

While CMSs are designed to be user-friendly for educators and students, they must be hosted on stable servers and require robust database support. Many of the open-source CMSs are written in PHP, and are hosted on publicly-accessible web servers. Information created by all users is stored in a database such as the open-source MySQL. The installation and maintenance of CMSs are usually carried out by site administrators or technicians rather than the teachers of the course, especially in large settings such as universities or dedicated online schools. Most maintenance takes place in the "back-end," an area of the software accessible only to administrators where all aspects of the CMS can be changed.

Evaluating CMSs

Because CMSs change and evolve, assessment must take into account their latest version as well as their track record over time. Any CMS can adapt, adopt, and/or integrate any new feature into its system. This is particularly true with commercial CMSs, which are continually trying to outdo one another in the marketplace and have formalized, well-established, comprehensive user assessment feedback loops set up. Hence, the main criteria for evaluating any CMSs is their genesis, impetus, locus, and focus. (reference needed) For instance, in commercial CMSs, genesis, impetus, locus, and focus of CMSs are commercially oriented. Therefore, the bottom line and commodification of knowledge are factors to consider. On the other hand, genesis, impetus, locus , and focus of open source CMSs have social orientation; community building and/or educational accessibilities, to name just a few.

Future Outlook

CMSs enable universities to create student archives in which a very complete record of a student's past course of study can be maintained. In the same vein, a portfolio repository can also be maintained through CMSs. This repository has the potential to act as a student's academic logbook or lifelong transcript. Another potential for CMSs is the integration of personal response system technology or "clickers" such as iClicker, Turning Point, or even simply cell phones. "The use of personal response systems (i.e., “clickers”) in the classroom have some merit, and could be integrated with a CMS. A clicker is a remote control device that permits students to answer multiple choice questions from their seats in the classroom, and scores are aggregated (not necessarily for marks, but some instructors are using them for marks), thereby giving instructors a better feel for how their students are doing. It also engages students in the classroom, thereby providing motivation for students to attend and participate." (Knorr, 2006).
In short, CMSs' future outlook has a great potential in integrating the following:

  1. Integration of e-Archive
  2. Integration of e-Portfolio
  3. Integration of remote control devices.


References

EduTool. (2008)CMS: Product Comparison System: Retrieved March 03, 2008 from
http://www.edutools.info/compare.jsp?pj=4&i=592
Hazari, S. I. (1998). Evaluation and selection of web course management tools. Retrieved [March 03, 2008] from http://www.sunilhazari.com/education/webct Knorr, E. M. (2006): Course Management System (CMS) Evaluation and Strategy at UBC: A Viewpoint from the Faculty of Science
http://www.cs.ubc.ca/~knorr/public/WCCCE_2006_CMS_UBC.pdf
Landon, B., Hederson, T., & Poulin R. (2006). Peer Comparison of Course/Learning Management Systems, Course Materials Life Cycle, and Realted Costs, Final Report. Cambridge: Massachussetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved March 02, 2008 from [http://web.mit.edu/emcc/www/MIT-WCET-C-LMS-Final-report-07-19-06.pdf
Saul, Carliner (2005): Course Management System Versus Learning Management System.
http://www.cedma-europe.org/newsletter%20articles/ASTD/Course%20Management%20Systems%20versus%20Learning%20Management%20Systems%20(Nov%2005).pdf

See Also