A Review of Two Course Management Systems


CourseSites by Blackboard

URL: https://www.coursesites.com/webapps/Bb-sites-course-creation-BBLEARN/pages/index.html



URL: http://www.ectolearning.com/default.aspx


According to our text (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009, p.239-240) course management systems typically provide the following features:

  • Course Management tools – provisions for syllabus, calendar, announcements, assignment instructions, learning objectives, student roster and glossary;
  • Readings – tools for listing required and recommended readings;
  • Content Presentation – lecture notes online, embedded media, streamed audio/video, graphics, photographic slides, and/or PowerPoint presentations;
  • Course Communication – tools allowing for synchronous and/or asynchronous communication on several levels (i.e., one-to-one, within groups, one-to-several).
  • Group Project Space – self-contained workspace availability
  • Student Assessment – tools for exams and quizzes, electronic grading, statistical analyses
  • Digital Drop-box for Assignment Submission


Further, many course management systems also provide the following features (Simonson, et al, 2009, p.240-248):


  • Course Evaluation Tools – for the instructor
  • Course and System Statistics – detailed statistics on elements accessed by students, including length of time, downloads, hits, etc.
  • Course Supplements – typically in the form of a partnership with textbook publishers providing learning goals, objectives, amplification of content, annotated links to relevant websites, and additional course readings, etc.
  • Partner Applications – possible plug-in applications within the course management system to further expand capabilities and options
  • Electronic Coursepacks – electronic material copy-right cleared
  • Plagiarism Detection
  • Web 2.0 – Blogging, Wikis, Podcasting, Social Bookmarking, Social Networking, Virtual Worlds


I reviewed the two CMS sites both prior to and after reading the relevant portion of our text. In fact, I probably would not have selected CourseSites by Blackboard if I had read that segment of material beforehand as our text states “two CMS industry leaders in education are Blackboard and…” (Simonson, et al, 2009, p.239). However, I did review CourseSites and can honestly say that I understand why they are considered so highly.


CourseSites by Blackboard (CS) offers as plethora of features including: customizable and standardized course themes (everything from Science, History, Psychology), instructor homepage, learning modules, K-12 State Standards alignments, multiple languages, interactive rubrics, instructor notifications regarding items that need grading, central course file management including assignments, lesson plans, notifications, and extensive course organization tools such as to do lists, calendar, past due lists, and notifications for “needs attention”, etc., Web 2.0 features such as text notifications, instant messaging, live classroom, mash-ups, wikis, blogging, podcasts, RSS, chat live, discussion forums, mobile learning and accessibility, social media such as Youtube and Flickr, digital journals, tools such as Wimba and Elluminate, and 24/7/365 accessibility. Further, you can manage up to five different courses for free and the instructor has a dashboard which clearly indicates where everything is located. The site is also very easy to use and offers a great deal of tutorial help in a step-by-step fashion. There are videos to watch for help, as well as online print instruction in steps 1, 2, 3. One of the most amazing features was the flexibility in options for the new online teacher. Examples walk you through every step of the way and even provide a template customized to the type of class you want to develop (i.e., Web 2.0, constructivist, action-based, performance based, chapter based, as well as about 15 other types).


The only downside to this site would be that there is so much available to use and there is only a finite amount of time. This site is definitely ALL THE BANG FOR THE BUCK, but for the novice online teacher it may be serious overkill. I have attended Walden University for over a year and I have also utilized another CMS (Quia), and I still find CS both awe inspiring and a little OVERWHELMING.


EctoLearn (Ecto) is also a wonderland of features and then some. In fact, it was touted as “a solid contender for best free online CMS” online at EmergingEdTech (Walsh, 2011, p. 1). It does offer all the features suggested by our text including course management, grading, instructor homepage, etc. It also offers the Web 2.0 features such as blogging, podcasting, messaging, discussion boards, paced learning, collaborative and constructive learning, and social media features such as Flickr and Youtube, and accessibility 24/7/365. Also, Ecto is a free site and hosting is included.


At first it was difficult for me to discern any differences between the two sites in terms of features. Superficially, they are pretty similar. However, upon reflection I noticed a few things. For instance, CS provided information in all three ways, via print, graphics (screenshots of examples) and video prior to signing up so it was easy to see what CS meant by “course themes” or “selected instruction”. Ecto provided no screenshots and their information lacked specific details. They did provide a lot of videos that helped to explain things. But, if the person is not a “video” type person, they may have missed out. Both sites offered “FAQs”, but again, CS was much more informative regarding the types of questions answered PRIOR to signing up as a user.


I did sign up with both sites to compare the dashboard and user features from the “inside.” Again, CS came up ahead, at least for me. The dashboard was more user friendly and there is step-by-step guidance, as well as downloads and tutorials. The Ecto dashboard was full of terminology that was unfamiliar and no pop-up tutorials flashed by to guide me. I found myself hunting and pecking trying to figure out what to do and where to go. I finally found the tutorial information, but I was pretty frustrated by then.

Both of the CMS sites fulfilled the minimal requirements to be considered functional CMS sites, including relevant emerging technologies as per our resources (Beldarrain, 2006; Simonson et al., 2009). Of course in 2006 when Beldarrain published his article in Distance Education these technologies were “emerging,” but in 2011 they have been around for quite a while and evolved still further. Both CS and Ecto are on the cutting edge, so to speak, in offerings for CMS for the instructor and students who use them. Choosing between these two sites would ultimately become an issue of personal preference, because they both certainly offer everything and the kitchen sink.



Beldarrain, Y. (2006, August). Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2), 139-153. doi: 10.1080/01587910600789498


Graziadei, W. D., Gallagher, S., Brown, R. N., & Sasiadek, J. (n.d). Building asynchronous and synchronous teaching-learning environments: Exploring a course/classroom management system solution. Retrieved from http://horizon.unc.edu/projects/monograph/CD/Technological_Tools/Graziadei.html


Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th Ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.


Walsh, K. (2011). EctoLearning is a solid contender for best free online CMS. Retrieved from http://www.emergingedtech.com/2011/03/ectolearning-is-a-contender-for-best-free-online-cms/



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