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An Open Source Alternative to Blackboard?

Cliff posted more than 8 years ago | from the educational-options dept.

Software 84

mandrake*rpgdx asks: "The college I work for is looking into creating an all in one online system for teachers and students to be able to take tests, give online courses and do other daily tasks. They are currently looking into the Blackboard system. Is there an FOSS alternative that I could suggest using at their next meeting?"

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.LRN (5, Informative)

speleo (61031) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579496) []

Re:.LRN (3, Interesting)

darkone (7979) | more than 8 years ago | (#12580559)

We are also looking at replacing Blackboard (now $7500/year for the smallest config) with dotLRN, which is actualy built on openACS. We already have blackboard exported courses importing into dotLRN, and have worked a little on making the dotLRN interface look more like Blackboard. So far dotLRN looks VERY customizable, if you know a little tcl!
As a sysadmin for Blackboard on both a Windows and a Linux platform, I say RUN AWAY from Blackboard. Everytime I restart it I cross my fingers, and keep running the restart script until it works, or try to figure out WHICH java process didnt start this time.
Blackboard support is worse than anything, Exported courses havent worked right for months, and BBs solution is to upgrade to Oracle 9, and wait for the next update in July(ish).
Sorry for the rant, I can't wait to see some of the solutions that are posted here.

Slow newsday (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12579505)

Slow news day, huh?


Moodle? (4, Informative)

linuxwrangler (582055) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579514)

I don't know the full capabilities of Blackboard but I would look into moodle [] as an alternative.

Re:Moodle? (2, Insightful)

alienw (585907) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579932)

Blackboard is very primitive. I'm surprised they can actually sell it considering that it does not have many capabilities. At my school, hardly anybody uses it because one would have to restructure grading and so on around its very basic capabilities. It doesn't allow automatically dropped grades, and so on.

I'd say the main problem with free alternatives is really stupid project names. Moodle? WTF? People need to realize that the name is even more critical than features or capabilities. Having a bad name will get you nowhere. It needs to be simple, non-offensive, non-weird, and describe the product. I wouldn't feel comfortable putting a name like "Moodle" on university publications.

Re:Moodle? (2, Informative)

linuxwrangler (582055) | more than 8 years ago | (#12581299)

I'd say the main problem with free alternatives is really stupid project names. Moodle? WTF?

At least, unlike some projects, a Google search on "moodle" returns information relevant to the project. It used to be that a simple search for "postfix" returned pages on programming syntax. Now, possibly to the annoyance of those searching for syntax info, almost all the results are for the Postfix mail server.

Apparently geeks make more web pages or Google is biased toward geeks since a single word search on jakarta, ant, apache or forrest returns as the first hit the Apache foundation project page rather than info on Indonesia, insects, native-americans/aircraft, or woodlands.

Corporations spend big bucks on product naming. They need to know if it is copyrighted or trade-marked world-wide, whether it is potentially offensive in any region where they intend to market the product. They run market-research to find how consumers respond to the various names. Most open-source programmers are more interested in the quality of their creation than in spending time or funds on product naming research.

From the Moodle site:

The word Moodle was originally an acronym for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning environment, which is mostly useful to programmers and education theorists. It's also a verb that describes the process of lazily meandering through something, doing things as it occurs to you to do them, an enjoyable tinkering that often leads to insight and creativity. As such it applies both to the way Moodle was developed, and to the way a student or teacher might approach studying or teaching an online course. Anyone who uses Moodle is a Moodler.

Rename ... MODLE (1)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 9 years ago | (#12586692)

What they should do is take a cue from the military. Instead of making it into a cute-sounding word, leave it as an all-capitalized, jargon-laden acronym. Then it sounds much more technical and less cute and fuzzy, and thus has a much better chance of getting past a bunch of bureaucrats. Trust me, it works like a charm.

I'd also drop the second 'O', so the final name would just be MODLE, which can easily be pronounced like "model," and unlike "Moodle," you don't sound retarded, or lend yourself to cow jokes at the water cooler. (It also looks vaguely like some French world, which might appeal to intellectuals in higher education.)

Re:Rename ... MODLE (1)

Rewd (18053) | more than 9 years ago | (#12605380)

And which one are people going to *remember*?

I'm glad you didn't name this project. :-)

Heh, wtf kind of name is google (1)

MichaelPenne (605299) | more than 9 years ago | (#12602759)

I remember was it back in 96? 97? Anyway, when I first stumbled on this wierd search site, something like [] .

And I was like wtf?!? Google?? No one will ever take these yahoos seriously!

So when I found Moodle in 03, I was less concerned about the name:-).

Re:Moodle? (1)

Takeel (155086) | more than 8 years ago | (#12581612)

Blackboard is very primitive. I'm surprised they can actually sell it considering that it does not have many capabilities.

Funny thing is, if Blackboard was much more complicated than it currently is, they *definitely* wouldn't be able to sell it. You'd be surprised at how many higher education faculty members don't like even moderately complicated technologies.

Re:Moodle? (1)

cloudmaster (10662) | more than 9 years ago | (#12588295)

Yeah, the Moodle project should have come up with something more logical, like WebCT, Mallard, or intellum. Inquisiq and mindflash come to mind, too. You can develop your LMS content in Lectora, which is a stupid name (for an overpriced, low quality product).

Actually, Blackboard is about the only LMS/CMS that has a non-silly name. I do agree that it's surprising that it's sold at all - it's such a piece of crap... I *hate* developing in that environment...

Modular Object Oriented Dynamic (1)

MichaelPenne (605299) | more than 9 years ago | (#12588962)

Learning Evironment.

Is that worse than Gooooooooooogle?

On the bright side, it's GPL so you can install it and call it anything you want:-).

Re:Moodle? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12589218)

A non-stupid name? Like what? "Google"?

Re:Moodle? (1)

alienw (585907) | more than 9 years ago | (#12598899)

Google doesn't have to get past armies of bureaucrats and various officials. If it did, it would also be a stupid name.

Re:Moodle? (1)

Joe Enduser (527199) | more than 9 years ago | (#12597785)

Maybe [] . Shuttleworth at it again.

Sakai (3, Informative)

bornholtz (94540) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579553)

From the Sakai Website [] :

The Sakai Project is a community source software development effort to design, build and deploy a new Collaboration and Learning Environment (CLE) for higher education

As far as I know, creating an alternative to Blackboard is the primary focus of the project.

Re:Sakai (3, Insightful)

XCorvis (517027) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579712)

We looked at Sakai briefly - we determined that it's really just not usable for a small insititution. You need to have a lot of money and resources to pour into it to get it going. One day it will be great, but it's not ready yet.

Try Moodle [] instead.

Re:Sakai (1)

finkployd (12902) | more than 8 years ago | (#12580011)

How so? I brought it up in an afternoon to just play around with. Granted PSU has a lot of money and resources, but I didn't use any of them :)


Re:Sakai (4, Informative)

trans_err (606306) | more than 8 years ago | (#12580057)

As a student of Virginia Tech, I've had a good deal of expierence with Blackboard. Now Tech, along with a few others, is now a partner in the Sakai project. I've spoken with some of the professors involved, and all of them seem to question whether or not the final project will be "Free" in any fashion (upper or lowercase).

What I would really look into is building atop the moodle project, although its not nearly as robust, it is completely open and adding to it is actually a breeze-- (we added in university authentication and SSL quite easily).

Re:Sakai (1)

PM4RK5 (265536) | more than 8 years ago | (#12580246)

As another student of Virginia Tech, I'd like to add that, in addition to becoming a partner, Tech will be piloting the use of Sakai alongside Blackboard next year, so we will see how well that goes.

Personally, however, I hate Blackboard; it's interface, though learnable, is not nearly as intuitive as an online course management system should be, and for some reason, both professors and TAs have trouble with entering and managing grades through Blackboard. This suggests to me that Blackboard is a poorly written, but well-marketed course management system. I look forward to moving away from it.

That's my two cents.

Re:Sakai (1)

Old Uncle Bill (574524) | more than 8 years ago | (#12580800)

Not to mention Blackboard has some serious performance issues. Last version I played with was running all perl cgis for EVERYTHING "not that there is anything wrong with that". We had about 100 users on the system at any given time and it was slower than Christmas.

Moodle is proven more robust than Sakai (3, Informative)

MichaelPenne (605299) | more than 9 years ago | (#12588808)

It's being used at New Zealand Poly with >40,000 users on a 4 unit cluster, for instance.

Sakai largest installation is uMich with 27,000 students (reportedly on 27 servers) Sakai's release notes call for a new server for every 2000 students.

Moodle has a gradebook, a quiz system, and many other tools that haven't been written yet in Sakai.

Moodle is being used at more than 4000 registered sites world wide, including a number of 10,000-20,000+ student systems.

And Moodle is built with the same technology that Yahoo chose as the best for a (really) large site: PHP.

You can check out Sakai at [] , join up and try the discussion tool out.

ALso see a comparison of Moodle vs. Blackboard: [] --note this is Moodle 1.3 vs. BB 6, Moodle 1.5 is due out in a few weeks with RSS, a wiki, a new gradebook, and extensive performance tuning by the NZVLE project.

Re:Moodle is proven more robust than Sakai (1)

FCKGW (664530) | more than 9 years ago | (#12594737)

Last month I sat through a presentation of that same comparison [] you linked to at the local LUG [] . It looks like students tended to prefer Moodle slightly over Blackboard. IIRC, HSU [] (where the comparison was done) seems to want to ditch Blackboard because of high prices and lack of features in the basic version they're using.

Right now, I'm attending the community college down the road from HSU, which uses Blackboard. It's slow and clunky IMHO, and isn't used very much. Also, the two (?!?) pages leading up to the login page prominently and strongly recommend Internet Explorer (complete with big fancy IE logo), which leads me to believe that Blackboard doesn't really care about making web pages correctly. This is also a huge stumbling block to an effort I've heard about to ditch IE for Firefox at the college.

Re:Sakai (1)

manastungare (596862) | more than 9 years ago | (#12591045)

I agree; as a Virginia Tech grad student, one of our projects was to add a new module to Moodle. Although by no means easy (the code could be, well, better documented, etc.) it was doable. But I think Sakai brings with it some assurance of support, which is what University Administrators look to favorably.

Re:Sakai (1)

trans_err (606306) | more than 9 years ago | (#12623226)

It's priceless when your TAs reply to your /. posts. Hi Manas-- thanks for the CS1706 lab.

Re:Sakai (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12585127)

I'm actually heading to the sakai confrence next month. I saw a few people mention that Sakai isn't mature enough yet, I would agree with that it isn't but version 2.0 is coming out in a week or two and I believe that will be a major upgrade.

I've used both before (blackboard as a student, sakai as a programmer) and I would say blackboard is the better of the two right now but Sakai is just starting to grow.

TikiWiki? (2, Interesting)

DamienMcKenna (181101) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579557)

TikiWiki [] has added many things over the years that could help with this.

Beyond that, maybe start with e.g. Horde [] and work from there?


word of advice... (3, Informative)

nuggetman (242645) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579574)

if you're going before a school committee they most likely have their decision made already. if you want to seriously suggest an OSS alternative it may be a good idea to set up a test server, install it, play with it, learn the capabilities of the OSS programs, and be able to answer any questions they may throw at you.

Re:word of advice... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12580458)

if you're going before a school committee they most likely have their decision made already. if you want to seriously suggest an OSS alternative it may be a good idea to set up a test server, install it, play with it, learn the capabilities of the OSS programs, and be able to answer any questions they may throw at you.

Keep in mind with these systems it's not just features they look at - It's issues like TCO ("total cost of ownership"). For example, what is their cost to support the system? If a sixty-year old prof in a the classics dept. needs technical support what does he do? Does he have to post to an open-source forum staffed with geeks? Does he have to call the university's instructional design dept.? Is there a toll-free number he can call at 9pm on the weekend? Those issues are weighted very highly alongside features + related cost issues.

Jones Education Software Standard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12579593)

Its free to any accreted institution, JES [] you can go there and fill out a request for the software.

uPortal (2, Informative)

anarxia (651289) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579601)

It's already in use by several Unis so it might be just what you are looking for. It's very customizable and you can even develop your own plugins.

Re:uPortal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12601093)

I work help desk at one of the universities that created uPortal. It's terrible. Please, oh please, don't use it.

Blackboard is open source (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12579625)

Blackboard is Perl-based project, so the sources are there, not compiled or anything.

Like many open source developers do (google for SCO Group), you could just copy-paste their code and then claim you invented your own class management system when you were a student in Finland.

Moodle (1)

XCorvis (517027) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579669)

Moodle []

We're currently using it, and it's working great. One of it's best points is that it was designed with educational pedagogy in mind, which helps the teaching/learning process.

Re:Moodle (1)

bkissi01 (699085) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579760)

Yes, my former high school just implimented Moodle and although I don't know the specifics, it looks like a great tool.

Re:Moodle (3, Informative)

DenmaFat (704308) | more than 8 years ago | (#12581426)

I just took a Computer Science class that used Moodle. It was mostly great, and more useful than the average college class web page, but I did encounter a few problems:

Grades--you can see your grades any time, but only if all assignments and tests happen through Moodle. Our exams and final didn't, and because they were curved in addition, nobody knew where they really stood in the class until it was over.

More grades--a couple of times, Moodle didn't like a perfectly correct answer to a quiz question and graded it wrong. The TA was unable to override Moodle's grading, either because she couldn't figure it out, or because it's not possible (the latter, according to her). This made the grade listing even less useful.

Lastly, by the end of the fifteenth week, every time you visited the Moodle, you had a lot of scrolling to do to get to the current assignment. Maybe this is something a better-informed designer could have overcome.

Nav block or xTree (1)

MichaelPenne (605299) | more than 9 years ago | (#12589131)

ask your admin to install the Nav block or the xTree block, these let you navigate a big Moodle course from a sideblock. Tell them to ask about it on if they have questions.

iirc there are a few on sourceforge that arent bad (1)

Suppafly (179830) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579683)

I was looking for a similar system a while back and I remember finding a few decent ones on sourceforge and freshmeat and those types of sites.

yes a couple (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12579724)

Try moodle [] about which i hear good things or possibly boddington []

Sakai [] has come up on my radar recently and looks like it will certainly be the one for the future though i've no idea if it is good enough now.

For heavens sake try your hardest to avoid blackboard and webCT
They are expensive, crash all the time into non recoverable states, severly limit how you can deliver courses. Overall blackboard is the worst most expensive web software packages i have seen in a 5 year web application deployment career, i haven't seen webCT but everyone i talk to says if anything it is worse than blackboard. Having no VLE is almost better than having either of those 2.

Tips for educating yourself google for VLE (Virtual learning environment) MLE (managed learning environment) if your not up on the terminology.

Many to choose from (2, Insightful)

i.r.id10t (595143) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579751)

For pure open source, check moodle and sakai (sp?). For something that isn't F/OSS but is very customizable, check out Angel.

Personally, I never liked Blackboard. I learned WebCT back in its infancy (v 1.1, 1.something beta for Win32) after struggling with TopClass for a few months. We were up and running with 12 completely online classes (english, library science, biology, etc) in just 2 weeks using WebCT.

Also, I've been playing with Desire2Learn for a few months - they may be worthwhile in a few years, but not now.

Check with the powers-that-be regarding license costs, server costs (our new webct servers are gonna be about $22k each next fall), whos going to admin them, if publisher prepared courses are desireable (usually are by instructors, but usually include so much as to be overwhelming and therefore nearly useless), etc. Also consider that many of the big players (webct and bb included) can host courses for you on their servers, etc.

WebCT (1)

corrosive_nf (744601) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579820)

ANYTHING that can replace that POS is welcome. It doesnt even function correctly under firefox, then again it never worked right in IE either so go figure. Its just shitty software all around.

COSE (3, Informative)

eibhear (307877) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579873)

Not wholly Open Source, but have a look at COSE [] from Staffordshire University. They plan a FOSS release in the future.


Re:COSE (1)

mr_sas (682067) | more than 9 years ago | (#12610563)

Staffs Uni doesn't even use COSE theirselves though despite claims on the COSE site to the contrary.

At least I've never used it, or even heard of it in the two years I've been here, all of our course stuff relies on blackboard.

Well I say all, but most tutors prefer to simply stick up course information/documents on their uni web space..

Re:COSE (1)

Staffs Mark (886599) | more than 9 years ago | (#12624868)

mr sas is wrong about COSE.

It is true that Blackboard is the majority system, but COSE is used at Staffs particularly with Foundation Degrees. Cose is also used at a number of sites around the world, including shortly, the Gates Malaria Partnership.

To say most staff used web sites at Staffs is also wrong, in total there are 43 complete named awards in VLEs plus around 500 modules.

A new version of COSE which is internationalisable will shortly be released and, with UK Gov funding via JISC, work is going on with webservices, to provides standards conformant links to to wide range of systems.

Re:COSE (1)

mr_sas (682067) | more than 9 years ago | (#12627617)

sorry, I've just not saw COSE in use (I'm on CDS level 2)

There are two modules registered for CDS in blackboard for me - SAD and PED (both Dave Thomas owned modules).

Most staff I've encountered prefer to use their own websites to fulfill blackboard like functions. Thinking about it I guess that's because they're more likely to be html literate (although seeing the state of some of the sites you wouldn't think that!)

dupe (-1, Offtopic)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 8 years ago | (#12579878)


Ganesha (2, Informative)

The Phantom Blot (206903) | more than 8 years ago | (#12580055)

If you can read a bit of French, you might try Ganesha:

It's built on PHP and MySQL and released under the GPL. You can use it to serve AICC- and SCORM-compatible courses. It includes built-in webmail, forum, chat and document upload tools.

The interface is translated into several languages, including English. The user community is mostly French-speaking, but there are enough people who also speak English to respond to questions on the forums.

OSS = Free (2, Informative)

Momoru (837801) | more than 8 years ago | (#12580115)

I like how everyone who asks questions here is always like: "Can i get an open source solution to X?" When what they really mean is "Can I get a free solution to X?". They are almost never looking to contribute to or modify the project....which is fine, but lets say i knew of a free alternative to blackboard that wasn't open're probably still interested right? Just be up front and say you want free.

Re:OSS = Free (1)

Reverend_Train (320344) | more than 8 years ago | (#12581092)

Being free, as in beer, is just one of the many qualities that Free (and open source) software provide. Besides, an increase in user base will almost always lead to an increase in developer base (not necessarily proportionately).

Re:OSS = Free (2, Insightful)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 8 years ago | (#12581191)

They are almost never looking to contribute to or modify the project....which is fine, but lets say i knew of a free alternative to blackboard that wasn't open're probably still interested right?

One may not be "looking to" make modifications, but still want the ability to make them if cause arises.

I'm not "looking to" do any serious repairs on my car, but I would certainly take any sort of vendor lock on repairs as a negative feature when next I buy.

Re:OSS = Free (1)

FooHentai (624583) | more than 9 years ago | (#12586957)

A benefit of Open-Source development is the manner in which it's developed. There seems to be more openness surrounding an open-source project, more open support channels (and indeed more 'average joe' users who can field technical questions). This can be another reason to prefer open-source, which you've not mentioned. Also, someone may be asking for open-source software from an idealistic perspective. In that convincing their establishment to adopt and open-source solution may lead to greater exposure for 'the cause' and perhaps develop a more positive view of such software.

Re:OSS = Free (1)

TiggsPanther (611974) | more than 9 years ago | (#12586981)

It depends whether you mean "free" or "Free".

Personally I can't code for toffee and could contribute very little to FOSS projects. I'd still favour FOSS software over free-but-closed any day. Just because I perosnally can't tinker or improve it doesn't mean I don't appreciate the chance to do so, or the knowledge that others can.

I also find that when something doesn't cost anything you have to ask "Where's the catch?" With FOSS projects you know what the catch is. (You want it, you fix it) You can also check up on the project history. Even as a non-coder I certainly appreciate this. Plus you know what the project gains from having it Free - the extra potential help. With something that's simply without-cost you have to wonder what the company/writer is getting for it.

Re:OSS = Free (1)

Marcus Green (34723) | more than 9 years ago | (#12588574)

Consider the possibility that not everyone thinks like you do. Consider that some people like the ability to modify the source code. Now think really hard about this, imagine some people like their software to be gratis and to be Free and yet still send some money to the people who create software.

I have used Blackboard professionally, I have used Moodle extensively. I would choose Moodle over Blackboard without question even if Moodle came at the same license cost. It doesn't, it is Free, gratis and GPL.

Re:OSS = Free (1)

Momoru (837801) | more than 9 years ago | (#12589057)

I actually do think the way you do, I just think a lot of the people who ask these various "is there an open source version of such and such" just want a free version, but by saying "open source" it sounds like they have some greater good. A good example was the "Is there an open source tax preparation package?" question someone asked a month or two ago. One would not want to modify tax software...and since these come out yearly, they probably arn't worried about the fact that someone owns whatever. They just wanted a free version...and the responses to the question were mostly "you can do it for free on" etc. Maybe you and a large amount of other people really want the benefits of open source, and thats all well and good, but I really think in a large amount of these cases you could give someone a "free" closed source version and they would be just as happy.

Re:OSS = Free (1)

Bazman (4849) | more than 9 years ago | (#12610213)

Dont be so sure. I looked at Moodle for a deployment at my site, and discovered there was no way to hide grades from students. We wanted the teachers to be able to keep the grades hidden until the quiz was closed, or possibly afterwards. So I hacked at the PHP until it did it.
Of course I suggested this change back to the moodle people but it didn't fit in with their philosophy - how can withholding grades possibly benefit the students? Well, I'm no educational theorist, I just have to do what the lecturers here think is a good idea. So the moodle people didn't want my patches.
Anyway, that doesn't stop us using our patched version. The cost doesn't enter into it. If a commercial package doesn't have a feature you are normally even less likely to get a patch accepted, even if you can write the patch in the first place..

Get a clue! (0, Flamebait)

ZosX (517789) | more than 8 years ago | (#12580154)

Why oh why? Chances are if your staff is used to Blackboard there is no reason to switch and there is also the high likelihood that your management has never even considered an alternative for many reasons and probably has their mind made up. Anything you offer them is going to have to support blackboard modules or it will be a no brainer. Also blackboard is open source in that it is all written in Perl. If you really felt a need to modify the code it is all there in plaintext. Do some freaking homework the next time before you post to slashdot "I want an open source replacement for some essential tool because, well, open source is better." Is it?

Also keep in mind that many book publishers and test software companies create modules exclusively for Blackboard. Why on earth you would want to move away from Blackboard is beyond me considering the headache that any alternative system is going to cause your teachers. How would you feel if you were a teacher and all those tests you were going to use with Blackboard no longer were an option with the new system. And those test creators don't really work for you anymore. Blackboard support is a big deal now with college texts and it is easy to see why given the ease that teachers can deploy tests and get automatic results. My girlfriend is a college instructor and she uses blackboard quite a bit with test generators. She would be extremeley unhappy if she had to start writing test questions as she has little time to deal with even preparing for her classes.

I would just like to say this has got to be the worst idea I've heard in a while and while it is good to try and promote open sores (its a joke people!) software, this isn't something you can just replace and expect the same level of functionality from another product. Think of it this way, you have a bunch of engineers that get drafts in Autocad, how the hell would they feel if suddenly the idiotic management decided that they should be using GnuCAD which didn't support any autocad documents, because they decided that open source is "better." I'm sure it would make their lives so much better right?

I would just love to see your planning meeting.

Zealot: We should use this open source package, it won't cost us anything and we can stop licensing blackboard.
PHB: Does it support blackboard modules?
Zealot: Well, no.
PHB: What benefits does it offer over blackboard?
Zealot: Uh, uh, its free and open source!
PHB: I could care less. Next.

Do yourself a favor and research this before you even think about proposing it.

Re:Get a clue! (1)

i.r.id10t (595143) | more than 8 years ago | (#12580249)

Yeah, lots of WebCT is in perl too. And if you go modifying it you loose your support contract and start violating your licsense(s). Haven't read BB's license agreement, but I'd be supprised if they allowed playing with the perl scripts as well.

Re:Get a clue! (1)

mortenadenmark (886625) | more than 9 years ago | (#12626077)

It's not allowed to change anything in blackboard's perl scripts or even the HTML. In Blackboard its possible to create extensions or building blocks as they call it. This has an extremely low priority at Blackboard I don't get it. It actually seems as though they want to make money on the building blocks courses instead of creating a good semi-open source environment. What you do get with blackboard is security for server-up time. The question is whether it's worth the money. I don't know.

Check out Logicampus (4, Informative)

Thauma (35771) | more than 8 years ago | (#12580327)

Last time I had to research this I found logicampus [] to be the best one out there.

How does it scale? (1)

MichaelPenne (605299) | more than 9 years ago | (#12589039)

what is the largest installation?

Fenix (3, Informative)

mindstormpt (728974) | more than 8 years ago | (#12581021)

My university develops and uses it's own open source system, Fenix [] . It's actually quite cool, and handles much much more than that, including course applications, classes management, timetables, exams and workgroups management, etc. I'm just not sure if it's fully available in english. At least the site seems to be.

HTMLeZ from the University of North Dakota (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12581112)

The University of North Dakota has a nice system that they use with their aviation classes that they developed. it can be found at and I believe a demo is also available

Interact (3, Interesting)

mpoli (713584) | more than 8 years ago | (#12581706)

One of the most flexible packages I ever saw is Interact. I have tried some, but all of them seem too restricted to the model designed by the developer. So, for example, WebCT (whish I used some years ago) you have a place to put material, a place to do quizzes, but no way to make more "complex" arrangements of the capabilities. Interact, for example, operates using a "component" model. You have a number of components to choose from and you can group them in any way you like inside "Folders". Currently available components are: forum, group, dropbox, sharing, chat, journal, gradebook, quiz, folder, file, weblink, note, page, calendar, KnowledgeBase and NoticeBoard. Interact is aimed at being a complete school support system, as such, it has a unique student and teacher login for all the content, and each subject has its own "site". So teachers of a subject have administration priviledges on this subject's site, and students have access to all sites of the subjects they are currently taking. A neat feature is that each component has a unique ID, and it can be "shared" among different sites. So I can have two disciplines to share the same messages of a forum, for example. Components can be copied, as to use older subject's sites on a new subject too. Interact's site is [] where you can also find a demo to play with.

Not that great. (1)

MrCool80s (243383) | more than 8 years ago | (#12581790)

Stevens Institute of Technology joined BBone (Blackboard One) a couple of years ago. It ties a lot things together: the best of which are laundry, off-campus businesses which accept "Duckbills" and Pipeline 'groups'. However, when being pitched the system (I was on the committee), I found out later the IT dept/school had _already_committed_ to the system! Made my input and time seem wasted.

That aside, the Pipeline wemail client is _slow_ except at insane hours, updates with every resize, and not very customizable. Pine was better (TtSSh access was terminated), even with the lengthy attachment process. While administration of the groups is sensible, it is in school Administrator hands, not student hands, which has been a source of friction in a few cases.

Blackboard is awful, but... (3, Insightful)

soliptic (665417) | more than 8 years ago | (#12582663)

A fairly major part of my life is spent as a VLE administrator, using Blackboard. I've even been to conferences on the bloody thing. It's awful; everyone in the office hates it. It's a usability joke - our students can never find the things we put up there, and we can hardly blame them. Every major forum system on the internet today (phpBB, vBulletin, etc) whips the living hell out of it. The forum features are so archaic they discourage use. The navigational system is poor and confusing. The admin options are inconsistent: sometimes login-power-sensitive on the display pages, sometimes only available in a separate control panel. Everything takes at least 2 more clicks than it needs to.

However, it is very firmly embedded in academia, and I suspect you'll have a hard time dissuading them. There are mailing [] lists [] a plenty, those conferences I mentioned, a documented API/plugin architecture which already supports a fairly wide market of 3rd party extensions, which could provide another barrier to switching, etc.

So, I would love to see an OSS VLE, because there's surely room for improvement, but I'm not aware of any that's really ready, and even if there is, it faces the usual uphill battle against entrenched investment and long term commitment in terms of extensions, staff training, etc.

Moodle is ready (1)

MichaelPenne (605299) | more than 9 years ago | (#12588929)

It has equivalent features, it scales, and students like it: []

See the Comparisons and Advocacy: [] forum at (click the login as guest button to read) for discussions of folks who have or are making the switch.

eGrade Plus (1)

notNeilCasey (521896) | more than 8 years ago | (#12583113)

Full Disclosure: I work at Wiley and have done work on eGrade Plus, so I am biased.

In the past year, we've launched eGrade Plus here at Wiley [] which is a full course management system which a professor can choose to adopt along with one of our textbooks [] for his or her class. It is not Open Source though we do run it on Linux servers and used a lot of open source tools for development. I used WebCT in college a couple years ago for a few of my classes and have worked with other educational products from the back end since then, but eGrade Plus is at least a generation ahead of most of these (though I too am also very interested in Sakai and have actually been messing around with it recently on a development server).

eGrade Plus is entirely web-based and runs on our servers, but the customers are assigned to domains over which they have a lot of control. We provide a large library of question banks and default assignments for each textbook, but the professor is free to make new questions, alter or create new assignments, and generally to customize the course as much as is desired.

As we make more courses to go with more of our titles, the feature set has been expanding. For our Calculus and Physics titles, we've integrated Maple into the backend to support complex symbolic notation for calculating and entering answers by whatever mathematical method the student uses to arrive at them. There's lots of pretty cool stuff we're experimenting with here based on our own ideas and feedback from our customers, most of which has been very positive.

As I mentioned before, it is not open source. Furthermore, it is only offered for use with our textbooks. Having said that, it is very very tightly integrated with our textbooks -- each registered student has access to a full electronic version of the textbook (as well as many eGP-only supplements) which is cross-referenced with all the other assignments, questionbanks, concept demos and other supplements through their domain.

While eGrade Plus does come with the textbook we also allow and encourage students who don't like to keep their textbooks after the semester is over to purchase a registration code for eGrade Plus only instead of buying a hard copy of the book. You will have semester-long access to the electronic version of the full text for considerably less than the cost of the hard copy and with some extra features to boot.

Finally, eGrade Plus can be integrated with Blackboard and WebCT if that's what your college ends up adopting in the end (just thought that was worth a mention). If you're interested in reading even more, go here [] .

Anyway, good luck finding the right solution, I'm very interested in some of the other links I've seen posted here too. Sorry if I sounded too much like a not-too-slick marketing droid -- sales pitches aren't really my department, I'm just a code monkey interested in this stuff only partially because it's my job.

A new one called Digication (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12583180)

I work for a small college (~3000 students) and used to use a software called "campus cruiser". It was horrible - the funny thing is that there was NOT a single class that actually ended up using it. So last year, we evaluated blackboard, webct, and some of the OSS mentioned above. But at the end, we found a great little company in Rhode Island called Digication ( [] ) that has the best LMS. After seeing Blackboard and WebCT's sales pitch at our school, we realize that they are VERY expensive to start with, and come with a LOT of maintenance issues and fees. Then we looked at some OSS alternatives, and found that they would be OK if we didn't have to invest in quite a bit of money customizing the software, let alone dealing with finding the right people to administrate and maintain server. We would basically have to hire at least one full-time employee, and 2 part-time students ~$70k/yr. So when we found Digication, we realize that they would do everything (including support, hosting, backup, maintenance) for $35k/yr. We started using Digication last fall, and we already have over 50% adoption rate. According to [] , "even in the most advanced institutions only about 50 percent of faculty members are on board with the technology". The other amazing thing is that we had a REALLY low support ticket rate. Since September 2004 (9 months), there has only been 42 tickets generated. That's ~5 support tickets/month, this also shows that the product is rock solid. From what I can understand, Digication runs on Red Hat, uses apache, php, and one of the opensource DB (I think either MySQL or Postgres). Also, make sure you look out for ease of use, UI design, cos they can change your faculty adoption rate greatly!

I love OSS, but we found that in this case it's not necessarily the cheapest route.

fle3 for zope/python (1)

rjnagle (122374) | more than 8 years ago | (#12583644)

Fle3 [] is also a fairly mature and nice-looking solution. You deal with object databases instead of sql, which is a little harder to maintain and host though. But this product has been around for a long time and has some cool features

Is it just software? (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 8 years ago | (#12583911)

I notice that Blackboard is offered both as a software product and a hosted solution. Which is your school considering? If they plan to just buy the software and host it themselves, then you only need to convince them that there's a better OSS product. But if they're looking for a hosted solution, you have to offer not just an alternate software package but an ASP that can host it. (1)

MichaelPenne (605299) | more than 9 years ago | (#12589078)

offers hosting for Moodle.

One of the great things about the Moodle model is that you can change your support partner w/o changing your LMS.

With the commercial solutions if you don't like the support (and nobody seems to:-( they offer, you have to change the whole LMS. (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 9 years ago | (#12592091)

Well now. If Moodle is at all comparible with Blackboard (I'm in no position to judge, not being an educator), you've made a very good suggestion. The one compelling argument in favor of OSS proprietary software is that there's less risk of lockin with a single vendor. Moodle seems to have taken that concept and run with it as far as they possibly can. If I were making recomendations to LECOM, I'd give this a very hard look indeed.

BB as an LMS (1)

furfy (885358) | more than 8 years ago | (#12584484)

My faculty is quote happy with Blackboard. We are lucky we have money to buy the Oracle License to go with it. We have an LVS cluster for Blackboard. We have been using BB for over 5 years. It's a lot easier to learn for users then webct.

Yes you can't do some things, but mostly people are not reaching the boundaries of the system. When this happens frequently, then you need to look at an alternative.

Also keep in mind that BB and WebCT are Uni size systems. Our faculty has 500 people using BB on a daily basis as lecturers, 11000 students...student say it's great, easy to find stuff. Why? Because it's always at the same spot, where with WebCT lectureres can put the menu's all over the place and make their site personal. Student generally don't give a toss, they just want their lecturer notes and other info.

Could we move to another system. Yes, but it takes a lot out of an organization to move...try moving from Word to OpenOffice...most of the people are use to how a menu look in word...when it looks different...they are lost (yes they should read the menu...but they don't)

variety is good; Spotter, LON-CAPA for science (2, Interesting)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 9 years ago | (#12585204)

Different teachers are interested in doing different things. Science teachers don't necessarily have the same needs as foreign language teachers, and even within a particular field, teachers have their own preferences about how they want to do things. You might want to think more in terms of providing a variety of OSS tools, and letting teachers choose. This doesn't have to be instead of proprierary software; it can be in addition to it. Some teachers probably do like the proprietary systems.

For my own needs as a science teacher who doesn't teach online courses, I wrote Spotter [] , which is open source. Also check out LON-CAPA [] .

Dokeos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12585705)

My university used to have blackboard, but they've recently switched to the open-source dokeos [] . Works perfectly!

Argument for FOSS (1)

ElectricInkPen (798717) | more than 9 years ago | (#12586204)

One of the valid arguments for F/OSS software of this type which I often hear from my professors is the high cost of commecrcial systems (in our uni's case, WebCT) based on the fact that not all professors choose to utilize the system or the fact that not all class types are suited to this sort of system.
Unless your schoolsystem plans to have EVERY educator use the system regularly and to its full potential, a commercial solution probably won't be the best answer. Sure, all those bells and whistles on the "big boys" sound great, but chances are that your teachers aren't going to want to learn a complicated system, or regularly check that they've added all the new assignments, etc. Just some food for thought.

claroline (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12587320)

We use [] at our university. It's php/mysql based, and oss all the way.

in a nutshell (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12602559)

Sakai assumes you are a java shop. It's got some good schools behind it, but it's not there yet.

moodle assumes you have PHP expertise. The roadmap is great and progress is fast. It seems well-suited for small to mid-sized institutions.

TikiWiki assumes PHP and knowledge of their templating system. It works great on a class level. But I'm not sure at an institutional level.

I've team-taught a course using tikiwiki and my institution is migrating from Blackboard to moodle. We looked at Sakai too.

Dokeos (1)

turboke (524314) | more than 9 years ago | (#12605972)

Re:Dokeos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12606133)

I know that Ghent University is using Dokeos for their 26.000 students and they are running it on a normal Dell server. The Free University Brussels moved away from Blackboard in favor of Dokeos

Re:Dokeos (1)

turboke (524314) | more than 9 years ago | (#12621163)

Hogeschool Gent also moved away from Blackboard in favour of Dokeos. They use the student information that's already available on their LDAP and use a single sign-on for Dokeos and webmail.

Dokeos (1)

edremy (36408) | more than 9 years ago | (#12611149)

Too late for most readers since I just saw this topic, but take a look at Dokeos [] .

It's a GPL'ed LAMP-based CMS. We've been using it (or its parent Claroline) for the last two years here at the college. It's not feature complete when compared to BB- the biggest misses are a gradebook and an advanced conferencing system- but it does about 90% of what we need it to do. Our most recent survey got a good or excellent vote from 86% of the faculty.

It's very easy to modify and customize. I've got it set up to suck course and enrollment info from our (nonstandard) student information system, we have single sign-on through our campus uPortal, automatic access to files in our eReserve system, etc. The folks at Dokeos are pretty good about taking feedback and code (I've given a lot of the former and a bit of the latter), although once in a while a bug will slip for a bit.

I've got a BB salesdroid showing up on campus soon to try and sell us on an "upgrade". Between Dokeos, Sakai and Moodle I can't see why we'd ever need to consider a commercial product- the features BB has that are better than these groups aren't going to be used here anyway.

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