Comparative Features Analysis of Leading Course Management Software
Note: This report compares versions of six leading course management software packages as of January 2, 2000.
Summary | Top |
During the spring and summer of 1999, The University of the Future, LLC, (FutureU) completed a research study to identify a robust set of features that support teaching and learning online and then compared six leading course management software (CMS) packages to determine the extent to which each one of the six packages provides the desired features. A report on the results of this research was published on October 13, 1999. A month following the initial study, WebCT submitted an updated feature list based on version 2.0 of their product. The current report reflects integration of these updated features into the narrative and tables.
The purpose of this investigation was twofold: 1) to help academic institutions make informed decisions when they purchase or upgrade CMS products and 2) to help CMS developers make informed decisions when they plan for product development and marketing.
The research identified a total of 94 desired features. A comparison of the six packages reveals that WebCT offers the most features (82), followed closely by Web Course in a Box (79). These were followed next by a tie between Blackboard's CourseInfo (75) and the Embanet implementation of Intralearn (75). The other two packages in the study were WBT System's TopClass (48) and Virtual Learning Environments VirtualU (65).
Introduction | Top |
Higher education is experiencing a growing demand for access to technology-mediated or "online" learning. Reduced costs and increased functionality are allowing more and more academic decision makers to justify technology-mediated learning initiatives. One of the fastest growing areas in the technology-mediated educational arena is the use of the Internet by colleges and universities to supplement face-to-face courses with online components and to deliver some courses completely online.
Until recently, most academic administrators sought, above all, to minimize the cost of technology mediation. Now, attitudes are evolving and many administrators are acknowledging that a significant investment in online education can yield valuable long-term benefits that are well worth the cost. As a result, they are beginning to increase support and funding for online learning.
Until recently, most vendors have been promoting their products as a way to lower costs. But this has not proven true in practice. Initial investment requirements can be especially high. The payoff comes not in cost savings but in support for teaching existing courses and higher revenue from increases in the size of learner populations that can be served. Online delivery allows an institution to serve a larger population and to serve its current students better, thus attracting more dollars from both sources.
Course Management Software
Key to a wise online initiative is robust course management software (CMS) that is easy to learn; easy to use; flexible; rich in features for learning, teaching, and administration; easy to integrate with other software and easily upgraded to future versions.
More than a dozen players are currently struggling to grab market share in the dynamic, rapidly evolving CMS marketplace. Armed with a greater understanding of their competition and customer needs, they can make informed choices about how to invest in product enhancement and market positioning. Their customers can make more fully informed decisions about which course management software will best meet their needs. FutureU intends this report to address both of these purposes.
Methodology | Top |
FutureU searched popular periodicals such as Byte, InfoWorld, PC Magazine, PC Week, and Syllabus, as well as several books and six university Web sites for reviews and comparisons of CMS packages. The search revealed mentions of more than a dozen different CMS products. (See Appendix 2 for a complete list of the articles and Web sites searched in this study.)
A decision was made to focus on the five CMS products most frequently recommended for use in academic settings:
- Blackboard's CourseInfo
- MadDuck Technologies' Web Course in a Box (WCB)
- Universal Learning Technology's WebCT
- Virtual Learning Environment's VirtualU
- WBT System's TopClass
A sixth vendor, IntraLearn, is a relatively new entrant into the CMS arena and is included, as a point of reference for what is technologically feasible today. However, it should be pointed out that currently available third-party products allow the integration of the widest variety of technology-driven features—as other vendors reviewed in this study so aptly demonstrate.
IntraLearn's current market strategy is to function as a distributor, selling only to third-party providers such as Embanet. For this reason, FutureU chose the Embanet implementation of IntraLearn for this study.
Groupware software such as FirstClass and Lotus Notes were not considered in this comparison because they tend to lack specific tools for learning and teaching. Lotus Notes LearningSpace was also eliminated because its much more complex tool set makes it difficult to compare with the more standard CMS products.
Products such as Asymetrix' Toolbook and Macromedia's Authorware were not included because they are primarily intended for corporate training, not higher education. And, although they offer a rich set of features that make them useful in academic education, they are enough different to warrant a separate evaluation that explores their unique feature sets.
Several companies, notably Blackboard, Convene, Embanet, eSocrates, eCollege, and Jones University market additional consulting and implementation services as well as course management software. These services are not evaluated in this report.
In future studies, FutureU will evaluate groupware, comprehensive consulting solutions, and third-party providers of CMS access in greater detail.
At FutureU, we take the position that satisfaction with any one CMS product is highly subjective and that any attempt at quantitative analysis would therefore be fruitless. Instead, we have developed a check list of desired features and indicated whether each of the six CMS products either has or does not have each feature. Similarly, we have made no attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of specific features, because we believe that idiosyncratic learning and teaching styles can profoundly influence an individual's assessment of effectiveness. The single quantitative measure we do provide is a score of the number of features in a given CMS product as a function of the total number of features evaluated in this study.
The feature list itself was assembled using three criteria. To be included on the list, a feature must be:
- Considered essential for online teaching and learning by FutureU technical staff
- Frequently requested by FutureU clients
- Frequently mentioned in third-party reviews
The assumption was made that the ideal learning environment, whether face-to-face or online, would routinely support students first, faculty second, and administration third. Features that support students were divided into two categories: learning tools and collaboration tools. Features that support faculty were divided into: authoring tools and course management tools. A handful of "back-office" administrative features were also included on the list of desired features.
For a complete list of the features considered in this study, see Appendix 1: Basic Feature List.
Data Sources | Top |
Data for this study came directly from the six vendors, supplemented with information from current journal articles and from Web sites that offer access to local evaluation initiatives.
An email message went out from FutureU to each of the six companies whose products we hoped to evaluate. Attached to the email was an Excel spreadsheet containing our best guess as to whether the company's product did or did not have each of the desired features. We asked each company to confirm whether it offered each of the features and to explain, in writing, any disagreements with our assumptions. We then revisited each software vendor's demo site to confirm for ourselves that their answers were indeed true.
Several vendors chose to answer "Coming Soon" instead of "No" to particular features. Since software release dates are often delayed, we chose to convert all such answers to "No" and leave it up to the marketplace to keep tabs on future changes.
Discussion of Data | Top |
The research led to a list of 94 features deemed desirable for a course management software package. The total list was then divided into three categories and five subcategories:
- Student Tools (40 features)
- Learning Tools (18 features)
- Collaboration Tools (22 features)
- Faculty Tools (39 features)
- Authoring Tools (14 features)
- Course Management Tools (25 features)
- Administration Tools/Costs (15 features)
A comparison of the six most popular products revealed the following:
WebCT version 2 has the highest number of desired features (82 out of 94, or 86% of the total list). Web Course in a Box version 4, has the next highest number of features (79 out of the 94, or 84% of the total list). The Embanet implementation of IntraLearn and Blackboard's CourseInfo tied for the second highest number of features at 75 (80% of the total list). A noticeable gap appears between these and VirtualU, with 65 (69%) of the desired features. By far the lowest product in terms of number of desired features is WBT System's TopClass, with only 48 features, or 51 percent of the desired total.
Five of the CMS products rely on third-party providers for at least some of the desired features. Tables 1-4 use the abbreviation "3p" to identify features provided by third parties.
WCB offers 12 features, VirtualU offers 9, and WebCT offers 4 features this way. FutureU advocates open design standards and ease in integration of third-party add-ons. So we suggest that reliance on outside vendors should be perceived not as a negative but rather as an indicator of adaptability and potential for easy future expansion.
For WCB, the "outside" features are: library and information access, annotation/markup, glossary help, study skill building, access to newsgroups/list servs, team building, advanced course design, automated table of contents and indexing, course search engine, Web search tools, calculation of class grade averages, and online-student/faculty orientation.
For VirtualU, the third-party features are white boarding, both audio and video teleconferencing, self-assessment exercises, Web search tools, timed and repeatable quizzes, and timed and repeatable exercises.
For WebCT, the third-part features are access to ListServs/News groups, and teleconferencing, both video and audio.
IntraLearn and CourseInfo also use third-party providers for a few features: IntraLearn for three types of teleconferencing (audio, video, and live text-based) and library/information access; CourseInfo for chat and chat archiving.
Tables 1 through 5 illustrate which features are present or absent in each of the six CMS products.
Table 6 compares the six products on each of the five feature set subcategories: learning, collaboration, teaching, course management, and administration.
Quick Jump To:
- Table 1. Comparisons of features among CMS products evaluated: Learning Tools.
- Table 2. Comparisons of features among CMS products evaluated: Collaboration Tools.
- Table 3. Comparisons of features among CMS products evaluated: Authoring Tools.
- Table 4. Comparisons of features among CMS products evaluated: Course Management Tools.
- Table 5. Comparisons of features among CMS products evaluated: Administration Tools/Costs.
- Table 6. Comparative scores on the presence and absence of specified feature sets.
Feature Descriptions | Top |
Students use two broad categories of tools from the list of desired CMS features: tools for individual learning and tools for online collaboration.
Bookmarking. The nonlinear nature of the Internet makes it hard for students to keep track of where they left off in their work. A bookmarking tool allows them to stop at any point and return later to the exact same spot. Given how much time students spend retracing their steps in the online environment, such a tool is much more than a mere convenience. Because most Web browsers include a bookmarking feature, and all six of the CMS products in this study are browser accessible, all six have access to this feature. WebCT also has its own built-in bookmarking system.
Student Area. A specific area set aside to organize and share ongoing work is another important feature of a collaborative work environment.
Library and Information Access. For accreditation purposes and to fully support distance learners, online access to library and information services is essential. Most CMS products ignore this feature, requiring their customers to implement their own library and information services. IntraLearn provides a place for internal links to existing library and information services. WCB offers a third-party planning tool for creating or enhancing library and information access for online learners. CourseInfo, VirtualU, and WebCT allow no specific library access help, but they all, as well as WCB offer easy interface with existing library access points and they are all open to the Web. WebCT alone offers a special "Reference Tool" that allows resource and content catalogs to be placed wholly within any give course Web site. TopClass provides no help in this area.
Annotation. WebCT is the only software with a built-in tool that allows instructors to mark up assignments and that allows students to mark up documents created collaboratively. WCB offers a link to a third-party annotation tool, but the remaining vendors provide no system for electronic annotations.
Glossary. Every good CMS package includes a glossary that is either instructor generated and/or generated by the learners themselves. VirtualU and WCB both provide a Web-based template that allows the instructor to create a glossary, but neither of these products has an automated interface to its glossary template. WebCT and IntraLearn both provide built-in, fill-in-the-blanks glossary generators. CourseInfo and TopClass do not support this feature.
Course Index/Search Engine. The ability to search an entire course Web site helps both learner and instructor to deepen learning through review. CourseInfo, TopClass, WebCT, and IntraLearn all offer automatically generated course indices and course-wide search engines. VirtualU plans this feature but doesn't currently offer it. MadDuck has identified third-party search engines that can be applied to any WCB generated course, provided the instructor is willing to turn off course-access security for the short indexing period.
Learning Exemplars/Guidance. All six CMS vendors claim to provide student guidance and learning examples. As of this report date, however, WCB is the only product with a self-paced or instructor-led online course to prepare students to use the Internet for learning; included are specific guidance for creating an effective online study environment, mastering the study habits necessary for success in the online environment, and handling the most common technology issues.
Access to Grades. When students have access to their own grades, they can better track the progress of their own learning. All six CMS vendors give student a way to access their own grades. TopClass, VirtualU, WebCT, WCB, and IntraLearn also let students compare their own grades to the class average. None of the vendors provide automated assignment reminders.
Student Guide. All six CMS packages have a printed guide for documenting student-centered functions. VirtualU also includes examples to help guide students through the experience of learning to use the online classroom. As stated above, WCB offers a third-party course in how to maximize online learning.
Self-Assessment Exercises. Students deepen their learning when they can check their own progress as they make their way through an online course.. The simplest tool for this purpose is a self-scoring quiz/exercise generator that reports measurements such as score, elapsed time, and number of attempts. This feature can also be used to create scored tests for use in assessing a student course grade. All the vendors in this study offer some sort of quiz generator that can be used for self-assessment exercises. Although third-party providers of online quiz generators are numerous, VirtualU is the only vendor to offer a third-party solution for this feature.
Study Skill Building. Many first-year college students have such poor study skills that they are encouraged to take remedial education in the basics of studying. The online environment is such that online students must be even better organized, more disciplined and more skilled at time management than their face-to-face counterparts. Tools for building study skills can range from a simple review tool (e.g., a glossary builder) to a full course on study-skills. Among the six providers in this study, WCB is alone in offering a third-party course that covers the study skills necessary for the online environment.
Student Web Pages. Student Web pages help the virtual learner get organized and share information with other students. CourseInfo, VirtualU, WCB, and WebCT all give students a way to create their own personal Web home pages. WCB also offers two additional kinds of student pages not offered by any of the other vendors: Project and Portfolio pages. VirtualU offers a "student space" that displays a graphical desktop to represent a dormitory study corner, complete with desk, dictionary, calendar, and other metaphorical features.
Research has shown that the most effective learning model for the online classroom encourages a high degree of interaction and collaboration among learners.(1) This suggests that tools for facilitating collaboration may be the most important aspect of any course management software product. For purposes of this study, FutureU identified the minimum set of tools necessary for effective online collaboration. These tools include features that facilitate discussion, simplify document sharing, and simplify group work.
Discussion Options. Discussion options for collaboration should include at least email (for one-to-one discussions) and either mailing lists/list servs or text-based conferencing (for many-to-many discussions). Bulletin board or classified listings that allow one-to-many communications are also useful but not essential.
Depending on the course design, synchronous discussion tools are also helpful. Especially when the content includes graphic images or complicated symbols, a white board function is helpful. Synchronous chatting and video or audio conferencing can add a dimension to the interaction that many find helpful, but these features are not essential for successful collaboration and can be counter-productive unless well managed by a clear set of participation rules.
A mailing list/list serve function creates a discussion environment in which the learner may choose among the following options for delivery of discussion forum content:
- Visit discussion forum Web page
- Receive discussion forum messages by email
- Receive email notice of new messages in discussion forum
- Receive email summary of new messages from discussion forum
A quick look at Table 2 shows that the products are "all over the map" in how they deliver collaborative discussion tools and in which ones they choose to offer. There is so much variation, in fact, that future upgrades and new product developments seem likely in this area.
All six packages offer some type of one-to-one email service. Among the hundreds of students FutureU has dealt with, a general preference is reported for the approach to email taken by CourseInfo, VirtualU, and WCB. All three of these CMS packages use the email function built into the Web browser rather than proprietary email like that offered by TopClass or WebCT. This means that students who already have their own email accounts on an ISP or the campus server, don't have to check multiple email in boxes to manage their communications.
Both CourseInfo and IntraLearn offer their own many-to-many list serve/newsgroup function, while WCB offers access to third-party newsgroup software, if desired.
All six packages offer both synchronous and asynchronous, text-based conferencing, but only CourseInfo and IntraLearn offer a bulletin board where students may post one to many announcements. WCB and WebCT offer an announcement function for use by the instructor, but not accessible to students. WebCT claims to offer a bulletin board function for students, but this is a misnomer as what they are referring to is the text-based conferencing function. Though this is a moot point, as any system that has text-based conferencing can create a discussion forum that is set aside for posting one-to-many notices. So you could answer "yes" there is a bulletin board for any CMS package that offers text-based conferencing (asynchronous, not chat).
All except TopClass provide a chat function, either built in or through a third party, although VirtualU?s chat does not have archiving capabilities. CourseInfo, VirtualU, WCB, WebCT and IntraLearn all offer a white board. TopClass does not.
VirtualU, WebCT, and IntraLearn offer audio or video teleconferencing provided by third parties.
File Sharing. Participants in an online discussion must have the ability to share documents and images from the content of their course. This need can be met either by attaching shared files to email or discussion messages or by providing a file storage space where files can be uploaded and downloaded with permission.
It is useful to include a private storage space where students can organize any files they intend to share, plus a separate file space for public access. Restricting access to certain files can be handled either by attaching files to messages and restricting message distribution, or by allowing the file's author to decide who may access their files. Using file attachments is usually easier to implement and teach than setting file access permissions.
All of the CMS products reviewed provide for file sharing. CourseInfo, WCB, WebCT and IntraLearn can all accommodate email file attachments. CourseInfo, VirtualU, WCB, WebCT and IntraLearn all allow attachments to discussion forum (conferencing) messages. TopClass allows file storage for assignments only, while the rest, with the exception of WebCT, have full file storage capabilities. All have a public file library and all but TopClass offer students a private directory on the course server.
Work Group Areas. True collaboration requires online work areas with controlled access for flexibility in forming and reforming collaborative groups as the course unfolds. Group discussion areas provide private space for the group to organize and track collaborations. Group Web pages provide a place for group members to display the unfolding results of their work together. Course materials or processes that teach team building and team learning skills are also helpful and can sometimes be built into the CMS design or provided as an add-on.
CourseInfo and WebCT allow users to create multiple groups and provides each group with their own set of communication tools as well as file sharing. All of the products provide for group conferences, with the exception of TopClass. All except TopClass have a team building feature. CourseInfo, WCB, WebCT, and IntraLearn all offer a work group area and WebCT and IntraLearn can accommodate group Web pages.
Faculty members use two types of tools from the list of desired CMS features: tools for authoring their courses and tools for managing their courses.
Course Planning, Design, Templates. Putting a course online is more than simply converting existing course materials to Web pages. CMS packages automatically shape course design by the layout and structuring tools they use to create course pages. By definition, then, every CMS package offers some help in planning and design. For purposes of this report, however, this feature is considered present only if an explicit planning or design aid is offered, which it was in every case.
Automated Glossary. See Glossary under Learning Tools.
Automated Course TOC/Index/Search Engine. See Course Index/Search Engine under Learning Tools.
File Management. File management tools include file uploading and downloading aids and file storage space on the course server. The ideal is to include both one-at-a-time file transfer and batch file transfer. Only TopClass and WebCT offer batch upload and batch delete. IntraLearn offers batch uploading, but not batch deleting. CourseInfo offers a facility to batch upload a group of files that may exist in a web structure or a multitude of files that are interconnected. All other packages require that files be moved or deleted one at a time.
Instructor Guide/Course Exemplars. Most people learn from examples. Course instructors/developers find value in an instructor's guide and examples of pedagogically sound online courses All six vendors claim to offer course examples and they all offer printed instructor documentation. VirtualU offers both design and teaching aids. WCB offers these features through a third-party provider.
Web Search Tools. Students must be able to search a course site quickly to locate or return to key information while studying. Because access to course Web pages is usually controlled by the instructor, it makes sense to provide the instructor with the ability to index the course Web pages and then make that index and/or a search engine of the index available to students. Only IntraLearn has built in Web searching tools. CourseInfo, TopClass and WebCT don't support this feature at all. VirtualU and WCB offer this feature by utilizing third-party search engines.
Multimedia Capability. When used appropriately, graphic images from audio, video and VRML files can spice up a course and make it more engaging. Most online classrooms are text-based, however, and can function effectively without multi-media elements. When some or all students have a limited bandwidth, a simple, text-based format avoids delays in downloading and ensures that everyone has equal access to course materials.. All of the CMS packages in this study allow for multimedia, although each one does it in a slightly different way. WebCT, VirtualU, and WCB all use hyperlinking to uploaded files or Web URLs and require that the student's desktop provide the client application to play the multimedia file if it has something other than a Web-based format (such as PowerPoint slides or Lotus ScreenCam files).
IntraLearn alone offers some built in multimedia players. However, any open standard CMS (these include CourseInfo, VirtualU, WebCT and WCB in the present study) could easily meet the need for multi-media by publishing a link to, for example, Jasc Software's "Quick View Plus" file viewer (downloadable from ZD Net's Shareware Software Library). Instructors and students could install this file viewer on their desktop s and view most files without having to use a client application.
Instructor Information Pages. While not absolutely essential, contact and biographical information about the instructor adds an element of efficiency and personality to a CMS environment. For students in distant locations, it can help make a virtual experience more "real." All the vendors in this study routinely offer this feature.
Course Pages. CMS packages have perhaps their greatest impact on course design through the type of course page templates they provide. Most course management software includes, at least, pages for a syllabus, a calendar, announcements, and course contents.
Student Management. One of the biggest reasons for buying a CMS package is to track and manage student participation in the course. The major features in this category include student course registration, , attendance and participation tracking, a grade book, assessment tools, and a place for students to post their assignments for instructor comments.
All packages offer a specific page or pages for student presentations and projects. CourseInfo and WebCT offer student pages that can be used for either groups of students or single individuals and allow individual students to post documents and other project files that they have created during a course.
"Attendance" refers to whether or not a student visited the course. "Participation" refers to whether or not the student posted messages, how many and how long. VirtualU does not offer attendance tracking. VirtualU and WCB fail to offer participation tracking. We were unable to determine the exact nature of the participation tracking offered by CourseInfo, TopClass, and IntraLearn; to qualify, a vendor must provide a way of knowing what has been read, by whom, and when. It was unclear from our analysis whether these vendors met these criteria. If not, then their products probably only track attendance, not participation .)
None of the vendors offers automatic student assignment reminders, a feature that would work in conjunction with the assignment calendar to send notices automatically to students when due dates or other event dates are approaching.
CourseInfo, WebCT and WCB automatically calculate the students grade as they take tests and quizzes in the system. In addition both store this information in the online grade book. TopClass does not support automatic grade calculation or calculation of class averages. WCB calculates class averages by exporting the grade book to a spreadsheet.
All six vendors offer timed and repeatable quizzes and all but TopClass offer timed and repeatable exercises. In most case, the same tool generates both; quizzes go in the grade book, exercises don't, but otherwise the procedure is identical. VirtualU relies on third-party providers for both of these functions.
Course Archive/Backup/Replication. CMS customers want an easy way to replicate, back up, and archive courses as they unfold. CourseInfo, TopClass, VirtualU, WebCT and WCB offer functional archiving, backup, and replication of courses. It is unclear how TopClass does this and IntraLearn does not (as reported by Embanet).
Course Revision. All six CMS packages include easy-to-use tools for modifying an existing online course.
Online Help/FAQs. It has become a universally acceptable standard to provide a list of frequently asked questions and answers along with at least email access to a help desk for learner and instructor support. All six vendors provide this feature.
Automated Registration. More and more institutions are asking for a way to integrate course management software into their existing registration process. This usually requires that the CMS be compatible with a database standard such as ODBC. If such compatibility is not available, the next best capability is an automated registration system that allows batch uploads of student information, so that CMS administrators can easily import data that has been exported from an existing registration system.
Among the six vendors in this study, only IntraLearn is currently ODBC compliant and even they don't offer any help integrating with existing administrative databases. IntraLearn also offers real-time order processing and student registration. All the other vendors offer batch uploading. So far, no one offers a direct interface with administrative databases although WebCT reports partnerships with SCT/Banners and PeopleSoft to do this for their products..
Security. Security tools restrict access to, and control modification of, course pages. CMS customers expect it. Most CMS packages that use open standards also support browser security, which provides secure transactions on the Web. Customers are also starting to ask for automatic scanning for virus contamination in uploaded and downloaded files. This is less of a concern for servers using the UNIX operating system.
WebCT offers virus scanning on shared files. All others rely on third parties for virus scanning. All of the vendors provide access security.
Tech Support. CMS customers expect access to support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Many vendors provide this with FAQs and email; however, most customers also want access to telephone support.
All six of the vendors in this study offer 24/7 tech support by email and most offer some telephone call back service. Apparently no one offers live phone coverage on a 24/7 basis.
Student Transcript. Another function that institutional administrators increasingly request is the ability to track a learner's online participation and automatically generate a transcript of any completed course. Among the six vendors in this study, only IntraLearn WebCT, and VirtualU offer student transcripts.
Standards. Because CMS products and vendors are evolving so rapidly, smart customers want the ability to transport course files from one CMS environment to another. CMS vendors that embed some or all of their product features in a proprietary platform make it difficult or impossible for their customers to transfer course files to a different platform, forcing course developers to start over almost from scratch if their department or school switches platforms. By contrast, an open platform utilizing Internet and Web standards allows the course developer to create course pages only once and then transport them easily from one CMS package to another and back again if necessary. Although CourseInfo, WCB, WebCT, and IntraLearn all claim open standards for their products, close examination shows that only CourseInfo and WCB are truly open. Both WebCT and IntraLearn have proprietary elements within their offerings that disallow full Web-based compatibility. Blackboard (manufacturer of CourseInfo) claims to have a translation process to convert WebCT courses to CourseInfo.
Platform. Most CMS packages are available in at least the UNIX and Windows NT platforms. CourseInfo, TopClass, VirtualU, WCB, and WebCT are all available for the UNIX platform. CourseInfo, TopClass, VirtualU, WCB, WebCT and IntraLearn run in Windows NT. TopClass and WCB offer a Linux version in addition to NT and UNIX. (Note: In most instances, if a CMS package can run in UNIX it can run in Linux).
Cost For purposes of this report, the following costs were evaluated:
- Hosting service
- Site license
It is safe to say that there is no pricing standard in the CMS market niche. The way price is calculated and actual pricing varies dramatically from vendor to vendor. Most vendors charge a license fee for each server. The cost of TopClass and Embanet's implementation of IntraLearn increases as the number of seats goes up.
Table 5 shows the various pricing schemes for all six vendors.
In summary, WCB and WebCT appear to be the least expensive products, with WCB edging out WebCT over time.
With WCB, you pay nothing for the second and subsequent years unless you upgrade. If you do upgrade at (50% of full price) then the difference in price between the two products breaks down as follows:
|Package||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Total|
|WCB||$4,000 (original license)||$2,000 (upgrade)||$2,000 (upgrade)||$8,000|
|Web CT||$3,000 (annual fee)||$3,000 (annual fee)||$3,000 (annual fee)||$9,000|
This projection assumes that both vendor's prices will remain constant. This is highly unlikely over a several year period. But we can conclude, that WCB and WebCT are competitively priced at the present moment.
At FutureU we're always interested in a diversity of experience and opinion. If you want to join in a discussion about the pros and cons of the Course Management Software reviewed here, drop in to our Online Learning Exchange and join the discussion forum to post your contributions.
Notes: | Top |
Appendix 1: Features List | Top |
- Learning Tools
- Bookmarking/last place visited
- Student area
- Private directory on course server
- Batch upload
- Shared work (see Work Group Areas)
- Team building
- Library and Information Access
- Annotation (markup) capability
- Glossary help (student generated)
- Course Index/Search Engine
- Learning Exemplars/Guidance
- Access to own grades
- Progress tracking
- Assignment reminders
- Comparison to class averages
- Student guide
- Self-assessment exercises
- Study skill building
- Student Web pages
- Collaboration Tools
- Discussion Options
- Email (one to one)
- List Servs (many to many)
- Text-based conferencing (many to many)
- Bulletin Board (one to many)
- white board
- Live, text-based conferencing
- File sharing
- Email attachments
- Message attachments
- File storage
- Private directory on course server
- Public file library
- Work Group Areas
- Group Web pages
- Group conferences
- Team building
- Authoring Tools
- Course planning
- Course design
- Course templates
- Automated glossary
- Automated course TOC/index
- Course search engine
- File management
- Instructor file storage
- Batch upload
- Batch delete
- Instructor guide
- Course exemplars
- Web search tools
- Multimedia capability
- Course Management
- Instructor information pages
- Course info/syllabus
- Course calendar/schedule
- Student management
- Student presentation pages
- Batch upload
- Batch delete
- Attendance/Participation Tracking
- grade book
- Student access to own data
- Automatic assignment progress tracking
- Assignment reminders
- Automatic grade calculation
- Class averages auto calculation
- Course Archive/Backup
- Course replication
- Course revision
- Online Help/FAQ
- Administration (Back Office)
- Automated Registration
- Tech Support
- Student Transcript
Appendix 2: Articles and Web Sites referenced in this study. | Top |
Atkinson, Roger (ed.), "Course server software for online teaching," Murdoch University Teaching and Learning Working Party, June 1997. Retrieved on 5/25/1999 from http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/teach/guide/res/examples/course-servers.html.
Cashel, Jim, "30 Features to Consider When Choosing Forum Software," Forum One Communications Corporation, retrieved on 7/29/1999 from http://www.onlinecommunityreport.com/features/30/.
Creed, Tom, "Choosing a Virtual Communal Space for Your Course," The National Teaching and Learning Forum, Vol. 6 No. 6. Retrieved on 5/5/1999 from http://www.ntlf.com/html/sf/vcslinks.htm.
Gray, Sharon, "Web-based Instructional Tools," Syllabus, September 1998, Volume 12, No. 2. Retrieved on 5/25/1999 from http://www.syllabus.com/sep98_magfea2.html.
Harris, Elizabeth (ed.) "Readers Respond B Winter 1998," CAUSE/EFFECT, Volume 21, Number 4, 1998. Retrieved on 5/25/1999 from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/html/cem984e.html.
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Share your experiences and opinions by joining the discussion about Course Management Software at FutureU On Ning.
Contents and Methodology Copyright © 1999-2006 by Claude Whitmyer. All rights reserved. Published by The University of the Future, LLC. Individuals wishing to use the data or methodology reported herein should contact Gail Terry Grimes, CEO, at 415-824-7726 or gail[at]futureu.com for permission and terms.
Published October 13, 1999. Revised January 1, 2000.
Please note: The data for this study came directly from the six vendors. As a user, if you disagree with the presence or absence of features for a particular CMS product, please contact the vendor with your feedback. Also post your comments at FutureU On Ning
- 10/14/99 - Section added at end of tables page to include vendor and user feedback.
- 10/20/99 - IntraLearn features updated based on email from IntraLearn Executive VP Peter Banhazl.
- 10/21/99 - CourseInfo features updated based on email from Blackboard Director of Product Strategy, Stephen Gilfus.
- 10/27/99 - WCB features updated based on personal communication from MadDuck VP Steve Saltzberg.
- 10/31/99 - Note to users added to report and table page. Minor edits to incorporate vendor feedback.
- 11/17/99 - WebCT feature changes added to bottom of table page based on personal communication from Kathleen Paul, Champion at WebCT.
- 01/02/2000 - WebCT version 2.0 feature set integrated into narrative report and tables.
© 1999-2000 by Claude Whitmyer. All rights reserved.
Published by The University of the Future, LLC (FutureU™).