Designing & Building Course Websites

For Faculty and Corporate Trainers

Course Website MapFor years now, instructors have been creating Web pages to supplement and enhance their existing face-to-face training. Sometimes, all this means is that the syllabus is available on the Web. Key articles might be shared through a Web page. Or, links are provided to other people's Web pages that contain information pertinent to the subject.

Some instructors have constructed elaborate Web sites making large portions of a course available online, including both synchronous (chat) and asynchronous (conferencing) discussions. And, more and more institutions are deciding to deliver entire courses or training programs online.

If you're one of these early adopters, you don't need course management software, or its learning curve, or its cost, to get the job done.

Still, maybe you'd like to sample course management software just to see what the fuss is about. Or, to influence future buying decisions at your institution. Whatever your reason, you'd like to see what's out there. Can it be fun? Well, heck, yes. After all, it will involve the creative process and the satisfaction of learning something new and seeing your work shining back at you in a browser window.

So how do you get started? That depends.

Do you already have something?

If your organization has chosen a course or learning management system "standard," you should get some training in that before you try using it. Your department or division may already have an orientation course in place. Many do. But even if they do, more training is always better. All to often the orientation is only about "pushing the buttons" and doesn't include enough, if any, training in the unique pedagogy and instructional design required to actually teach online.

But whether it's Blackboard or WebCT, Moodle or eCollege, or any other platform, FutureU offers beginning, intermediate and advanced training in designing and creating online courses and teaching in the online or virtual classroom using whichever software platform your organization has chosen. We always emphasize research-based, pedagogically-sound instructional design and learning models along with everything you need to know to be a first-rate online course builder, facilitator and instructor.

FutureU instructors have experience teaching in most of the popular course management platforms including Angel, Blackboard, Centrinity (aka FirstClass), eCollege, eTudes, IntraLearn, Moodle, VirtualU, Web Course In A Box, and WebCT, as well as the real-time virtual classrooms/web conferencing systems such as Centra, Elluminate, Horizon Wimba, Microsoft LiveMeeting, and WebEx.

Check out our Online Teaching Quick Start and FastTrack® Coaching as well as our full Faculty Development programs based on our acclaimed Faculty Web Book

Or, would you rather go it alone?

What if you're not working somewhere that already has course management software? Or what if you'd rather do something independent of the organizational juggernaut? Or what if you just want to teach what you know online, to your own select group of learners?

Course management software is usually pretty expensive. Even if you opt for the so-called "free" open source software, it still requires technical knowledge for installation and maintenance.

Fortunately, there are some free or low-cost solutions that are just right. FutureU recommends these three options, all inexpensive, all pretty easy to learn and manage, and each designed to create an environment conducive to learning. Needless to say, FutureU offers training in each:

  1. Nicenet
  2. Haiku LMS
  3. Moodle

Nicenet (

Nicenet has been around a long time. It was first created ot help the pioneers and early adopters in K-12 and Higher Ed move their courses to the Web. It's still a good option if you don't need any features beyond what it has to offer. Nice.Net provides a tool set called the Internet Classroom Assistant, a course management software that provides discussion forums, links, assignments, document sharing, course schedule, class roster, and personal messaging. Nicenet is free for public, non-commercial use. While this tool doesn't have quizzes or a grade book, it otherwise has most of the basic functionality of the leading commercial course management products. This is truly a "bargain" and a valuable tool for getting started with your first online course.

Haiku LMS (

Haiku LMS is the new kid on the block and the first course building tool set that offers the so-called Web 2.0 interface look and feel. It's pretty easy to learn and use and also offers a free option. Create online lessons with articles, images, audio, and video for your class. Manage discussions, auto-grade assessments, and track scores through a grade book.

Moodle (

MoodleMoodle is perhaps the most popular course management system in the world. As of this writing, there are more than 13,000 registered licenses hosting more than 400,000 courses taught by nearly 800,000 teachers to almost 5,000,000 students. There are 132 registered Moodle sites that each have more than 5,000 users and the site with the most courses is the Online Campus of the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand with 8,282 courses and 54,955 users.

Many people are puzzled by how a supposedly "free" software product, like those that offer an "open source" license, can be trusted in the same way as a commercial product. The assumption is that something that is free can't generate enough money to pay for the staff needed to support and develop the product. What needs to be understood is that open source products, such as the Linux operating system, while costing nothing for the license to use the code, still require installation, customizing, and support. Companies, such as Red Hat, make their money by packaging Linux in a box and then providing the technical support required by organizations that choose to use the Red Hat Linux product. Anyone familiar with Red Hat knows that the company is doing alright financially.

Another thing to understand about open source products is that large numbers of people become very enthusiastic about having access to the source code and being able to play around with it to make it do new, different, fun, and, yes, even productive things. Many open source products are surrounded by communities of enthusiasts who keep the product evolving.

The most impressive thing about Moodle is that it has somehow managed to attract both a very large community of enthusiasts and a cadre of commercial enterprises that are willing to install, customize and maintain the Moodle program.

There are more than 3,000 users actively supporting the ongoing development of Moodle. Martin Dougiamas, the Moodle founding author, has created Moodle.Com, a for-profit organization that acts as gateway for all the modifications coming from the user community. His team is diligently making sure that each new release of Moodle is as sound, if not more sound, than any competing commercial product.

In addition, there are 17 commercial partners in 15 countries who are also available to offer installation, customization, maintenance, and in some cases hosting of Moodle. Moodle is also bundled with the Fantastico library of free apps that come with C-Panel hosting and big hosting sites, such as GoDaddy.Com usually include Moodle in their offerings, as well.

What about Blackboard LMS?

Blackboard LMS is a popular commercial learning management system that comes in several different versions. FutureU has designed, developed and delivered Blackboard training from Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia to Missouri State University in Springfield to Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico in Arecibo. We are among the few small firms that offer comprehensive, fully customizable Blackboard training.

What about Web Conferencing?

We are also experts in the use of web conferencing in the virtual classroom. We have designed, developed and delivered training programs from Centra to Elluminate to WebEx. Again, we are among the few small firms that offer comprehensive, fully customizable web conferencing training.

FutureU is Platform Agnostic

Regardless of the platform, FutureU offers beginning, intermediate and advanced training in designing and creating online courses and teaching in the online or virtual classroom using whichever software platform your organization has chosen, whether learning management systems or web conferencing or both. We always emphasize research-based, pedagogically-sound learning models and instructional design along with everything you need to know to be a first-rate online course builder, facilitator and instructor.

Learn More...

To learn more about our training services for Blackboard, Moodle or any other learning management platform or Elluminate Live!, WebEx or any other web conferencing platform, contact us directly.