A program used to put course information on the web is usually called a learning management system (LMS); the word courseware is sometimes used, but less commonly. Each program provides a framework into which course materials are placed. All of the reviewed LMSs provide
In all four programs, features can be turned on or off as desired by the instructor.
Additional features not mentioned here might also be available in a program. If they were not reviewed or did not seem applicable to this discussion, they are not discussed.
New versions of all three products have been developed since our review. It is important to remember that the information in this paper refers only to the referenced versions that were in use during the review and writing.
Blackboard delivers course management tools that enable instructors to provide their students with course materials, discussion boards, virtual chat, online assessments, and a dedicated academic resource center on the web. It includes tools for managing personal information, content, communication, collaboration, and assessment. The most recent version is 5.5 (as of Nov 2001).
Blackboard 4 provides a text-only version of each course. Unfortunately, it is not equivalent to the graphics version. The discussion board and instructor's control panel are not provided in text-only mode. While there was a link to the graphics-based control panel, there was no link to the discussion board. Some other links take the user to the graphic view without warning, such as the control panel and the back button after submitting a quiz. There is no image upload available in the student homepage creation. A user cannot change the CD-ROM drive. Students cannot see their individual grades, although the overall summary grade is provided.
Prometheus is the newest LMS we reviewed. Courses are built by filling in relevant fields. Fields can be renamed, reorganized, and removed as needed to accommodate the instructor's personal tastes. User interfaces can be customized to fit each individual user, from the system administrator to first-time student.
Prometheus has several unique features among the reviewed programs. One is its Equation Editor, which allows instructors and students to create math and science equations. (Unfortunately, the equations are displayed as inaccessible images.) Prometheus also features an integrated dictionary. Users can download class information and assignments directly to a PDA. According to the company website, all text entry areas of Prometheus accept international characters and symbols, including Western European, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, and Japanese characters as well as Unicode and Cyrillic fonts.
WebCT was developed by computer science faculty under a grant from the University of British Columbia in Canada. WebCT is unique among the LMS tools assessed in this study: It provides a basic framework into which web pages are placed. WebCT instructors have the advantage of being able to create almost anything they wish to create. Other reviewed LMSs restrict user input to the placement of text within a rigid framework, forcing users to accept the level of accessibility present in the LMS. WebCT's fluidity allows users to shape many aspects of their course site.
We were unable to evaluate WebCT in a practical setting because of the freedom WebCT users enjoy. We were only able to evaluate the base WebCT structure and course building tools.
Content authored by AnnMarie Johnson
and Sean Ruppert. ©2001
last updated November 23, 2001 by AnnMarie Johnson.