Blackboard CourseSites – Free, Hosted, and Supported Courses

Just announced today [press release], Blackboard is now offering a free, hosted, and supported version of their latest version 9.1 release.

To create an account for yourself, visit:

Here are a few highlights and details:

  • Free
  • Hosted
  • Support for Faculty and Students – The hours of support are: Monday – Friday 8AM to 8PM EST and Saturday – Sunday 9AM to 5PM EST with tickets, knowledgebase, live chat, and phone.
  • 500 MB of storage per course
  • OpenID – Create a CourseSites account with your existing Facebook, Twitter, WindowsLive, Yahoo, or Google account.
  • 5 available courses at a time per instructor
  • No student enrollment limit

Here are a few of the innovative features included in this new offering:

  • Getting Started Course Wizard (with Templates) – The getting started wizard helps new users while the pre-structured course templates help the instructor get started quickly with course design, menu, and content areas.

  • Course Design Schemes
  • Instructor Home Page (with clean URL and blog)
  • Clean Course URLs
  • Student Invitation Tool
  • Access to SoftChalk, Wimba Pronto (Instant Messaging), Wimba Voice Tools, Elluminate, Respondus

Learning on-the-go with Blackboard Mobile Learn

Blackboard’s purchase of Terriblyclever Design LLC last July communicated the importance of mobile learning across the LMS scene.  No more really a “nice to have” feature, mobility has become exceedingly important.

The Blackboard Mobile Learn application is extremely impressive and is supported across Palm, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, and Android platforms.  However, for access to all platforms beyond the Sprint network and beyond wifi only, there is a cost.

The radical user interface design is a huge giant leap forward when compared with other mobile applications related to LMSs.  Also of note is the 2 way functionality that users have come to expect when using mobile applications.

Here are a few of the innovative highlights of the Blackboard Mobile Learn application:

  • A dashboard that provides quick updates of the latest events in courses.
  • Ability to view and post an new announcement.
  • Easy access to read and reply to a discussion board post.
  • Ability to start or mark complete course tasks.
  • Access and comment on blogs, journals, and wikis.
  • Quick access to view grades (as a student).
  • Impressive ability to manage and “dock” multiple windows.
  • Built-in mobile web browsing to access websites and areas of the Bb application that are not web-enabled at this point.
  • Native viewing of Powerpoint, Word documents, video (if compatible with iPad aka non-Flash), and PDFs without leaving the app.
  • Ability to add files and attachments (based on compatibility aka iPad/iPhone only supports images and video) from the mobile device and upload them to Blackboard.

Here is a gallery of images of the interface on the iPad:

INSTRUCTURE Canvas LMS Innovations

The Canvas LMS by INSTRUCTURE learning management system has been in the news most recently for it’s announcement of the Utah State contract, the Desire2Learn lawsuit, and the press release announcing that INSTRUCTURE is available via open source.

I took a look at the “Introduction to Canvas LMS by Instructure” YouTube video and noticed several impressive and innovative features.  Some of the innovative highlights I have found are:

  • Dynamic navigation menus allow you to jump to other areas of the system quickly.
  • Built-in RSS is rarely seen in many LMSs and a very nice addition.
  • “To Do”, “Coming Up”, and “Recent” items keep students up to date in a robust calendaring system not found in most LMSs that supports Outlook and iCal.

  • Impressive INLINE actions are able to be taken on recent activity.  This is much like Facebook in that as you are provided information you can take action on that information directly inline and without the need to move to another page.
  • Robust calendar features track what is “Coming Up” and also displays “Recent” events.  The calendar supports Outlook and iCal.

  • Built-in to this LMS is the ability for a user to add additional email addresses and cell phone numbers to support SMS updates of course events.
  • Through web services Canvas LMS also supports updates being sent to Facebook which is very impressive as this provides students a suite of selections of their preferred communication channels.

  • The WYSIWYG editor provides easy linking across the LMS by providing point and click connections to files and other resources.
  • Built-in WebCAM support is also provided which enables faculty to personalize instruction very easily using the built-in WebCAM on their laptop or computer.

  • Integration with services such as Google Docs, Twitter, Facebook, Delicious, Diigo, Skype, etc. enables faculty and students to receive course updates and to leverage these other services in their teaching and learning.

  • Scribd integration is one of the most impressive features I have seen in an LMS that enables students’ work that is submitted to be graded ONLINE without clumbersome opening and saving on the instructor’s local PC.
  • Finally, an effective online and gradable rubric that is easy for faculty to use to grade students’ work!

  • Once the instructor uses the rubric and clicks through the criteria a student has earned, the student’s grade for the assignment is instantly updated in the gradebook.
  • Commenting is also very easy and additionally, students can reply to instructor’s comments which is something not usually seen in many LMSs.  These comments also support WebCAM video responses.

While I haven’t yet worked  with the Canvas LMS first hand, based on these screenshots and the video overview provided by INSTRUCTURE, this LMS does indeed provide some unique advancements and feature sets that are very innovative.