Course Management Software: WebCT, ANGEL, Blackboard

by Nick Jankowski on 11 November 2009

During a meeting today at the Virtual Knowledge Studio (VKS) about platforms for distant collaboration, a couple of persons present mentioned the software systems used in teaching online courses. The management software ‘tossed on the table’ included: WebCT, ANGEL, Blackboard, and the granddaddy of online cabinet collections: BSCW. I couldn’t help but try to trace the links between these systems, and the general Wikipedia article on WebCT helped much.  Here are a few tid-bits:

  • BSCW, originated in the mid-1990s and originally was an abbreviation for Basic Support Cooperative Work. Recently the title has been revised, using the same initials, to something more ’snappy’: Be Smart Cooperate Worldwide, probably as a renewed marketing effort. Some people dislike this basic software system because of a somewhat user-unfriendly environment. I’ve used it for as long as it has been around and, across time, have become accustomed to its design and structure. BSCW provides essentially a virtual filing cabinet and serves that purpose well, and one of its attractions is that it is free….
  • WebCT is considered the grand daddy of of course management software and was designed by Murry Goldberg, a young professor at the University of British Columbia in the mid-1990s. The initiative caught on and, like so many upstarts, the initiative transformed from experimental idea to commercial product, involving several million users worldwide in its heyday. A delightfully dated decade-old video of its inventor is available here on YouTube. There are many YouTube demonstration videos about WebCT and this one is about WebCT Vista which is an ungraded and streamlined version of the original product.
  • ANGEL is (well) known by SUNY-IT students since this software is under license by the university and serves as the baseline for online coursework. What some persons may not know is that the company has been recently purchased (May 2009) by Blackboard, as has WebCT, and is being phased out. My experience with ANGEL is limited to this course this semester, but I have found it a considerable improvement over Blackboard (earlier versions that I utilized years ago). If ANGEL would allow a bit more modification in the software, allowing software extraneous to the system to be incorporated (like blogs from different vendors and like video conferencing software such as Elluminate), I can imagine a ‘complete package’. Now, however, the ‘gates are locked’ and separate platforms must be created to use other online learning tools. ANGEL was developed at about the same time as WebCT, the mid-1990s, and was a collaborative project between Indiana and Purdue University. One of the more recent intentions of ANGEL inis to incorporate Second Life into the learning environment; see June 2008 ANGEL white paper ‘The Power of Virtual Worlds in Education’. I do not know whether this initiative will be continued under the new ownership by Blackboard.
  • Blackboard seems to be the Microsoft of course management software, now market leader with a seemingly aggressive acquition policy. The official website of Blackboard is the most commercial-looking of all of the products. Efforts by the company to incorporate the mobile phone into the learning environment are shown on the front page of the site and a new product is being launched: Blackboard Mobile. It is probably that the most recent version of this software is much more sophisticated than the version I used about a decade ago, and probably matches the functionalities of the two rivals it bought out, WebCT and ANGEL.

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