Tuesday, August 15, 2006

WebCT encourages voluntary simplicity

After years of competition, Blackboard and WebCT merged last year in what some academic sites promoting open source models saw as a Satan I-Satan II hookup. After using several versions of Blackboard over the past few years and then WebCT, I'm impressed with the sneaky brilliance of the newest version (6 something). It is brilliance, right, to have more and more features but fewer and fewer useful ones in each version? My conclusion: WebCT must be nudging us toward the voluntary simplicity movement.

So far:

  • Course banner? Nah, there's no place for it, although you can put it as an image link in the header. Voluntary simplicity step #1: Write an "image source" tag instead of messing with the banner in WebCT.
  • Announcements? There's an announcements feature, to be sure, and they are mysteriously "sent" somewhere. I don't know where; they don't appear on the first page of My WebCT Classes or on the class page itself. You can click on the "Announcements" link to read them, but why, oh why, aren't they on the opening page as they were back in, say, Blackboard 3? Instead, the "Course Content" shows up on the opening page, like it or not, complete with your choice of icons. Voluntary simplicity step #2: Use the header function for announcements.
  • Course menu? In Blackboard and WebCT4, you could arrange it to suit yourself, including making indented sub-menus for various people's syllabi, but not now. Voluntary simplicity step #3: Make a web site and link to the syllabus there.

    Okay, there is a "student view" in this version, although you can't use it to test any features that you might want to test, like chat or the whiteboard. And they've gotten rid of the multi-step process by which you approve or "release" information using "update student view"--at least this is what I'll choose to believe until a student e-mails me with "Dr. Undine, I can't find that reading you said you put in WebCT."

    But my conclusion about this version is that WebCT is slowly but surely nudging us toward the purity of the web without any pesky course management systems to mess it up. Simplify, simplify.

    Professor Zero said...

    Yes, and there's this open source one, Moodle, but really, it's easier to put up one's own web pages than it is to fool around with these systems. I have also considered just using Blogger or Wordpress. No kidding!

    undine said...

    I'm with you. If I didn't have to post a few protected things (like grades), I'd give up on it altogether. I'd like to try Wordpress sometime.