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An Open Source Alternative to Blackboard? 84

mandrake*rpgdx asks: "The college I work for is looking into creating an all in one online system for teachers and students to be able to take tests, give online courses and do other daily tasks. They are currently looking into the Blackboard system. Is there an FOSS alternative that I could suggest using at their next meeting?"
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An Open Source Alternative to Blackboard?

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  • .LRN (Score:5, Informative)

    by speleo ( 61031 ) * on Thursday May 19, 2005 @12:22PM (#12579496) Homepage []
    • Re:.LRN (Score:3, Interesting)

      by darkone ( 7979 )
      We are also looking at replacing Blackboard (now $7500/year for the smallest config) with dotLRN, which is actualy built on openACS. We already have blackboard exported courses importing into dotLRN, and have worked a little on making the dotLRN interface look more like Blackboard. So far dotLRN looks VERY customizable, if you know a little tcl!
      As a sysadmin for Blackboard on both a Windows and a Linux platform, I say RUN AWAY from Blackboard. Everytime I restart it I cross my fingers, and keep running th
  • Moodle? (Score:5, Informative)

    by linuxwrangler ( 582055 ) on Thursday May 19, 2005 @12:23PM (#12579514)
    I don't know the full capabilities of Blackboard but I would look into moodle [] as an alternative.
    • Re:Moodle? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by alienw ( 585907 )
      Blackboard is very primitive. I'm surprised they can actually sell it considering that it does not have many capabilities. At my school, hardly anybody uses it because one would have to restructure grading and so on around its very basic capabilities. It doesn't allow automatically dropped grades, and so on.

      I'd say the main problem with free alternatives is really stupid project names. Moodle? WTF? People need to realize that the name is even more critical than features or capabilities. Having a bad
      • Re:Moodle? (Score:3, Informative)

        I'd say the main problem with free alternatives is really stupid project names. Moodle? WTF?

        At least, unlike some projects, a Google search on "moodle" returns information relevant to the project. It used to be that a simple search for "postfix" returned pages on programming syntax. Now, possibly to the annoyance of those searching for syntax info, almost all the results are for the Postfix mail server.

        Apparently geeks make more web pages or Google is biased toward geeks since a single word search on

        • What they should do is take a cue from the military. Instead of making it into a cute-sounding word, leave it as an all-capitalized, jargon-laden acronym. Then it sounds much more technical and less cute and fuzzy, and thus has a much better chance of getting past a bunch of bureaucrats. Trust me, it works like a charm.

          I'd also drop the second 'O', so the final name would just be MODLE, which can easily be pronounced like "model," and unlike "Moodle," you don't sound retarded, or lend yourself to cow joke

        • I remember was it back in 96? 97? Anyway, when I first stumbled on this wierd search site, something like [].

          And I was like wtf?!? Google?? No one will ever take these yahoos seriously!

          So when I found Moodle in 03, I was less concerned about the name:-).
      • Blackboard is very primitive. I'm surprised they can actually sell it considering that it does not have many capabilities.

        Funny thing is, if Blackboard was much more complicated than it currently is, they *definitely* wouldn't be able to sell it. You'd be surprised at how many higher education faculty members don't like even moderately complicated technologies.
      • Yeah, the Moodle project should have come up with something more logical, like WebCT, Mallard, or intellum. Inquisiq and mindflash come to mind, too. You can develop your LMS content in Lectora, which is a stupid name (for an overpriced, low quality product).

        Actually, Blackboard is about the only LMS/CMS that has a non-silly name. I do agree that it's surprising that it's sold at all - it's such a piece of crap... I *hate* developing in that environment...
      • Learning Evironment.

        Is that worse than Gooooooooooogle?

        On the bright side, it's GPL so you can install it and call it anything you want:-).
    • Re:Moodle? (Score:5, Informative)

      by illuminatedwax ( 537131 ) <stdrange@alumni.uchic a g o . edu> on Thursday May 19, 2005 @01:37PM (#12580372) Journal
      Moodle is good stuff, especially considering there are tools to convert Blackboard to Moodle course converstion [] and another utility to convert Moodle courses to a variety of formats. []
    • Maybe []. Shuttleworth at it again.
  • Sakai (Score:4, Informative)

    by bornholtz ( 94540 ) on Thursday May 19, 2005 @12:27PM (#12579553)
    From the Sakai Website []:

    The Sakai Project is a community source software development effort to design, build and deploy a new Collaboration and Learning Environment (CLE) for higher education

    As far as I know, creating an alternative to Blackboard is the primary focus of the project.

    • Re:Sakai (Score:3, Insightful)

      by XCorvis ( 517027 )
      We looked at Sakai briefly - we determined that it's really just not usable for a small insititution. You need to have a lot of money and resources to pour into it to get it going. One day it will be great, but it's not ready yet.

      Try Moodle [] instead.

      • How so? I brought it up in an afternoon to just play around with. Granted PSU has a lot of money and resources, but I didn't use any of them :)

    • Re:Sakai (Score:5, Informative)

      by trans_err ( 606306 ) <> on Thursday May 19, 2005 @01:11PM (#12580057) Homepage
      As a student of Virginia Tech, I've had a good deal of expierence with Blackboard. Now Tech, along with a few others, is now a partner in the Sakai project. I've spoken with some of the professors involved, and all of them seem to question whether or not the final project will be "Free" in any fashion (upper or lowercase).

      What I would really look into is building atop the moodle project, although its not nearly as robust, it is completely open and adding to it is actually a breeze-- (we added in university authentication and SSL quite easily).
      • As another student of Virginia Tech, I'd like to add that, in addition to becoming a partner, Tech will be piloting the use of Sakai alongside Blackboard next year, so we will see how well that goes.

        Personally, however, I hate Blackboard; it's interface, though learnable, is not nearly as intuitive as an online course management system should be, and for some reason, both professors and TAs have trouble with entering and managing grades through Blackboard. This suggests to me that Blackboard is a poorly w
        • Not to mention Blackboard has some serious performance issues. Last version I played with was running all perl cgis for EVERYTHING "not that there is anything wrong with that". We had about 100 users on the system at any given time and it was slower than Christmas.
      • by MichaelPenne ( 605299 ) on Friday May 20, 2005 @10:02AM (#12588808) Homepage
        It's being used at New Zealand Poly with >40,000 users on a 4 unit cluster, for instance.

        Sakai largest installation is uMich with 27,000 students (reportedly on 27 servers) Sakai's release notes call for a new server for every 2000 students.

        Moodle has a gradebook, a quiz system, and many other tools that haven't been written yet in Sakai.

        Moodle is being used at more than 4000 registered sites world wide, including a number of 10,000-20,000+ student systems.

        And Moodle is built with the same technology that Yahoo chose as the best for a (really) large site: PHP.

        You can check out Sakai at [], join up and try the discussion tool out.

        ALso see a comparison of Moodle vs. Blackboard: [] --note this is Moodle 1.3 vs. BB 6, Moodle 1.5 is due out in a few weeks with RSS, a wiki, a new gradebook, and extensive performance tuning by the NZVLE project.
        • Last month I sat through a presentation of that same comparison [] you linked to at the local LUG []. It looks like students tended to prefer Moodle slightly over Blackboard. IIRC, HSU [] (where the comparison was done) seems to want to ditch Blackboard because of high prices and lack of features in the basic version they're using.

          Right now, I'm attending the community college down the road from HSU, which uses Blackboard. It's slow and clunky IMHO, and isn't used very much. Also, the two (?!?) pages leadin

      • I agree; as a Virginia Tech grad student, one of our projects was to add a new module to Moodle. Although by no means easy (the code could be, well, better documented, etc.) it was doable. But I think Sakai brings with it some assurance of support, which is what University Administrators look to favorably.
  • TikiWiki? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DamienMcKenna ( 181101 ) <> on Thursday May 19, 2005 @12:27PM (#12579557)
    TikiWiki [] has added many things over the years that could help with this.

    Beyond that, maybe start with e.g. Horde [] and work from there?

  • word of advice... (Score:4, Informative)

    by nuggetman ( 242645 ) on Thursday May 19, 2005 @12:28PM (#12579574) Homepage
    if you're going before a school committee they most likely have their decision made already. if you want to seriously suggest an OSS alternative it may be a good idea to set up a test server, install it, play with it, learn the capabilities of the OSS programs, and be able to answer any questions they may throw at you.
  • uPortal (Score:2, Informative)

    by anarxia ( 651289 )
    It's already in use by several Unis so it might be just what you are looking for. It's very customizable and you can even develop your own plugins.
  • Moodle []

    We're currently using it, and it's working great. One of it's best points is that it was designed with educational pedagogy in mind, which helps the teaching/learning process.

    • Yes, my former high school just implimented Moodle and although I don't know the specifics, it looks like a great tool.
    • Re:Moodle (Score:3, Informative)

      by DenmaFat ( 704308 )
      I just took a Computer Science class that used Moodle. It was mostly great, and more useful than the average college class web page, but I did encounter a few problems:

      Grades--you can see your grades any time, but only if all assignments and tests happen through Moodle. Our exams and final didn't, and because they were curved in addition, nobody knew where they really stood in the class until it was over.

      More grades--a couple of times, Moodle didn't like a perfectly correct answer to a quiz question a
      • ask your admin to install the Nav block or the xTree block, these let you navigate a big Moodle course from a sideblock. Tell them to ask about it on if they have questions.
  • I was looking for a similar system a while back and I remember finding a few decent ones on sourceforge and freshmeat and those types of sites.
  • yes a couple (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 19, 2005 @12:41PM (#12579724)
    Try moodle [] about which i hear good things or possibly boddington []

    Sakai [] has come up on my radar recently and looks like it will certainly be the one for the future though i've no idea if it is good enough now.

    For heavens sake try your hardest to avoid blackboard and webCT
    They are expensive, crash all the time into non recoverable states, severly limit how you can deliver courses. Overall blackboard is the worst most expensive web software packages i have seen in a 5 year web application deployment career, i haven't seen webCT but everyone i talk to says if anything it is worse than blackboard. Having no VLE is almost better than having either of those 2.

    Tips for educating yourself google for VLE (Virtual learning environment) MLE (managed learning environment) if your not up on the terminology.
  • by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Thursday May 19, 2005 @12:44PM (#12579751)
    For pure open source, check moodle and sakai (sp?). For something that isn't F/OSS but is very customizable, check out Angel.

    Personally, I never liked Blackboard. I learned WebCT back in its infancy (v 1.1, 1.something beta for Win32) after struggling with TopClass for a few months. We were up and running with 12 completely online classes (english, library science, biology, etc) in just 2 weeks using WebCT.

    Also, I've been playing with Desire2Learn for a few months - they may be worthwhile in a few years, but not now.

    Check with the powers-that-be regarding license costs, server costs (our new webct servers are gonna be about $22k each next fall), whos going to admin them, if publisher prepared courses are desireable (usually are by instructors, but usually include so much as to be overwhelming and therefore nearly useless), etc. Also consider that many of the big players (webct and bb included) can host courses for you on their servers, etc.
  • COSE (Score:3, Informative)

    by eibhear ( 307877 ) on Thursday May 19, 2005 @12:55PM (#12579873) Homepage

    Not wholly Open Source, but have a look at COSE [] from Staffordshire University. They plan a FOSS release in the future.


    • Staffs Uni doesn't even use COSE theirselves though despite claims on the COSE site to the contrary.

      At least I've never used it, or even heard of it in the two years I've been here, all of our course stuff relies on blackboard.

      Well I say all, but most tutors prefer to simply stick up course information/documents on their uni web space..
      • mr sas is wrong about COSE.

        It is true that Blackboard is the majority system, but COSE is used at Staffs particularly with Foundation Degrees. Cose is also used at a number of sites around the world, including shortly, the Gates Malaria Partnership.

        To say most staff used web sites at Staffs is also wrong, in total there are 43 complete named awards in VLEs plus around 500 modules.

        A new version of COSE which is internationalisable will shortly be released and, with UK Gov funding via JISC, work is going
        • sorry, I've just not saw COSE in use (I'm on CDS level 2)

          There are two modules registered for CDS in blackboard for me - SAD and PED (both Dave Thomas owned modules).

          Most staff I've encountered prefer to use their own websites to fulfill blackboard like functions. Thinking about it I guess that's because they're more likely to be html literate (although seeing the state of some of the sites you wouldn't think that!)
  • Ganesha (Score:2, Informative)

    If you can read a bit of French, you might try Ganesha:

    It's built on PHP and MySQL and released under the GPL. You can use it to serve AICC- and SCORM-compatible courses. It includes built-in webmail, forum, chat and document upload tools.

    The interface is translated into several languages, including English. The user community is mostly French-speaking, but there are enough people who also speak English to respond to questions o

  • OSS = Free (Score:3, Informative)

    by Momoru ( 837801 ) on Thursday May 19, 2005 @01:17PM (#12580115) Homepage Journal
    I like how everyone who asks questions here is always like: "Can i get an open source solution to X?" When what they really mean is "Can I get a free solution to X?". They are almost never looking to contribute to or modify the project....which is fine, but lets say i knew of a free alternative to blackboard that wasn't open're probably still interested right? Just be up front and say you want free.
    • Being free, as in beer, is just one of the many qualities that Free (and open source) software provide. Besides, an increase in user base will almost always lead to an increase in developer base (not necessarily proportionately).
    • Re:OSS = Free (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 )

      They are almost never looking to contribute to or modify the project....which is fine, but lets say i knew of a free alternative to blackboard that wasn't open're probably still interested right?

      One may not be "looking to" make modifications, but still want the ability to make them if cause arises.

      I'm not "looking to" do any serious repairs on my car, but I would certainly take any sort of vendor lock on repairs as a negative feature when next I buy.

    • A benefit of Open-Source development is the manner in which it's developed. There seems to be more openness surrounding an open-source project, more open support channels (and indeed more 'average joe' users who can field technical questions). This can be another reason to prefer open-source, which you've not mentioned. Also, someone may be asking for open-source software from an idealistic perspective. In that convincing their establishment to adopt and open-source solution may lead to greater exposure f
    • It depends whether you mean "free" or "Free".

      Personally I can't code for toffee and could contribute very little to FOSS projects. I'd still favour FOSS software over free-but-closed any day. Just because I perosnally can't tinker or improve it doesn't mean I don't appreciate the chance to do so, or the knowledge that others can.

      I also find that when something doesn't cost anything you have to ask "Where's the catch?" With FOSS projects you know what the catch is. (You want it, you fix it) You can also

    • Consider the possibility that not everyone thinks like you do. Consider that some people like the ability to modify the source code. Now think really hard about this, imagine some people like their software to be gratis and to be Free and yet still send some money to the people who create software.

      I have used Blackboard professionally, I have used Moodle extensively. I would choose Moodle over Blackboard without question even if Moodle came at the same license cost. It doesn't, it is Free, gratis and GPL.
      • I actually do think the way you do, I just think a lot of the people who ask these various "is there an open source version of such and such" just want a free version, but by saying "open source" it sounds like they have some greater good. A good example was the "Is there an open source tax preparation package?" question someone asked a month or two ago. One would not want to modify tax software...and since these come out yearly, they probably arn't worried about the fact that someone owns whatever. They
    • Dont be so sure. I looked at Moodle for a deployment at my site, and discovered there was no way to hide grades from students. We wanted the teachers to be able to keep the grades hidden until the quiz was closed, or possibly afterwards. So I hacked at the PHP until it did it.
      Of course I suggested this change back to the moodle people but it didn't fit in with their philosophy - how can withholding grades possibly benefit the students? Well, I'm no educational theorist, I just have to do what the lecturer
  • Check out Logicampus (Score:4, Informative)

    by Thauma ( 35771 ) on Thursday May 19, 2005 @01:33PM (#12580327)
    Last time I had to research this I found logicampus [] to be the best one out there.
  • Fenix (Score:3, Informative)

    by mindstormpt ( 728974 ) on Thursday May 19, 2005 @02:30PM (#12581021)
    My university develops and uses it's own open source system, Fenix []. It's actually quite cool, and handles much much more than that, including course applications, classes management, timetables, exams and workgroups management, etc. I'm just not sure if it's fully available in english. At least the site seems to be.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The University of North Dakota has a nice system that they use with their aviation classes that they developed. it can be found at and I believe a demo is also available
  • Interact (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mpoli ( 713584 ) on Thursday May 19, 2005 @03:34PM (#12581706)
    One of the most flexible packages I ever saw is Interact. I have tried some, but all of them seem too restricted to the model designed by the developer. So, for example, WebCT (whish I used some years ago) you have a place to put material, a place to do quizzes, but no way to make more "complex" arrangements of the capabilities. Interact, for example, operates using a "component" model. You have a number of components to choose from and you can group them in any way you like inside "Folders". Currently available components are: forum, group, dropbox, sharing, chat, journal, gradebook, quiz, folder, file, weblink, note, page, calendar, KnowledgeBase and NoticeBoard. Interact is aimed at being a complete school support system, as such, it has a unique student and teacher login for all the content, and each subject has its own "site". So teachers of a subject have administration priviledges on this subject's site, and students have access to all sites of the subjects they are currently taking. A neat feature is that each component has a unique ID, and it can be "shared" among different sites. So I can have two disciplines to share the same messages of a forum, for example. Components can be copied, as to use older subject's sites on a new subject too. Interact's site is [] where you can also find a demo to play with.
  • Stevens Institute of Technology joined BBone (Blackboard One) a couple of years ago. It ties a lot things together: the best of which are laundry, off-campus businesses which accept "Duckbills" and Pipeline 'groups'. However, when being pitched the system (I was on the committee), I found out later the IT dept/school had _already_committed_ to the system! Made my input and time seem wasted.

    That aside, the Pipeline wemail client is _slow_ except at insane hours, updates with every resize, and not very cu
  • by soliptic ( 665417 ) on Thursday May 19, 2005 @04:54PM (#12582663) Journal
    A fairly major part of my life is spent as a VLE administrator, using Blackboard. I've even been to conferences on the bloody thing. It's awful; everyone in the office hates it. It's a usability joke - our students can never find the things we put up there, and we can hardly blame them. Every major forum system on the internet today (phpBB, vBulletin, etc) whips the living hell out of it. The forum features are so archaic they discourage use. The navigational system is poor and confusing. The admin options are inconsistent: sometimes login-power-sensitive on the display pages, sometimes only available in a separate control panel. Everything takes at least 2 more clicks than it needs to.

    However, it is very firmly embedded in academia, and I suspect you'll have a hard time dissuading them. There are mailing [] lists [] a plenty, those conferences I mentioned, a documented API/plugin architecture which already supports a fairly wide market of 3rd party extensions, which could provide another barrier to switching, etc.

    So, I would love to see an OSS VLE, because there's surely room for improvement, but I'm not aware of any that's really ready, and even if there is, it faces the usual uphill battle against entrenched investment and long term commitment in terms of extensions, staff training, etc.

  • Full Disclosure: I work at Wiley and have done work on eGrade Plus, so I am biased.

    In the past year, we've launched eGrade Plus here at Wiley [] which is a full course management system which a professor can choose to adopt along with one of our textbooks [] for his or her class. It is not Open Source though we do run it on Linux servers and used a lot of open source tools for development. I used WebCT in college a couple years ago for a few of my classes and have worked with other educational products from the
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I work for a small college (~3000 students) and used to use a software called "campus cruiser". It was horrible - the funny thing is that there was NOT a single class that actually ended up using it. So last year, we evaluated blackboard, webct, and some of the OSS mentioned above. But at the end, we found a great little company in Rhode Island called Digication ( []) that has the best LMS. After seeing Blackboard and WebCT's sales pitch at our school, we realize that they are VERY ex
  • Fle3 [] is also a fairly mature and nice-looking solution. You deal with object databases instead of sql, which is a little harder to maintain and host though. But this product has been around for a long time and has some cool features
  • I notice that Blackboard is offered both as a software product and a hosted solution. Which is your school considering? If they plan to just buy the software and host it themselves, then you only need to convince them that there's a better OSS product. But if they're looking for a hosted solution, you have to offer not just an alternate software package but an ASP that can host it.
    • offers hosting for Moodle.

      One of the great things about the Moodle model is that you can change your support partner w/o changing your LMS.

      With the commercial solutions if you don't like the support (and nobody seems to:-( they offer, you have to change the whole LMS.
      • Well now. If Moodle is at all comparible with Blackboard (I'm in no position to judge, not being an educator), you've made a very good suggestion. The one compelling argument in favor of OSS proprietary software is that there's less risk of lockin with a single vendor. Moodle seems to have taken that concept and run with it as far as they possibly can. If I were making recomendations to LECOM, I'd give this a very hard look indeed.
  • My faculty is quote happy with Blackboard. We are lucky we have money to buy the Oracle License to go with it. We have an LVS cluster for Blackboard. We have been using BB for over 5 years. It's a lot easier to learn for users then webct.

    Yes you can't do some things, but mostly people are not reaching the boundaries of the system. When this happens frequently, then you need to look at an alternative.

    Also keep in mind that BB and WebCT are Uni size systems. Our faculty has 500 people using BB on a daily

  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Thursday May 19, 2005 @09:48PM (#12585204) Homepage
    Different teachers are interested in doing different things. Science teachers don't necessarily have the same needs as foreign language teachers, and even within a particular field, teachers have their own preferences about how they want to do things. You might want to think more in terms of providing a variety of OSS tools, and letting teachers choose. This doesn't have to be instead of proprierary software; it can be in addition to it. Some teachers probably do like the proprietary systems.

    For my own needs as a science teacher who doesn't teach online courses, I wrote Spotter [], which is open source. Also check out LON-CAPA [].

  • One of the valid arguments for F/OSS software of this type which I often hear from my professors is the high cost of commecrcial systems (in our uni's case, WebCT) based on the fact that not all professors choose to utilize the system or the fact that not all class types are suited to this sort of system.
    Unless your schoolsystem plans to have EVERY educator use the system regularly and to its full potential, a commercial solution probably won't be the best answer. Sure, all those bells and whistles on the
  • claroline (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    We use [] at our university. It's php/mysql based, and oss all the way.
  • Too late for most readers since I just saw this topic, but take a look at Dokeos [].

    It's a GPL'ed LAMP-based CMS. We've been using it (or its parent Claroline) for the last two years here at the college. It's not feature complete when compared to BB- the biggest misses are a gradebook and an advanced conferencing system- but it does about 90% of what we need it to do. Our most recent survey got a good or excellent vote from 86% of the faculty.

    It's very easy to modify and customize. I've got it set up

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling