Tag Archives: google groups

Two possible replacements for course management systems

This afternoon I finally reached the limit of my patience with Angel. The details are unimportant (but revolve around the patently stupid refusal of Angel to automate tasks for multiple sections of the same course). Just suffice to say that I spent a good portion of the last half hour seriously investigating ways to declare independence from Angel and all other proprietary CMS’s.

I came up with two possible options.

Option 1 is to use Wikispaces to make a course wiki, containing pages for different content. Wikispaces allows the posting of files, too, with a pretty generous 2 GB storage limit and no limit on bandwidth. So it would be easy to use the wiki as a glorified file server, which is pretty much all I need from a course web site. Use a basic email client as I discussed at length here to handle communications. Each page has a discussion section attached to it to allow for integrated discussion “boards”.

Pros: I know Wikispaces pretty well, having done three wikis through them already. Pages are easy to manipulate and are fully text-searchable. Everything is in one place and there is a simple URL to access it. No functionality is duplicated as with Angel and its execrable “email” system. Also, Wikispaces handles native LaTeX typesetting. And there’s an RSS feed for every page to help students keep up. Cons: File management on Angel is kind of a pain. And despite the whole digital native hoopla, most students and faculty I know have no clue about RSS, which would mean somebody would have to get them to use it. Finally, wikis do not have a native hierarchical structure — they are pretty nonlinear by nature, and that can be confusing to people used to top-down designed web sites.

Option 2 is to create a Google Group for the course. I had not used Google Groups before today, and I was impressed when I looked around. There’s obviously the nice discussion board feature, along with rudimentary wiki functionality and customizable structure — you can make a “page” for anything and it shows up as a tab in the main view. I’m not sure how well-integrated it is with Google Docs, Spreadsheets, etc. but it seems like those connections ought to be easy and strong. Not a lot of file space at just 100 MB, but perhaps I could keep the “freshest” 100 MB of stuff on the Group page and archive the rest at a Box.net account for the class.

Pros: Nice look and feel, intuitive, well-connected. RSS feeds available as well as the ability to connect/post to the group via email and mobile phone. Cons: No LaTeX; only 100 MB of file space; more structure means fewer options.

There is an option 3, which is to create a WordPress.com blog for the course and construct pages for everything that is static in nature (syllabus page, files, etc.). But WordPress.com only gives 50 MB of file space which is too restrictive for this purpose. It could possibly be done if I wanted to use Box.net for file sharing, which would be easy since WordPress.com blogs have a Box.net widget available for the sidebar. (I’ve got one off to your right, down a ways.)

In all these options, I would keep Angel around only for the online gradebook — which still sucks for reasons I haven’t elaborated on here (yet), but which students understandably appreciate. If I could find a good workaround for a secure online gradebook, I’d ditch Angel entirely.

Anybody have thoughts or experiences in this kind of thing?

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