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On Choosing an LMS

So long story short is that I’ve been a part of a suddenly rushed process to decide if and when to ditch Blackboard for an alternative LMS. I’m part of one group of mostly faculty who are taking a look at this issue from our perspectives, and we now have to come up with our conclusions. I’m strongly in favor of ditching Blackboard, but still feel I don’t have enough information or time to assess the differences between Moodle and Sakai. If anyone has any useful experiences or links that address this in general, or some of my specific questions below, please leave a comment.

  1. How easy is it to reuse content (quizzes, assignments, etc.) across courses (both term-to-term, as well as sharing among different instructors)?
  2. How do the details of the assessment modules in both Moodle and Sakai compare? I have the vague sense they’re broadly comparable (though with perhaps the nod going to Moodle with its ability to tie assessment to outcomes, and then have reporting based on this; not sure Sakai has this), but would like to explore this more.
  3. How integrated is TurnItIn? Both claim the feature, but I would like to know, in particular, if grades from TurnItIn can populate to their respective gradebooks (as happens now with Blackboard, though not very reliably).
  4. inbound and outbound SMS integration?

10 Comments

  1. Congrats on ditching Blackboard. I only have experience with Moodle-here is some info which might help-

    1. There are two turnitin integrations. The basic module creates a separate assignment type which provides a portal to turnitin. The teacher and students are automatically populated in turnitin and the grades feed from turnitin.com to Moodle gradebook. A tighter integration has been developed that will allow any content (forum posts, wiki pages, etc) to be submitted to turnitin.com, but I haven’t tried that since it is a more complicated plugin to install.

    2. You can easily refresh a course and use it again for the next term, by removing all students OR making a backup without user data and restoring the backup. For a particular course most instructors have separate groups to handle the different sections. You can share question banks (for quizzes) between multiple instructors, but specific quizzes are tied to a course. To copy a quiz/assignment to a new course there is a button to import an activity from another course. To copy a bunch of activities it is better to make a backup and then restore the backup (you can choose to add the backup activities/resources to an existing course or create a new one). There is also the ability to create metacourses which have shared activities that students from multiple different courses can access.

    3. SMS integration-Moodle 2.0 will allow end users to set how they want to receive messages (email, SMS, jabber, etc) and most actions will create an event which could trigger a message. Right now there are several plugins which allow sending SMS go to the plugins database http://moodle.org/mod/data/view.php?id=6009 and search for SMS.

    You should also check out http://www.masmithers.com/2009/09/20/public-lms-evaluations/

  2. darcusb says:

    Thanks Colin. Just to be clear, there’s been no decision on this; am just collecting information that will help inform that decision (of which I play a very small part). ;-)

    Your description of reusing course content has me a little worried (backing up? really?) …

  3. Nate Angell says:

    Here’s some answers for you for Sakai! Truth in advertising: I work for rSmart, the Sakai commercial affiliate.

    1) Sakai makes it super easy to reuse content in (at least) 3 ways: clone courses, make courses from templates, or selectively import content from existing courses.

    2) I don’t know Moodle’s assessment tools well, but there are two available test/quiz/survey tools in Sakai, nicknamed Samigo and Mneme; both have robust capabilities. Sakai has a full-featured portfolio toolset that can be used to tie not just assessments, but any evidence, to learning outcomes.

    3) There is TurnItIn integration with Sakai’s Assignments tool. You can watch a demo on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7erfyCCH0jI. Note that the administration of scheduled jobs demo’d here is not a manual task, but happens automatically once it’s set up. There is currently no Gradebook integration, except to the degree that the Assignments tool is already fully integrated into Sakai’s Gradebook (ie, grades do not come from TurnItIn, but must be supplied by the instructor based on TurnItIn reports and other factors).

    4) Sakai community member the University of Cape Town has developed an SMS interface to Sakai, details here: http://confluence.sakaiproject.org/display/SMS/Home. At rSmart, we have talked about bypassing clicker integration via SMS, but haven’t finalized development plans. As LMS platforms, Sakai and Moodle are generally functionally equivalent. Sakai offers a wider set of integrated capabilities for collaboration and portfolios. To me, the more salient differences have to do with the different structure and flavor of the two communities. You can read more of my thoughts on the matter on my blog: http://xolotl.org.

    If you want to kick Sakai’s tires, you can use rSmart’s mySakai environment for free: http://mysakai.rsmart.com. I see a lot of your Miami of OH colleagues in there experimenting already. Folks at rSmart would be happy to add stealthed tools not automatically available in mySakai to any site you create, like the new Profile2, Gradebook2, and Mneme tools.

  4. All responses are based on Sakai implementations we have completed:

    1) There is functionality in Sakai to duplicate sites and “import from sites”. You can selectively import assignments and assessments from an old site that you are an instructor in. You also have a “Question Pool” that persists across all sites; you can create random draw assessments using the question pool.

    3) Sakai has a TurnItIn implementation as part of the Assignments tool. The instructor can choose whether assignment attachments should be submitted to TurnItIn for review. There is no grade integration that I know of.

    4) SMS integration contributed by University of Cape Town:

    http://confluence.sakaiproject.org/display/SMS/Home

  5. Clay Fenlason says:

    wrt Sakai, I should first say that not all Sakais are created equal. Sakai has a fair number of optional tools and configurations, such that each deploying institution runs its own custom flavor. I’ll respond then in the best case, where I can, with the caveat that for each claim of what Sakai can do, I could probably find an instance someone is running somewhere that cannot do this.

    I’m also going to respond from the perspective of Sakai 2, the current generation of product, even though Sakai 3 work is actively underway and will probably be on the scene before your institution has made any big move (same goes for a new release of Moodle, btw).

    With those caveats out of the way, then:

    “1. How easy is it to reuse content (quizzes, assignments, etc.) across courses (both term-to-term, as well as sharing among different instructors)?”

    In any new course site is an option to “import from site,” then run through a checklist of things you want to pull in.

    “How do the details of the assessment modules in both Moodle and Sakai compare? I have the vague sense they’re broadly comparable (though with perhaps the nod going to Moodle with its ability to tie assessment to outcomes, and then have reporting based on this; not sure Sakai has this), but would like to explore this more.”

    If by assessment you’re referring to online tests&quizzes, I think you’re essentially right. But if you’re including the assessment of submitted work or projects, I think there is an assignments tool which will indeed associate particular assignments with “goals,” which can in turn be associated with electronic portfolios. This is not in the latest release, however - it’s one of those new and optional tools.

    “How integrated is TurnItIn? Both claim the feature, but I would like to know, in particular, if grades from TurnItIn can populate to their respective gradebooks (as happens now with Blackboard, though not very reliably).”

    I know less about this, since we haven’t used it, but I believe the Sakai integration has more to do with checking submitted work, and I don’t believe there is gradebook integration with TurnItIn out of the box. Others in the Sakai community would know more, and you might ask them (see below for a link to a mailing list).

    “Inbound and outbound SMS integration?”

    There is an SMS tool, yes, but I can’t speak to the question of whether and how it might treat inbound and outbound integration differently. Our colleagues in Cape Town have been spearheading this one.

    Let me close by suggesting that you take your questions to the community itself, by posting them on a sakai-user mailing list (see http://collab.sakaiproject.org/mailman/listinfo/sakai-user). Where I’ve had to hedge or waffle you’ll find better answers from the crowd.

  6. frank says:

    this might help in your decision - http://edutools.info/item_list.jsp?pj=4

  7. darcusb says:

    Nate - thanks; we’ve actually talked with one of your colleagues.

    On the SMS thing, I’d seen that, but it’s just not very informative. Any insight into how people are using this in the classroom? Sounds like from what you write, this is probably more forward-leaning?

  8. I believe that Capetown uses SMS in Sakai heavily, but I don’t know the details. You might want to ping @stephenmarquard or @czernie on Twitter for the details.

  9. Nate Angell says:

    SMS capabilities in Sakai 2 are more forward-leaning, but already in production use at UCT, so ready to go.

    I’m not aware of all the uses UCT and other campuses are putting SMS to, but know UCT uses it for broad communication (eg, program acceptance notices). My understanding of the functionality is it works like some of the other internal messaging tools in Sakai, allowing users with the right privileges (eg, instructors, TAs) to send messages to individual or groups of course/site participants via SMS. I don’t believe current UCT SMS capabilities include realtime clicker functionality, which was what rSmart was thinking about.

    If you have specific ideas for SMS in mind, it would be great to pose them to the Building Sakai list (http://sakaiproject.org/join-email-lists) and/or to @stephenmarquard, as I’m sure UCT folks would be happy to explain current functionality and/or collect additional use cases. The existence of Sakai’s SMS functionality likely means extending and adapting it should be easier than starting from scratch.

  10. darcusb says:

    FYI, Stephen Marquard has some useful comments on the Sakai SMS integration over here.