Friday, May 30, 2008

Moving from Blackboard to Web 2.0, Part 1

I made my move finally to ditch Blackboard, our course management system (CMS) of choice in the district. I don't even want to start talking about why I must leave it behind. I'll just stick with the story that I prefer to blaze my own trail. Yes, that works fine for me. No headaches thinking about it that way.

So my biggest need moving from a CMS is a gradebook, quizzing/testing capabilities, and content management. I just need a place to keep my stuff. I have already moved all the other essential course elements out of Blackboard in favor of a blog, wiki and social network. I haven't used all three at the same time, but I've tried all three. My top choice is the social network because it incorporates more of the course elements I want to maintain, and the only thing really missing is a "wiki like" tool. It's not so much the collaboration aspect of a wiki that I'm looking for, but more of a place to manage course content. I want to be able to easily and quickly edit course content and make it available. A wiki allows for me to do that, but so does Google Docs and Zoho.

So what's it going to be? I'm going with Zoho for now, so let me tell you why.

Zoho has a whole suite of productivity and collaboration apps, and I like the way they all work together. It has the usual word processor, spreadsheet and presentation apps, but it also has a notebook that is much different than Google's notebook. It works more like a content management or webpage than normal notebooks which usually just give you a place for your notes. Zoho Notebook allows you to build content which can be quickly and easily organized and published or shared with your class. Here's a video showing how Zoho Notebook works.

The biggest advantage that Zoho has over Google Docs and other online suites is that it makes it easy to group your content and documents in one place that is easy to view. It even looks a little like a CMS. Zoho creates these tabs in a notebook that you can label. New pages and tabs can be created by adding any of the Zoho apps. For instance, if I want to add a spreadsheet to the notebook, there's an option to do so on the right side menu. I can also add a word processor document, called a Writer page, to the notebook, an outside website page which gets embedded into the notebook, or I can start with a blank page and build. Now this is where the Zoho Notebook shines. It allows for you to add all kinds of things into a blank page, most notably html, which makes it possible to add widgets to a page. There is also an add RSS option which creates a RSS widget.

So I set up my summer ENG101 course in Zoho and published it so I could share it with you. I don't have to publish the course. I can just share it with only the students in the class making it private as well. I created pages for my syllabus, videos, modules, daily schedule, module I, module II, module III, module IV, Handouts, and Final Exam. I created most of the pages in Zoho Writer and then added them to the notebook, however, the handouts page is unique. I added a blank page and then added the pdf files (handouts) to the page. I will make this page private and share it with students instead of making it public for copyright reasons, but it's great how you can upload and share files on a page.

An important feature for me is also the ability to add video and audio podcasts to my pages. Zoho Notebook makes it easy to do that. I created a "Daily Podcast" for students and posted them on the "Daily Activities" pages, and I created a video page to post videos. There's also an example of a presentation that I added to my page using Zoho Show.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with how Zoho is working for me. I can't say that there hasn't been a few obstacles and bugs, but it is still in beta. In my next post, I'll talk a bit more about that and how I'm using Zoho Notebook as my method of collecting student assignments and building their writing portfolios.

*Blackboard image from: