Notes for the Report on the Future of E-Campus

When I looked at class-hosting software alternatives to Web-CT, Blackboard emerged as the only real competitor to Web-CT. Even if we ignore the cost difference (Blackboard is more expensive), Web-CT still comes out on top.

The central objection to Web-CT is its interface. Even in Web-CT 2.0, the version after the one we are using, the interface is not pretty and is sometimes clumsy. At first glance Blackboard seems to offer a better interface. After closer examination, it becomes clear that though the Blackboard interface is prettier, it is no more logical than Web-CT’s. However, Web-CT’s emphasis for their forthcoming version 3.0 is primarily on improving the interface, since the company has already in version 2.0 increased the feature set.

At the level of tools, as crude as the Web-CT interface currently is, the tools are more mature than those in Blackboard. The Web-CT Bulletin board/discussion forum and Calendar, in particular lend themselves to more customization and thus more use by faculty. These are, as you know, the two most popular tools. In addition, Web-CT offers considerably more personalization to student users, who can annotate both course content and the Calendar with personal notes, available only to them.

In terms of content, and the ease of importing and exporting data, despite the primitive nature of the flat file databases underlying much of the current Web-CT software , Web-CT is much easier to use. Indeed, the very primitivism of the file structure is a virtue. The data in Web-CT can be salvaged in circumstances where it would be much more difficult or even impossible with more sophisticated data storage systems.

But the central reason for keeping Web-CT, as I see it, is the support we have received from Web-CT, and will continue to receive from them. We will have the revised scripts, we already have an installed base of “repeat” users among the faculty, and we have close ties with Web-CT. Our participation in the 3.0 beta test gives us an opportunity to not only affect the interface changes we want, but to campaign for features to be included in 4.0.

Again, if we ignore the issue of finances in terms of out-sourcing the class-hosting administration, I don’t spend much time “administrating” Web-CT — at most, an hour a week, creating and occasionally killing classes. Wayne does most of the log in resolutions, after I verify that there is a server side issue; he also maintains the scripts and cold fusion pages. I do have to run scripts and restart the servers, but most of my time is spent on training faculty, supporting and training ITCs and on content creation. None of these would become unnecessary were we to move to out sourcing. Nor, in some of the potential hosting solutions, is it clear that we could completely integrate extant UCLA resources. I also think faculty concerns about IP would be a valid concern as well as student privacy issues.

Another reason out sourcing gives me pause is that UCLA has just about the best bandwidth possible. We’re already using Internet II. Any out sourcing for us is a step down, and I suspect that there would be noticeable bandwidth problems.

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