Online Collaboration: The Next Step

Last week I wrote about how we’ve been using Sharepoint Sites for several years, and we’re looking forward to the upcoming release of SharePoint 3. Every year, however, we do investigate alternatives. We’re pleased with our use of SharePoints, but they have drawbacks. There are some cross-platform issues, and it is also an “individual site” system, meaning that students with multiple courses pretty much need to have multiple links to get where they are going.

We tried Moodle earlier this year, which we liked better in terms of a unified portal with all classes listed per student, but it still had more rough edges and quirks than we would like. A colleague who had recently used a full-blown Moodle system for a school district felt that the SharePoints were superior in terms of what they did.

We use Microsoft Exchange for email, but I saw an interesting presentation about the latest version of FirstClass email software not long ago. I loved how it was fully cross platform, easy to set up, and had fully integrated IM and online presence indicators. I was also interested in the online folders, discussion groups, and file exchange options that could be set for courses or campus groups. It also appeared that our email system for parents could be absorbed into the system. This is all very attractive, because we know our users liked having as many services as possible integrated with the email system, and the cost of the system wasn’t that high.

The problem we ran into, however, was that FirstClass appeared to need a full implementation to work well– meaning all of our Exchange accounts would need to move over. Having two interstitched system (some accounts on it, some on Exchange) looked very difficult, but we would need a proof of concept for one grade level or more before fully committing– and everyone would likely be less than thrilled about learning a new email system. One other plus: shared calendars would work for everyone (cross platform).

Blackboard LogoFinally, we’re taking another look at Blackboard. I have colleagues who have used it for years, and I wonder if the current version (with content management and other features) might replace our SharePoints, and possibly our Curriculum Map as well. It would be a unifying system like Moodle, but possibly more professional and complete. If we think about where we want to be in 3-5 years, it might be the most stable choice. I’m considering going to the Blackboard conference in San Diego next month to learn more.

Let me know if there are other integrated online systems that we should consider!

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