Fast Company reporter and Do-It-Yourself college education advocate Anya Kamenetz reports on Coursekit, a free online application that is positioning itself as a more student- and teacher-friendly alternative to market leader Blackboard.
Kamenetz focuses her December 5 article in Fast Company on the business model used by Coursekit. Coursekit is available free and ad-free for the next year (its first year in operation). After that, it will continue to be free (that’s its value proposition) but could feature ads as a means of generating revenue.
To provide background, Kamenetz notes that Coursekit was developed by some dropouts from the undergraduate program at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania to provide an easier-to-use experience than Blackboard. (I had actually read this before; whomever is launching this company has hired a great PR firm.)
That intrigued me, because when Blackboard first hit the scene a bit over a decade ago, its ease of use was the key to its success. Instructors could easily create course websites without knowing anything about HTML or Dreamweaver. All they had to do was upload Word, Powerpoint and Excel documents, and fill in a few templates.
But after a semester or two of work, Blackboard looked clunky and I returned to writing my own course websites in HTML.
After it established itself in the market, other educational technologists, too, tired of Blackboard. Blackboard and its then competitor WebCT dramatically raised their prices, added a host of features that only a few teachers needed, and drove many schools to the open-source competitor, Moodle. Moodle operates similarly to Blackboard and offers similar functions, but the software is open source so organizations avoid licensing fees. I use Moodle but mostly for its privacy capabilities or when I'm told to; my feelings about the application and its usability are neutral.
So Kamenetz's article--the second I had seen in a week about Coursekit--piqued my curiosity. I wanted to see whether Coursekit was easier to use.
So I checked it out myself and created a simple course website. Its interface is cleaner, using a social media feed rather than the announcement boards typical of its predecessors. The gradebook and submissions processes look much simpler than Blackboard and Moodle.
What I liked the best was the calendar function, which lets instructors present all of the materials needed for a single session together. I also appreciated the privacy settings, that let instructors keep some parts public and others private. In terms of usability, the product seems to live up to its promise (won’t know until I use it under the real pressures of a term).
But, as Kamenetz notes, how Coursekit handles advertising could make or break the product. Read her article at http://www.linkedin.com/news?actionBar=&articleID=961161750&ids=0TdzoOcPoOdzAIc3kTcjoNcjoVb3gUcPoRdPAReiMVcjkMdPwNdjAIcjsQc38Qc3oV&aag=true&freq=weekly&trk=eml-tod2-b-ttl-3&ut=3KxPl_oj62yR01.