In this post we look at SchoolRack, then review results of our look at 4 different CMS apps, and decide what’s next.
So far in this series, we've looked at Rcampus and MyiCourse, and now it's time to move on to the other two candidates from our original selection of four online CMS/LMS apps that offer free functionality.
I tried to get going with Schoology, but hit the wall almost immediately as I got a message telling me “all fields in red are required” while I was populating the four initial fields on the Create Course screen. There were no “fields in red” (unless I've suddenly gone colorblind). I poked around a little and then gave up, moving onto SchoolRack.
SchoolRack's Features & Functionality
The functionality available in SchoolRack is somewhat limited, and seems to be geared towards a singular kind of use – that is, for use in just one course or class, not multiple courses or classes. I worked through creating this simple online mini-course site, and came away feeling that SchoolRack is a good free site for the elementary and maybe middle school teacher who wants to start using the web to create a simple class web site where they can interact with students or parents. Managing multiple courses with this tool appears to be impractical, but it's a nice place to get started with some simple online course content and interactions.
- Web Pages & Posts: You can create web pages and put posts on them. It does not appear that you can nest pages. The available themes are a nice touch. Files can be uploaded and linked to web pages.
- Discussion Board: They've got a discussion board feature, but you can only create one. You can create multiple topics, but there doesn't seem to be any way to create different discussions for different web pages, posts, or groups.
- Assignments: There are assignments, but they don't have much to them – just a name, a description, possible points, a due date, and the ability to associate the assignment with a group. Also, teachers have to upgrade to the Premium Plan if they wish to be able to link attachments to assignments (students can do this to submit assignments, at no charge, it's only teachers that have to pay if they wish to be able to link an attachment to an assignment).
- Grades: There is an ability to record a grade assignments, but not for courses overall.
- Groups & Messaging: I was able to create a group and associate an assignment or messaging with that group, which offers some possibilities for segregating work within the course, but since the web pages, posts, and discussion boards are not group specific (not that I could tell), the functionality of the groups doesn't really provide for different course pages and discussions like a traditional CMS/LMS.
- Help: The Help Resources are pretty good.
- The Plus Version of SchoolRack is under $6/mo., but this comparative page only shows that you get more … more space, more pages, and more mailing lists, but not any additional functionality.
Conclusions (thus far)
Unfortunately, I wasn't terribly thrilled with any of the applications I tried. The three that I was able to use each have their pros and cons, and their rightful place, but none provided the level of functionality that I had hoped for. Here are some summary statements about these four applications:
- MyiCourse: Limited functionality, but it was pretty easy to use. Too bad it didn't have a discussion forum (I'm looking for an embeddable forum tools to see if I can integrate one myself – I'll let you know if that leads anywhere!) I liked the ability to charge for a course, making this tool useful to the entrepreneurial online instructor.
- Rcampus: Some good functionality here, but they had the odd twist of requiring an upgrade to a Premium version that doesn't exist yet, in order to get certain functionality, like tests. (I was also surprised that no one at Rcampus picked up the post and offered some kind of insights or encouraging words).
- Schoology: Dead end. Couldn't do enough with it to assess it.
- SchoolRack: Limited course management functionality, and limited ability to host separate courses/classes, but it's pretty good for lower grades or other situations where teachers want to set up a web site for one class or course.
When I started this effort, I briefly looked at 9 sites. I selected the four above to check out as they seemed to have the most potential for little or no limits under their free or near-free offerings. Given the results, I took a closer look at the five I that originally put aside and think that two of them are worth trying out:
- Edu20.org: Looking back at what they offer, after having worked with the above apps and learned from the experience, Edu20.org looks pretty attractive, even in it's free version.
- EctoLearning: This site is entirely free, with unlimited users and courses, but I was hesitant to work with it originally because my original interpretation after scanning their FAQs lead me to conclude that it was stronger in social networking and weaker in course management (as is the trend with many new sites out there that call themselves ‘LMS' apps but are pretty far from it). A closer look revealed that the app looks like it includes traditional CMS/LMS elements and is worthy of a deeper dive.
After a look at these two apps, we'll move on to some new topics. I'm really looking forward to discussing some of the great classroom uses of Twitter that have been submitted by readers in response to my post, “Do you use Facebook or Twitter in the classroom (or know someone who does)?“. In the meanwhile, I'd really love to hear from some readers about any free CMS tools they may have used, and how it has worked out – just click here to comment (thanks!).
Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
What Are The Best Free Hosted Course Management Systems On The Internet?
Free Hosted Course Management Systems, A Closer Look – Rcampus
Creating Simple Online Courses For Free With MyiCourse