For Teachers

21st-Century Alternatives to the Classroom Blackboard

By Alisa Bates, PhD November 8, 2012

The traditional blackboard has been a focal point of the classroom for centuries, but with new technological innovations, the old-fashioned slate and chalkboard are becoming a thing of the past. Modern blackboards, known as Blackboards, use the Learning Management System (LMS) platform which can create and manage an online course room. Because of its familiar format, school administrators often turn to Blackboard to update the classroom, but there are many alternative blackboard options to consider, and it is important that each possibility is weighed before making a decision on which is best for your school.

Moodle whiteboards

When considering blackboard alternatives, classroom teachers might want to investigate Moodle whiteboards. Moodle is also an LMS system that supports various aspects of website creation and interaction between students and teachers. Whiteboards can be manipulated for use either in the teaching of online courses or as a blended learning medium when online content is balanced with brick and mortar class time. Whiteboards are a great option for encouraging an interactive learning experience.

With whiteboards, Moodle teachers set up a central area where students can work together. Students can arrange their own whiteboards and invite others to work with them. The board can be drawn on, or various objects can be added to the board, which makes it a great tool for project work. A version of Moodle is available for free download to allow schools and students an opportunity to experience the platform without a commitment.

Canvas by Instructure

Another great option for educators who want to experiment with an online learning environment, but may not be ready to make a firm commitment, is Canvas by Instructure. Perhaps the most notable difference with Canvas, when compared to Moodle whiteboard, is that it features an open source LMS which users can access for free. Canvas also has a cloud platform available that teachers can explore without downloading any software. Of course, as is the case with many free versions, there are more advanced options that offer access to more space for a small fee, but getting a feel for an LMS can help teachers first decide how they want to incorporate online learning into their class.

A possible downside of the free version of Canvas is that it runs on the development technology, Ruby on Rails, which is less familiar than Java J2EE which runs Blackboard, or PHP which runs Moodle.

Desire2Learn

Desire2Learn (D2L) is another LMS that is more popular in the higher education environment, but is expanding its reach to the K-12 market as well. Like Canvas, it offers cloud services, a learning repository, an ePortfolio, analytics, and mobile services. Desire2Learn also offers a free trial, but further pricing is based on the needs of the client.

Many educators have found D2L to be a valuable resource in their classrooms, even without the open source component, and its use is especially widespread in higher education, where it serves as the main LMS solution for clients as large as the Minnesota State University system.

Meeting the needs of teachers and students

Regardless of what LMS system is used, it is important to note what an excellent tool these systems have been for teachers and students. Before Learning Management Systems were widely available, teachers used less secure platforms such as MySpace in order to encourage online interactivity for their students.  This platform left many parents concerned. Environments set up through an LMS service are not accessible to the general public and are easily tracked and analyzed in order for educators to verify a student’s progress.

Many teachers have also found that introducing more online and hybrid options for their students caters to a wider variety of learning styles. For example, a student who may be a wallflower in the traditional classroom may shine in an online forum where his or her thoughts can be articulated without interruption. These differences can be noted and can even result in students receiving further coaching in areas where they may need help.

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