I first read that this was Open Access Week in a blog post on The Chronicle of Higher Education that discussed the benefits of using open source course management systems, such as using WordPress, rather than using the standard university course management systems, such as Blackboard or Angel.
I was interested in the discussion, as I have made the open source decision by creating a course blog in WordPress for my Writing for Mass Communication course. I do use UF’s course management system for posting student grades. But otherwise, all communication with students, course syllabus, resources, lab assignments and grading rubrics are posted on the blog.
One reason I made that decision was that UF, like many universities, keep changing course management systems. UF has gone from WebCT to e-Learning (Blackboard) and now to Sakai. Sakai is open source, but this may not be the last of UF’s course management system decisions. Every time UF changes course management systems (CMS), every faculty member who uses the system has to migrate course materials to the new CMS. That’s often more involved than it might seem, with faculty having to upload all the materials to the new site — and sometimes losing content if they had composed the material directly into the CMS and didn’t have the “raw” materials saved to their own computers.
So part of my decision was to have more control of my own course content and not being subject to the university’s decision to move to a different CMS.
Another part of my decision to have a course blog is to help the students in the course become more aware of blogs and blogging. The students in the course are advertising, journalism and public relations majors. If they decide to pursue a career in the media (and can find a job), they will be working in organizations that in one form or another utilize blogs. Those in the media read blogs to read the latest news, learn about trends and follow public opinion.
At the beginning of the semester, less than a fourth of the students had read blogs and only a handful had kept a blog. The course blog provides them with the encouragement to set up a RSS feed and receive regular updates about the course — and then set up feeds from other blogs.
Another aspect I like about the WordPress course blog is that I can check the blog stats and see if students are checking. The blog readership takes a dip on the weekends, but during the week (and especially before an assignment is due or a test), the students are there.