Tools for Distance Learning Librarians

Each month the Instruction Committee will offer a brief review of 2-3 tools in different categories that can help you in your instruction, communication, and the creation of tutorials and guides, among others. This month, we’re looking at Learning Management Systems. Our reviewers looked at 2 very popular LMSs: Canvas and Blackboard. Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments about these or other LMSs you have used. Tell us what you liked or didn’t like and how you have used the tool successfully in your work.


Access/Storage: Cloud
Cost: Institutional Licensing
Learning Curve: Medium
Evaluation: The Blackboard company offers several products for online learning including:

As a learning management system, Blackboard Learn allows instructors to build content, quizzes, assignments, and discussion areas. Additionally instructors can track student progress and send announcements.

Reviewer: Michelle Keba


Access/Storage: Cloud
Cost: Institutional Licensing/Open Source, Commercial/AGPL
Learning Curve: Medium
Evaluation: Company’s self-stated goal is to create products for online learning that are simple and that include “intuitive and easy-to-use features.” The Canvas learning management system allows instructors to build content in the form of text pages, discussions, quizzes, assignments and video/audio recording. It also includes a built in chat feature, collaborative documents option (with a choice between EtherPad and Google Docs) and a web conferencing tool. Canvas also has or will soon have several additional features (many of which are not available in other learning management systems) including: course and grading apps for iOS and Android platforms, a mobile polling app, global support, integrated learning outcomes, 1 click LTI integration and open source status.

Reviewer: Rebecca Bliquez


Access/Storage: Cloud
Cost: Institutional Licensing/Open Source, Commercial/AGPL
Learning Curve: Medium
Evaluation: Sakai is a community of educators with the goal of “providing a robust and truly community-driven alternative to proprietary learning systems.” The open source LMS is used for course delivery and collaborative projects. The source code is free and allows for customization, but the software suite requires adequate institutional support to install and maintain; commercial affiliates can provide a full range of services with a full range of prices. There is strong Sakai community support for technical help and collaborative development.

Course sites tie in with campus registration systems and project sites provide tools for non-instructional uses such as collaborative research or committee work. Instructors can choose appropriate tools for communication, active learning, and assessment. Core tools include Syllabus, Assignments, Discussion Board, Quiz, Gradebook, Chat, and Lesson Builder. Sakai can be used for delivery of asynchronous and blended courses or as a supplement to F2F classes.

To try out the LMS, faculty can request sandbox accounts at one of the commercial affiliates and developers and system administrators can download the software.

Reviewer: Jim Kinnie

Next month; Screen casting tools!

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