It’s no secret that I think Blackboard and WebCT are a scam. They charge excessive rates for a second rate, clunky product, and Blackboard is trying to patent and corner the market (all around bad for education). At any rate I think most of what Blackboard offers can be done for free, in a more user friendly way. For my purposes a blog covers almost everything I need (consider me to be edupunk). I do however realize that there are some feature others want that are not as easy with a blog (online grades, test quizzes, etc.). Some faculty are simply looking for a more robust Course Management Platform. Enter Nfomedia.
A couple of weeks ago someone emailed me about Nfomedia, suggesting I take a look at it. Nfomedia is trying to be a free online courseware choice, with a full list of features. (It appears that they are going to make money by charging for a “premium” service,” but the free set of features will more than meet most needs.) Once you create an account (this was actually the only annoying step-see below) it is relatively easy to set up a series of course pages. The site works like a wiki (I suspect that they are using wiki-software to run the back end) allowing the professor or teacher to simply add content. One can add a syllabus page, assignment pages, note, or content pages. All of these are treated as nodes so you can link between them, pretty much getting your students all the class info you would need. What’s more they also offer a gradebook and exams (although I wouldn’t necessarily store students grades on a third party site). Furthermore Nfomedia allows you to register students, or have students register themselves, allowing for email distribution etc. to all of the students. Finally the way Nfomedia is set up at the end of the semester you can roll over all the general class information and delete out the student specific information. So, if you are teaching the same class over and over again you only have to write the content pages once.
The only part of Nfomedia that was less than user friendly was the registration process. When you register if your University or School is not already listed, you have to wait for approval before creating a course page. (At first I thought this was to make sure you are associated with an institution, but I think it also might be so that they can collect all of the schools who are using Nfomedia-sort of a bragging process.) Whatever the reason for this step, seems to me that they could just let your start immediately and not wait for approval, perhaps waiting for approval before your site can go public. In fairness though it took less than 24 hours for approval, I just hate to wait for this sort of think.
Finally one last word of caution: It might not be as easy to get the data in an out of Nfomedia as a blog, if for example Nfomedia wanted to eliminate the free account, or if the site ceased to exist. Clearly this is also a problem for the big dogs like Blackboard and WebCT, if you institution switches it might not be so easy to get the professors’ data out.