In 2012, the Hwb+ portal was offered to 1,600 Welsh schools free of charge, in the hope that technology could improve overall learning. The portal is built on Sharepoint, which is known for its excellent file sharing capabilities. Feedback has not been overwhelmingly positive however, so let’s look at some of the possible reasons for this.
CMS or VLE?
Both Sharepoint and open source LMS offer great content storing and sharing capabilities, however Sharepoint’s core function is as a CMS, rather than a VLE. While it can be configured to act as an elearning platform, this requires a significant amount of effort and expertise. An open-source LMS, on the other hand, is designed primarily as highly flexible that acts as a spine to your elearning programme, whether a subject is taught exclusively online or just occasionally. You can use it for delivering and assessing course content, interactive and collaborative activities, quizzes, reporting and much more. The Forum activity allows pupils to exchange ideas and get support from peers and teachers.
Sharepoint must integrate with the MS Office Sharepoint server platform, so won’t run on standard Linux or Windows, whereas open source LMS can integrate with different servers and open source software including Drupal, Joomla and Postnuke. Being open source means it is constantly being enhanced from plugins and tweaks from the supportive LMS community. It also uses multiple authentication systems (AD/LDAP/POP). A particularly extensible platform, it has the potential to do just about anything with the right input, so perfect if you have a techie on staff who likes to tinker.
While a default template is unexciting, there are other themes provided so you can choose a more inspiring feel. Sharepoint has a more corporate look unsuitable for schools, particularly primary. Furthermore, all their sites are very similar and lack individuality. If a user is unfamiliar with Sharepoint, it can seem cumbersome and not very student-friendly.
An open Source LMS integrates well with an existing MIS (SIMS, CMIS, etc) cutting admin time. With the Homework plugin, teachers can upload an entire block of homework ahead of time, with it being released at predefined times automatically. It can then be marked through the LMS interface. Pupils don’t have to worry about lost homework and parents can track how their child is doing.
Software with a per-user license fee, such as Sharepoint, can prove very expensive for schools, particularly those with a large enrolment. The beauty being open-source is that there’s no per-user fee, although it can be hosted and maintained externally if required. After going through a rigorous assessment for quality and value for money, Webanywhere became approved as an elearning platform supplier to the UK Government Procurement Service.
For an elearning solution for schools, we believe an open-source LMS is a far more intuitive platform than Sharepoint. It’s more cost effective and brimming with adaptability.