Confluence as an Alternative Learning Management System

Recently, a faculty member commented to one of my colleagues and I that Blackboard was simply “too much” for things he wanted to do within his course.  That got me thinking as to why someone might consider Blackboard Learn to be a tool that might be excessive for specific needs.

Blackboard Learn offers to faculty a rich set of tools – but what happens when a faculty member does not want to use the clear majority of those tools?  What if a faculty member only wants a place to place their syllabus and course schedule, content for students to read, upload an occasional video, and so forth?  Does a faculty member have an option for a simpler way to get course content to students at Purdue?

The answer is yes – the Confluence Wiki.

While it might seem odd that a wiki could be an alterative to Blackboard, the Confluence Wiki can perform many of the same functions for faculty that a traditional LMS would be able to provide.  Confluence offers the following for faculty:

  • On-Demand Course Creation:  Unlike Blackboard, where course sites are created automatically, faculty may create their course’s space (site) in Confluence on demand by using the Space Creation application located at http://www.purdue.edu/apps/Confluence.  This will automatically create a space on Confluence for the class and enroll all students and instructors in the class into the newly created Confluence space.
    Confluence Space Creation Application
  • Automatic Enrollment Management:  When a space is created using our Space Creation application, as noted before all students and instructors will be added to the newly created space.  In addition, as students add or drop the class, those changes are reflected in the Confluence space.
  • Content Management:  Faculty can easily upload documents and images to Confluence, and then quickly replace those documents with up-to-date versions.  For example, if the course syllabus changes, a new syllabus can be uploaded and replace the existing file.  Additionally, web links to other sites and to multimedia may also be included in Confluence.
  • Flexibility:  A Confluence space can be very simple (one or two pages with all the content needed) to highly complex, depending on needs.
  • Privacy:  Academic spaces in Confluence are only accessible to those enrolled in the course; they are not accessible by the public.

There are a few features Confluence does not have that is important to note.  First, Confluence does not offer integrated homework submission and quizzes/exams, like Blackboard.  Faculty who want to offer online exams (such as pre- or post- assessments) would be able to use Qualtrics and survey panels within the Qualtrics tool to control assessment delivery.

Also, Confluence does not offer an electronic gradebook, which would require students to track their own grades.  Additionally, while Confluence does offer the ability for students to comment on pages, there is no threaded discussion board available like what is available in Blackboard.

One other concern would be that if Confluence is used instead of Blackboard Learn, students will need to be directed to Confluence to access course content.  In this case it is recommended that any instructor using Confluence provide directions to students in class on how to access the Confluence site and make the site a favorite, so the site is quickly accessible after login.

Although there are these concerns, the Confluence Wiki does provide a great amount of flexibility on how the online portion of a course can be set up.  As much (or as little) information can be made available to students as desired.

While Blackboard Learn has many tools that faculty may wish to use in their teaching, there may be a desire for something that simply does not do everything that Blackboard can do, and that’s where Confluence can assist.  An example “course” in Confluence has been created at https://wiki.itap.purdue.edu/display/confcourse/Confluence+for+Courses+Demonstration+Home to provide some ideas on how Confluence may be used as an alternative to Blackboard.

Confluence for Courses example homepage  example course schedule in confluence

For more information about using Confluence as an alternative to Blackboard, or adding wikis to your course, please contact us at tlt-consulting@purdue.edu.

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist

About Brett Creech

Brett Creech is an Educational Technologist for the Consulting and Training Team within Teaching and Learning Technologies. He has been working with educational technology for over 10 years, including LMSs, web conferencing, 2-way video technologies, wikis, classroom technology, response systems, and more. He also has experience teaching online and in the classroom.
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