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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.
- 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.
For more information about using Confluence as an alternative to Blackboard, or adding wikis to your course, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For some faculty, the use of wiki software during a class can provide a easy way for students to quickly develop content that can be easily edited, updated, or modified during the term. Students can obtain practical experience in creating online documentation on a myriad of topics.
Purdue supports two wiki platforms – Confluence Wiki and the Blackboard Wiki. While the Blackboard Wiki is a part of the overall Blackboard Learn course management system, the Confluence Wiki is a stand-alone system.
One of the key advantages of the Confluence Wiki over Blackboard’s Wiki tool is that the Confluence Wiki can be opened to the world beyond Purdue. Faculty can show student work through making their course’s wiki available for read-only access to anyone inside or outside of Purdue. Additionally, faculty can invite in colleagues from other institutions to interact with students within Confluence.
Confluence wikis are also not limited to a specific academic term. Faculty can create a Confluence wiki where students over several years can all add knowledge to the same wiki space. This can serve as a record of what students were learning about and focusing on during a specific term.
Confluence wikis created specifically for classes do keep track of what students are enrolled in the class. Currently enrolled students will enjoy the ability to create and edit pages within Confluence, and enrollment information is updated once daily. Students who withdraw from the course will lose their access privileges to the wiki, but any content they have added will be retained.
Furthermore, with a Confluence space (a specific site within Confluence), individual pages can be restricted to editing by certain users, while remaining open for all in the course to view. For example, if a group of students is assigned a topic, a new page for the topic can be created and only that group of students given access to edit the page. All other students can be given permission to continue to see the page, but they won’t be able to make changes.
The look and feel of Confluence is also similar to other wikis, and with options to add page sections and split individual sections into columns, Confluence provides more page formatting options than Blackboard, although it is easier to add multimedia content within the Blackboard Wiki. Confluence can also create a dynamic table of contents for individual Confluence pages to assist with navigation if the page includes a large amount of content.
One final advantage that the Confluence wiki has over the Blackboard Wiki is the ability to create a hierarchy of pages. Each space has a main page, but a tree of pages can be built from the main page, allowing for the creation of a series of child pages that exist in the hierarchy directly under the main page, and then each child page can have a series of sub-pages branching off of it. In the Blackboard Wiki, while there is a main page, there is no ability to create a hierarchy of pages.
The Blackboard Wiki does enjoy two advantages over the Confluence Wiki. First, the Blackboard Wiki is located within a course, so there is no need for a student to go to another website to complete assignments. The second advantage is that wikis in Blackboard can be integrated with the Grade Center, so grading of wiki assignments can be done completely within Blackboard Learn.
If you are interested in using the Confluence Wiki for your course, you can learn more about Confluence at http://www.itap.purdue.edu/learning/tools/confluence, and you can set up a space in Confluence automatically by going to the self-service application located at http://www.purdue.edu/apps/Confluence. If you would like to receive training for you and/or your students, please contact us at email@example.com.