Course Management Systems: From Past to Present

Hello again, readers. We are finally at the last two blog posts for my graduate school class, which means that once these are written, I must venture into unfamiliar territory and begin deciding the topics of my blog posts entirely on my own. It may take a bit for me to get things sorted out, but I will do my best to find things that are interesting and worthy of discussion without any help from those that know far more than I.

For today’s penultimate article reflection, I will be looking at course management systems (CMS). I know that when I write that I do not have a lot to say on a subject I end up writing quite a bit, but this time it really may end up that way. I suppose we will see. For today’s post, I will be focusing on the paper by Houser and Thornton as well as referring to the CMS that I introduced in this blog post, Edmodo.

Houser and Thornton (2005) are wrote their paper back in 2005, during a time before smart phones, and so much of what they discuss is about the limitations of the flip phones from that era. In particular, they talk about how they required developers to have a different way of thinking when writing programs or making web pages to be viewed on flip phones compared to standard computer screens. The smaller dimensions of the screen meant that large images, tables, and any sort of horizontal scrolling had to be eliminated in order to be easily viewed on mobile phones at the time (Previous work: Small screen displays section, ¶3). Of course, talking about such things now, in the age of smart phones and tablets, simply makes us thankful that technology has advanced so much in the past 9 years.

The one thing that Houser and Thornton said that was as true now as it was back then is that the number of mobile phones greatly outnumbers that of personal computers (Motivation: Why mobile education? section, ¶3). Because of this, utilizing a CMS through mobile phones is an idea that I fully support and I am in the process of implementing in my classes right now. The paper talks about Poodle, a CMS for flip phones that had a number of basic but useful functions, especially considering the technological limitations. Poodle was able to poll a class or distribute a quiz that students could answer right on their mobile phones. Poll results could be converted to a graph that the instructor could then display for the class. A flash card function was also featured. In the paper, the authors talked about students using this function as a way of studying English vocabulary. I did feel that the paper went on an unnecessary tangent in talking about the various algorithms that flash card programs could use to decide the order in which words would appear, as this is not related to the main topic of course management systems (Poodle: A CMS for mobile phones section, ¶1-2, Flash Cards section, ¶3-7).

Looking at Edmodo, a modern CMS, we can easily see the huge strides that have been made in this area over the past few years. Not only do the same functions seen in Poodle exist, they are far more complex. Multiple formats can be chosen for quizzes with Edmodo, for instance. Edmodo also has numerous functions that Poodle was not capable of. The most useful, in my opinion, is the assignment function. A teacher can create an assignment, attaching a file if necessary. A student can then complete the assignment and upload it to Edmodo, which will notify the teacher about the submission. The teacher can then view and assign a grade to the assignment right there on Edmodo and that grade can then be added into the separate gradebook function under that student’s name. Modern course management systems have the ability to make hard copies of assignments a thing of the past. Not only does this save paper, which eco conscious instructors will appreciate, it also saves valuable class time as no papers need to be distributed nor assignments copied off of the blackboard. Students also receive notifications when new assignments are posted on a class’ page so a quick reminder at the end of a lesson that homework will be posted to Edmodo is all that is necessary.

While CMS technology has come a long way since Houser and Thornton wrote their article in 2005, I believe it has only scratched the surface of what it is truly capable of. With companies like Google now starting to formulate their own CMS component to work in conjunction with the rest of their applications, the future of course management systems certainly looks very bright. I highly recommend that anyone that teaches classes with more than a handful of students try integrating a CMS. Sites like Edmodo, with their companion smartphone apps, make teaching more efficient by allowing teachers to distribute assignments as well as receive and grade them at anytime from any location. Students, likewise, have the luxury of typing up assignments on a computer, tablet, or smartphone and submitting them even when, for example, riding a crowded train to or from school. Of course you can still offer hard copies to any students who do not have access to such devices or who wish to handwrite assignments, but for the others, having access to such a streamlined CMS is truly wonderful.


Houser, C. & Thornton, P. (2005). Poodle: A course management system for mobile phones. Paper presented at WMTE’ 05, Japan: IEEE. doi: 10.1109/WMTE.2005.51