Chalksite recently launched (March 29, 2006) to offer educators and students alike a new service to manage their courses. Throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies, at Purdue and Northwestern respectively, I had several encounters with the course work portal called Blackboard and wondered why no one has tried to create a better service offering.
Chalksite offers simple design built on the Ruby on Rails framework and allows educators to post messages, assignments and manage grading. Not to mention, Chalksite allows teachers to create their own weblog and about me pages to help communicate and display biography information which is a great implementation of a blog. I think the open design and intuitive design sets Chalksite apart from Blackboard. However, I am not a Blackboard power user so I asked a friend of mine that wanted to remain anonymous but has 35 years as an educator under their belt to give Chalksite a test drive and this what they had to say:
"For the new online instructor, Chalksite is an easy platform to use to begin the online instructional process, yet it lacks the sophistication needed to keep the online student engaged in the distance learning process. For online courses to succeed, the students must be able to become involved in the learning process through discussion board postings, and plentiful course document and assignment postings. The more "interesting" the site, the more the student will return to the site. Chalksite does not allow enough varied postings to become interesting. I would not use it to teach any of my three online college courses.
Blackboard 6.0 (yes, there were 5 1/2 newer editions to learn before the current platform) includes the vocabulary of academia within its design: syllabus, assignments, course documents, gradebook, and discussion board --- all terms professors and students are familiar with. Designing a class in Blackboard is easy for the computer savvy. After completing a Blackboard Boot Camp (four weeks of online training) any one would be able to create and teach a course in the Blackboard 6.0 platform.
Chalksite misses the mark with its simplicity. Chalksite is limited in its offerings -- there are only three buttons available to use in a Chalksite course, including message, assignment, and website. This is far too simple."
I do not totally agree with everything quoted above since I think a simple user experience is far more important than an overly sophisticated application just for the sake of holding a student's interest. Since I would argue as a former student that I do not want to be logged into either Chalksite or Blackboard longer than it takes to get the required course work and information, I would appreciate an application that is easy to use and removes the noise and amplifies the signal - with simplicity. Though, it does appear that Chalksite is missing familiar features and therefore has some improving to do before it can take on products like Blackboard.