Online Course Management: From Blogging to Open Source Software

Author Information
Jon Baggaley
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Athabasca University
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Making course updates easier for instructors can increase both faculty satisfaction and cost-effectiveness. At Athabasca University, open source solutions such as Plone have become useful tools for both faculty members and technical staff.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Open source solutions such as Plone have been implemented for both faculty members and technical staff.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

AU is Canada's Open University and delivers its courses completely at a distance. With a large volume of online courses delivered by the Centre for Distance Education alone, the blogging solution, and, subsequently, the Plone approach, became indispensable tools in our arsenal. Using the cost-free facility provided by, we were able to reduce the time usually taken to update online course materials from two weeks per semester to one day. This same 90% reduction in workload has continued with Plone.Meanwhile, our graduate students' comparisons of the growing array of LMS software continue at

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

In 2001, the Centre for Distance Education at Athabasca University (AU) in Canada adopted a course materials approach that was, at that time, fairly unique. We entered each of our course pages into a "blogging" database (provided by, so that faculty members who lacked programming skills could update the materials themselves via their browsers.

The rapid rise of OS software was already providing efficient alternatives to content management. In late 2003, the Center for Distance Education began exploring an open source (OS) alternative to Blogger. The OS software Plone was chosen to replace the blogging method since materials could be entered into the system more rapidly, and using a standard look and feel. As with the earlier 'blogger' solution, faculty members would then submit their changes to a web editor for checking before online publication.

The Plone application is not a full-fledged learning management system (LMS), but was deliberately selected owing to its straightforward focus on course materials updating. We expect to select a more complete OS package for our learning management process in the coming year, as faculty members become used to this intermediate approach. The "diffusion of innovation" strategy is being designed so as not to overwhelm faculty with too many options and features at once.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

The cost to develop the initial blogging approach was zero. The cost to replace the blogging approach with Plone was approximately $1500 (US) for clerical support for the conversion of the blog files into Plone content.

References, supporting documents: 

Baggaley, J. (2003). Blogging as a Course Management Tool. The Technology Source, July/August. Online at

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Jon Baggaley, Professor of Educational Technology, Athabasca University