Online titans join forces

By Chris Beauchamp

The two industry leaders in learning management software, Blackboard Inc. and WebCT Inc., merged earlier this month in a move some see as an effort to throw off new competition and survive in the e-learning industry.

University of Calgary IT Client Services Manager Heather Weiland said she hopes the merger will mean the best of both worlds for e-learning here at the U of C.

“To be honest I think it’s going to be good,” she said, noting software from both companies has strengths and weaknesses.

The U of C used WebCT software for blended learning until switching to Blackboard in 2003. Blackboard software is used by professors to post lecture notes, assignments, grades and other course information to students through a secure internet connection.

Weiland said 97 per cent of U of C students approved of Blackboard in a survey conducted last year and that e-learning technology has become a standard in the educational experience.

“When high school students come in they expect it,” said Weiland. “They don’t care what [product] it is as long as it’s reliable.”

Although the $180 million deal will mean the acquisition of WebCT by Blackboard, the current services and products of both companies will continue to be supported. The combined clientele of the companies totals more than 3,700 educational and commercial organizations.

“For users of WebCT and Blackboard I don’t think it will make much difference,” said Math and Statistics Acting Department Head Dr. Claude Laflamme. He said the merger was likely made to strengthen the two companies in the face of new competition.

“I believe it is a response to another company: Desire2Learn,” said Laflamme, noting Desire2Learn’s software is superior in functionality and includes more instructor tools than the more established WebCT and Blackboard brands. “Some people come in with new ideas and tools and it’s harder for the old guys to compete.”

Desire2Learn is an Ontario-based company founded in 1999. The Calgary Board of Education is currently implementing Desire2Learn software for K-12 e-learning.

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