The Course Management System (CMS) is the generic name for the software programs used to deliver Internet-based instruction.  There are a variety of commercially available programs in use; examples include Blackboard, WebCT, Angel, and others.  The public colleges and universities, including BCTC, use Blackboard.  Blackboard is commonly abbreviated "Bb."

These programs all share many common features, which are discussed below.  Changing from one CMS to another is not terribly difficult.  The differences among the various CMSs are akin to the differences in online email programs such as Yahoo Mail and Hotmail: both services offer similar features although the graphic display and organization of the websites are different.

Files and Folders

Within Bb, instructors can create folders—and “nest” folders inside others—much in the same way that users create folders in Windows.  Content, in the form of different kinds of files, can be uploaded and downloaded to these folders.  Additionally, Bb allows instructors to insert special features, such as discussion boards and dropboxes, inside these folders.

Instructors can load any kind of file format to the website: Word, Excel, Adobe Acrobat, MP3, Windows Media files, etc. 

Discussion Boards

The discussion boards in Bb parallel what Internet users find on many websites.  The discussion boards allow users to post messages and to reply to messages posted by others.  Bb allows instructors to enter grades for a given post and for an entire discussion board.

The typical discussion board allows users to “thread” replies to a post beneath the original posts; this serves to keep comments on a particular discussion in one area.

Bb allows users to attach files to discussion board postings.  This includes everything from pictures to text documents to sound files.

Bb allows instructors to conduct searches of discussion boards so that all the postings by any one user may be displayed.  Your instructor can limit how posts may be submitted to the discussion boards.  Preferences can be changed to allow for anonymous posts or to prevent students from making original posts (i.e. students can only respond to messages posted by the instructor).

Discussion boards are frequently used by online instructors to replace classroom discussion that would occur in a traditional class, but discussion boards can be put to many other uses as well.  Some instructors create discussion boards to field general questions or simply to create a place for students to talk informally about a class.


Bb allows for students to upload and download materials from a central location.  Dropboxes are commonly used for submitting final assignments and returning grades.  While instructors can view all the submissions in a single dropbox, students typically only see their own submissions. 

Instructors can change dropbox settings in a variety ways.  Dropboxes can set up such that students may view other students’ postings.  Dropboxes can be designed to be available for a short window of time. 


Bb provide
a course email service to their users called "Blackboard Messages".  Bb Messages functions much like regular web-based email services such as Yahoo! Mail or Google Mail but email is limited to members of the class.  Bulk email permits instructors to send email to all their students.  Students may send email to instructors and to other students.  Course email may be forwarded to existing accounts. 


The features described above are asynchronous, meaning that use of the feature does not require all users to be online at the same time.  Chatrooms are different.  Popularized by online Internet service provider’s like AOL, the chatroom allows users online at the same time to communicate with one another via text messages. 

Bb allows the instructor to keep archives of the chat session.  Instructors are able to display content from Websites and to use an online “blackboard” similar to the Microsoft Paint application.  Chatrooms contain a variety of settings that allow instructors to require students to receive permission before posting a message, to send message directly to individual students instead of the entire group, and much more.

Chatrooms are sometimes used by online instructors to replace office hours and to discuss content from a reading assignment.  Chatrooms can be used for many other activities as well including student presentations, guest speakers, and more.

Tests and Exams

Bb provides instructors with sophisticated testing tools.  While Tests can be created in a wide variety of formats.  Some questions—such as multiple choice, matching, true/false—can be graded automatically by Bb; others—such as short answer and essay—are graded by the instructor.  Tests can be set up to go online for a window of time and then go offline. 

In any given test, the order of the questions may be randominized for each student; and even answers (such as multiple choice answers) may be scrambled.  Bb also allows for an answer bank, which draws randomly from a pool questions.


The gradebook keeps a running tally of students’ course grades.  Most features described above—discussion boards, dropboxes, tests—are recorded in the gradebook.  Instructors can view grades for the entire class, for a single student or for a single assignment.  Students, of course, only see their own grade. 



The Announcements Page is the first page a student sees when entering Bb.  The instructor can place announcements for students in this location.  It is important that students read through the announcements page carefully every time