Students and instructors who may find CTools to be antiquated or difficult to navigate may be pleased by the recent development of an alternative learning platform that is currently expanding to schools across the country.

Coursekit, developed by three students at the University of Pennsylvania, is a free online program modeled after popular social media sites. The homepage consists of a newsfeed similar to Facebook’s, according to LSA freshman Jake Cahan and Business junior Alex Kucher, who are working to implement Coursekit on campus.

“(Coursekit) really emphasizes the social aspect that doesn’t exist in a lot of these large lecture classes,” Cahan said. “We really think Coursekit can change the way Michigan kids think about the class dynamic.”

Kucher added that Coursekit is easier to use than CTools for both students and instructors because while CTools has different tabs for various resources, Coursekit displays all information in one continuous stream.

“It’s very intuitive,” Kucher said. “It’s very simple and instructors can have it as toned down as they want or have as many features as they want.”

Joe Cohen, CEO and co-founder of Coursekit, said he used Blackboard, a learning program similar to CTools, as a student at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Dissatisfied with the outdated program, Cohen was inspired to develop a platform that was easier for students to use by modeling its functionality after social media sites.

Cohen said the aim of Coursekit is not to make Blackboard or CTools obsolete, but rather to enhance learning experiences and interactions between instructors and students.

Cahan added that Coursekit is more intuitive and in tune with other online networks that students utilize.

“Facebook is a social network for friends, LinkedIn is a social network for your business acquaintances and Coursekit is now a social network for educational purposes,” he said.

Since the site’s pilot launched last semester, Coursekit is now being used on an instructor-by-instructor basis at schools across the country. After reaching out to instructors at the University, Cahan and Kucher said they have received mixed reactions about the program.

“Some are fine with CTools,” Kucher said. “But there are others who are definitely interested in using a software that’s easy and can enhance the experience that students get.”

Sean Demonner, director of Teaching and Learning at Information and Technology Services at the University, said he’s heard positive responses from instructors at the University about CTools, particularly regarding its tab sections.

“The University receives consistent feedback from instructors that Assignments, Gradebooks, Forums, Announcements and Resources (tabs) are central to their use of CTools,” Demonner said.

According to Demonner, the University has used learning management systems like CTools for many years, and is currently in the process of developing the Sakai Open Academic Environment — an advanced platform that will replace CTools in the future.

“We envision a future academic technology that is marked by ease of use, reliability, academic social networking and the ability to integrate with other important services, such as Google Apps, for education and online storage applications,” Demonner said.

LSA senior Mallory Edel said she isn’t satisfied with the current CTools layout and would be happy to see upgrades to the system.

“Teachers don’t really take advantage of it,” she said. “I like the idea of it, but (instructors) don’t utilize all of its capabilities.”

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