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05 February 2010

Is Blackboard as much fail as it seems to me? [More:]I've recently started an online course to become certified to teach online courses through our state's community college system. The key piece they use for this is a beast called Blackboard. Personally, using it is like stepping back in time about 10 years. It's huge and has a really horrible UI. I've only been using it this week, but it has elicited more "WTF?" moments in that week than any other software I've used in several years.

My most recent WTF? moment...I was typing an entry for the class discussion board. I needed to stop and saved what I wrote as a Draft. Well, guess where Blackboard stores Drafts? Out on the public discussion board where everyone can read your half-completed thoughts. Oh, but it appends "Draft" to the title. I mean...WTF?

Anyone else have experiences with Blackboard? Is it really as bad as I think?
I've avoided it at my school (CUNY) but recently made the mistake of using one of the online course aids provided by the publisher of our textbook. As I understand it, the teaching population tends to be of an age where they don't know how to evaluate such systems.
posted by Obscure Reference 05 February | 12:46
Yeah, I've given up on trying to draft things in Blackboard. (And I get the joy of putting up with it for another 2 years!) What drives me up the wall is that I'll be composing a post to a discussion thing and it will suddenly lose focus on the text box and so I'll have to keep reclicking it and retyping whatever it missed.

I also hate how it wants to help you by not letting you HTML in posts and wants you to use the little tool bar at the top. I've gotten so used to putting HTML in as I type that it really irritates me to have to go back, strip out whatever I put in, and then redo it with their thing.
posted by sperose 05 February | 12:59
My grad school classes used it, though it was mostly for posting readings rather than for discussions. But even for that sort of thing, it was clunky and slow and annoying. (My school's own website was equally slow and clunky and annoying, though, so I just kind of lumped the whole thing in with "This school has no idea how to use technology.")
posted by occhiblu 05 February | 13:18
This school has no idea how to use technology

I've been applying to grad schools, so I've been visiting different universities' websites and online-applications and I must say that NO school has any idea how to use technology. 100% of the college websites I visited were nearly unusable. WTFF?
posted by fuq 05 February | 14:32
I used blackboard exactly a decade ago. It sucked quite a bit then. More recently (when I last taught) we used Sakai (also called Smart Site) which is pretty great.
posted by special-k 05 February | 14:55
Blackboard is clunky and at times difficult to use. But it does allow you to do a whole host of things, including integrating much more interactive tech tools, such as wikis and synchronous online collaboration spaces. There is a lot more to the Blackboard platform than the discussion board.
The main things that Bb have going for it are (i) it is stable and (ii) it is relatively easy to learn. I participated in an evaluation exercise to determine which online support platform to adopt - Bb won hands down for the fact that instructors could set up and configure courses themselves (which is rarer than you'd expect) and that it actually ran for a week without crashing (really - the competition were that bad).
The point is that you need to consider the support requirements and the scope of applications that you can run within the platform. Moodle and a couple of other open source apps provide a great platform for online learning. But you would need an army of support people to configure, fix, and host these apps. If tech support labor is free or very cheap for you and if you trust these people to keep the system running over weekends and holidays (which is when most online systems experience peak demand), these are a good way to go. Some techy schools can manage this using student maintainers. Most schools can't. If you care about your students actually having access to something -- albeit limited and clunky -- 24 x 7, Blackboard still comes out tops.
Oh - by the way - I am in no way affiliated with Blackboard. I have just used it for a lot of things, over the years.
posted by Susurration 05 February | 15:07
Yes, Thorzdad, many of us find it as much of a disaster as you do.

Sperose--one of the little buttons at the top of the text window lets you switch to plain html view, so you can type your own tags (at least in the version we use).

My personal pet peeve is that it steals my focus--when I start typing text, about half a sentence in, it pulls the cursor out of the text box. gets me nearly every time.
posted by fogovonslack 05 February | 15:15
We also switched recently from Blackboard (which I wouldn't use, preferring to code my own site) to Sakai, which is much less evil, but I type 'Sakaki' something like 8 times out of 10.
posted by Wolfdog 05 February | 15:20
Susurration...That's all very interesting, but the devil really is in the details, isn't it?

I mean, it's cool that Bb has all those features and whatnot, but the presence of those features does not de-facto make it a good product. At most, the presence of those features merely makes it an even more complex suite of applications. The real question is how well are those features written and integrated into the product from a user-oriented point of view. So far, my experience tells me "not well at all". My experience so far with Bb reminds me of how a Windows developer may have written such a web-based suite back in, say, 2000 or so. That is to say, it seems written by developers for developers, with a drop of lip-service given to "user-friendliness". That Bb comes out on-top over its competitors, in my mind, isn't a statement of its quality so much as it's a statement of it not sucking as badly as the competition.

(Sorry, if that all sounded personal. It wasn't. I kind of get wound-up when it comes to poor Ui in software)
posted by Thorzdad 05 February | 15:52
Thorzdad - so do I - you'd never recognize my normally mild-mannered self when I start in on what is wrong with Blackboard from a user experience POV ... :-)
My point was that the competition is not much better and Open Source solutions are not an option unless you have a lot of (very cheap and responsible) tech support. Most schools don't have those sort of resources, especially in a world when even instruction is contracted out as much as possible. (And don't even get me started on that one!)
posted by Susurration 05 February | 16:20
I'm on the other side of BB. I support BB, not by choice; it's what we use. I was asked to cross-train on BB, and within weeks I was proclaimed the campus BB admin. The box lives on another campus, I do enrollment corrections, nag the BB system admin to run stuff we need, and help faculty do maintenance. Somebody with academic credentials helps faculty do course development.

BB was developed long enough ago that the look and feel is badly dated(I haven't used BB9). It's an adequate repository for documents, like syllabus, assignments, etc. The discussion board is really clunky. A lot of BB really clunky. However, I find educators to be fiercely resistant to change, so I can kind of understand why it's such an old school interface. I'm pretty sure I'd hate any system we'd implement; I like to be consistent.
posted by theora55 05 February | 18:05
I've never personally used it, but I know quite a few that do. The sad fact is that there are a lot of LMS out there that are absolute crap and Blackboard is one of the better, I understand. Most people that use Moodle seem pretty happy with it and it seems more 'modern' than most. The biggest challenge might lie in convincing a large organisation that free software is any good, if my experience is any guide.
posted by dg 05 February | 20:23
Mea maxima culpa, Susurration.
posted by Thorzdad 05 February | 22:18
Abandoned Theaters || They always get you on the tax evasion.