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Our Web 2.0 Swiss Army Knife

I Hate Blackboard!

I hear that refrain a lot around our overly-large school district. All of our teachers are required to have a Blackboard site for their classes, even though very few actually teach online.

Some people in our central offices also use it to distribute materials (not searchable!) and as a portal to other resources.

So, while Blackboard was designed to deliver online instruction (and, for that purpose, it does a pretty ok job), that’s not how we use it.

Content management system, teacher web publishing, portal. Oh, and online high school for a very small number of kids.

And now comes the plan to wedge in a couple of modules that allow teachers to create blogs and wikis for their classes.

Our IT leaders want to brand this project as providing “web 2.0 tools” but these additions are missing several important elements from that concept.

RSS for one thing. It’s available but our IT folks won’t turn it on for security reasons. Mainly, they’re worried about having no control of what goes out in the feed.

The bigger problem for me, however, is the total lack of flexibility in these tools.

While defining web 2.0 is a pretty fluid exercise, one of the hallmarks of the concept is the ability of the user to adapt the functionality, mixing and matching the tools to fit their needs.

In this case, something called a “blog” or a “wikis” gets stuck into the Blackboard interface, becoming just as clunky, rigid, confusing, and closed as the rest of the system.

Basically, the result will be that our teachers will getting web 2.0 with training wheels permanently installed.
So, maybe in the end I don’t really hate Blackboard.

I guess my problem is with the way our district is taking that system, which was designed for one specific purpose, and trying to warp it into being an all-purpose tool for anything related to web publishing.

And creating a mediocre mess in the process.

blackboard, web 2.0, web publishing

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6 Comments

  1. have you tried ning.com? or more specifically classroom20.ning.com?

  2. Tim

    I have tried ning but I’m not sure that’s a solution for our teachers. Our leadership has the mentality that we must host (re: control) everything used in the classroom, regardless of whether there is something better available.

    I’ll have to buzz around the Classroom 2.0 site and take a look. Thanks for the link.

  3. I’d be happy if we knew what it meant to “host” something. ;)

  4. Tim, if you school district is looking for a nice blogging software, LifeType is pretty good. They can load it on their own web server (that’s that hosting part) and it can have moderation turned on – plus it allows for as many different blogs as you want. We used it for a bit but decided to protect student responses within our Moodle site instead. As soon as we “hack” Moodle to anonymize (is that a word??) student names when viewed as a Guest – it’ll be back open to the public though.

    Just some thoughts – sorry for the ramble.

  5. I think we previewed the same Blackboard plugin. Each module had potential, but was so far from where I want it to be as a teacher. Having used blogs and wikis with kids, I know just the types of things I want built in to make it really work in my classroom. In our conference call with the vendor, he just didn’t get it, didn’t see WHY I wasn’t interested in paying that high price for such undeveloped tools. I left the call certain that those changes wouldn’t be coming any time soon to the product. Why isn’t Blackboard or other companies like that working with teachers who are using the tools?

  6. This is an interesting article. I have had a similar experience working with my school district to allow more fluid web 2.0 technologies that were not in the clunky, Blackboard model.

    They really have not liked individual teacher’s attempts to set up their own wikis or blogs for similar reasons of control.

    That classroom2.0 did look interesting. Are their other models out there of strong 2.0 classroom sites and communities?

    Thanks for the post . . . I stumbled across this site after reading your article in Technology & Learning from last January on thinking outside the blog.

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