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Tag: lms

Abandoning Blackboard

It’s been a while since I’ve written about how much I dislike Blackboard, the borg-like learning management system used here in the overly-large school district.

Why bother? Little has changed over the past four years. The site is still a turn of the century course delivery system, one that gives both teacher and students a false impression of what publishing to the web is or could be.

The writer of this post has been Working in Blackboard (at the college level instead of our K-12 application) a little longer than we have and sees many of the same problems.

But 15 years later I am no longer relieved to be working in Blackboard. I now find it an obstacle. Things that should be easy, such as blogging, editing and uploading videos, live synchronous sessions, using wikis etc. are unnecessarily difficult in Blackboard, or they are [not] in the version of Blackboard that I am using.

She, however, is willing to work around the flaws in the system, using kluges to offer her students far superior blogging, wiki and discussion tools.

I’m not. I’m tired of helping people patch together something useful. It’s long past time for our district to abandon the expensive mess that is Blackboard and find an online solution for students and teachers that actually works.

Hating Blackboard, Let Me Count The Ways

A friend sent me an interesting post by a software developer for the City University of New York (CUNY) who loves his institution and open software, and what both stand for. And hates Blackboard, which he says is a “parasite” on both CUNY and public education.

Writing free software, he says, is the “best way I know to disrupt the awful relationship between companies like Blackboard and vulnerable populations like CUNY undergraduates”.

Now, I know nothing about CUNY and have lost whatever skills I once had for writing software, free or otherwise. But I completely understand his dislike and distrust of Blackboard. All of us working in this overly-large school district have been stuck with this turkey of a system for more than ten years now. And I totally agree with his “short” list of reasons why.

  • The software is expensive [EDIT 9-21-2011: See this post for more details on cost]
  • It’s extremely unpleasant to use
  • It forces, and reinforces, an entirely teacher-centric pedagogical model
  • It attempts to do the work of dozens of applications, and as a result does all of them poorly
  • Blackboard data is stored in proprietary formats, with no easy export features built in, which creates a sort of Hotel California of educational materials
  • The very concept of a “learning management system” may itself be wrongheaded
  • As recently reported, the software may be insecure, a fact that the company may have willingly ignored
  • Blackboard’s business practices are monopolistic, litigious, and boorish
  • In short, Blackboard sucks.

    Blackboard was designed as a course distribution system for colleges, and was probably one of the best around at the turn of the millennium. Today it’s still stuck several generations back when it comes to web interactivity, usability, and flexibility.

    Of course, at least half of the blame for the decade-long and continuing affair with Blackboard around here belongs to the administrative and IT folks who make the decision to continue renewing the contracts (fool me once, etc., etc.).

    We try to use the system for multiple purposes (teacher intranet, parent communication, student collaboration, a portal to other applications, etc.), none of which work well or are easy for most staff to use. There is still no way to even do something as basic as a site-wide search. Even our small online high school doesn’t really use Blackboard to deliver courses. They build a website for each class, zip it up as a package, and use the system as a way of presenting it to the user’s browser.

    Anyway, other than complaining in this space and elsewhere (not that anyone around me listens to my Blackboard complaints anymore :-), I don’t have many tools to help our teachers avoid this particular parasite.

    But I’m very glad there are talented people who are willing to create open source alternatives to this kind of corporate crap masquerading as an instructional tool.

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