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.