Blackboard, a company which sells web-based products to help teachers put course content online, is buying WebCT, which… does exactly the same thing.
For the past few years, the overly large school district for which I work has contracted with Blackboard to provide class sites for every teacher, along with hosting an attempt at an online high school. I’ve also used WebCT since several local colleges deliver classes over that system.
Both products are pretty much the same – clunky, hard to use, and very inflexible. It’s scary to think of what will emerge when they put the two together.
This is one of those deals our district made that I’ve never completely understood. I really want them to enable every teacher to publish information about what’s going on in their classes. It would be great to have teachers, students and parents participating in online discussions.
But that’s not what we have.
Classroom sites are locked behind passwords and a poorly designed interface, making them less than seamless for parents to access and impossible for anyone else. The discussion system is cumbersome at best, and don’t get me started about how difficult it is to post media files (pictures, audio, video) for viewing.
Our district has paid a boat load of cash to get everyone into Blackboard when only a small percentage of the teachers are ready or even understand why they should want to in the first place. But the worst part is that many who really want to build their own class sites are turned off by the difficulties of the interface.
It’s very much in keeping with our district’s all-or-nothing approach to technology.