“Blackboard is Not Awesome”

I have been using Blackboard as a student for about three weeks now, and I could not sum up the experience any better than one of my fellow classmates: “Blackboard is not awesome.”

Ain’t that the truth. Visually, the site leaves a lot to be desired: editable windows are tiny and aren’t expandable, icons hold little clue to the functionality hidden underneath, discussion threads are difficult to follow and are not searchable. And those are just the first three things I thought of.

More important though than the myriad design, navigation, and structural flaws of the Blackboard interface is a more fundamental issue: In this social networked world where students — and faculty — are used to systems that “just work” and that allow us to make connections with people who are important to some aspect of our lives, Blackboard doesn’t and can’t.

Moving from the world of Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and Foursquare to Blackboard feels like someone has slammed on the brakes in your brain. You can practically hear the “screeeeech!” followed by the “clunk … clunk … clunk” as you try to upload an assignment or find the one discussion thread you are supposed to respond to. And — crucially — the real life connections you make with your fellow students in the classroom have no presence here. All of that real connection and collaboration seems to happen elsewhere: in Facebook groups primarily but also on Skype and maybe soon a Google+ hangout (I know we are still in the “Google+ will change [FILL IN THE BLANK] as we know it!” phase of giddiness, but the Circles and Hangout features look sooooooo tempting to me right now.) How cool would it be as a student if your academic life online felt as connected as your social life?

There are other learning management systems (and isn’t that a horrible name — you will learn, but that learning shall be managed in this system!) that I am not familiar with that seem to be moving in this direction — namely Moodle. And I wonder how long a very un-social, not awesome tool like Blackboard will be tolerated in an increasingly and awesomely connected world.



  1. Eric Likness says:

    Well, monopolies will out wherever they may go. The reason “some” people use Blackboard is that the previous tool they were using was bought out. Prometheus and WebCT being the primary examples. Arts, Science and Engineering were WebCT licensees a while back then were migrated to Blackboard. I also suspect marketing has a lot to do with it, as they cozy up to the VPs. They know who engage and when to engage.

  2. LoriPA says:

    Thanks, Eric. I’ve never had to actually use Blackboard before as a student or faculty member, so it is cool to hear from someone who knows the ins and outs more directly. I’m using it a Syracuse and they *just* this semester switched from WebCT. Definitely some growing pains, but I still think there are larger issues with the thinking behind the system overall.

  3. Eric Likness says:

    I agree, there’s never enough discussion as to WHY? Discussion Boards were always a complaint as Usenet News was unfriendly and an absolute mystery to most. So I did what I could to graft a Web interface onto our Newsgroups so they would look/act like a Discussion Board. I adapted functions where I could to fill gaps and probably supplied close to 66% of the functionality (minus quizzes and gradebooks). Middle management changed and were determined to have a course management system which forced me to capitulate. And now that we have shutdown the Courses web server too, there is no other platform freely offered other than Blackboard.

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