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.