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To Blackboard or Not To Blackboard – Part II

Dear Commons Community,

I had posted my earlier comments about Blackboard  on a closed blog on blended learning that is part of CUNY’s Academic Technology Committee.   My earlier post as well as those by others has generated several fine responses.   What follows is an excerpt from my follow-up post.

On this the eve of one our country’s really fine holidays, I am thoroughly enjoying the discussion that is taking place here on instructional technology, Blackboard and CUNY by some of our most knowledgeable colleagues…

In concentrating on blended learning environments, I have given a number of talks in various forums on “Blending with Purpose:  The Multimodal Model”.  If you are not familiar with it, please see an article complete with a video overview published last spring  at: http://www.rcetj.org/index.php/rcetj/article/view/11

A critical aspect of this model or framework is that we (faculty and instructional designers) need to be flexible in applying appropriate software tools to our instructional goals and objectives.   Implied within this is the fact that the Internet and its software tools have and will continue to evolve rapidly and we (faculty and instructional designers) would be wise to maintain some modicum of flexibility and to experiment with these tools to find the right “blend”.    Furthermore, I believe all good teachers are always experimenting and tweaking their materials whether in f2f, fully online or blended environments.   Experimentation and tweaking is what makes our classes vibrant and robust experiences both for our students and for ourselves.     However, …, I would not pull the plug too quickly on Blackboard but we do need to develop an environment that allows and supports experimentation and lets the better approaches flourish.    I would also like to remind us all that Blackboard’s arrival and selection ten or so years ago was in part a faculty-driven initiative   However, it was never envisioned as the end all and be all for teaching and learning on the Internet here at CUNY.

In closing, my best wishes to all of you and yours for Thanksgiving!

Tony

To Blackboard or Not to Blackboard that is the Question!

Dear Commons Community,

Over the last several weeks, I have seen or heard discussions of faculty using software other than Blackboard for enhancing face-to-face courses or for teaching online. Steve Brier mentioned he was using CUNY’s new to be launched Academic Commons for his course at the Graduate Center. Maura Smale and Bruce Naples posted recently about faculty at their campuses looking to use other CMSs even those with less functionality rather Blackboard. It seems at some point we need to have a conversation about why Blackboard is being questioned if not outright rejected by at least some of our faculty and in some cases, by faculty who are technologically knowledgeable. Let me offer several concerns that I and maybe others have.

First, Blackboard made the same mistake that a number of other software providers have made as it grew and developed its software. It got bigger and bigger maybe bloated by adding a number of bells and whistles without adding significant value. What use to be a very lean and intuitive software program has become a mash of options some that are overly complicated for the average faculty member. For example, the clean simple Discussion Board has lost a touch of its simplicity, the Digital Dropbox for all intents and purposes is gone, and the grading module is a maze.

Second, in expanding its software over the past several versions, it seems that Blackboard has become assessment happy. The new grading module is an assessment zealot’s dream. I am not against assessment but I am more interested in teaching and learning.

Third, I resent Blackboard’s aggressive acquisition of other CMS providers. It is similar to the resentment that many people especially Mac users feel about Microsoft and IBM before Microsoft. We do not like monopolies and companies that try to control a market. For faculty, we might particularly resent that our craft of teaching will become standardized on one CMS product.

There are other issues especially here at CUNY regarding support or lack thereof from Blackboard and new versions with too many bugs but I think that at some meeting/forum, we (CUNY faculty) should revisit whether Blackboard should be our CMS. In closing, I was on the evaluation committee in the late 1990s when CUNY acquired Blackboard and completely supported the decision at the time. Unfortunately, I think it is time we revisit that decision.

Tony

Cloud Computing – Google Chrome Moving Forward

Dear Commons Community,

I am sure that many of you are aware of the push by some movers and shakers of the Internet software industry to “cloud computing”.    Companies such as Google and IBM are investing significant resources on the concept that more and more of the application software that currently resides on our personal desktop and laptop computers will be replaced by software that resides on large, high-end computers networked for all the world (in the clouds) to use.  In today’s NY Times there is an article (see below) reporting that Google is a step closer to distributing its Chrome operating system that relies on and facilitates “cloud” computing.

Tony

See Article

NYS Regents to Allow Virtual K-12 Schooling

Dear Commons Community,

This past Monday, November 16, 2009, the New York State Regents entertained a number of new policies, most of which related to teacher preparation and certification. However, tucked within these proposals was a recommendation that the Regents allow K-12 school districts to offer and/or enroll their students in virtual (online) courses. Until now, school districts had to ask for a waiver of the “seat time” policy that requires all K-12 students to be physically in classrooms in order for school districts to receive state aid. While the details still need to be worked out, this can open up a whole level of online learning in NYS K-12 schools.

Tony

CUNY Elevating Science Study and Research

Dear Commons Community,

Today’s New York Times had an extensive article (see attachment below) on CUNY’s  efforts to elevate science instruction and research.  Very complimentary coverage of the new facilities at CCNY and Hunter.  It also mentions current issues regarding enrollment growth and the need for more classroom space.

Tony

See article

Teachers Selling Lessons Online

Dear Commons Community,

In today’s NY Times there is an interesting article (see  below) on teachers selling lesson plans online.  It is written by Winnie Hu who generally covers education issues.  The article describes how some teachers are selling lessons to other teachers on websites such as Teachers Pay Teachers and We are Teachers.  It also raises an important issue about who owns teaching materials, the school district or the teacher.  This issue was discussed during the  negotiation a few years ago at CUNY as part of the new intellectual property policy adopted by the Board of Trustees.

Tony

www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/education/15plans.html?th&emc=th

Tony’s Thoughts Rationale

Dear Commons Community,

I presently belong to a number of social networking sites including youtube, facebook, and twitter. In addition I receive emails on a regular basis asking about issues related to technology, research methods, professional development, etc. Many of these come from CUNY colleagues and students. I thought by using this blog, I might start organizing and preserving some of my responses and thoughts on these subjects.    You can find more about me in the “About” page or go directly to my website at:  http://www.anthonypicciano.com/

Tony