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.



  1. I tend to agree with you, Tony. In 2002 and 2003 I taught as an adjunct in Zicklin and used Blackboard in my graduate courses. The major aim of this use was the distribution of material to the students.

    In 2004 I came to SUNY Maritime where we have been through a home-grown CMS based on Lotus Notes and Apache. We switched to ANGEL where all sorts of accouterments were added, no doubt to the delight of the technologists, but to the bane of the professors. Each update of ANGEL (since purchased by Blackboard) brings a new doohickey of one sort or another which, for the most part, do not seem to help me create a higher quality learning environment.

    The tail is currently wagging the dog and we need to get that turned around. One ends up shaping the pedagogy to fit the tool rather than have an adaptive tool that shapes itself to the pedagogy. My sense is that what is required is a CMS developed, maintained, and used by the teaching community. Moodle may be just such a thing. I had an exposure to this in August at SUNY Delhi and came away impressed.

    I don’t mind bigness as long as it doesn’t trod on the inalienable rights of the user to have things his way. However, Blackboard seems to have forgotten that principle.