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.