Blackboard Learning system. The Good and the Bad

Blackboard learning system is an online system where university instructors and student manage course content, assignments and exams. These systems have been available for sometime, and they defiantly useful. University of Ottawa recently moved to Blackboard from an older version of Virtual Campus.

I am generally happy about the change. Here is my analysis about Blackboard. Some of the analysis are compiled from students feedback and comments.

First, let me say that I have used the majority of Blackboard features in my classes. My students are in the science domain, so we had no problems using the system.

The Good

Course content. Blogs. Wikis. Send email. Grade Center.

Course content is typically available in many online learning systems. It works well in Blackboard. The search feature is interesting, but I have never used it. Course content was never too many to justify the need for search in my case.

Blogs and Wiki are excellent, particularly allowing students to post anonymously. I had student comment about the Grading scheme, course content, book, exams, quizzes. I did not escape the comments myself. I used wikis to discuss course content and topics discussed in class. Students used wikis to help each other out. Anyone could anonymously post a questions. I do not remember seeing a question went unanswered. And no, students do not get points for posting. Actually, giving points for posting makes the student post just for the grade. For me, I do not give points for attendance, and in the same way, no points for posting. So far, I have had students attend regularly and post regularly.

Send email is simple and does the job. I use it for announcing and for communication. That is why announcements is not needed in my opinion.

Grade center. Absolutely functional and useful. I have never needed to try the offline feature of Grade center because I did not need it, but I can see how it can be useful for some.

The Bad

Calendar. Tasks. Announcements. Collaboration. Rubrics. Self and Peer Assessment. Users and Groups. Discussion board.

A common reason why I find these features in Blackboard useless, and in fact, blackboard would be better without them, is because they have added value. For example, almost everyone has his own calendar that has many events on it. Having a calendar feature in Blackboard just does not work. People will have two calendars to check, at least. It is better if Calendar integrated with other calendars, like Google and Microsoft for example. The same for Tasks.

Now for announcements. In my case, I use email for announcements, or in class announcement  I use my own calendar to remind me about announcements in class or for students.

I have never used Rubrics and never saw a need to use it. However, I like to think of myself as a typical instructor. If I do not need it, then maybe everyone else does not need it either. Give me your feedback about this one.

Self and Peer Assessment. This is an overkill. Universities have their own way to evaluate professors, and students are evaluated in the Grade center. Unless universities also use this assessment with student in their course evaluation, this feature is just not needed.

It would be nice to allow Blackboard users to just remove the features they do not need. Blackboard pages are over cluttered and it takes me and the students a lot of time to navigate to where we want to go.

Final Verdict

Blackboard is a step forward, nice useful new features, especially wiki and blogs. Many features are just there to make the point (maybe for marketing team to check more marks). In practice, blackboard is better without them. But since Blackboard is off the shelf system, I can understand why. It is the price of one size fits all.