Tag Archives: LMS

Blackborg9: Now even less useful

I know it’s hard to believe, but Blackboard 9 is now even less useful. Previously, I’ve used Blackboard for a gradebook and to administer quizzes; the remainder of the course runs through one of my course blogs.

In earlier versions, it was possible to change the course entry point so that when students enter, they see an external page:
That doesn’t seem to be possible any more. If you go through and make Bb tools unavailable, and leave only “Front Page,” your external page, and help, and then make the Front Page unavailable, Blackboard warns you that it will make the entry point the next available link. What it doesn’t tell you is that your external link won’t be the “next available link.” Apparently, Blackboard will only allow the entry point to be set to some Bb tools. Even worse, it will set it to Bb’s Help page. I’ve even tried to use the pull-down menu for entry point; with Front Page, my external link, and Help available on the menu, Bb9 shows only Front Page and Help as possible entry points:

The problem is that if your entry point is set to Help, the Help screen is all that is available in the course, whether logged in as student, instructor, or system administrator. Any navigation links are gone forever, and there is no way to get back to the settings pages to change the entry point:

At this point there seem to be 2 options: delete the course shell entirely, or copy over a previous course. Either way, you’re going to lose some work.

Nice job, Blackboard. No wonder you’re continuing to lose market share.

Built pedagogy

One aspect of the LMS that I haven’t seen addressed directly is the power of the default to shape course design. Lisa M. Lane has discussed the issue as one that confronts web-novice faculty and suggests ways to ameliorate the default problem.

Although Lane recognizes that the influence of LMS defaults extends beyond web-novice faculty (“Even experienced instructors continue to use Blackboard/WebCT primarily for grade administration, e–mail and presenting static content”),  I think the problem is more pervasive than she lets on. The nature of the LMS beast means that even those of us who have been using it for years always remain novices.

Course design should happen before classes start, so any of the work dealing with setting up a course in the LMS happens once a semester, twice or at best three times a year. As a practical matter, someone who teaches a couple of courses online each semester will only set up a course about 4 times in a year. That’s not enough to learn how to work the software, and when you throw in the various updates and new editions of LMS software, even those of us who’ve been teaching online for years never really get to be experts at the software that drives the design of our courses. I re-learn my college’s LMS at the beginning of each semester as I adjust the design of my courses, and even after 6 years, it feels as counter-intuitive as ever. I’ve adopted lots of new technologies over that time, but the LMS is as opaque as it was when I first encountered it.

We faculty have the same problem with the LMS that students do: it’s an unfamiliar technology that we use in limited ways. Outside of class, neither I nor my students ever use it. Once the semester’s over, my students may never use it again.1 We’re forced into using tools that have no value outside the institution, and we never get good at them. I’ve become much more proficient in WordPress over the past 6 months than I have in LMS over the past 6 years because it has some use outside of class, and because I use it more than twice a year.

1 I may not either: memento mori.