Posts Tagged ‘blackboard’
Blackboard (Bb) is the dominant LMS player because it swallows up smaller players. It does this to remove the competition while incorporating new features into its repertoire. But the larger it gets, the less adept it becomes.
Bb has tools it has added to its core functions. But because they are add-ons, they do not always work well.
For example, Bb now has blogs and wikis within its walled garden (emphasis on walled, not on garden) but these have created technical and pedagogical problems.
For example, we now face technical failures in wikis in NG9, the latest version of Bb. Teaching faculty in NIE have become so frustrated with the tool that they opt not to use it.
This creates two serious pedagogical problems.
First, instructors who could move on to more progressive strategies do not because a tool does not work properly.
Second, the use of open tools in a closed environment sends the wrong message. Instructors inevitably model the wrong strategies to our student teachers. While there might be some legitimacy of having more private platforms, I think that this generally sends the wrong message in education.
However, this problem is an opportunity for those who do not like the weeds that grow in the garden. They can see how life operates beyond the walls. The can progress to actual wikis and blogs, and when they do, they can push pedagogy and live in the present instead of dwelling in the past.
It is certainly an end to an era of leadership, but that does not mean it is an end to what Blackboard does.
It might continue to acquire. It might continue to bloat its offerings while not meeting what educators really need, e.g., providing administrative analytics instead of real learning analytics.
It is still called Blackboard. That is like calling a sports car a wagon or a computer a stone tablet.
Oh wait, we do call some of them that. And with the legacy names come legacy practices.
I had two meetings with Blackboard (BB) representatives earlier this week and I need to vent.
I learnt about a new pricing model and their move towards learning analytics. I could rant about the first but I’ll limit myself to the second.
First, I’ll say that learning analytics as described by the NMC in the K-12 Horizon Report 2011 is an important forecasted trend. I borrow from their report to explain the purpose of learning analytics:
Learning analytics loosely joins a variety of data- gathering tools and analytic techniques to study student engagement, performance, and progress in practice, with the goal of using what is learned to revise curricula, teaching, and assessment in real time.
Imagine being able to determine in real time what difficulties a learner is having and addressing those needs based on the artefacts that a learner creates. In other words, the focus of learning analytics is learning and the learner.
BB showcased a prototype learning analytics tool. To their credit, the prototype system seems robust and all data is not sent to a remote server for processing. This will avoid data privacy issues and prevent groups like marketers from accessing this information.
But what the BB representative demonstrated left me with a “big brother is watching you” feeling.
I did not get a sense that BB understood that this was a tool for educators, not just administrators and policy makers.
Why do I say this? With BB’s analytics tool, you can find out how many staff have not created discussion forums, which courses embed YouTube videos or compare how one cohort of students performs against another. From a systemic point of view, this tool is great for reporting corporate-type KPIs.
But I think that the point of learning analytics is to figure out what types of learning are taking place, if it is happening at all and assist the educator in analyzing the needs of the learner.
I think that BB’s prototype system has the capacity to do this. But what was demonstrated did not focus on the learner. It focused on what a university provost or systems administrator might be interested in, e.g., which faculty use the LMS and how often do users log in?
For me, this was a good example of the type of thinking and practice that makes an LMS go wrong. Where was the learning in the LMS? This was about administrating and policymaking. This was also about impressing someone in higher management who is ill-equipped to make a fully informed decision.
Don’t get me wrong. It is important to have policies in place that promote things like meaningful mobile learning. But you get there by first examining what happens at the level of the learner and the class. You should not be looking at tables or charts from an ivory tower equipped with a monitoring system designed to keep you at a distance.
The only strategy Blackboard has is a business one. There's no pedagogy behind it, no concern for minds or understanding, no teacherly soul.—
Mark Sample (@samplereality) September 17, 2011
On a side note, one might be just as concerned that Bb might suffer from some serious security flaws.
There will be changes in Bb’s offerings, especially as one pays expensively to move from version 8 to version 9. But these changes look more like reactions (and late ones at that) to offerings like Google Docs, YouTube videos, etc.
At the risk of sounding technologically deterministic, I believe that the Bb tools are not just tools; they have certain usage, practices and even philosophies in mind. Just like the way a construction worker’s sledgehammer, sculptor’s mallet and carpenter’s hammer are used by different people for different things. (My other rambling thoughts on LMS or Bb   )
So the adoption and integration of some of these “new” tools will bring some added affordances and perhaps some of the “teacherly soul” that the tweet mentioned. But I cannot help but feel that Bb is just playing catchup and that it is not offering what more progressive educators have already discovered outside the confines of LMS.
Oh, Blackboard, how you amuse me!
Granted, the cancellation may not have been entirely BB’s fault, but in the larger scheme of things, anytime-anywhere learning has been absent because of limited affordances of the LMS.
There are some things to like about our implementation of Blackboard (BB) as an LMS.
Database integration. It is relatively easy to create courses in BB because the entire student teacher database can be divided into tutorial groups and assigned to courses. This feature is convenient.
But you can also do this yourself with other tools like PBworks wikis, or if you do what the rest of the world has started doing, rely on self-subscriptions. A model of how this operates is Edmodo. You provide your learners with a join code and they sign up on their own (just like they might do with any other online service). If your learners do not sign up, they do not benefit from the resources and have no where else to submit their assignments!
The integration of anti-plagiarism tools. Any institute of higher learning that is worth its salt will be concerned about plagiarism. LMS like BB allow system administrators to add tools like TurnItIn and SafeAssign so that it seems seamless.
That said, there are many other anti-plagiarism tools that are freely available. Here are a few resources that I collected in Delicious.
I think that the use of anti-plagiarism technology should be the last line of defence, not the first. The battle against plagiarism starts with instructor modelling and education. An anti-plagiarism tool should be a weapon of last resort. Rely on that tool too much and it becomes a crutch.
Mobile Learn. BB has mobile apps for the iOS, Android and Blackberry platforms and Mobile Learn is something both staff and student teachers here in NIE will get to use this coming semester. The tool set is not very strong yet, but it can only improve with time.
What excites me the most is the potential for the mobile platform to help change pedagogy. How?
Our student teachers can now access BB on the go. Now, you could design lessons for them the same way as before, but why would you if their learning context has changed?
Let’s say an instructor is still comfortable with lectures. I say flip the classroom. The lectures can be listened to anywhere else other than a lecture theatre or tutorial room. When the student teachers are on campus, discuss issues, deal with common stumbling blocks or engage them in some activity that is not a lecture but leverages on the lecture they already listened to.
Now let’s imagine an instructor who has moved past lectures (or doesn’t require them as much). Student teachers could be asked to perform tasks in place, e.g., collect interview, photo, audio or video data. The artefacts are collated online and they return to campus to analyze and evaluate them.
In other words, use class time for more effective face time. Use “homework” time to create space for the learner to consume and reflect at a self-selected pace.
Does this sound familiar? That is because you can do this already with many other Web 2.0 and/or mobile services. BB is a latecomer to the game but a player nonetheless.
What might BB do next?
It could rename itself. It is going to be acquired by another company but it still calls itself Blackboard. When I hear that I wonder what century they are living in and I hear fingernails going across the board.
Those old enough to remember what fingernails raking a blackboard sounds like might cringe at the recollection.
To be honest, I cringed a little when I met with the folks from Blackboard (BB) twice last month.
To be fair, I feel that way about LMS in general and not just BB in particular. But as BB is probably the equivalent of Google or Microsoft in the LMS world, I associate LMS with BB.
There are many things not to like about LMS in general. Here are my pet peeves from the point of view of someone who has to make decisions on e-learning for teachers-to-be.
LMS do not provide opportunities for our student teachers to practice being educators or facilitators in the online realm. Being a moderator of a discussion thread or a leader of a discussion group is not enough. Our teacher trainees need to do what their tutors do: Administer, plan, design, find meaningful resources, create, upload, manage, facilitate, evaluate, troubleshoot, etc.
LMS have tools built with an increasingly outmoded model of teaching in mind. One expert puts resources online (typically Word documents, PowerPoint slides and URLs) for students to download and consume. There might be an enforced discussion (post X times by Y date) whether or not the topic is meaningful to the learner.
What’s wrong with this? The structure imposed by LMS influences its use by tutors who then model these behaviours for student teachers. The latter then tend to teach the way they were taught.
Admittedly this is not entirely the fault of any LMS. People can make the conscious decision to change the way they teach. But they won’t do this when the tool does not encourage or allow them to change.
LMS create limit access and closed environments. Once a semester is over, learner access to a course is removed. How soon this happens depends on the policy of an institute. This is a necessary evil because the LMS cannot support an indefinite number of learners and indefinite access. Companies like BB charge by the user and it is prudent for an institute to limit access.
But what happens when the learner needs to access the resource again once they have become teachers? They might be able to download every file and copy every discussion point, but they lose the context and the connections a course affords.
LMS are also closed in another sense. The resources and interactions are limited to a class. A person in class A cannot contribute good ideas to class B. Their tutors restrict the sharing of resources out of fear or because of copyright issues.
These are not what education is about. Education should be open and encourage open-mindedness, not the opposite. Yes, I am an idealist, but I’d rather be driven by ideals than by fear or stuck by inertia.
Others have voiced their concerns about LMS more articulately than I have. The most recent was a Campus Technology article by Gary Brown. The is the even more critical Insidious Pedagogy by Lisa Lane. In 2007, Martin Weller outlined why the LMS is dead.
More thoughts on LMS tomorrow.
[image source, used under CC licence]
I have mixed thoughts on this article, Insidious pedagogy: How course management systems impact teaching by Lisa Lane.
The article is based on the premise that course management systems (CMS) like Blackboard have an inherent pedagogy, which is limited to traditional forms of teaching, and this in turn impacts instructors. I do not agree fully with the premise, but I agree with much of the rest of the article even though it is built on that premise. It is an insidious article!
I think that the premise is technologically deterministic, that is, the outcomes of using a tool are defined by its design. But as I wrote earlier, there are technological, social and pedagogical affordances of modern technologies. Affordances are not guarantees of use. The pedagogical affordances of a CMS are but one aspect that influence its use. How they are used socially can make a difference.
Technology is largely neutral even if it is designed to harm. Let us take an ammunition round for example. It is designed to kill. It can be used in a mindless mall shooting. It can also be used to hunt in order to feed a family.
There are limits to a CMS but it is still neutral. It allows the pedagogy of the instructor to take centre stage. If you only know a delivery-oriented model, you will use a CMS that way. If you have constructivist leanings, you will use a CMS to that end. So while I agree with Lane that a CMS limits users, I think it does not determine how they teach.
I agree with her that novice instructors may know no other way of teaching than to attempt to deliver content. I also agree that CMS tend to support that model of teaching and that learning how to use a CMS might be a barrier to developing your own teaching style. So I agree with her advice to novices to ask themselves what they want to do first, rather than do what a CMS demands of them.
[image source, used under CC licence]
If you do, you might abandon an institute-sanctioned CMS like me. The CMS is Blackboard here in NIE. I stopped using it after one semester in 2006 and have been using blogs, wikis and other Web 2.0 tools in my courses since 2007. Why? I started blogging and using wikis in 2004 and began to see their potential for learning.
BlackBoard did include some of these tools as add-ons (in a desperate bid to stay relevant I might add), but they are closed off to the rest of the world. Worse still, my trainees would not have indefinite access to them. Worst of all, my trainees would be put only in the shoes of students, unable to administer, customize and add to the tool itself. I did not realize it then, but I was trying to get them to use what all of us already have access to: Get your own blog, your own wiki, your own online mindmap, your own VoiceThread, your own Google Docs, etc.
A technology learning curve is expected of any tool. It would help if the curve was shallow and short and if pedagogy took centre stage. Bringing in tools that students or teachers-to-be are already using is logical and necessary. (Think about Facebook as an example.) First, the tools are relatively easy to learn. Second, the learning and tinkering is already done outside of class. Third, you can focus on formal learning processes and content with your students or trainees. Finally, the learners expect to be able to use them at work and at play. This way learning becomes naturally seamless instead of just constrained to a time and place.
It’s about killing a few birds with one stone. A stone that has an expected use, but if used innovatively, might redefine how we teach.