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Posts Tagged ‘blackboard

B-L-A-C-K-B-O-A-R-D. Ironic. I will use it in a sentence: Bb’s tagline “Education is changing. Change faster.” is ironic.

Education is certainly changing very fast. Reeling in the wake of technological change everywhere else, it cannot help but try to keep up whether it wants to or not.

But is Bb claiming that it can help or that it is ahead of the curve? Ask any thinking user and the likely answer is no.

IMHO, it has no right to tell others to change faster or make the claim that it changes faster because it is still not meeting the needs of instructors and learners. You only have to Google for opinions or search my blog for rants against LMS in general.

Alternative platforms have gone for strategies like being more open, thin and light, easy to use, built for mobile and social learning, etc. Bb is blistering with options, but it is also a lumbering behemoth.

I also find it ironic that “change faster” can also be interpreted to be a call to abandon LMS like Bb. To read in between the lines: Education is changing. Bb cannot really help. Change faster. Go elsewhere.

In an interview with ACM eLearn Magazine, I share some preliminary data we have on instructor behaviour. The short version of what I said was this: When instructors move away from LMS to mobile, open, and/or social tools and strategies, they adopt more innovative and relevant strategies.

Change faster. Go elsewhere.

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.

TechCrunch reported Blackboard: With Both Co-founders Now Gone, It’s The End Of An Era For The Education Software Giant.

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.

Yesterday a racist statement trended in the Singapore Twitterverse.

mrbrown screencaptured the offending remark by an Amy Cheong and posted it on Twitpic.

Since it contains foul language, I am not embedding the screenshot here. Suffice to say that this was about a Chinese woman complaining about a Malay wedding.

Instead I will post one Twitter reaction to that Facebook rant:

A few might take that tweet to mean “keep your racist remarks to yourself”.

I would go further and say stamp racism or racist language out. I had to take such action against one student teacher recently.

I embed the tweet below. I have masked the name of the individual and other identifying elements but left my Twitter handle intact as evidence that it was copied to me.

The context was a request from that individual to change the NIE Blackboard interface so that it was more user-friendly. That was reasonable feedback until that person decided to change “black” to the highly-charged and derogatory n-word that refers to African Americans.

I tracked the person down and asked for permission from one of his tutors to meet with him during class. I let him know that such a term, while not used in the Singapore context, was very offensive. It has historical, social, and political significance that affects policies in the USA even today. Only African Americans use that term now in music or when referring to each other playfully.

The individual I confronted said that he was just playing with the word “black” and recombining it with “board”. That does not make it right if you know the history of the n-word. Look for it. It is just a Google search or a Wikipedia article away!

Amy Cheong and this individual share common traits. They comment or vent on social media without realizing that there are serious repercussions to what they say.

They also do not realize that what they say is wrong. There is something wrong with their value systems when nothing seems to be wrong.

Individuals like these must realize that:

  1. Remarks like their do not give them immunity simply because they are on social media
  2. They will be found out and confronted online and offline
  3. There is much to learn (often the hard way) when confronted

In Ms Cheong case, her employers took swift action. According to Yahoo SG she has been sacked. While she has been summarily dealt with, this helps her former employer (they got rid of a bad apple).

The saga for Ms Cheong may carry on (a grassroots leader has filed a police report). While events online come and go at twitch speed, digital memories stay burnt online thanks to tweets, FB posts, and blog entries like this.

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.

Big Brother 2009 Italy by _mixer_, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  _mixer_ 

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.

I read this thanks to a retweet from @EDTECHHULK. As I have met with Bb folks, I can say this is not entirely true. Mostly true, but not entirely.

On a side note, one might be just as concerned that Bb might suffer from some serious security flaws.

Returning to the tweet, there is truth that Providence Equity has bought Bb and this is a business decision. But at least one analyst thinks this was a desperate move.

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 [1] [2] [3])

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.


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