CSG Fall 2013 – Is the Grass Greener? Exploring the New Wave of Course Management Systems, Part 5

How we learned to stop worrying and love the Blackboard

Serge Goldstein – Princeton

History of Blackboard at Princeton – been running Bb since 1998. They prebuild course sites for every course every semester. 1200 courses each semester. 60-70% of courses are actively used. Logins as of April, 2013 – 763 faulty (73%); 6,448 students (98%). Network traffic during school year 3-6 mbps.

Keys to loving the LMS (and having it love you back) – Universalize, Standardize, Pre-load, Make it Easy, Integrate, Extend, Support it.

At Princeton, 2 fulltime user support staff, 1.5 full-time tech support. 99.999% uptime

People spend a lot of time worrying about what LMS they run, but the key is working at making the LMS useful. 

Universalize – Have one LMS and build sites for every course. The notion of the academic homepage is key. One-stop academic shopping. Not just about faculty, but they deliver important institutional information through the course pages. 

Issue – “I hate Blackboard”. Some faculty really don’t like Bb, some really like it. Most are ok with it.It’s the path of least resistance for faculty. Not so easy to use, but they’ve learned how to do it. 

Principle of Equitable Pain – people can tolerate painful IT systems as long as they are equally painful for everyone. Gives people something to complain about. Makes them feel superior, but they MUST be reliable and unchanging. When asked faculty did not want the LMS changed.  IF you install a new LMS, people will eventually come to dislike it. 

Standardize – Common look and feel with a template for course websites, including basic content breakdown. Show where public and private content goes.

Pre-Load – when building course web site they preload course description (faculty member cannot change that), Public/private partition, integrate course info from Course Info System (Peoplesoft), Information from online systems. Providing map where classroom is located, photo rosters, etc. Photo roster is the most popular feature – done through Blackboard Java APIs. Latest versions of Bb have web services APIs, but they’re undocumented. 

How to make it easy – Help files, office visits, special help desk, FAQ.

Integrate – Not all content needs to be in Bb – external content can be copied or linked. Bb Building Blocks make this possible. Bb has full support for LTI – super-easy to link LTI content. They’ve linked Reserves, Images, Kaltura, etc. 

Extend – Sources for Bb plugins – Licensed from Bb; obtained from other universities; purchased from vendors; build in-house.

Developed at Princeton: CAS authentication; Sectioning tool (allows students to indicate preferences for sections, then sorts into sections based on preferences and current schedule); course book list. Have links to FIlebridge, Blackboard mobile learn (students really like it – much better than desktop UI), Wimba voice tools.

Linked Piazza, WordPress, through LTI.

Plans for future – stay current with Bb upgrades; Connect Bb to social networking sites; continue integration with other tools.

Why they get along with Bb; It works, solid reliable; relatively cheap; everyone knows it; well integrated; well supported; does the basic job; can extend it; lots of plugins; everyone can complain about it.

Why should they migrate off Bb? Tracey – In time of change, the more change we can get people accustomed to, the more flexible we’ll be in the future. 

Bb is planning changes to UI and navigation, and company is changing. The product dev team that came from Angel was an excellent addition to Bb, and we’re now starting to see results of that. 


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