Blackboard for the Lose

I never used Blackboard as an undergrad, and from my experiences this semester using it as a student in my PSY562 class, and a TA for EE281, I am very, very glad. Every time I log into Blackboard, I get the feeling it was designed by people who have heard of the Internet, but never actually used it.

The UI is totally incohesive, painfully slow(I tried several different browsers, including Chromium, faster javascript engines don’t help much), and woefully difficult to interpret, on top of being simply ugly.

My biggest complaint however is the grade input interface (which is hard to show without running afoul of FERPA); I want a TABLE. It could be a fancy javascript spreadsheet like google docs. It could be a HTML table full of HTML textboxes with a submit button (as long as the tabbing order is column-major). It could demand some format of file upload, so long as it was capable of incremental updates. Instead, there is a nigh-unusable single-shot file upload widget, with no incrementing support, and a clumsy javascript table-thing which posts per-cell, making it miserably slow to enter to. For now, I’m just keeping grades in a spreadsheet on my machine, and taking some time each week to synch it up with blackboard, because directly using the interface is too infuriating.

I’m also noting that I’m not the only one who has issues with making Blackboard work. There is delicious irony in that more often than not there are emails or before-class discussions about failures in interacting with blackboard (usually including the instructor) in my class on Human Technology interaction.

These criticisms are aside from the issues I have with Blackboard, LLC Being dicks with (since invalidated) patents they shouldn’t have been granted in the first place

Sadly, playing with the public demo of Moodle, which seems to be the most successful open-source Course Management System, I find it really isn’t much better on most fronts, but does seem substantially more responsive, and has a slightly more cohesive UI. More importantly, it isn’t any worse, is not large tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars (ref, may have to push “Guest Login” to view) per year in licensing fees, and, as an open project, is more likely to improve with time.

Seriously, why is anyone using this thing? Is it convenient for the admins? (I doubt it with how often it seems to be down) Was it just a buzzword for a while, so everywhere that wanted to look like they were keeping up with educational technology bought a license, then couldn’t get rid of it? Does blackboard LLC have really good kickbacks for the IT people who make purchasing decisions? It doesn’t even have the obvious link with finance trolls like the other terrible, expensive software UK has adopted to explain it.

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