Blackboard and Other Course Management Software

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I am currently in my second year of teaching at the college-level. A few years ago, I was a new graduate student in a school that was known for its use of technology in teaching. The school I went to was big on the technology use in learning. Most of my professors used this approach while a small majority resisted. Before officially finishing the program, I worked as a teaching assistant in the business school. Because I particularly enjoyed the professors who used technology (as well as the one's who did not), I was anxious to use it in my classes, which I did.  

Since then I've relocated to another state, and have two, part-time teaching jobs. What I've noticed is only one out of the two schools even has a computer in the room. The school that does have the computer in the room, makes lectures easier, but I would like more interaction (blogs, discussion boards, etc.) with the students than I currently have, which I know having Blackboard provides.

I can assure you that I do not use technology to hide some minute incompetence, I just enjoy using it as a companion to my teaching. The majority of my students seem to really embrace it as well. Of course, I have one or two declare that they hate technology, which is always shocking to me because I always think that's the thought of someone from an older generation.

I am not sure how popular Blackboard is nationwide, but I guess I am wondering why hasn't this caught on more widely? Many schools that I've interviewed with in the past, when asked this question about technology, seem a bit in the dark about what I am referring to. They seem to not know how to tackle the question, and sometimes I frankly get the run around.  

How many of you out there use it? If you do use it, was it already in place for you, or was it something you encountered resistance to implementing? I am just looking for general feedback on the use of computers/technology in the classroom. If you have specific experience with Blackboard, I'd be interested in hearing about that as well.  

Thanks in advance for your comments.

The professors I've had in the past who used the Blackboard educational software used it liberally and wisely. It wasn't abused. Considering it was for a dull, quantitative methods class, it was perfect. We all stayed awake and learned something. Now had he just lectured with no visual aids, I doubt the outcome would have been as positive.

I teach mathematics at a large university. My experience with Blackboard is anecdotal and bimodal.

I used Blackboard one semester, and besides the mailing lists, the rest of the functionality remained unused (students not interested even after a lot of pitching on my end) ... .

Another semester students were more enthusiastic. They wrote blogs about everything but course content: their sex life in the dorms, how they studied last minute for my exams, and how they should organize a concerted appeal to get a take-home final (they were not aware that I can read ...)

Of course, the horror was with the discussion-group feature. I had to monitor that like a hawk after the first few weeks because a number of incorrect proofs and bad techniques to solve problems were distributed like wildfire.

I think this type of technology is good in disciplines where the exchange of ideas is important because there is not really a right answer (or there are multiple views). In the hard sciences it is difficult to teach in a bazaar-like environment.

My $0.02

E. F.:
At my community college, every instructor automatically has a WebCT Web-enhancement set-up for each class. When the students log on to WebCT, they see all their classes listed and are very much aware of which instructors have bothered with the technology and which ones haven't.

Since all my students have access to WebCT, I strong-arm them into using the WebCT email instead of my college email. This keeps my emails organized by class and section number, which is especially nice early in the semester when I canít quite match their names to a particular class (I am teaching an overload of 18 hours this time around -- weeeeeee!).

Now for something really cool. For Comp. I at my college we have two textbooks: a reader and a handbook. With the WebCT Web-enhancement, I have eliminated the reader textbook from the class. Students follow a link on the course home page to a page that lists their free-writing assignments. I provide links for the students that send them to essays out on the Internet. This gives each student $50.00 when he or she returns the reader to the bookstore. I don't have to worry about the publisher going to a new edition or worry about a student who doesn't buy the book for some reason. I also have some very happy students with some extra spending cash.

The students read the Web pages as well as they read any book. Of course, this isn't always a good thing.

One downside is that I have had to become somewhat of an expert on copyright laws and Internet ethics. I have to ask permission to link to any site I want to use. I also have to wrestle with my conscience about linking to a site that may be "borrowing" material from a writer yet gives me permission to link. I have been lucky so far in getting permission from the original authors or copyright holders, but the ethical issues still lurk.

So far I have gone "textless" in five sections of Comp. I. At 20-25 students per class, this means a savings of up to $6,250.00. My college is working on expanding this idea to other Comp. I sections. Since we have about 1,000 Comp. I students a year, ultimately we could save our students $50,000 a year. $50,000 here ... $50,000 there ... and pretty soon you are talking about some real money.

I started using Blackboard last year on a very limited basis, and I am using it more extesively this year. I'm coming to be a fan of it. I find that it's useful for posting documents that are used in class, and for posting documents that I want students to have access to but which I don't want to photocopy (case studies, sample papers, grading rubrics, etc.). I find it useful for posting changes in the syllabus, surveys, and other information. I'm also using the gradebook which automatically updates student grades and gives me an immediate picture of their progress. I believe that it will make my midterm and final grading chores much easier, for in the past I did grading on paper. Students can see their grades, and the tracking mechanisms allow me to see what students are looking at. I find they access the site fairly often. I've not tried discussion boards yet, although I plan to in the future. All in all, I think it's an effective tool.


I've used both Blackboard and WebCT. Loved Blackboard, hated WebCT. Blackboard is much more functional, easier to use, and flexible in how to get the job done. WebCT looks like a released beta hack job by lazy programmers. For example, the amount of effort it takes to get a document uploaded to two classes from your hard drive is vastly greater on WebCT than Blackboard. However (and here's where I backpedal some), once you get over the godawful learning hump of WebCT, it's not awful to use, just reeeeal cumbersome.



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