The Faculty Survey of Student Engagement, conducted annually by academics at Indiana University, Bloomington, last year included questions on the use of technology by lecturers for the first time.
The results show that while 72 per cent of respondents used course- management systems such as Blackboard, many did not use any other technology in their academic lives.
The first thing you need to know about me to understand why I hate Blackboard is that I’m not pro-tech or anti-tech. I’m pro- smart tech, and anti- dumb tech. I read University Diaries regularly and laugh at posts like this one. I’ve also written about how to bring film clips into your lectures and also use PowerPoint for mine, albeit very carefully.
Thanks to technology, I haven’t handed out a piece of paper in ten years because I learned to write my own web pages with what used to be called Microsoft FrontPage that long ago. They’re not all that pretty, but they serve their function, and they serve that function for at lot less effort and expense than Blackboard does. Seriously, how much does a university pay for rights to Blackboard each year? I heard that figure for mine once and it was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. You can do anything you can do on BlackBoard on the regular old Internet for a lot less money and even less effort.*
That 72 percent figure tells me something else disturbing about BlackBoard. Of all the tech things you can do in class BlackBoard is one of the most confusing. I’ve been trained in it even though I don’t use it, so I know what of I speak here. Then there’s the retraining needed for every possible update. The only reason people who can’t use PowerPoint would still use Blackboard is because they’re universities are encouraging them to do so. If that’s happening, the only reason I can think of doing that is that those universities are using it to wall of the Internet.
Open access to course materials is good advertising for future students in your classes and excellent public relations. It’s also useful to read the syllabi of other faculty who are laying down on the job, giving all multiple choice tests or something similar. [If you’re ashamed to show the world your syllabus for whatever reason, then I think you have no business teaching.]
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Blackboard is darkness objectified. The Internet is liberating.** Blackboard is an instrument of oppression. They want you to use Blackboard because it’s easier to follow you when you do.
Like that chair in Independence Hall, it’s ambiguous as to whether the sun is rising or setting when we use Blackboard. Count me among the setting camp.
* With the possible exception of online discussions, but seriously who in their right mind actually wants to have an online discussion when they can have a face-to-face one instead?
** As a matter of fact, I love Boing Boing. Why do you ask?