Wellyopolis

March 2, 2009

Are the people who make courseware trying to create RSI?

Start rant ...

The net effect of "courseware" like Blackboard on teaching productivity is positive. You can distribute notes, links, assignments and announcements to students with minimal effort, and it scales well. Communicating with a class of 15 and a class of 170 is pretty much the same.

But there are some frustrations at the margins.

My biggest frustration with Blackboard is that it does a reasonable job of presenting instructors with the tools they need, but it makes those tools too visible to students. What students need to see is digestible chunks of content and information. That content might be a link to a journal article from the university library, a link to an external website, a discussion board for that week's class, and notes from an associated lecture. In Blackboard the default is to put all these things in slightly different places. The default menu categories are organized by how things were made. It would be like if we distributed hard copy content to students distinguishing between whether they were handwritten, typed on a typewriter, or printed from a computer. It is possible to organize things differently, but it takes a lot more work than it should.

Blackboard is also poor at doing the same thing to multiple items. Today I had to make 15 items from last year's version of a course unavailable to students. In some parts of the internet you would select the items in a list, and then choose the action. In Blackboard you have to go into each item individually, choose your new action (making the item unavailable) and then confirm that's what you really wanted to do, and repeat. What could take x mouse clicks takes 4x mouse clicks, plus all the page loads.

None of this has changed as Blackboard has iterated from Version 6 to Version 8. I always take this to be a small sign of trouble in a software market, when a product gets a new integer version number, but doesn't really get many new features, or change its design substantially.

... end rant

Posted by eroberts at March 2, 2009 7:24 PM
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