Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Blackboard sucks

I thought WebCT sucked a little. Blackboard sucks even more. Granted, the application market space for web-based course management software isn't very big. The good products are actually Sakai and Moodle, both open source fare. Even if they weren't much better, the latter two products would at least have the virtue of being open source. Things that suck are made infinitely worse by being expensive as well.

Why does Blackboard suck so much? Because, just maybe, you can't sort information, like student grades, in any meaningful way. The web interface doesn't allow things like working side-by-side with another application, like the f-ing thing you're actually grading. It makes you print out a piece of paper so that you can type it into another application. So pre-1990's.

It gets worse. Entering a block of grades from another application can mean using a ruler to make sure you're entering text into the right row, unless you decide to edit each student's grades individually, for each grade, in a long list of exam scores. You'll have to use the scroll bar at the bottom of the browser window, because the name is in the first column, the little text box where you need to enter the number is in the last column, and inbetween are a list of links that don't say anything useful and don't lead anywhere, and yet force the table to occupy the full width of the computer monitor.

Course management software should give trend analysis. It should help analyze student performance. It should actually make things easier rather than harder. Instead I have to cut and paste into Excel to identify patterns. Can you track student issues, like manage rubrics as an entity with separately scored items that contribute into an assignment score? No, you get a single number to enter into an assignment, and a single HTML textarea to type your unformatted comments.

It would be nice if you could assign metadata to (i.e. tag) test questions, assignments, or even elements in a rubric and identify patters of errors- cover Chapter 6 in more detail, give an extra self-assessment, etc. Oh well...

But I hacked a worksheet in Excel that generates both the total score and a block of text with the feedback of what points were lost where, which I can cut and paste back into Blackboard. Or, I sometimes turn the Excel sheet into a database report, print out the comments, and hand them back individually. Which completely violates the purpose of such a tool, to help manage courses. Now it's overhead, because students expect to push a button and have Blackboard tell them what their GPA is going to look like, rather than track their own grades.

Making that work wastes many an hour over the course of the semester.

Which really sucks.


Anonymous said...

What really sucks-- WebCT and Sakai have tow things in common- both make it nearly impossible to get your content out of their systems.

Blackboard and Moodle both enably you to export your course content to an open xml file format, which can be transformed to another system.

Upshot- Blackboad and Moodle are the only two systems it is 'safe' to store your course content in, w/as WebCT and Sakai both lock you content into their frameworks.

Steve In Transit said...

Ah- is this open xml file format something called SCORM? That seems like the current spec for course interchanges, but I've got issues with that...

Kate said...

I totally agree with you. Blackboard does suck. Especially from the student perspective.

iblee said...

Sir, oh how do I appreciate your thoughts on Blackboard!

johnmiles27 said...

I agree with Kate that Blackboard is horrible from a student perspective. I accidentally closed out of a browser window once while completing an exam. Blackboard is designed so poorly that it didn't know what to do; I was locked out of my exam and was unable to finish it online, which led to a huge hassle of having to work out a solution with the instructor.

I'd prefer a system that doesn't screw me over for a simple mistake like accidentally clicking a wrong button, please, thanks.