Friday, January 06, 2012

Blackboard strikes again - RIP dropbox

Ah yes, the Blackboard overlords have struck again adding yet another reason to my list of hating this course management system.

In v9.1, BB has eliminated the dropbox, helpfully suggesting that if you want to exchange files with students, use the "assignment manager."

Only, did anyone think that not every file exchange involves an assignment?

Dropbox, for instance, was perfect for sending a large audio editing review file privately to a student that was too large for email and then deleting it. Since the original story was not a traditional "assignment," it would be cumbersome at best to do it that way.

(For instance, the "assignment" here involves multiple versions of multiple items that are part of a story package - much better done through a server. The problem with returning the audio review file back through the server is the lack of FERPA privacy.)

And if a student needed to quick send me a large file back privately, it was easy enough to run it through Dropbox and then delete it.

(Yes, I can probably set up something through one of the online exchange services; it's just one more site and one more password and one more thing to complicate matters when this was a perfectly elegant solution, elegant being a word you don't hear associated much with BB.)

So instead of improving Dropbox with things like batch download and batch delete - after all, that would be soooooo 2005 - BB just does away with it.

Nice going. Let's see if we can find more to expand the list.

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At 1/7/12, 10:06 PM, Anonymous Rob Fay said...

Hi Doug,

It was a hard decision to remove the dropbox functionality but I hope it is only a short-term pain. For any software that so many people use, it is difficult to make choices to REMOVE functionality. However, our hope is that removing some features will simplify the experience and help with the longterm roadmap.

I would encourage you and your institution to have a voice directly with us. You can participate in things like usability tests or provide a voice in the longterm roadmap:


Rob Fay

At 1/7/12, 11:20 PM, Blogger Doug said...


It just goes to the inelegance of the software schema here.

You had a very elegant system if all you had done was modernize it with mass delete and mass download.

The workaround that we came up with here working with our IT folks was to randomly populate single-member groups (i.e., one per student) and use the file transfer function there. We'll see how it goes.

But that's a half-hour of clicking and renaming, etc. Click, click, click, click is still the sound of Blackboard. Yes, some of that's gone in v9.1, but there's still way too much.

You still lack basic functions like drag and drop and mass delete (you now have it in some places, but not in others) that have become common with so much other software. Likewise, the failure to implement basic things in quizzes, such as the ability to distinguish capital letters, is so far behind. (And how about all the workarounds out there in script to hold down the copy/paste stuff - why isn't that built in and just a checkbox?)

Even tonight, I discovered that when copying a subfolder over from a fall course to spring, all the contents of the subfolder "spilled out" (best way I can describe it) into the main folder and had to be click, click, click moved back in - oh for a mass move or drag and drop option ... (I have screenshot movies I'd be happy to send; I've already shared them with our IT).

Our IT folk tell me they do insert their voice into things, but the response is spotty. For instance, on quizzes, using quotes in an answer produced replicating "&" code if you reopened the question to fix something. Well, that was fixed for a while, then it came back. Then it went away, and then came back again. Why so difficult?

As for simplifying the experience, I guess you could say I'm a "power user," and I've had to seriously noodle around to figure out some things (I'll be happy to explain why your help file system is screwed up for the average user too). But I've held several brown bags for our faculty, and you can about see the steam coming out of their ears as they try to grasp the learning curve on 9.1. So no, it is not simplified by any objective user observation I've been able to make.

Jakob Nielsen would have a field day doing usability studies on this system.

At 1/10/12, 10:27 AM, Anonymous Andy Bechtel said...

UNC is doing away with BB and going with Sakai, which has its own usability issues.

It's gotten to the point where I'm skipping these things altogether and using my blog and email to get information to students.

At 1/10/12, 6:05 PM, Blogger Doug said...


Good to hear from you.

The problem is that some of these files are too big to email, and a blog doesn't easily allow private transfer.

BB had a nice solution - and scrapped it. Software arrogance.


At 1/17/12, 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Binfer is a great option to share files privately without uploading them anywhere. See

At 1/17/12, 8:35 PM, Blogger Doug said...

Cool. Thanks for the heads-up.


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