Monday, September 05, 2011

6 reasons to hate Blackboard

I've been meaning to write this post for several years, but just keep finding more "features" of Blackboard to hate. (I'm not alone. Type "Blackboard sucks" into Google for even more.)

The "resurrection" of some of these fine "features" in the latest iteration, however, has finally reminded me to memorialize some of these:

1) When you need a notice like this on your log-in screen, it's a hint something is badly amiss (January 2014: BB has now supported Chrome, but it still does some weird things with the "hot spot" quiz questions):

2) It's 2011, ever hear of "drag and drop"? The Blackboard interface is hugely clunky. Let's say you wanted to move an item from a folder to a subfolder. You have to click copy and then, if you've asked to remove it, you have to click the idiot warning about removing something. How about just being able to drag items from one place to another? (January 2014: Still waiting.)

3) It's 2011, ever hear of batch delete? Not in most parts of BB. No, it's click on remove for each individual item, then answer the idiot question, then ... you get the idea. So say you have a class of 20 students and they are submitting labs twice a week to the drop box. Do the math, especially since it often takes at least 30 seconds for BB to execute. That's 20 minutes a week just deleting stuff. (January 2014: BB has improved this in some areas, but still lacks it in some critical areas.)

4) Click, click, click - oops, you forgot a "switch" and so that feature won't operate. Some of the "tools" within BB require multiple "switches" to be thrown in multiple areas before they become available to students. Miss one and ... Compare that to more modern applications - say, about everything else online. If I can set up a blog online with a minimum of intuitive clicks (and those include setting templates, etc., which BB does not allow), why is it so hard for BB to do it? (January 2014: Not really improved. In fact, some of the features are even a bit more inscrutable.)

5) BB quizzes get a special place in Hell. In addition to the drag and drop (not) above, the software has some special "features" that make it difficult if not useless for those of us teaching language-related courses.

- No way to designate capital letters. This is such 1990s technology. Every question should have the option to mark it wrong if the capitalization is not matched. This is a longstanding request that BB seems to be incapable of. (January 2014: Hussah - the latest update now includes this, as well as the ability to use regular expressions for contextual text. But every old pool question has to be updated to this by hand. It should be a master setting that also can be thrown for each pool.)

- No way to expand "fill in blank" boxes to accommodate longer answers, such as retyping short sentences to correct errors. So students are left seeing half (or less) of what they have typed. Not easy to proofread there, bucko. (January 2014: Box has been expanded.)

- Conversion of apostrophes, quotes and ampersands to the "&amp" code. Put a question in with one of those and it will close correctly - the first time. But gawd help you if you reopen it to make any changes. The system automatically changes the symbols to the HTML code - and if you don't remember to re-edit it, your students will all be marked wrong. See this, for example ("World Series of Poker's" helpfully changed by BB):
Click to see detail
(The even cooler thing is that every time you open it, it adds another "&amp" code to the line, so after discovering the error and reopening it to edit, you have at least two to remove.)(January 2014: Has happened occasionally through various upgrades. So far, not on this one. Keeping fingers crossed.)

6) No ability to prevent cutting and pasting of quiz questions (so, for instance, students can't easily pass them on to others). Yes, there is script available out there. And no, it's not perfect, but it helps. So why doesn't BB just license the script and make it an option check box for the quiz? (January 2014: Still not there that I can see.)

And three bonus reasons:
1) The rich text editor interface that is javascript based is abnormally clunky and fails to work across browsers. The RTEs in about any decent online service or content management system these days (say, like the one used to post this) are relatively sleek and easy to use with about any browser. Comparatively, Blackboard's is put together with baling wire and chewing gum. (January 2014: Looks like BB is now using TinyMCE or a derivative that works much better.)

2) Having a "grade center" that cannot be opened in its own browser tab without giving you errors is stupid. It's 2011, tabbed browsing is the norm, and not allowing that means yet more clicks back and forth to get to other things from the control panel. (It's 2014, and it's still a problem.)

3) Update: Why, I almost forgot my most recent vexation - copying a file to another directory and then being unable to set the order of items because the file you copied has become co-joined with some other item (see photo - notice the two 4's) and everything gets screwed up when you try to reorder one of them. (I finally figured a work-around (emphasis on more work) - copy the item a second time. Then delete the original one you copied. Everything snaps back into place.

(This seems to have been fixed.)

I could probably find more, but this is a good start. It's 2011, but Blackboard is so 2001.

The folks at my school are exceedingly helpful. They raise these issues with BB and on user groups as far as I can tell, but the solutions are few and far between.

January 2014: My major wishes now are
- Still, the drag and drop feature so if you have something in one folder and want to move it to another (for instance if you have weeks of reading set up in the left rail), you can just drag it instead of using that clunky Move or Copy procedure.
- A calendar that lets you enter things like tests and assignments due and generates, if you want, an automatic announcement that you can set for up to five days ahead, just like most of the rest of the world's online calendars do.
- Less inscrutability in formatting a class site. It seems to want to force you into one of the preset formats.

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At 9/5/11, 4:01 PM, Blogger Mister Fweem said...

I used blackboard for 2 1/2 years as an online student, and suffered through it. I never got to see it from the teaching end. Now I'm an online course instructor using -- thankfully -- BrainHoney. It works pretty well.

At 9/5/11, 4:23 PM, Anonymous Andy Bechtel said...

We're switching to Sakai over the next year at UNC. I'll let you know how it goes.

At 9/5/11, 6:14 PM, Blogger Doug said...

Yes. I've heard relatively good things about it.

Mr F:
Brain Honey - that's a new one I hadn't heard of, but they keep popping up.


At 9/9/11, 4:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lord knows that there are plenty of reasons to criticize Blackboard the product but it has had drag-and-drop throughout the interface for over 2 years now. Perhaps you can either get your university to upgrade or export your course and import it into the free online version called CourseSites and see that Blackboard has actually addressed a lot of these issues.

At 9/9/11, 7:59 AM, Blogger Doug said...

Good to hear, though only about five years late on that technology.

Only leaves five reasons to hate BB plus a few bonuses.

At 10/24/12, 5:38 PM, Anonymous Lida said...

Doug - have you seen Ginkgotree, yet? We specifically created it because of feedback we got from professors. We're a small edtech startup out of Ann Arbor, MI, and I'd love to hear what you think of it: You can email me from the bottom of the page.


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