Note: the following is intended to be funny. Whether or not it is, to you, it bears a much closer relationship to how I feel about content management systems than it does to the reality of Blackboard 9.1. Or if you are working on a Blackboard campus, you should hope so.
Earlier this year, I participated in an evaluation of different content management systems (CMSs) as my university was forced to leave Blackboard Learn 9.0 with either an upgrade to 9.1 or switching to another platform. The comparison platforms that the group examined included Moodlerooms (an implementation of Moodle that Blackboard purchased in spring, as we were conducting the evaluation) and Canvas. My thumbnail impression of Moodle/Moodlerooms is that it is the CMS Blackboard could have been if the company had decided to commit to developing it rather than patching it repeatedly. But fundamentally, Moodle is a better Blackboard rather than something different, and the entire group of stakeholders evaluating the three systems were very quickly drawn to Canvas. We liked its look and feel, its features, and our sense that at least for the next half-decade, it will be going in the direction many of us will be headed, or at least in a fairly close direction.
One additional factor played into the discussion, at least a little: our decade-plus experience with Blackboard, which is… oh, how do I put it … a suboptimal course management system in almost the same way that a Yugo is a suboptimal transportation system. You can see that Yugo is designed for transportation, and in many circumstances you can get from point A to point B with a Yugo, but … well, okay. That’s the end of that metaphor, because, frankly, you don’t have to use 13 mouse-clicks to start a Yugo.
But the upgrade will make it better! Blackboard Learn 9.1 is supposed to have an entirely different look with almost identical limitations as Blackboard 9.0 and previous versions. But in the spirit of fairness, I should state all of the fantastic upgrades Blackboard 9.1 is providing for its users:
- Gamification of the contextual help button: a friendly-looking eight-bit cow cartoon icon.
- With every enterprise-level license, an Intelligent Agent Tutor who can construct legalese in response to every student complaint.
- Instructors can replace the “OK” button with a “Whatever” button.
- Likewise, system administrators can replace the “Submit” button with “Kneel.”
- Blackboard has set a new design limit on tasks: no more than three times 13 clicks for any one individual task. It’s Blackboard’s “39 Steps” design principle.
- Faster pipeline for users’ ideas to get to Blackboard developers! Instead of submitting ideas on a web form that is ignored for years, you can just jot your idea down on a little piece of paper, fold it up, and give it to the nearest system administrator planning a trip to Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall.
- The Grade Center now will self-destruct without any input on your part whatsoever.
- If students are confused about why the Grade Center calculations don’t make sense, they will have multiple opportunities to click mysterious symbols that tell them nothing.
These are only the top seven changes in Blackboard 9.1. I am sure that we will discover more!