an open letter to the new owners of blackboard

Dear Providence Equity Partners,

I hear you’ve bought Blackboard. I’m so happy for you. Now, as a user of Blackboard, I’d like to draw your attention to some things. Nothing earth shattering, mind, just a few things about your new LMS that you might want to know.  You say that your objective is “to build extraordinary companies that will shape the future of the media, communications, information and education industries.” That’s great news. But I have to tell you, I think you might have gotten a wee bit suckered by Blackboard. Just because it’s the largest LMS in use doesn’t make it the best. Far from it, in fact. It’s clunky, in truth. Rather clunky.  Here’s a few things you should know about Blackboard.

It functions, but not horribly well. It won’t play nice with Microsoft’s Explorer (not that I’m complaining, I’m on a Mac, but a lot of my students have PC’s, and aren’t nearly as tech savvy as I am). That should probably be addressed. The fact that some of the features only work some of the time, or that fixes are tedious, are also issues you need to address if you want ‘extraordinary’. Moodle, WordPress, and EnGrade, which are all cheap to free, handle the same things Blackboard does, and better (although the integrated aspect goes to Blackboard).

It’s pretty damned ugly. The options for ‘personalizing’ Blackboard are limited, and limited in ways that make Facebook’s plain skin look nice. While I appreciate a slimmed-down look, when it’s both sparse and ugly, well, to coin a phrase, spugly doesn’t look good for ‘extraordinary’ either.

That pesky little problem with cut-off really needs to be dealt with. In the wiki portion of Blackboard, the whole right side gets cut off once you’re out of edit mode. Really? How is that extraordinary? I don’t have that problem with WordPress. It would seem to be a relatively quick fix. Otherwise, I think I’m going to have to go outside Blackboard…and look, it’s FREE.  And where are the video capabilities? Google’s new Google+ seems to be stealing that market share, and Facebook does an excellent job of allowing me to create a ‘class’ space where social networking really works. Yeah, I can add a YouTube video, but not vimeo or hulu. And really, should I force students to buy PowerPoint or another presentation software (yes, there are free ones out there, but) if I want to do a presentation?

You see, Providence Equity Partners, I’m all for you growing your $22 billion in assets. So here’s my solution. Hire some tech folks (and please, women do programming too, so keep that in mind), and rebuilt the sucker from the ground up. Include current tech capabilities, and allow for new ones. Add a decent chat feature, a video feature, more customization options, social networking options, and make it stupid proof. Then, and only then, will you have an extraordinary product. Otherwise, you may just end up like Rupert Murdoch, selling it for a 5th of what you paid for it. Just saying.



Published in: on July 1, 2011 at 2:43 pm  Leave a Comment