Use of Blackboard in Higher Education
Blackboard is a virtual learning environment that was designed to enhance the learning
experience by aiding the typical classroom environment or replacing the lecture style
meetings. Higher education systems use Blackboard to create a learning environment that
uses a variety of Web-based tools.
Blackboard transforms “the Internet into a powerful environment for the educational
experience. ” The integration of web-based learning components brings added value to
traditional education. “Educators are constantly struggling with the growing disparity
between an ever-increasing need for professional development resources and the actual
ability to provide them in an efficient, timely, and cost-effective manner. ” Blackboard
provides solutions to these challenges in the following ways; improves student to student
communication, faculty-student communication, provides a variation in learning,
essential tools, and reduces faculty administrivia.
Also included in this research project is the history of Blackboard, an analysis of the
drawbacks that are associated with Blackboard, and other facilities that take advantage of
Blackboard, and competitors of Blackboard.
Blackboard in Higher Education
Blackboard is a web based course management system that allows instructors to
integrate the use of technology within their classrooms. The virtual learning environment
offers innovative techniques to enhance the learning process. An analysis of Blackboard,
including the advantages, disadvantages, widespread uses, and spin-offs are fundamental
aspects when learning how to use Blackboard in Higher Education.
Founded in 1997 Blackboard was started with a vision to enable educational
innovations all over by connecting people and technology (Blackboard, Inc, 1997).
Consisting of five software applications bundled in two suites, Blackboard is moving to
become one of the world’s leading providers of e-Education enterprise software. With
clients ranging from various primary and secondary schools, higher education,
corporation and government markets as well as textbook publishers and student-focused
merchants, Blackboard has pioneered the emergence of the e-Education industry around
“The technology doesn't replace classroom instruction, as many online schools
do. Instead, Blackboard is designed to complement what happens in class” (Yang, 2004).
Their adopted role is to improve the educational experience with Internet-enabled
technology that connects students, faculty, researchers and the community in a growing
network of environments dedicated to better communication with in those realms.
Blackboard mainly exists in two forms Networked Learning Environment and Networked
A Networked Learning Environment (NLE) enables any student or teacher to step
beyond traditional courses to a more expansive online learning experience. Today’s e-
Learning challenge involves far more than simply moving courses online. From libraries
and labs to alumni and parents, the facets of an educational community are far-reaching.
In order to incorporate each into a rich, multi-dimensional online learning experience, it
is necessary to develop and maintain an NLE. Far beyond the limitation of books, bricks
and mortar, Blackboard’s Academic Suite provides a powerful platform for all of the
essential interdependent features, functions and services that make a true NLE.
Networked Transaction Environment also sees that any member of the University
community can use just one card to enable on and off-campus commerce transactions,
activities, facilities access, and web services. Blackboard’s large and diverse community
of practice supports enhances and extends our offerings every day, all over the world.
The Internet offers a great opportunity for education and the educational experience.
While the role as the platform is important, communities of practice make the best
solutions. What makes Blackboard available is it is ability to help people in classes
The advantages of Blackboard are enhancing peer communications, faculty-student
communication, a variation in learning styles, constant source of course information,
essential tools for learning, and reducing administrative work for faculty.
Within Blackboard, students have access to discussion boards, chats, and student
emails. “Many bulletin boards allow students to post drafts of their work, which can be
edited online by their peers” (Guernsey, 2003). Students can grab from other perspectives
while expanding their own original ideas. Students are more apt to participate in these
discussion boards because Blackboard offers anonymity. “Students are more willing to
participate due to a measure of anonymity, which serves as motivators…people are
empowered. They are daring and confrontational regarding the expression of idea”
Blackboard also enhances student equality. Each individual has the same opportunity
to express their ideas when posting messages. Reserved students have the opportunity to
support their responses with factual information when posting information compared to a
lecture setting (Kubala, 1998). Blackboard not only improves communication among
peers, but among faculty and students as well.
Blackboard allows professors to respond to students through online discussions and
forums which eliminate the issue of unaccommodating office hours. Professors also have
the option of posting announcement in which anyone enrolled in Blackboard has access
too. Professors also have the option of differing learning styles thanks to Blackboard.
Learning styles vary from student to student. Some students are visual learners and
others are hands on. “An advantage in developing online activities is that it allows
students to acquire literacy in computer use, which may not necessarily happen in a
traditional course” (Rodriguez, 2006). Blackboard offers a combined style of learning.
“Web-based learning environments permit the instructor to build one course, yet
implement a variety of resources, so students can utilize materials in whichever way
works best for them” (Pittinsky, 2005).
Students are able to learn when it’s convenient for them to learn. Whether it is
morning, noon or midnight, students can access the information when they choose too.
Information may be printed so students can learn on the go. The constant access of
information eliminates physical attendance. Group discussions can be conducted online
via the virtual chat rooms and discussion board. Group discussions are just one of the
tools that improve quality of learning. Other tools are also accessible through Blackboard.
Blackboard allows instructors to provide tools to enhance the learning experience
that include online quizzes, practice exams, chapter reviews, and concept reinforcement.
Blackboard also reduces the amount of housekeeping that is necessary.
Although eliminating large chunks of administrative work is practically impossible,
Blackboard does save time. Instructors spend the first couple minutes of each class
handing out papers, making announcements, and collecting assignments. Blackboard
eliminates these chores. Papers can be put into PDF form and posted online,
announcements that usually take up time can be posted online, and assignments can be
handed in through a digital drop box. Blackboard offers many advantages toward Higher
Education, but like most things, it also comes with a few drawbacks. While Blackboard
as a learning tool is helpful, it has some serious disadvantages that can slow down
“Wave after wave of technology reform in education has left many unfilled promises”
(Kent, 1999). Whether students are multi-tasking to get all of their assignments in on time
or rushing last minute, the way Blackboard is constructed can be unfavorable. The first
downside is that individual course pages cannot be bookmarked. If a student finds a
specific page helpful within Blackboard, and saves it to their “favorites” toolbar,
attempting to return to that location would prove fruitless. (S)he would then be directed
to the main Blackboard login page instead of the previously chosen site.
The second disadvantage of Blackboard is that assignments cannot be searched. A
post, paper, or comment that has been linked to Blackboard can’t be quickly reproduced.
The student must click their way through multiple pages to get to their own assignments
or others. An established worldwide educational tool such as Blackboard should have an
advanced search feature to increase productivity and navigation about the site.
The third disadvantage of Blackboard is that it doesn’t provide e-mail within courses.
Communication between students and teachers is accomplished through message boards.
For a student to receive important information they need to first sign on to the
Blackboard main page. They then need to click on the link to their class. This is
followed by clicking on the “communication” link on the left hand side of the screen.
Then they need to enter into the discussion board. At this point the student has yet to
even pick which topic they want to further delve into. All of this extraneous navigation
could be solved by Blackboard providing an internal e-mail system. Students can receive
e-mails from their professors, but it’s at their Towson accounts. Surprisingly, there is an
additional log-in page to check that e-mail even if students are already logged in to
Blackboard. In the most extreme of situations when time counts, like midterms and
finals, students aren’t looking to open up extra programs and type more than they need
The fourth disadvantage of Blackboard is that it is often unusable due to
maintenance. Blackboard warns on its site that it will be intangible specifically during
the hours of 2:55 am – 5:00 am Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. Blackboard also
sporadically makes its pages unavailable for checkups and unscheduled repairs. A report
by EduTech in January of 2003 shows that while Blackboard has its pitfalls now, they
pale in comparison to three years ago. One could surmise that the constant shutting down
of the site is still a sign of its need for fostering. Although many disadvantages occur,
many companies strive to compete with Blackboard (2004).
Worldwide, Blackboard Learning System is extensively used in many higher
learning institutions, numbering in excess of 3,600 high schools, colleges and universities
in over sixty countries, with the number growing constantly.
Among the many campuses that enjoy the use of Blackboard Learning System is
our very own Towson University.
Blendedschools.net is a non-profit organization dedicated to optimizing
technology to enhance student learning in rural Pennsylvania schools.
Blendedschools.net uses Blackboard Learning System “to provide shared content for
more than one hundred high school courses”(2004). This comes out to be over 15,000
Pennsylvania high school students.
Dallas, the 12th largest school system in the country has used Blackboard
Learning System for the past two years to “provide an online learning platform”(2004).
There was recently a merger with WebCT, which has raised questions at the
Justice Department regarding possible antitrust lawsuits. The merger now allows
Blackboard to reach millions of new college students in over thirty countries.
Like WebCT, there are many competitors who supply software similar to
Blackboard to colleges and universities worldwide.. Some of the more widely used
programs are WebCT, eCollege, Desire2Learn, and Moodle.
WebCT (web course tools) is an online commercial virtual learning environment
system which is sold to colleges and other institutions. It is used extensively on many
campuses for e-learning. Instructors can add to their WebCT courses various interactive
tools such as discussion boards, mail systems and live chat tools. They can also add
content such as web pages and PDF files. WebCT currently has two versions: WebCT
Vista and WebCT Campus Edition. The software has no set price but depends on the size
of the institution and how it is put to use. On October 12, 2005 Blackboard Inc. and
WebCT announced an agreement to merge (Philpott, 2006).
Another program similar to Blackboard is eCollege. This program provides a
comprehensive outsource solution to support the profitable growth of online distance
programs for publicly traded for-profit institutions, community colleges, and public and
private universities. They are the only provider with all of the hardware, software and
support services under one roof. They follow a pay as you go pricing structure. eCollege
currently supports more than 650 online degree, certificate, and professional development
programs (Swann, 2005).
Desire2Learn is another e-learning system that works with a rapidly growing list
of leaders of higher education. Desire2Learn was founded in 1999. Its clients include
hundreds of different colleges, institutions, universities, and consortiums throughout
North America and around the world. The company claims more than three million users
of their technology worldwide. The learning platform consists of a suite of teaching and
learning tools for course development, delivery, assessment, communication, and
management. The LOR is a standards-based repository for storing, tagging, searching and
reusing learning objects. It allows organizations to manage and share content across
multiple programs, courses, and sections (Design2Learn, Inc, 2006).
Moodle is an open source E-learning platform. It has a very large user base with
10,577 registered sites in 147 countries with 2,587,905 users in 242,342 courses. Moodle
also has several contributed modules, including SCORM, WebQuest and the Document
Management System. The program can import and convert IMS QTI, WebCT and
Blackboard quizzes. It is supported by a community of users and developers. It is a free
alternative to commercial E-learning platforms.
Blackboard is an innovative educational tool that expands the capabilities of
traditional teaching. The benefits included increased communcation between teachers and
students, essential tools for learning, a variation in learning enivronment, and constant
access to course materials. However, as with all great things, there are drawbacks. Higher
Education facilities take advantage of Blackboard, as well as other education institutions.
Blackboard is so widely used that many companies are currently competiting with its
technology. Thanks to technology such companies as Blackboard are continuing to
develop, the future of Higher Education can look forward to educational resources
supplied by such pioneering technology.
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