Blackboard is good in theory, horrible in practice

Raise your hand if you hate Blackboard. I know I do. Between glitches and misuse by faculty members, Blackboard, the so-called next step in technology, has become a hellish nightmare.

Blackboard Inc. software is used in several Temple applications, but the actual Blackboard Learning System, accessible through TU Portal, is the root of much angst. Sadly, the anxiety associated with Blackboard caused feverish biting that was responsible for the loss of two of my fingernails in just the last week.

I was quick to point my nail-less finger at Computer Services, blaming them for the implementation of this horrible classroom aid. But the fact is that most problems associated with Blackboard can be traced to the lack of appropriate faculty training before use.

Many students believe that Blackboard is distancing teachers from students. The lines of face-to-face communication have been severed as teachers systematically announce, “Check Blackboard sometime tonight for your homework. You shouldn’t have questions.” And what if we do? It becomes a race to contact the teacher via e-mail or phone before the fast approaching due date.

It is increasingly difficult for students to enjoy a weekend away from the Internet. Voices in our heads constantly remind us how long it’s been since our last sign-on. Last year, 5,705 courses used Blackboard. For a student with four to five classes using it, checking the system five times a day is standard. Without other forms of notification, teachers post items ranging from upcoming projects to simple class cancellations. Those who fail to check Blackboard daily fall behind on class developments.

Blackboard should be used to supplement what is covered in class, not as a substitute. Many teachers are cutting classes shorter, using Blackboard for discussions and even to administer tests. Here’s the problem with Blackboard tests and quizzes. If the student is allowed to take them from home, the result is uncontrollable cheating. Every test becomes open-book, resulting in a jaded and unreliable assessment of what students are learning.

The alternative, administering the test from a computer lab, means expecting students to apply knowledge with computers beeping, honking and not working properly. Instead of a quiet atmosphere for students to harvest their intellect, there is complete chaos. All of the problems discussed above could be avoided if teachers were aware of how to properly implement Blackboard into their classroom.

Many teachers also don’t take advantage of the grading option on Blackboard. By keeping track of grades online, students find out how they’re doing in “real-time,” so they can monitor their own progress through the semester. By associating Blackboard with e-mail, teachers can send out mass messages to an entire class, informing them of upcoming assignments or postings on Blackboard. The simple use of e-mail can bridge that communication gap students complain about.

Why are some teachers being so reckless with Blackboard? Is it because they’re lazy or just misinformed? The problem is more of the latter. We cannot expect everyone to be as computer savvy as our own generation, but excuses will be excuses; Computer Services does offer optional seminars on how to use Blackboard that should be utilized.

Teachers who want to use Blackboard should be required to attend two seminars. The first would go over basic technical aspects of the system. It will make teachers aware of tools Blackboard offers and how to use them, giving faculty a raw understanding of how to perform primary tasks.

The second seminar would teach different ways Blackboard can be used successfully in the classroom. It will cover what has been proven to provide optimal results with students. More in-depth seminars would be optional, but the key to this plan is that the first two are mandatory.

The stress on students caused by the use of Blackboard needs to be diminished. It’s sad to see a piece of technology with so much potential cause such frustration. Most problems associated with Blackboard are due to a lack of awareness, which could be avoided if proper training were administered. With the continuous increase of usage, it is important that this problem is addressed now, before things become completely out of hand.

Jacqueline D’Ercole can be reached at

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