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Gardner Campbell


"Blackboard is good at what they do because they have developed a comprehensive solution for academia. There are problems and its far from an ideal solution, but it is the market leader because they concentrated on meeting the demand for the largest segment of their audience."

But this line of reasoning assumes that the gold standard for teaching and learning is the status quo in higher education, at least for those folks who are not one or two standard deviations out, the folks who are apparently "the largest segment of their audience." I question that assumption. Meeting the demand for increasingly ineffectual knowledge-transfer models of learning "management" is not an accomplishment no matter how large the audience--unless one has a stake in preserving that status quo.

As for folks cobbling together Frankenstein monsters in the cloud, unless there's a Blackboard-for-living site that emerges (Facebook might be it, though I hope not), that's exactly the kind of skill we'll need to teach and learn moving forward. Perhaps it won't be a scary "Frankenstein monster" after all, but a kind of digital citizenship that isn't limited by monolithic vendors and tight corporate partnerships. If we can't teach that digital citizenship in our colleges and universities, where will the next rounds of innovation come from? Certainly not from companies like Blackboard, if past history is a guide. Why innovate when you can make money helping to thwart it?

Phil Ice

Excellent comments Gardner, but I would like to respond to three items.

1. You said, "But this line of reasoning assumes that the gold standard for teaching and learning is the status quo in higher education..." While those of us who are caught up in innovation don't want to think that this is the case, it is. Spend any amount of time talking to faculty trainers and they will tell you that the average faculty member is only interested in those technologies that require the least amount of effort to learn. Friedrich Nietzsche said, "To predict the behavior of ordinary people in advance, you only have to assume that they will always try to escape a disagreeable situation with the smallest possible expenditure of intelligence." And for most faculty members teaching with technology is disagreeable situation if it involves significant innovation. Remember, these are also the majority on faculty committees and those committees are the ones that ultimately make decisions when it comes to adoption of just about everything in the public universities. And for now the commercial platforms are the best at presenting the least disagreeable situation. Perhaps I am wrong, but show me an institution where the other 84% of faculty are demanding to work with cutting edge technology to facilitate eLearning.

2. I agree with your take on "Frankensteining." The creature that is built need not be a scary one or one that runs amok across the campus. I was using the term more generically.

3. Where will the next round of innovation come from? I think there are opportunities for it to come from both the for-profit and open source communities. The proprietary LMS providers could build a very sleek and elegant solution if they had the will and foresight. As I alluded to, all of the pieces are out there its just a matter of putting them together. The same of course is true for the open source community. For the former it requires vision and funding. For the later it requires organization. While there are some promising indicators and prototypes out there, no one has yet went all-in to make this happen and until someone does the the solution that is the most comfortable (which right now is Blackboard) has the run of the market.

ellen wagner

by the time I finished my very long response to both of your comments, I realized I'd written my blog-post for today!

And of course, I expect I will have a few things to say on these subjects when we all convene in San Jose this week for Sloan-C.

Can't wait!! :-D

Joseph Gliddon

I have worked in 2 institutions that have Blackboard. Although many courses have lots of innovative use and fantastic pedagogy and staff that are reaching the limits of Blackboard and wanting to go further....
There are still a load of courses that have. Powerpoint week1, powerpoint week 2, word document please read.

For the staff that you are trying to improve their online pedagogy, it really helps that you have something simple that they dont need to construct themselves.
Its much easier to tell staff -
"if you click that button you will have a blog that all your students can see, now lets talk about what you want to do with it".

Rather than -
"Ok go to wetpaint, join and sign up for a blog, you need to email all your students with the URL, they can sign up easily you dont need to tell them how the site will - worth telling them to use a name you will recognise, not fluffybunny27. When they request to join you need to accept them by going here, then lock it so others cant see it. NOW lets talk about what you want to do with it".


Interesting site, always a new topic .. good luck in the new 2011. Happy New Year!

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