Chalk, Full of Problems

Georgetown has made significant efforts to incorporate the benefits of new technology and Internet connectivity into students’ academic instruction. The university prides itself on providing numerous spaces for its students to engage in deep and meaningful relationships with faculty, both inside and outside the classroom. However, one of Georgetown’s primary channels of online interaction, Blackboard Learn, is a clunky, flawed system. Georgetown’s administration should look to alternatives to this learning management system to improve students’ academic experience and reduce technical difficulties.

Blackboard’s convoluted interface and communication issues often lead to confusion for faculty and students, undermining a student’s ability to engage outside the classroom. A sense of academic engagement and community cannot be engendered when students cannot read each other’s online blog posts or edit and revise papers. Even administrative policies like instructional continuity — which indicate the potential for web-based learning to augment traditional classroom teaching — can be hindered when there is no system to consistently support them.

Students often relate how frustrating it is when they have difficulties accessing Blackboard, cannot upload their documents or lose their blog posts in the system. Some professors, finding the online grading system unnecessarily complex and hard to navigate, have fallen back to a paper system to calculate curves and final grades. Others abstain from using Blackboard altogether and maintain a separate blog or webpage for their courses.

Georgetown is not the only school with these problems. Since 2006, Blackboard’s market share has dropped from 90 to 44 percent. Several high-profile universities, including the University of Texas at Austin, Michigan State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have left Blackboard in favor of emerging competitors offering better software.

Open-source programs like Moodle and more traditional programs like Canvas and Sakai each allow professors to create platforms that are personalized to their course and offer intuitive academic interaction for students, including user-friendly research collaboration, group work and ePortfolios. These options should be made available to Georgetown professors when structuring their courses. If we encourage more competition on campus, Blackboard will either improve its service and interface or risk losing yet another high-profile client, since to continue to allocate the funds Georgetown does to a system that is at its best faulty and at its worst inoperable is unacceptable.

Changing the way students and professors interact to encourage innovative teaching improves the student experience overall, but none of this can be achieved when the current system continues to disappoint.

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