The Georgetown University Student Association Senate unanimously passed a bill on March 17 urging the university to encourage more professors to use Blackboard’s Gradebook feature, which allows students to see grades for individual assignments and their overall performance in a course.

The original bill that GUSA Chair for Student Life Ben Weiss (COL ’15) proposed had called for more comprehensive reform to Blackboard usage, but GUSA Speaker and former GUSA Chair of Intellectual Life George Spyropoulos (COL ’14) said that he narrowed the focus of the bill to increase its likelihood of getting passed efficiently.

“I believed [it] would be too ambitious a project,” Spyropoulos said. “I decided to narrow it down to focus on a specific part of Blackboard, Gradebook … which is a change that wouldn’t cost a lot.”

Spyropoulos said that GUSA believes the university should view this initiative as the next step in the university’s push to catch up with technological progress, which has been marked in recent months by an upgrade to its WiFi infrastructure and investment in massive open online courses, which will see some Georgetown courses broadcast on the edX platform worldwide.

While there are no statistics available about current Blackboard usage, Spyropoulos said the bill would enhance student-professor communication by raising students’ awareness about their academic progress.

“A lot of students would appreciate having the knowledge [of their grades] … because another problem that a lot of students have told me that they are facing is that there are sometimes big delays in terms of hearing back [from professors],” Spyropoulos said.

But, benefits of the proposal apply only to professors who either currently use Blackboard or do not use any form of online grade book.

Some professors have criticized the utility of the Blackboard software and have crafted their own solutions to this problem.

“I understand that students want to see their progress in a timely fashion, but there are many more efficient ways of facilitating that rather than Blackboard,” economics professor Arik Levinson, who uses the economics learning website Aplia to distribute homework and a personal website to post grades, said.

Levinson cited difficulty uploading grades, the inability to merge class sections or to re-grade homework and the site’s overall slowness as Blackboard’s chief inefficiencies.

“What I do already is in the spirit of what students want, which is at every point during the semester that students have turned in an assignment, they can go online and see their score along with all prior assignments from that semester,” Levinson said. “It would be as though GUSA is requiring me to use a crummy technology when, in fact, I am using a better technology.”

While Spyropoulos acknowledged Blackboard’s imperfections, he emphasized the benefits of consolidating classroom materials into one accessible source across different courses.

“I actually don’t believe that Blackboard is a very high-tech website,” Spyropoulos said. “On the other hand, I do believe that it is actually a more efficient system than handing midterms back in class, and there is no privacy issue.”

Leia Alex (SFS ’16) took Levinson’s class in the fall.

“This semester, all of [my professors] do use Blackboard … and I think it’s easier to just check on your classes all in one site,” Alex said. “I would like it if they put more grades on Blackboard because, as of right now, it’s hard to track your progress, especially since different sections of your grade are weighted differently.”

Spyropoulos said that he hoped to begin conversations with the university in the upcoming weeks and to implement the reform as early as next semester.

“We’re going to talk to the administration and ask that they encourage professors or even require them [to use Blackboard],” Spyropoulos said. “It’s up to them what they want to do, but we just bring the idea to the table.”

Spyropoulos anticipated that if the bill were successful, increased usage of Gradebook would be a stepping stone to an overall increase in Blackboard usage.

“I think that just getting professors to use [Blackboard] for Gradebook will eventually bring professors to use it for other reasons as well because if you haven’t had a Blackboard account, perhaps you haven’t had the advantages of having all of your readings up there, and you might try to consider that.” Sypropoulos said. “We’re not trying to be the bad guys here; we’re just trying to implement a change that we believe students will enjoy.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*