Blackboard - Jack of all trades, master of none
February 18, 2014

Blackboard - Jack of all trades, master of none

Anonymous | TrustRadius Reviewer
Score 6 out of 10
Vetted Review
Verified User
Review Source

Software Version

Blackboard 9.1 SP 11

Modules Used

  • Blackboard Learn
  • Blackboard Mobile

Overall Satisfaction

Blackboard is my institution's learning management system. It is used throughout the organization in all departments for on-campus, hybrid, and online course offerings. It specifically helps instructors manage the administrative elements of their courses and focuses on document and resource sharing, testing (quizzes and polls), communication via email to students, and grade book admin. Nearly all instructors seem to limit their use of Blackboard to these key features and choose not (or do not know how) to take advantage of the advanced features. Some students also use the mobile app version of Blackboard.
  • Gradebook management. Although it seems many instructors do not use the advanced features of the grade book, it does a good job of organizing and tracking assignments created within the LMS and those that exist outside (but must be accounted for in the grading scheme).
  • Document management. Covers all the basics of making resources available for students to access. Submitting documents tends to work well, although sometimes the interface experiences difficulty with larger files.
  • Student communications. Email especially (of course), but the Announcements feature is also used quite often to good effect. The scheduling of announcements is a handy feature.
  • Course modules. Not a particularly popular feature, but the ability to setup modules within a course helps to keep things better organized for students to experience. Rather than dumping materials into many folders, the modules system helps guide students through the content as the instructor intends for them to do.
  • Overall interface design and layout. Other LMSs (such as Canvas) have a much more modern, evolved, and intuitive interface. The UI of Blackboard seems to be a patchwork of feature areas without a consistent experience throughout. In particular, instructors have a different view of many areas (e.g., the grade book and assignment uploads) than do the students, which causes some confusion.
  • Feature creep. Granted, a value point of Blackboard are the plethora of features available, but most instructors in my experience (including myself) seldom go beyond the basics. There seems to be just too many "buttons and levers" presented to the users all at once -- like a power plant control room.
  • Feature latency with other providers. Again, it seems Blackboard is slow to evolve in keeping up with the refinements of other LMSs. This doesn't mean more features, but improving the core competencies that make for an LMS that should be a pleasure to use. Colleagues at other institutions talk about features in their LMSs that Blackboard either does not yet have or did a hurried job of implementing.
  • Learning curve. Beyond the basics, the learning curve of Blackboard can be quite steep, especially for users who have some hesitancy with learning new technologies. Even for savvy users, the curve can be daunting when digging into some of the advanced features.
  • A negative ROI would be the time it takes to train new instructors on features (3-hour training workshops - one each for the basics, grade book, course modules, etc.) are common at my institution. This overwhelms new (and even current) instructors and demands an inordinate amount of time for end-user support and additional training.
  • ROI is a concern for the amount of features available but, when asked, how very few instructors actually take advantage of what is available to them. As mentioned previously, they either choose not to invest their time in learning, or give up along the way. More features does not always equate to a better user experience.
I have evaluated Moodle, Sakai, Desire2Learn, and more recently (indirectly) Canvas. By far, Canvas is the most promising of the bunch and accomplishes much of what it seems Blackboard would hope to achieve, but cannot or does so poorly. Moodle is the most interesting for its configurability and customization, but has become dated in its UI. Desire2Learn seems to have the best focus on actually being a true LMS in the sense of learning, rather than being a course management system in the sense of administration.
No choice - the decision is made by our IT Services department.
Blackboard seems less appropriate for learning situations in which the instructor desires a student-centered approach. Perhaps this is an issue with the concept of an LMS in general, but there doesn't seem to be a way to configure Blackboard to suite different teaching needs and learning styles beyond creating course modules and adding yet-more folders and directories.