Blackboard got an upgrade?!

Raise your hand if you noticed that Blackboard got an upgrade in the beginning of last semester.

When I first logged onto Blackboard in September, my thought was, “pretty”! And then I spent the next half hour playing with the customization. See how I get UpbeaT front and centre? Hee. Just click “Add Module” and find us!

Blackboard now looked more Mac OS sleek than Windows clunky. Sorry, is my Apple bias showing? Fine, the new Blackboard looked more Windows Vista than 98.

Apart from the cosmetic changes, the new Blackboard also has lots of new features, and a completely revamped user interface after you got inside your courses.

I popped by the office of Jeremy Graham, overlord of Blackboard at U of T, to speak with him about the new changes as well as about Blackboard in general. Look! He even has a board with all the updates he’s making to Blackboard!

Fun fact: Did you know he’s also the guy who changes the picture on the upper left corner? You know how it was autumn leaves last semester and it’s dandelions now? I love watching that change every season.

I told Jeremy that lots of students probably didn’t notice the change because we’re normally focused on going in, getting what we need, and getting out. Jeremy wasn’t surprised, “the point of Blackboard is to be as simple as possible, and if you’re able to quickly and intuitively get what you need then we’re doing our job.”

One handy new feature that Jeremy mentioned was the notifications module. Now, if you want to see whether or not your prof posted your grades when she said she would, or whether or not your slides were posted, all you have to do is check notifications to see if any changes have been made to your course, instead of going into the course and going to Tools > My Grades.

Of course, what I really wanted to know was whether or not we’re going to get a mobile version of Blackboard so I can check it on my shiny iPad. Good news, everybody with Apple gadgets/Android/Blackberry/Palm! Bb Mobile is in the testing stages. Yesssssss.

Now, I know not everybody is a fan of Blackboard, and I told Jeremy as much. Why did U of T use Blackboard to begin with?

“Before we implemented Blackboard, students had a fragmented view of their courses, assuming that their courses even had an online presence,” Jeremy said, “the University made an institutionalized decision to standardize student’s online experience.”

“We explored several different vendors, but Blackboard was the most user-friendly of the bunch.”

That’s true – the fragmented view bit anyways, I haven’t tried other class management programs so I can’t make any valid comparisons – I remember when I was in first year, my economics class was on CCNET, my math class had its own website, my string theory seminar class had a blog, and then one of my other class didn’t have an online presence at all. It was much nicer when all my classes were in one place the next year.

So why do some profs still refuse to use it?

“Well, we provide all the support we can, but we can’t force anybody to do anything,” said Jeremy, “some profs are wary of their intellectual property being accessed online, and we can’t impinge on their academic freedom.

“Contrary to the stereotypes though, most profs I’ve come across do give a damn about their students,” said Jeremy. “The only reason why some profs are willing to learn to customize a completely new platform is for the ease of their students. They’d happily stick to whatever they were using before otherwise.”

That’s also true. I’ve had two profs who flat-out refused to use Blackboard at the beginning of the semester but acquiesced after the class asked repeatedly.

Finally, I asked Jeremy if there was anything he wanted the students to know about Blackboard.

“Email! Make sure your email address is the utoronto one on ROSI. Blackboard will only send emails to utoronto addresses and you don’t want to be missing emails from your prof. I’ve seen emails that say things like ‘you’ve missed your last three assignments; come talk to me if you don’t want to fail this class’ and I’m cringing because the students are not getting it.”

I know some of us dislike UTORmail (another post for another day, heh), so we have Gmail forward our mails. I wondered if that’s okay?

“Yes, getting Gmail to forward is fine.It’s better to have a chance at getting your email than none at all.”

Well, there you have it. If your email address on ROSI is not a utoronto one, what are you waiting for? Go now and change it!

Cheers dear readers,
Cynthia