Coffee heat rising

UNbelievable!

Well, I probably won’t be writing much here for the next week or so.

You’ll recall that I spent half the g.d. summer creating an elaborate online course in magazine writing for the college. Since I was paid to do so, I worked pretty hard at it; the job occupied end-to-end seven-day weeks of 14- to 16-hour days.

Yesterday I learned that Blackboard blocks student access to almost all of the presentations I built during all those hours of mind-numbing work. I’m going to have to take down most of the course, rebuild the presentations at a website students can access, only without voice (so everything has to be written out!), and rewrite the entire flicking course! This has to be done in six weeks, while I’m reading 75,000 words of brain-banging freshman babble, first in draft, then in progress, then in final form.

How the hell this is going to happen escapes me. There’s no way I can redo the entire course while I’m trying to handle an intense eight-week section of composition, one that’s filled with new freshmen, some of whom need a great deal of help with their writing.

I’m so angry I can barely speak. Certainly can’t sleep. Was up until 2:00 a.m. and then reawoke and started working again at 5:00.

As appealing as the idea of teaching online is, of not having to trudge out to campus and entertain a roomful of people who doze through 80 percent of what you say, you can be sure that I will never do this again.

What a flicking disaster Blackboard is! In its new Version 9, developers replaced functions that did work—such as the Digital Drop Box—with complicated systems such as “Assignments” whose benefits are outweighed by the confusion they inflict on students and the hassle they present to instructors. It has added a vast selection of features that look like they should bring real substance and versatility to the online environment. Indeed, they would…if they operated as advertised. But they don’t. We’re presented with podcast functions that offer twenty minutes of space but won’t operate if you speak longer than three minutes, carrying capacity that won’t hold video files or more than a few still images, and nonintuitive functions that require students as well as faculty to climb a learning curve the height of Mt. Everest. The result of these upgrades, such as they are, appears to be a system that is so unstable it crashes in flames the instant classes begin and students start using it.

Blackboard is largely bloatware. If the school is to offer online courses at all, it needs a software infrastructure that can support online instruction. It can’t be a system that appears to offer this resource and that resource, only to yank the rug out from under the instructor, who belatedly discovers that none of those resources can handle so much as a 20-minute lecture or the briefest of PowerPoint presentations. If you’re a college instructor and your institution is trying to woo you to put part or all of your course online through Blackboard, RUN AWAY!

Run away as fast as you can! Do not convert your courses to this system in its current incarnation. It is a huge, bloated tick on the corpus of higher education.

{sigh} If anyone would like to contribute another guest post, it would be nice to keep this site going while I’m working on something else 18 or 20 hours a day…

11 thoughts on “UNbelievable!”

  1. A lot of people don’t like the new interface– but a friend of mine who administers Blackboard for a major university tells me that your problems could be fixed by spending a little time with your school’s IT staff to debug (problem could be at either end, but they aren’t having those problems there) rather than by redoing everything.

    • @ Tanya: I spent the entire summer sitting at the side of an IT person who is a professional course designer. We met for several hours one or more times a week.

      The problem here is that BB will not hold a PowerPoint presentation. ANY ppt presentation. We built a workaround: We learned that you can do a voice presentation that will link to a blog. But it appeared that if you set up a blog in your current course’s shell, students could access your control panel and from there your grade book, a clear and present violation of FERPA, for which you can be fired.

      So we set up the blog in my “sandbox” shell and linked to that. Into that blog, I posted image after image from the several PowerPoint presentations I had made to get around the fact that Blackboard does not have a viable video presentation function, which were scotched when I discovered that BB can’t support any ppt files because they’re deemed too large. Then I spoke my “lecture” into the audio presentation segment of each Voice Presentation. Neither of us had any problem accessing the images.

      Voice Presentation allows you to record audios up to 20 minutes long. My dog & pony shows ran 12 to 18 minutes in length. After all of these were online, TIME-CONSUMINGLY online because many of them had to be redone several times to get them right, THEN and ONLY then I was told that after all, Blackboard can’t handle a Voice Presentation OR a Podcast longer than about three to five minutes. Even at five minutes, if several students try to access the same file at once, it will slow the system down to a crawl. I was told to lose the 12- to 18-minute lectures. So I deleted them all and added 30-second blurts, praying the students would be able to figure out something, anything, from the blog posts. At the blog, I typed in a few explanatory entries around the images.

      Have YOU or your friend ever tried to explain a complex subject in three minutes? I challenge you to explain to someone how to write a feature article or how to analyze an entire magazine in three minutes. And no, doing 7 separate presentations for a single subject is not a practical way to present a lecture!!!!!

      So now we have these half-baked Voice Presentations online. They’re not adequate, but they’re better than nothing.

      Now we’re told that because students are not enrolled in the “sandbox” shell they cannot access the blog.

      It’s possible to copy and paste some elements from one course shell to another. However, they go up in strange places, and once you get them into the desired site, there’s no easy way to put them into the directories where they belong. It’s not a drag & drop sort of thing. I may be able to move the blog over into my site, but then what? If students can access the grade book through a blog, then I can’t use the blog. I will be canned if ONE student gets a peek at everyone else’s grades.

      No matter which way you jump, you run head-on into a roadblock.

  2. Are the files video? If so, could you upload them to YouTube? We use Angel at the university I work at. A colleague and I designed YouTube videos and they can be embedded into an Angel page or the instructor can just put a link to the video there.

    • @ crazyliblady: They consist of 16 to 26 individual JPGs for each presentation. With Blackboard, too, one way around the limited space is to post a video on YouTube and then link to it. This, of course, entails password-protecting your YouTube video (or leaving proprietary material out there for the whole world to use, free of charge), buying a flipcam, installing its software, learning to use it, recording a video, learning how to use YouTube, setting up a YouTube channel, and teaching your students how to access your video (you’d be surprised how untechie some of these people are, despite it being 2010). I tried it and finally decided it was just more trouble than it was worth.

  3. Good Grief! My spouse is a university professor – thank goodness he “gets” to show up in class and teach the old fashioned way. I’ll tell him about your problems with your on-line course the next time he comes home and complains about students texting in the back row. Boy – time to ask for a raise! You can’t be the only faculty member going through this.

    I’ll miss your posts – but know what you will be doing.

    You’re having one heck of a retirement, FAM!

  4. @ Nola: LOL! They would laugh merrily.

    Actually, since an adjunct’s pay statement specifically states that the person’s pay is for contract work, I’ve asked if they would please pay my S-corp, which would make the whole issue of the Social Security earnings limit go away. The answer was no.

  5. I watched a BB presentation with a friend friend from one school. Then, I used another school’s BB for myself while updating my teaching certification. Students I tutor use BB all the time. There is an 800 number to reach the BB developers/IT person rather than the IT at your school. It seems that BB must not be aware of the problem. Only once did anything go wrong at one of the universities with which I am familiar, and that was fixed within 48 hours. Yes, I know that is a long time when some segments have a completion date and need to be removed for the next lesson, but it seems better than your situation. Good luck!

    • @ Practical Parsimony: I’ve chatted with BB’s 24/7 help a couple of times. They don’t seem to be as knowledgeable as the local IT folks. Last time I talked to one of them, he had to look up my question in his manual and try to figure it out. Took as much time as I would have plowing through BB’s ill-organized manual, and didn’t come up with an answer.

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