The Five Things Blackboard Should Discuss at Blackboard World 2014

Once again, its time to dust off those dice, bad Hawaiian shirts, and laptop bags. Pack up your carry on, cell phone charger, and head to Las Vegas where Blackboard hosts their annual users conference. While in Sin City, attendees expect to hear about different topics around how the company is working to meet the needs of institutions. However what items do users think Jay Bhatt and his team should address from the stage in the Sands Convention Center? I annually post my list of items or topics I want to hear. So without further introduction, here are the top 5 things I would like to hear from Blackboard during this year’s conference.

“Blackboard is getting a facelift!” – Blackboard (like WebCT 10+ years ago) is showing it’s age. In 2000, long time WebCT users considered Blackboard Learn sleek and new. The shiny tools and options were impressive when put up against its rival. Blackboard took the marketplace by storm and faculty clamored to use it. However, Blackboard now shows her age. Other competing LMS products have new layouts, designs, and improved functionality. These items include improved simple workflows that allow more complex functionality. The facelift should also embrace HTML5 standards within the application in the same way it removed the frameset from it’s application last year. In summation, to keep up with the times Blackboard must make a splash with innovative enhancements to the Learn product. Those enhancements will put it on the same footing with other products. Failing to do so is not an option.

“We continue to grade ourselves!” – Ray Henderson stepped down as the President of Academic Platforms at Blackboard in September. One of his many accomplishments was to annually grade the company on their performance of supporting their product, producing quality, and being innovative. With Ray gone, Jay should make sure someone continues Ray’s report card. This is one way to show users the company continues to grade itself on how well it serves customers. The company could go a step further and compare their work to other LMS products. This would show the company not only continues to make sure customers that they continue to improve, but also show they are meeting the needs in the market.

“Blackboard Learn functions fully on tablets and mobile devices without the need of an app!”  – Sadly last year, there was really no response from Blackboard on how to integrate their Learn environment into the plethora of tablets and mobile devices that are used in K12 and Higher Education today. While the Blackboard Mobile app has produced limited success; at the current pace it will never meet the needs of users. The entire application needs to be accessible using tablets or mobile devices in a native way. Blackboard Learn must become mobile and tablet friendly. There’s no two ways about it. The mobile train has left the station. Blackboard Learn needs to catch up and do so quickly.

“We are improving how we monitor our cloud services!” aka (Putting it in the cloud doesn’t make it any better.) – While many people envision the cloud as a white puffy object in a sunny sky. I (having been raised in the midwest and tornado alley) see clouds as harbors of doom and gloom. They can bring thunder, lightning, hail, and tornadoes at a cost to life and property. While this might not be an apt comparison to the electronic cloud we all use, that electronic cloud still can have a hefty price when not monitored.

Blackboard needs to announce a monitoring matrix for its cloud products used with self-hosted clients. Currently the company lacks a single website or API that allows self-hosted clients the ability to have up to the minute information on the numerous cloud products used. The only way to monitor what’s going on is to watch for a message on twitter, a listserv, or an article on Behind The Blackboard. Many admins will tell you, this should never be an acceptable standard for an enterprise level company. Keeping admins and users up to date with alerts staged from a monitoring matrix would cut down on additional tickets and questions that come to support. It also shows institutions that the company is proactive in monitoring it’s numerous cloud services.

“Your cloud services change on your schedule.” – A few months ago, Blackboard upgraded the cloud portion of it’s plagiarism tool Safeassign. The upgrade surprised many users because it changed the user interface. The biggest problem was the change happened in the middle of semesters for many.

Blackboard should announce the implementation of new staging environments for major upgrades like the one I just mentioned. This would allow institutions to see the changes and prepare documentation and training. So, for example, when the Safeassign update would come out. Users could move to the new Safeassign instance by pointing to a new URL. Then the old Safeassign would be deprecated and institutions could move to the new instance at an appropriate time.

These by no means are the only things that should be addressed, but its a good start. Now will Blackboard ante up, or fold?  We will see in a few weeks.

Technically Yours,

The Blackboard Guru

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