During Blackboard World 2015, Blackboard made many announcements about their products, but none (in my opinion) with more impact than a new community site. I was lucky to provide a t-shirt design which Blackboard printed and gave away to anyone who signed up for the new site. During the conference, over 700 people signed up for the new beta program. As of this post, that number is nearing 1000. You might think that this site isn’t needed, with all the listservs, blogs, websites, and other communication tools the community makes available, but as I’m about to explain, this site provides more than those other tools.
My blog post, titled “What Blackboard Needs to say at Blackboard World 2015”, I did mention the need for increased community support and communication from the company. Those words seemed to strike a chord with other clients and some inside the company. Many thanks to Mark Strassman, Val Schreiner, and the many other Blackboard employees and clients who have provided feedback and talked to me about this specific topic. Luckily the plans for a new community site were on the table, but required a long process to bring it to customers. The beta release of the site came at the right time (albeit slightly slow for me) for clients and the company.
The birth of a community site started in 2006 with a mix of third party software solutions and use of what would become Coursesites. Each of these solutions had both positive and negatives (some more than others) but nothing ever fit the unique needs of the Blackboard user community.
This latest incarnation uses Jive Software, a company that has been in the collaboration solution software game since 2001. Many major companies such as DirecTV, GoDaddy, and educational software giant Pearson use Jive to develop collaborative environments for users and employees. It provides many great features for the user community.
When a user signs up at the site, they are asked to create a profile with a avatar of himself/herself. This addresses one of the difficult things that many find when using a listserv or discussion board. These tools lack the ability to visually connect a person who responds on a listserv. I’ve heard many listserv users who wish they could meet other folks to discuss topics or simply to thank them.
The community site also brings an ideas area. This area allows Blackboard staff to post ideas (in the future all registered users will be able to post ideas and issues) and have users give feedback and vote on what should be improved or changed. For many, this is a rebirth of the Blackboard Bug Squad, which reviewed issues or enhancements for upcoming releases and allowed members to vote them up or down. This tool once again brings back portions of a program many clients have missed.
The most impressive tool for me within the new site is the discussion board. You may wonder why such a simple, widely used tool could be the best tool in this collaborative software package. Well I’ll try to explain.
The discussion boards in the new site are broken down into two parts. First you can use the Search and Ask feature. The search tool will look for any previous questions, documents, blog posts, and any other content within the site. Below is an example of the results for an assessments search. Notice that the results appear live on the page.
If none of these results answer your question simply click on the Ask button and present your question to the users of the community. While writing the question, you can mention other users who might offer opinions on the subject or content on the site that might connect to your post. You can also tag your discussion to make it easy to find using the search feature. These tools also appear when replying to questions or discussions too along with marking questions or discussion topics as answered, liked, or share that you have the same question with a simple click. Users can also follow each discussion that he or she finds interest in.
The coolest part of this tool is that any discussion you follow will send replies to your email. But you can reply to that email and that information will be posted into the discussion and it doesn’t look too bad when I did it in a discussion board shown below. This expands what listservs only can do in email. It allows users to use either email or the web to connect and communicate with others.
There is a lot more I could say about the new community site. Including items such as a mobile application and plans to bring the ability to search multiple Blackboard sites from one single search tool. It also still has other areas to develop such as user groups, faculty, and student resources as well. However while I have many positive things to say, there seems to be only one thing that I believe will stop the success of the site. That is the entire Blackboard community, both employees and clients, have to join and participate. Without both sides coming together, the community site just won’t be as successful. Feel free to join the site at http://blackboard.jiveon.com/ or after August 19th use the new URL, http://community.blackboard.com/
The Blackboard Guru