This week at Blackboard World, Blackboard introduced it’s new major mobile application, Blackboard Instructor. This comes as many LMS companies have either developed mobile friendly versions of their application or published their own mobile applications. In 2015, I reviewed the Blackboard Student app (now simply called Blackboard) which you can see here. Since that time Blackboard had worked to develop that app and enhance it. (Add opinion here).
Iterations of the Blackboard Instructor app
Let’s take a brief stroll down mobile strategy of Blackboard. Blackboard originally started with the Blackboard Mobile Learn app. A lackluster wade into the mobile world at best, It was an answer to the growing usage of mobile devices in the classroom. The app had an annual fee for using it. Sometimes this cost was passed along to the student, but many times Blackboard worked to sell it to schools. At the end of August, Blackboard will remove the Mobile Learn app from the Apple and Google Play stores. Mostly because of the two new apps, Blackboard and Blackboard Instructor; but also due to the ending support of 32-bit apps with iOS 11.
Bb Grader was another mobile app that really, in this writer’s opinion, never got the shot at the big time that Mobile Learn did. It was only released for the iPad and really did a good job of working with Blackboard’s integration of the Crocdoc cloud document service (recently announced that it was sun setting in 2018). Instructors could provide student audio and video feedback which met many instructor’s needs. Sadly, the app never made it to the Android side of the market and I’m not sure why. While Apple iPads have sold well, Android based tablet devices were making big market gains. Another place where Blackboard maybe didn’t think forward enough.
Lessons Learned… Well Maybe
I’m going to skip the discussion of the Blackboard app (aka Blackboard Student) and let’s focus on the new Blackboard Instructor application. If you’ve played with the Blackboard app, you will recognize the user interface remains the same. You’ll search for your institution and then put in your username and password. Then you get a quick guide into how the app works. Simple enough and again, similar to that of the Blackboard app for students. Instructor breaks down the course structure to courses that are currently available and courses that are from previous terms (that is if you use the term feature).
When in a course, you see a simple set of information. Currently the course only lists Due Dates, Course Materials which includes Announcements Course Contents, and Discussions. According to Blackboard Instructor’s product manager, Dan Loury, they plan to rollout the grading feature in the 2nd half of 2017. When you tap on the Course Contents option in the menu, you will see any items or subfolders within that content area. This move continues to show the user interface the user expects. However in the image below, you can see that clicking (or tapping) on a link or item sends the user to the Blackboard web application and doesn’t display the content within the app. This quickly takes the user out of the “magic” of the app, and lifts the curtain for us to see a possible rough classic interface our college uses.
The one wow feature is how well the Blackboard Instructor app integrates with the voice recognition software developed within mobile devices. Now you can simply use speech to text and create discussion boards or announcements. This really is a great functionality of the application and is one major reason I’m not going to remove it from my phone or tablet anytime soon. The app also completely supports the new Blackboard Collaborate Ultra with almost full functionality to the instructor including white board and recording capabilities. Mark this as a major gain for instructors who need to use mobile devices to meet with students or lead a class session on the go.
Immediately the Blackboard Community started to comment after demonstrations and release of Blackboard Instructor. Some in the community stated that the inability to grade student work with the initial release of the app was a major letdown. Especially when Blackboard has demonstrated an understanding of how to create a great app (Bb Grader).
Another concern from the Blackboard Community is the lack of parity with what instructor’s and student could do in the Blackboard Mobile Learn app. With it’s retirement, some functionality will not be available to instructors until the Blackboard Instructor app gets on it’s feet. Maybe it was just a push to announce the product at the company’s annual conference in New Orleans or Apple’s 32-bit drop.
The Blackboard Instructor app gains major points for allowing instructors to communicate with students, but lacks the full functionality the community expects from an instructor application. Blackboard continues to promise grading will be coming soon, but will the lack of that major feature cause it to fall flat? Only time will tell, but in my opinion I will keep the app on my devices, use it to communicate with my students and wait with baited breath and count the days until I see an updated version.