I have just finished making my flight and hotel reservations for Blackboard World 2014. I finalized theseÂ plans with a somewhat troubledÂ heart, loatheÂ toÂ participate in an event that to me is a frenzied celebration of the commercialization of education, Â couched as a probing, open, academic conference. Let me just come right out and say it: BlackboardÂ®, Inc. is an easy company to hate. Once an inferior product withÂ a sizableÂ market share,Â Blackboard went on a buying spree, gobbling up smaller web service companies and absorbing them into their product ecosystem. Angel integrated with Learn. Elluminate and Wimba became Blackboard Collaborate. TerribyClever Design became the platform for Blackboard Mobile. iStrategy became Analytics. Presidium was transformed intoÂ Blackboard Student Services. Moodlerooms. The list goes on.
Over the past year, BlackboardÂ has been civilizingÂ the Frankenstein monster they’ve created from the spare parts of other companies, trying to build anÂ integrated product lineÂ that can compete with some of the new upstartÂ in the LMS market, notably Instructure’s Canvas. I’ve generally liked the direction Blackboard is headed, and how much more responsive they have been to both customer and user feedback. But, like all LMSs, no matter howÂ good Blackboard is or becomes, it will still beÂ a problem disguised as a solution. More on that later.
The VCCS is a big customer of Blackboard, Inc., and part of my job is to overseeÂ our LMS, Blackboard Learn, including xpLor, and Blackboard Collaborate. Â It makes sense that I should go despite howÂ uncomfortable I feel about attending. Appropriately, the conferenceÂ is being held in Las Vegas, the City of Mammon, which only adds to my sense of loathing (to reference Hunter S. Thompson). AnyÂ fascination I hadÂ forÂ Vegas has long worn off. Regardless, the die has been cast. It’s Vegas or bust. I have been to Bb World once before, in New Orleans in 2012. I Â spent most of the conference agog at the sheer monumental size ofÂ everything:Â Â from the clamoring hordes of badgedÂ participants to the soaring spaces of the Â Convention Center that seemed to stretch on for miles.Â I felt I wasÂ strolling throughÂ a gigantic product placement. For 2014, I have been invited to beÂ on a panel titledÂ Instructional Content & the LMS in which the moderator, a Bb employee, offersÂ aÂ rather vagueÂ description of the session: “The LMS has transformed education. It has brought traditional teaching online and has enabled a level of experience in education that was not previously possible.” You could read this in a number of ways, depending on how you define traditional teaching and level of experience.
I will use this blogÂ to reflect on my experiences at the conference, and report on any notable announcements that Blackboard inevitably makes at these events. Until then, what are your thoughts about the various products Blackboard offers? About the LMS in general? Have you been to Bb World before? Was it a valuable experience?