You might have missed the announcement from Blackboard a few weeks ago, which was overshadowed by Blackboard’s other announcement. Two new Software as a Service (SaaS) LMS offerings are finally available, six months after they were promised. The new offerings–Blackboard SaaS Plus and SaaS Advantage–join the already available Saas Standard, released at Blackboard World last July. Here is a description of these new […]
A few posts backÂ I promised to share my open-minded and objective thoughts on Blackboard World 2014, now currently underway in Las Vegas. From the beginning thisÂ trip has been fraught with technical glitches and outright screw ups. Â Due to a hung authorization page, my hotel’s website booked 5 hotel rooms for me instead of one (charging a $100 deposit to my credit card for each). I had planned to take a redeye on my return flight but booked it for the wrong day, necessitating a change and its accompanying fee. There was something else, but I’ve blocked it out. Finally, withÂ all my travel difficultiesÂ smoothed out and my boarding passes snugÂ in the digital ether of my smartphone, I showed up early at the airport for my flight.
That was yesterday. I am still in Richmond, VA. My reflections on the conference are going toÂ be fairly brief.
Long story short: after two canceled flights, a full day waiting at the airport, and a flight rescheduled for the next day (today), the time I was going to be able toÂ spend in VegasÂ becameÂ extremely brief as I had already scheduledÂ a short trip. The airline offered me a refund. TheÂ hotel returned my deposit. I emailed my apologies to the various people who were expecting to be at the conference. I’d say I broke even.
There’s always next year.
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?
Instructure, the company that makes the Canvas LMS, has just announced the Innovation in Education grant, offering a total ofÂ $100k in grants to Â spur innovation in education. Five innovative higher ed proposals (five for K12, as well) will be selected by Canvas to receive $10K in grant money. Submission topics may include (but are not limited to):
- Facilitating competency-based learning
- Engaging students through academic career
- Blending online and face-to-face courses
- New models of content and curriculum development and sharing
- Applying universal design to online learning
Winners will be announced at SXSWedu in March 2014. To apply go toÂ http://www.instructure.com/canvasgrants/