Too much structure on the internet?

OK, the title’s a little misleading, but I spent the last two days in Blackboard Learn/9.1 Bootcamp and I am not impressed. The training itself was fine, with requisite high and low points, but when I think about the tool, I shudder.

It’s simultaneously constraining and open ended which essentially guarantees a crippled product. The open ended means folks building a course will not build one that looks or acts like their colleagues. For the individual, this is fine, but it creates a huge problem for the institution. The thoughtful institutions sees this as a problem for students when they expect an normed experience similar to what they find in a physical classroom. Trying to enforce an institutional template will chafe at “academic freedom” notions.

Too constraining because they’ve commercialized the hosted version with ads and enhanced ties to specific online service partners (Slideshare, YouTube, etc.) that force developers to limit the functionality of internal modules — I get a thumbnail when I link to a resource through the “partner” tools, but when I use the Blackboard add URL tool to link the exact same resource, I get no visual preview of the content. Facebook, if nothing else, has lead us to expect a thumbnail preview whenever we link a URL.

Speaking of Facebook, there is a Facebook App that purports to synch content between the platforms. The student ratings are overwhelmingly one star, so It doesn’t look like they’re too serious about opening up.

When learners can readily have their needs met in venues like Wikipedia, Instructables, YouTube, and hundreds of similar sites,  Blackboard runs a great risk in offering such a mediocre product. This is especially true when viable alternatives like Moodle and Sakai are available as free, open source tools that accomplish similar goals.

Oh well, at least I can add a new skill to my resume…