Thursday, 2 July 2009

Bb 9 Upgrade Notes (LSBU)

Last Friday, my colleague Robyn and I went to the University of Westminster for the London BbUG (Blackboard Users' Group). It was, as usual, a nice way of catching up with friends and colleagues in other institutions and a healthy outlet for our frustrations with, ahem, certain bits of software. We also got to see a couple of presentations - one of which was given by three people from London South Bank University (LSBU).

LSBU recently upgraded to version 9 of Blackboard and it was very interesting to hear about the issues they had and were, in some cases, still experiencing.

They have a large and diverse student body; 23,500 students, half of whom are of ethnic minority. The decision to upgrade came apparently from their Vice Chancellor, and was related to recognition of the need for a student portal. Coming from the top down as it did, the upgrade was thoroughly planned; Jim Nottingham gave a glimpse of their schedule as laid out in a finely-detailed spreadsheet. This tight schedule was crucial for them, I gather, as use of the VLE continued heavily through the summer months and they were upgrading from version 7.2 (which e-portfolio users will remember had some pretty dire bugs).

Sarah Bell, who's on the e-learning team there, listed some of the bugs they are now encountering in the upgraded software, among which were (from my scribbled notes):
  • Problems with course copying (something to do with admin settings and existing courses)
  • Language pack issues
  • Availability of courses for the TA role
  • Issues with announcements
  • Ample time to make cup of tea while waiting for Grade Center to load
  • File exchange issues
  • Problems with lists and re-ordering items in courses
  • Changing colour of item titles
  • Browsing received e-portfolios still limited
I wasn't really surprised by the last of those points. The interface may've changed but the functionality of the e-portfolios is much the same. In fact, that's one of the main reasons we at Reading have decided not to opt for the upgrade this summer. The biggest challenge we imagined facing, before we even hit any bugs, would be re-training staff in the new Web 2.0 "look-and-feel" with its lack of control panel, etc. The new interfaces are better, and kudos to Blackboard for finally trying to catch up with the kids, but they do leave staff who are used to clunky workarounds and web-based forms with receipts in need of some support, guidance, and general TLC.

If you see this as a problem (which we did, in terms of resourcing) then it's one more to the list, as Version 9 doesn't actually have enough change in functionality to solve any of our existing problems! Ergo, automatically, the cons outweigh the pros.

I did speak to a few of people from Blackboard at the Bb World Europe conference this year about their plans for e-portfolios. All they could tell me was that big things were on the way (which, in retrospect, sounds kind of ominous). I have not-so-secretly been hoping that they don't change e-portfolios too much as we've adjusted to the pitfalls and built our enhanced iLearn features on the back of it. If they do, it would be nice just to include some extra functions that don't interfere with the current operations (like they did with the Received Portfolios organisation): things like an ability to import e-portfolios back into Blackboard, an option to give 'write' permissions to others and an improved WYSIWYG text-editor (like the LX one). Simple additions like that would go a long way to improving the tool, whether the interface is 'clunky' or not.

The same probably goes for the rest of Blackboard - which might explain why, with the exception of LSBU and one other person I spoke to, no-one else at the Users Group is going ahead with an upgrade this year.

1 comment:

Ian said...

Hi there,

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, but as a new user to BB I am unclear what an "e-portfolio" is. Could you elaborate a bit for we newbies?

Ian McKay
Qatar University