Why HigherEd is rejecting Blackboard …

I have to write this post.

Even though I personally have the best of experiences with many individuals at Blackboard. In fact, I'll list them. These people are the best. Dedicated. Fun. Service-oriented. Conscientious and knowledgeable. John Fontaine. Debi Himelfarb. John Porter. Matt Brady. Justin Beck. Sahar Javadi. Joel Diamant-Helpern. Sherryl Meads. A 1st line support guy named Andy in the Netherlands. Kathy Vieira. Lara Oerter.

Not so much Michael Chasen. (Sorry, Michael, if you're reading this. You could publically respond to Desire2Live, that might help…).

Events and contacts and news reports over the past 2 years, since Notre Dame did its last course management system evaluation, have made this Blackboard ..hm, not a fan exactly (that would imply I've drunk the koolaid), but Blackboard friend*, into a voice marginalized here at Notre Dame. Now my colleagues, when they refer to our next course management evaluation, the first word on their tongues, is -you know what it is- Sakai. Our last course management eval didn't give us reason to chant a sakai (or any other) mantra.

In the user group, VistaSWAT, I hang out with, other institution admins don't tolerate it well if you say too many nice things all in a row about Blackboard. They used to. And they had helpful stories as well.

Even the non-Vista clients are murmuring.

Here's what I think it's about based on the word on the street.

  • Higher education is about collaboration and service to the community at large. Although Blackboard is going green and making volunteering opportunities available at its coming conference, this is seen as too little too late in light of their belligerence towards competitors (who are seen as David facing Goliath).
  • Blackboard doesn't seem to 'trade in' good will, but in cold hard cash. At least if you look at their business model which is migrating away from SIS-integration out-of-the-box and towards customized service engagements (ie new revenue stream), ostensibly to give institutions better SIS-CMS integrations. But this is not generally being seen this way. Maybe this is also because feature requests are also service engagements for customizations, but each customization then gets to be charged any number of times to any number of institutions instead of being adopted into the code base. (Perhaps clients just aren't aware of how many times this DOES happen?)
  • Mixed messaging depending on who you talk to. There's a Product Development Program recruiting customer input. And there's another program called Blackboard Idea Exchange (BIE). Both programs send out email messages inviting participation, but the hurdles to participation (non-disclosure agreements, timing in the semester, # of participants they can manage) are beyond some of us, especially those who need to recruit faculty to engage. In addition, because of NDAs, it's a black hole into which some lucky ones send feedback and the rest of us see little result.
  • Recent efforts by Blackboard at transparency and collaboration have been cynically written off as mongering for media attention riding the open source and Web 2.0 bells and whistles craze. (Integrations with Facebook, with mobile devices, come to mind). The integrations higher education collectively lives and dies by: library, content interoperability, publisher's electronic resources (especially in math and sciences) and student information systems, are just too boring I guess.

Maybe the man on the street paved with blackboard is just uninformed. Or suffering from bad perspective. If you were Blackboard, what would you do to win higher ed's affection?

*     "friend" – one who tells the truth for your own good no matter how much it's gonna hurt.

3 thoughts on “Why HigherEd is rejecting Blackboard …

  1. I’m not sure whether Blackboard’s strategic goal is to compete with Sungard et al or to be bought by Oracle, but I’m pretty sure whatever it is isn’t in our best interest.
    Maybe I’m wrong on the first part. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong on the second.

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