Blackboard is not Gorges

I have to admit that even though I had repeatedly heard complaints about Blackboard, I did not know what these complaints were really about.  As an undergrad, Blackboard was easy enough to navigate and allowed me access to course documents, which I often misplaced in piles of other papers.  As an instructor, Blackboard lets me communicate with the entire class at once in the form of emails or announcements and lets me share documents pretty effortlessly.  Aside from the site being down on occasion (but not so frequently to be a real nuisance), I did not see what the problem with Blackboard was. What I didn’t realize was that Blackboard is an expensive piece of software that is being bankrolled by CUNY money that could be better spent on other technologies.

I’m currently teaching at Hostos Community College in the Bronx.  The classrooms do not have anything but a chalkboard in them (they don’t even have chalk!).  I would like to show students video clips but in order to do so,  I need to sign out a COW (Computer on Wheels).  The problem is that there are few COWs to go around.  Knowing that the money spent on expensive software, which could be replaced with free and cheap software, could be used on projectors and computers for each classroom is infuriating.  So, yeah, now I get the Blackboard hate.  What I don’t understand is why administrators would continue wasting this money.  Is it ignorance?  Is it just the safety of sticking with the known?

Gold & Otte

One of my possible project ideas is to use some form of social networking site in which students and I could share musings on course topics, as well as any other more informal posts.  Part of what appeals to me about it is the possible re-formation of hierarchical relations — professors are people too, and the more students see that, the higher the likelihood for honest interaction (???).  However, I have to admit that there is something about this blurring of boundaries that is quite scary.  In the Academic Commons, members are much closer to being colleagues — even when interactions are between professors and graduate students — than in a social network encompassing undergrads and their professor.  Perhaps tapping into the same collaborative spirit that helped the Commons thrive would neutralize the possible pitfalls of social networking with students.  What I mean is that maybe instead of it seeming “inappropriate,” it could be seen as a project that we are all creating as a cohesive group.  To be continued…

4 thoughts on “Blackboard is not Gorges

  1. Silvana Ramos Post author

    @Pamela – I have to concede that maybe it’s something to do with me and my demeanor, but I do have students bring up personal topics in class and after class. Maybe because I’m teaching psychology?
    I don’t necessarily discourage it because sometimes personal examples make psychological concepts and theories more memorable. However, in a social networking site designed for the class, I could see this being an even bigger issue. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe it would build community. Don’t know.

    @Kelly – I’ve also taught at City College. Although you had to bring your own laptop (or borrow one), you could connect it to the projector easily enough. When I say COW, I mean an actual computer on a cart that you have to request and hopefully get. So, Blackboard costing so much $ is wasteful and irresponsible. As I’m typing this, another adjunct at Hostos CC is complaining about the college not having scantron sheets for us to use because they are too expensive.

    @Maura – I can see how having a CUNY wide system would be beneficial. It’s just a shame that it eats up resources that could be used on other things.

    I’m also not necessarily against the blurring of the lines, but I can see it being a bit of a slippery slope.

  2. Maura A. Smale (she/her)

    Silvana, to try and answer your question about Blackboard — I believe that one of the reasons that the university went with a single, enterprise learning management system for all of the colleges was to attempt to address the resource gap. From what I’ve heard (and I only got to CUNY in 2008 so this was before my time, I think), before Blackboard some colleges had LMSs (or multiple systems) and others didn’t. Now at least everyone has Blackboard, though as Kelly’s comment highlights there are, of course, still differences. Blogs@Baruch was created through a center at the college, City Tech’s OpenLab got its start with grant funding.

    Deinvesting in Blackboard could change that, though I also think that one of the reasons that the university went with a large external contractor is their assurances that they’ll comply with FERPA and protect student privacy, which is not necessarily out of the box with open source options. On the other hand, Blackboard is expensive, and with those funds presumably developers could be hired to build whatever the university wanted.

    We’ll have the opportunity to talk with the Commons team this week and the City Tech OpenLab team in a few weeks about the issues around “blurring the boundaries” between students and faculty. I think it’s tricky but ultimately I’m very much in favor of it, though my perception has been that it’s easier for grad students/faculty than for undergrads/faculty (at least based on our experiences at City Tech).

  3. Kelly Aronowitz


    Yes, it is useful for massive emails and to post docs, but that is it… and it is quite wasteful…

    I teach at Baruch and I am REALLY happy to say I have a smart classroom, a huge privilege I never had in my previous teaching experiences (including CCNY where there were COWS too, but you had to apply for them a week in advance with paperwork and then take them all around campus, which ended up being too much hassle…)

    Having useful software tools changes the experience in the classroom. I am working with Blogs at Baruch, which is similar to our commons and powered by wordpress. I post documents and all kinds of media that will help my students and their posts are part of the on going in class conversation.

    Now the article should continue with #Ihatecunyfirst as a continuation… shouldn’t it?

  4. Pamela Thielman (she/her)

    I can see what you are saying about the possible blurring of boundaries when social media forms get imported into online learning areas, but I wonder if the natural checks that exist in person wouldn’t materialize there as well. On the whole, I feel like most students don’t bring up NSFW (or NSFS, as the case may be) topics in my classroom even in the social time before and after class. They don’t want me to know about their personal lives any more than I want them to know about mine, and everyone behaves accordingly even when we meet in hallways or on the train. Social space, even online social space, is defined by its occupants/participants so I think that social networking in an academic context probably can encourage collaboration and less hierarchical thinking without veering off into uncomfortable territory.

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