I’m taking part in the BlackBoard Learn 9.1 pilot in Spring semester 2011 at Ferris. This is the system we are considering upgrading to, what some people are calling FerrisConnect 2. The information about this pilot is posted by the FerrisConnect Advisory Board here:
Basically, the idea is that we’re trying Bb Learn 9.1 first and if there are no major troubles, we will begin transitioning soon. Our current product will be no longer supported after 2013.
My goal with these posts will be to record my impressions during the pilot to share with the campus community. Being a writing teacher I have my own biases about what a course management system needs to do, so bear in mind these are just one person’s impression. I also use Ubuntu Linux as my operating system on my personal computer, so compatibility is a concern for me, although I use WindowsXP on my office machine. I’ll try not to post anything that’s factually incorrect, but will post corrections if I do.
So far, I’ve only spent a couple of hours with the new system in training mode on BlackBoard’s own servers. We’re in sandbox mode now, just playing, so nothing is integrated yet with our system. I’ve watched the first training video and played around with some things. A quick screen shot:
Here are some things I am excited about:
First, there is no more separate Build and Teach tabs, just a simple Edit Mode on/off switch in the top right. I don’t know yet how this affects grading or anything, but the Off setting shows the student view.
Second, the course menu is highly flexible. Instead of just the tools living in the course menu as in FerrisConnect, you can add the equivalent of FerrisConnect content links there. You’re not bound to the home page as the point of entry into the course.
I am also really excited about the new Wiki tool. I do collaborative writing projects in the course I’m going to pilot next semester (Literature 286: Justice in Literature), and you can put students into groups and track their individual contributions to the group Wiki.
Another thing I really like is the Visual Editor mode. It is similar to the HTML Creator in FerrisConnect in that it has word processor-style buttons for editing text, but it is different from FerrisConnect in that it actually works. (It never seems to finish loading on the machines I use). You can easily incorporate files and images into pages online and even YouTube videos via a “mashups” button.
Overall, so far everything seems pretty intuitive to me. There are key differences in the interface between this and FerrisConnect. I usually adapt to changes quickly, though (except I still have trouble finding things in Word 2007), and I’ve had fun playing with the new system.
Here are some things I am less excited about:
One key loss in this new system is Grading Forms. I knew this going in (it’s mentioned as “Rubrics” on page 4 of this report as a loss), but it is a big loss for me personally. I teach writing courses, some of them completely online, and I use Grading Forms to grade papers and discussion participation. I don’t know yet if there is some sort of workaround. (Note: according to Mary Holmes, this feature will be added to Bb 9.1 next summer!)
The look of the courses seems to be a standardized corporate gray color. So far, I’ve found that I can only customize the color of the course menu, which I have. That may not be all bad; I’ve seen lots of offending color combinations in courses (contrast, people!) and the new course panes use a white background which I’m fond of (as you can tell by my blog). I imported my LITR 286 banner and it kind of clashes with the existing colors. This could be an administrative option to allow or disallow customization, so I’m not 100% sure of this as an issue yet.
Wrapping up . . .
I’m excited to play with this new toy so far. I’ll post impressions periodically and cross-link the new posts to Facebook. We’re having training sessions and development sessions over break, so I will post frequently prior to the new semester. Feel free to email me any questions.