Higher Education Needs a Tech Makeover

Higher Education Needs a Tech Makeover

Blackboard Inc, an online learning software provider, would have failed its semester at Arizona State University had it been graded on the number of outages it tallied this fall.

The largest public university in the U.S. recorded 66 blackouts from May to December 2010, compared to zero in most of the previous academic year, creating a range of workflow hiccups on both administrative and student fronts.

So common were the mishaps that students began using it as an alibi for not submitting assignments or completing exams, my ASU colleagues sheepishly disclosed over dinner last week. And it worked every single time.

While school officials tried to figure out what or who was at fault, students resorted to submitting assignments either by hand or e-mail. Heck of an inconvenience, right? Not so much. In fact, it’s so much easier to shoot an e-mail than uploading it to Blackboard.

The learning management system (LMS), which mainly sells to U.S. universities, is time-consuming and elaborate. It seems archaic compared to other technology I used throughout my college years to better tackle my studies, such as Google Docs or WordPress.

The instructors who figured out that Blackboard is old school recommend such services themselves. They created a blog for the class to post assignments and participate in scholarly conversation, or required assignments to be submitted via Google Docs for collaborative editing or grading.

This raises the question: does the cost of Blackboard – or any other LMS for that matter –outweigh its benefits?

At nearly $2 million a year, Blackboard does have its perks: instant access (when functional) to a syllabus, the ability to send e-mails (when functional) to classmates and professors, and of course, the pleasure of viewing your grades (if updated by instructors, and, when functional) throughout the semester.

As Joshua Kim for Inisde Higher Ed puts it, Google should have bought Blackboard instead of Groupon. It makes sense. ASU already uses Google for its e-mail services – it would create for seamless integration, bringing an added service to where a student is already spending a lot of their time (checking e-mail).

In an ideal world, schoolwork would by synced with Google. A student could view upcoming assignments on their calendar and simply click on a link that would get them on their way to completing it. Or, it’d be synced with Facebook in a similar manner. Inigral, Inc is already trying something of the sort, though its goal is more aimed towards student engagement rather than learning and coursework management.

This, of course, is thinking that’s too far outside the box for higher education institutes. Why change something that has been in place for more than a decade? Doing away with Blackboard and reinstating a new system at a university with a 70,000plus student body would prove difficult. But perhaps it’s time to attempt a new course – and a better letter grade.

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