BlackBoard: Innovate, Educate, Litigate

Picture 2

One thing that has stuck with me in my quest to bury BlackBoard over the last four years has been just how shamelessly BlackBoard’s PR message is so hypocritical when looked against their baseless legal aggression against their competitors. I think far too many organizations and institutions have given them far too much leeway, and they still gobble up all competition and then, as Mike Caulfield points out so brilliantly here, “innovate” by selling us back what is already ours.

Here’s a pull quote from the announcement of Bb and NBC Learn’s new partnership:

Blackboard is providing academic users with access to historical multimedia resources from NBC Learn. The two companies today announced that that they’ve inked a deal to make historical and current events materials from NBC News accessible within the Blackboard Learn platform.

Let me just pause over the first line for a second, “Blackboard is providing academic users with access to historical multimedia resources,” really? Is BlackBoard behind the explosion of resources on the open web? Were they the one’s behind YouTube after all? What does this merger mean? I can’t imagine anything more irrelevant in terms of “gaining access” to these resources, they are already available, and deals like this just make it more attractive to lock resources from NBC that should already be publicly accessible behind a fabricated paywall currently known as the LMS. and Mike’s final point in his point brings the whole thing home:

The last gasp of the LMS will be to convince schools that a contract with Blackboard (or Epsilen, a NYT LMS offering) allows their students to use work they are legally entitled to use anyway. I can’t really think of anything more disturbing, or more telling.

Exactly, the model now is take advantage of the major media corporations attempt (no surprise here that NBC Learn is part of NBC Universal—you think they’ll be providing film and music clips as well?) to spread propaganda about copyright, criminality, and the utter absence of any discussion around fair use to pretend that Bb is “providing academic users with access to historical multimedia resources.” In many ways we cannot, nor should we , separate out the push for a kind of psychological warfare to maintain control over a radically changed market—whether it be music, film, or even the comparatively small and paltry LMSs—so that they can charge an arm and a leg for services and resources we can get for far cheaper, if not nothing, in the open web. It appalls me that institutions constantly return to arguments of convenience, simplicity, integration, single sign-on, etc., miss the boat entirely—what BlackBoard is about is relentlessly reviving a model that is moribund, but not through innovation and radical new possibilities for learning, but through a disingenuous sense of providing access, when all they are really after is taking what was already open and locking it behind a proprietary pay wall. It’s time we all started working earnestly to tear it down, once and for all.

This entry was posted in experimenting and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to BlackBoard: Innovate, Educate, Litigate

  1. Hey Jim,

    I think you might be reading too much into what is essentially nothing more than a marketing document. You are correct that the NBC archives are also available from NBC independently of Blackboard. You are also correct that under fair use some of this material may also be available through other conduits such as a library or even directly from YouTube or nbcnews.com. What Blackboard is offering is a way to make it easier for teachers to find and embed multimedia content into their courses and get this material in front of students. Curious why such a negative response if all Blackboard is doing is providing a conduit to make this process easier. They are not forcing clients to use this content, nor are they preventing an institution from embedding the same materials acquired through an institution’s library for instance.

    Have you checked out Blackboard’s developer web site lately, http://www.edugarage.com? Blackboard has been making significant platform commitments to extensibility and standards compliance. These open up new possibilities of what is possible with teaching and learning online while still respecting various privacy and student rights laws, regulations, and policies that exist in various forms around the world. It is an institution’s responsibility to follow these, and this is an area in which Web 2.0 currently struggles (not saying this will always be the case). This, I believe, is one significant reason why you perceive Blackboard’s offering to behave like a locked wall.

    It is entirely possible to configure Blackboard’s learning platform to be “less walled-in” by tuning the out-of-the-box settings which by default are in line with the policies most commonly seen at academic institutions. In my experience, institutions traditionally follow a conservative approach to adhering to the above-mentioned policies.

    Additional needs that are not fully met with the functionality of the core product are usually made possible via any of hundreds of third-party solutions (some free, some for fee) that plug into Blackboard. Some of these plugins allow instructors to facilitate activities both “inside” the LMS and also in external-facing platforms (eg: MediaWiki, Movable Type, Confluence, WordPress, Google Apps, Live@Edu, ELGG, etc). In addition, some provide the ability to find and incorporate content from other sources into online courses (eg: del.icio.us, iTunesU, MERLOT). This approach gives individual institutions the ability to make these very useful capabilities available for use on their own terms. http://www.blackboardextensions.com has more information.

    Personally, thinking back to my experience as a student, I preferred to have course content delivered to me in a centralized, contextualized manner as provided by my school’s LMS. There have been several pieces in student newspapers recently that agree – among them George Washington University (http://media.www.gwhatchet.com/media/storage/paper332/news/2009/09/28/Opinions/Matt-Ingoglia.Make.Blackboard.Mandatory-3785473.shtml), Rhode Island College (http://www.anchorweb.org/opinions/blackboard-in-and-out-of-every-classroom-1.1941364), and University of South Carolina (http://www.dailygamecock.com/viewpoints/single-forum-needed-for-course-updates-1.526592). With this said, I also understand the need for institutions to ensure that information literacy is imparted as as lifelong skill, particularly the skill set of using and participating in Web 2.0 effectively.

    I’d also check our Blackboard’s Exemplary Course Program site (http://kb.blackboard.com/display/EXEMPLARY/Exemplary+Course+Program). Many of these courses make use of Web 2.0 content and approaches that combined with the capabilities of Blackboard have been tremendously successful. Not everyone can take the edupunk approach on their own, and I certainly respect where edupunk is coming from. Your efforts are important to moving us all forward. My personal thought, though, is that an LMS can be the toolbox instructors need to be successful when otherwise they would be less so.

  2. Ed Webb says:

    Jim Groom is a beautiful human being.

  3. Jeff says:

    Hey Jim,

    Good post. I agree with your observation of the Bb business model. It’s one of the first things, and most disturbing, things that jumped out at me when I needed to start paying attention to them after their acquisition of ANGEL. It seems their goal is to position themselves as the gatekeeper to resources and information.

    Jeff

  4. Ben says:

    I second George’s comments.

    YouTube didn’t invent internet video; it just made it easy to access (searchable, and embeddable), and fun (comments and ratings).

    Blackboard is simply touting that they’re trying to offer something in a more convenient way, whether or not it plays out that way you’ll have to see.

    Now, we can hate on Blackboard for other reasons (frivolous lawsuits, etc.), but don’t miss the big picture in that PAYING for how content is delivered has ALWAYS been in fashion, no matter the medium.

  5. Jared Stein says:

    As much as Bb deserves criticism and scrutiny every step of the way based on their past behavior, I do have to conclude that this attempt to add “value” to the Bb product is not that big of a deal. The important piece to me is in the last bit of the sentence you pulled out: “…from NBC Learn”. NBC already owns this IP. It’s already locked up. They already require the public to pay for it through subscriptions. To me this is not so much an example of Bb being nefarious, just unimaginative (and, perhaps, frustrating to folks who are looking to encourage more open solutions).

    Now, if one wants to argue about whether or not NBC should be locking this stuff up…

  6. Luke says:

    @George: 3 out of your final 4 links are 404s. Are we supposed to read anything into that?

    I appreciate the conciliatory tone, and that you, as a Bb guy, are hip to the Bava… but “MediaWiki, Movable Type, Confluence, WordPress, Google Apps, Live@Edu, ELGG, etc,” “3rd party” software? Who exactly is the “first party” in this scenario? What are the implications of such an implied structure?

    This paragraph:

    Have you checked out Blackboard’s developer web site lately, http://www.edugarage.com? Blackboard has been making significant platform commitments to extensibility and standards compliance. These open up new possibilities of what is possible with teaching and learning online while still respecting various privacy and student rights laws, regulations, and policies that exist in various forms around the world. It is an institution’s responsibility to follow these, and this is an area in which Web 2.0 currently struggles (not saying this will always be the case). This, I believe, is one significant reason why you perceive Blackboard’s offering to behave like a locked wall.

    Awesome… but name one “possibility of what is possible” that this development site has “opened up” that hasn’t been opened up already without BlackBoard?

    Ultimately, I’ll tell you what… if BlackBoard cuts its price by about 90% and ceases gouging our institutions and sucking up the intellectual air in unimaginative IT departments, then I’d feel comfortable listening to its engineers having “edupunk” all up in their mouths. Until then, it’s all blah blah blabbidy blah.

  7. Mikhail says:

    We all know Bb makes an over-priced, deeply flawed product whose supremacy it pursues shamelessly and ruthlessly, regardless of consequence. So let’s just accept that and move on to something more interesting. Like Peckinpah.

  8. Joe Fahs says:

    I have provided instructional and technical support for ANGEL at Elmira College since 2004. There are advantages to a CMS – guided learning, especially for freshmen and sophomores, and addressing copyright and privacy issues that open web sites may not always be able to provide.

    But there are downsides including its inherent design as an instructor centric management system. ANGEL, Blackboard, and other CMS’s have been slow to provide simple and low-cost tools such as RSS feeds and widgets to mash content created and co-created by students through open sites such as blogs and wikis. I cannot tell you the number of unhappy customers who left Blackboard and converted to ANGEL because of high annual licensing costs, poor support, and unmanageable upgrades.

    Although Blackboard is apparently making efforts to open its system to social media sites, I am concerned that its LATE focus on litigation, acquisition, technology, and expansion will result in a behemoth CMS that becomes even more difficult to upgrade and support. There is little mention of simplicity, affordability, and engagement where students add value. Given Blackboard’s investment in LATE and its support for multiple server operating and database enterprise systems, for goodness sake how can the company possibly provide an affordable, long-term solution?

  9. Pingback: You are your own VLE | Blog Nodos Ele

  10. Pingback: Corporatization of higher education – a BlackBoard or a WhiteWall? | Nihili est

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *