Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Irritated Isis Sends a Note to Blackboard.

Dear Blackboard,

I've used you for years as a file server and never had much complaint. Sure, it was ridiculous that I couldn't move a group of files at once, but this could be seen as quaint and old fashioned. This year I am forced to use your gradebook. I hate you with the heat of a thousand suns.

Why the sudden change of heart? Say I wish to download the collected grades of all 70 of my students. Why, for the love of all that is holy, would you cheerfully present me with five lines of text per student that will print on separate pages?!? Have you never heard of a spreadsheet? Oh, you have? Can I get one? Oh there it is, under “work offline.”

Let me make this clear. I want to download a file. From your servers. Via the internet. Why the flying fuck would I click on a menu labeled work offline?!? Christ Almighty! Do your part to end the fucking recession and hire some fucking interface designers!

-Irritated Isis


  1. Thank you, Isis, for telling me how to do what I spent a long time on Monday trying to figure out -- unsuccessfully. Maybe I'll try again since you explained what the BB site couldn't.

  2. Blackboard, the scourge of academia. A great example of a product that gets worse with each release and still manages to increase its market share.

    I stopped using it a year ago when the new release took away some of the only useful features of the product.

    My personal favorite "blackboard fuck you" is how they take a one-step process--send this file to that recipient--and turn it into a two-step process--first upload this file, now send it to that recipient. How many assignments get stuck in the limbo between upload and send every day? Is there an economist on here who can make a derivative out of that? I'd buy some.

  3. Blaaaarrrgggghhh, Blackboard. I humbly suggest that the person who selected their program for many of our state institutions (a) had never taught college and (b) was getting a handsome "consideration fee." My lovely university makes it impossible to transmit final grades from my BB gradebook to the registrar's system. That means I do them. By hand.

    For 220 students.

    Imagine the potential for error.

  4. Ah, Blackboard...the cream of Web technology. From fifteen years ago. I loathe, despise, and detest Blackboard, and after experiencing a disaster several years ago, I simply refuse to use its godawful gradesheet. Because I was teaching a purely online course, I was assigning lots of small graded assignments -- for example, a weekly one-point attendance quiz -- just to keep the students involved. The problem is, the Bb grade calculator can't handle that many assignments. It choked. I had to download all the semester's grades into Excel and set up the calculations by hand. The further irony is that setting up the calculations in Excel took less time than trying to set up the calculations using Bb's antiquated system.

    At the risk of sounding like a shill, I'll suggest what I use for tracking grades and attendance: Engrade. It's mostly designed for grade-school teachers, but it's the total antithesis of Bb: free and intuitive.

  5. Where on Earth did they find the incompetent programmers who created and maintain Blackboard? It's been around quite a while now, hasn't it? You'd have thought somebody semi-talented would have joined the company by now, even if purely by chance.

  6. Glad to be of service Prissy!

    Blackboard's increasing market share is one of the great mysteries of the universe. Perhaps they have discovered the Jedi mind trick that makes deans do what they wish.

  7. I think they keep gaining market share merely because of name recognition. Here's how I'm guessing it goes in most offices:

    Assistant to the Person Determining Programs to Use (APDPU): "Well, Person Determining Programs to Use (PDPU), our choices seem to be Blackboard and [insert competitive software title here]."
    PDPU ponders for a moment and then says, "Let's use Blackboard. I've actually never heard of [competitive software] before."

    Bam! The decision was made. And now the professors and those who actually use the software are screwed because of a contract made by somebody just because of brand recognition.

    That's just a guess, though. I don't know how they make those decisions.

    Mathsquatch out.

  8. Here's a thought: Blackboard is accepted by the IT folks because they're too incompetent to support open source alternatives.

    Given that BB (no matter how bad it is) is a "mission critical system" (in terms of support for fair use documents, assignments, discussion boards, tests, and rest of the kitchen sink), University IT staff would be hard-pressed to support a non-commercial megalithic product (where real(!) support has to be done in-house). Although there are certainly sources that can provide contracted help for open source products, it isn't the same as leasing/buying a product with a certain level of support.

    It's all CYA for the IT trolls.

    [Note: I was an IT person at one time, albeit not in an academic setting.]

  9. Blackboard.... I insisted it was a piece of crap 10 years ago, but no, it got itself purchased. Luckily, I moved to a new school.

    I loved attending the public session with the new sales rep. I asked pointed question after pointed question that she could not answer. She finally shushed me by requesting that I write her my points in an email. I spent the rest of the session composing a long email.

    A few weeks later I got an answer - from some droid who was too stupid to understand email. She had forwarded my email with a comment "the lady is far too aggressive and irritating, just answer the questions for which we have the features forthcoming next release and ignore the other questions". Bozo just kept this email in the long tail of the email...

    I forwarded a copy, entitled "How Blackboard speaks about its paying customers when they think you aren't looking" to all of my friends using or considering Blackboard. The president of Blackboard actually wrote me over Christmas vacation to ask if he could please speak with me. He promised that the rep would come and apologize in person.

    She came, and practically fainted when she saw that I had the office right next door to the guy who was in the market for purchasing an LMS. She begged on bended knee for mercy. I listened, nodded, sent her on her way. We didn't buy Blackboard, but another pox on the face of the earth.....

    I now run my own Moodle server.

  10. Moodle is a royal pain too, but I have used both and Moodle is a whole lot better than Blackboard. Though it has some irritating glitches. I no longer use its gradebook either; I just put everything in Excel. And don't waste your time with the quiz function - if you have to change the key for one question, it does not regrade the questions automatically, AND you can't sort the responses by "who answered which question", which means that you have to go through all 300 responses manually, one by one, click through 4 separate screens every damn time, in order to change the grading, it took a day and a half, this is supposed to make my life easier how?

    However, it's handy for putting materials up on the web so that students can't claim they lost their syllabus so they didn't know when the exam was.

    And it is much, much easier to use than Blackboard, which is a monstrous, bloated awful disaster.

  11. Can I put in a plug for Sakai? I was very fond of our proprietary course management system, but have learned to love this open source one. How is it that I got so lucky as never to work at a university that used Blackboard?

  12. "Blackboard is accepted by the IT folks because they're too incompetent to support open source alternatives."

    The IT flunkies at my school are not competent for that task. We have out sourced BB support to a third-party vendor. I wish I could make up this shit.

    BTW, we have not had raises for two years. Where did the money go?

    For the rest of you, I do not care what the program is called. CMS is a fucking hot plate of shit. Stop using.

    Use WordPress to manage your course. It is free and easy to use. As to the grades, tell the little ankle biters to keep up with their points. It is called responsibility; a term and idea we abandoned somewhere around Jan. 1981.

  13. When I teach my Web Programming Special Topics class, we spend the first week on design. I ask each student to provide an example of good web design and an example of bad web design. Inevitably a student submits iCollege (our state's Very Special Branded version of Bb) as their BAD example. We then vote on which of the sites submitted is best, and worst. Bb inevitably is either first or second.

    Today I was discussing things with a friend who is an elementary school teacher and occasional IT person. We agreed that Bb is a tool of Satan.

    I second texpat's recommendation, and will be happy to help CMer set up their own WP site in lieu of Bb. Seriously. Not that you will need that much help.

  14. How apropos, since I also spent this week in Blackboard hell. The design flaws go beyond incompetent to malicious. Trying to adjust a setting to release a set of grades to the students, BB "reset" the assignment so all the grades (representing a couple dozen hours of work) were wiped. Thinking myself clever, I had saved them on my clipboard, and re-posted them (and then ditched my backup). When I returned to BB, they were gone, and it now gives me an error message if I try to record ANY grade for that assignment.
    My helpful (really) IT person showed me where I SHOULD have changed the setting to release the column to students. My question is, why even make it an option in the other place, where an attempt to RELEASE the column actually RESETS the column? It's like digging a big unnecessary hole and then putting up a little sign warning people not to fall into it.

  15. I used to work for Blackboard. Or, more accurately, the company I worked for was bought by them and it took me a while to escape. (Incidentally, thank you for the semi-compliment on the file server side of things, since that was the part my company was responsible for. The 'can't move a group of files at once' thing was a design issue of ours that Blackboard ... uh... put their own unique stamp on. Shall we say. The design issue was that you couldn't move more than around ten thousand files at once.)

    Their development team was picked for its location (Washington DC) and its willingness to accept below-market salaries. The parts that speak English fluently don't speak any programming language particularly fluently. Enough said?

    Their legal team, on the other hand, is essentially what runs the entire company. And they are top-notch. And they are not only willing but generally seem very happy to hurt people in their quest to destroy their competition.

    Let me leave you with an amusing little niblet of information: until my company was bought, nobody at Blackboard used a Mac (pretty much EVER) except for the CEO and one IT guy who was partially tasked with supporting him. This despite the fact that half or more of their user base used Macs. They did have a testing lab with a few Macs in it, but nobody much used it. They just released software, figuring that if it didn't work on the Mac, eventually their customers would let them know that, and then they could go check out the problem in the testing lab.

    It never seems to have occurred to anyone at the company that this wasn't the ideal way to solve the problem. And that's because it didn't have to: they've pretty much won in their space, and their customers are willing and able to tread water in their cesspool, so why should they clean it up?

  16. Oh, gods, do NOT GET ME STARTED about Black Fucking Board. 'nuff said.

  17. The intimate involvement of lawyers from the beginning makes so much sense.


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