It’s time to erase digital dinosaur Blackboard

by Danny Dyer, Contributor

For students, it is the revealer of grades, an informant for missed lectures and the nerve center of all valuable information.

For professors, it is the most accessible platform for widespread communication, a virtual chalkboard with a simplistic interface and easy navigation. It is no surprise SDSU has grown reliant upon Blackboard. Despite its advantages, this learning system is spiraling into obsolescence.

First, Blackboard is pricey. Jim Farmer, former Chief Information Officer of the Cal State University system, analyzed the costs of Blackboard.

“Using industry-average data, the cost of selling a Blackboard enterprise learning system is estimated to be $259,000 per sale,” Farmer’s report said. “This cost compares to an estimated cost of $78,000 per sale for commercially marketed open source software.”

With the maturing of the internet, the once-gaping differences between freely-offered learning modules and paid ones are thinning. Open-source learning platforms, such as Moodle, are now viable alternatives to Blackboard, and commercially free.

Other alarms blare just as loudly. With its vendor lock-in structure, the customer is limited solely to the products offered from Blackboard, Inc. For teachers, downloading submitted papers is done file-by-file, a daunting method that should be avoidable. Something relevant to both students and professors is the system’s sluggish updating procedure, which often renders the site inoperable for lengthy periods of time. The ugliest of its blemishes, however, is possibly the one most overlooked — Blackboard sacrifices the potential for an intriguing online learning stage for the sake of simplicity. While it may be stable, it is creatively stagnant. But, there is hope.

With SDSU’s otherwise suffocating marriage to Blackboard, there are a few instructors straying from its mundane confines. The standout frontrunner of this anti-Blackboard culture is Professor William Nericcio, director of the San Diego State University Press.

Nericcio’s classes are a standing testament for what happens when an imaginative mindset collides with the digital era of education. Stretching far and wide into the online nebula, his updated posts are equipped with colorful diction hand-in-hand with some sort of enticing visual image — a feature restricted in Blackboard’s existing architecture. This is not, however, what distinguishes Nericcio as the outlier from the Blackboard brigade. What makes him so is the fact that he does not use Blackboard at all. Students must travel to the trendy realm of Tumblr for homework notifications, class information and all other uncanny components the English professor interweaves into his classroom’s online experience. Where the majority of his fellow instructors are chained to the insipid mercy of Blackboard’s services, Nericcio has exploited a format that is not offers creative reign, but is completely free. And with unorthodoxies being as crucial to his class as bringing the assigned reading, he needs that sort of space to play and teach.

If seriously considered by other professors, Nericcio’s approach could be the beginning of a technologically agile scholastic community. With the vast catalogue of opportunities the World Wide Web has to offer, this is just one example of how the academic world can smoothly align with a technocratic future. And thus the question arises: Stability or creativity? Recline on the minimalism of Blackboard for the sake of ease? Or surge forward with the attitude of fully exhausting the internet’s resources? As students and teachers of this computerized era, it is our choice.