GW to phase out Prometheus

Internet-based class management software Prometheus will be inaccessible to students and faculty as of May 31. Blackboard, a similar software package that GW began using this past fall, will replace the application.

Both Prometheus and Blackboard were available for student and faculty use throughout the academic year to aid in the transition from one package to another.

Blackboard is slated to replace Prometheus in June, said Bill Koffenberger, director of GW’s Center for Instructional Design and Development. The University will meet this deadline, Koffenberger said.

Blackboard and Prometheus were developed in 1997 at Cornell University and GW, respectively. In January 2002, Cornell’s Blackboard – which had a steadily growing user base-purchased Prometheus and began making plans for fully implementing its software at GW.

The successful transition will mark the end of a year-long effort to change from Prometheus to Blackboard, which Koffenberger said was facilitated by student and faculty outreach and education efforts organized through his department.

“We have been offering workshops and seminars for faculty through the past year, and they have been very well attended, given the very full schedules of faculty,” Koffenberger said.

To assist students with the conversion, GW created a ‘how-to’ page and FAQ guides, put on workshops and focus groups, and posted ‘Viewlets’ that demonstrated common Blackboard operations on the transition’s official Web site, Blackboard News –

In the fall, 578 courses were made available for student use of Blackboard and nearly 900 for the spring semester Koffenberger said. “While the change from Prometheus to Blackboard … represents a significant (investment) of time and effort for faculty, the transition has been progressing smoothly,” Koffenberger said.

Despite administration efforts to assist faculty with the transition from Prometheus to Blackboard, some of the University’s teaching staff said they are disappointed with the final product.

Professor Mart?n Zysmilich, whose chemistry for non-science majors course made frequent use of Prometheus and now Blackboard, said many of the features he liked about the old system are unavailable or poorly implemented in Blackboard.

“Student tracking … was more detailed (in Prometheus) than (it is) in Blackboard,” Zysmilich said. “On Prometheus you could see what file each person accessed as well as date, time and how long that person spent on it – (information that was) very useful for long distance courses.”

Other issues with Blackboard included poor navigation and creation of outlines and problems with gradebook uploads from Excel documents using a Macintosh, Zysmilich said.

However, Zysmilich noted in an e-mail, “the transition team and the people working there are extremely helpful, very nice and open to suggestions.”

Keys to Blackboard’s future development at the University include adding new functionality to the program to replace features that were lost in the transition from Prometheus.

Using Blackboard’s “Building Blocks” technology, which will let officials design tools custom fit to school resources, GW plans to add support for electronic course reserve systems, graduate teaching assistants, and an easier to use formatting and editing tools for faculty content, Koffenberger said.

“We believe that tools released in the coming year (for Blackboard) will increase teaching effectiveness within the system,” Koffenberger said.

Still, even after all the effort the University has put into the Blackboard-Prometheus conversion and its impending finalization, many students have yet to try the new system.

“I haven’t noticed a change; all of my classes still use Prometheus,” said sophomore Nick Lippolis.

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