Matt Ingoglia: Make Blackboard mandatory

How many times has something like this happened to you?

You wake up one morning feeling absolutely awful – some illness has hit you like a ton of bricks – and there’s no way you can even get out of bed, let alone make it to your classes. Though you’re terrified it might be swine flu, a calming thought enters your mind: at least you can hop on your laptop and check Blackboard for any handouts you need, or at least check the syllabus that you lost on the first day. After all, your teachers post those on their Blackboard pages, right?

If only it were that easy.

Unfortunately, there’s a fairly good chance your professors have something against our friendly academic companion known as Blackboard. Maybe they find the interface too complicated, maybe they’re afraid you’ll become too dependent on it and not come to class, or maybe they just have no idea how the Internet works (this really happened to me.)

Regardless, you’ve now lost an immensely helpful resource through no fault of your own, and are now behind your classmates because you followed the University’s advice concerning this year’s flu season and stayed home.

Simply put, Blackboard is one of the best educational tools GW has to offer. Classes that utilize the software in some capacity, even if it is just to display the syllabus and roster, are much better for it. That’s why GW should mandate that teachers of all disciplines incorporate Blackboard into their courses to some degree. I know that’s a tall order, but the benefits of this policy demand it.

Anyone who has been lucky enough to have a Blackboard-friendly professor will tell you how helpful the software can be, especially in unforeseen circumstances like the one described. When used effectively, teachers can employ Blackboard to store course handouts, conduct supplementary exercises and provide students with their classmates’ e-mail addresses.

In large classes, these features keep everyone on the same page and shorten the troublesome gulf between teacher and student. In more intensive courses, they can enrich the academic experience by supporting class chats and discussion boards.

Obviously, these tools aren’t practical for some courses. But I see no reason why the school can’t mandate that every class have a Blackboard page with at least the course syllabus, reading list and a means for students to e-mail each other. This small step would help students decide early on if they want to stay in the course, and greatly assist the ones who do by making the professor’s expectations clear on day one and available online for the rest of the semester.

In addition, the school licenses Blackboard from its parent company for a fee. When one of my professors doesn’t use Blackboard, I honestly feel like I’m not getting my money’s worth out of the course. Since I’m partially footing the bill for this software, why shouldn’t all my professors employ it to at least some degree?

Now I know there are people at this school who go all four years and never once check their classes’ Blackboard pages. Part of that is due to sheer indifference, but couldn’t professors’ inconsistent usage also contribute to that choice? After all, why would you log into Blackboard if you knew there was nothing there for you?

It’s time that we give students their money’s worth of this valuable tool and mandate a basic Blackboard page for every class.

In the 21st century, it’s the smart thing to do.

The writer is a junior majoring in political communication.

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