Matt Ingoglia: The fight for using Blackboard

One of my first Hatchet columns argued that the University should force professors to use Blackboard to some extent in every class – at the very least mandating syllabi and the professor’s contact information be posted. While much of the piece focused on the benefits Blackboard brings to a class, my main point was that professors are shortchanging students by failing to use software subsidized by our tuition dollars.

A few days later, I received an e-mail from an administrator who seemed interested in meeting with me to discuss these ideas. Said meeting never materialized, lost forever in the purgatory of GW bureaucracy.

In the year and four months since that column ran, I have kept track of all the reasons my Blackboard-averse professors have given for refusing to use the service. Let’s go through some of them here and see how they square with reality (Spoiler alert: they don’t).

By far the most popular excuse was some version of “I don’t get Blackboard.” While I respect that not everyone is adept with technology, I found this reason rather insulting. Students should not miss out on a valuable service because a professor does not know how to upload course material. More importantly, sick classmates who do the right thing and stay home should not fall behind when handouts and readings could easily be posted online and accessed from anywhere.

This is not meant to belittle technophobes; some of my favorite professors never used Blackboard. But I believe the University should ensure that every teacher on its payroll has a basic grasp of its basic features, particularly how to post documents and allow students to e-mail each other. Even these steps will greatly narrow the gap between students and professors, and will help keep everyone on the same page, especially in large classes.

Another common justification – an iteration of “Blackboard isn’t useful for this kind of class” – also seemed illogical. As a second semester senior who has taken dozens of classes in a variety of disciplines, I have yet to find one case where Blackboard would not come in handy. From discussion boards and chats to online quizzes and exercises, this software offers features for every class and gives professors the ability to control what their classes’ pages will look like. Unfortunately it seems many professors see this versatility as a weakness and choose to ignore the software rather than embrace its benefits.

I’m no psychology major, but it seems a lot of this aversion might stem from unfamiliarity with Blackboard’s features. The saying, “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it” comes to mind. Forcing professors to use Blackboard would expose them to everything it can do, even if they only use it to post syllabi for the first year or two. Over time, this would give the site greater value for students while acclimating professors to its capabilities.

The most interesting reason I heard came from a professor who told the class, “I used to use Blackboard, but no one ever checked it.” I’m sure there are students who can count the times they have logged into Blackboard on one hand, and that should rightfully annoy any professor who goes through the trouble of posting lecture notes and handouts online. But this is rarely the case, and those professors who utilize Blackboard should find that their students will use it as well.

As the faculty moves to Gmail accounts and students spend more of their lives online, it’s clear that software like Blackboard is not going away. The University needs to read the writing on the wall and mandate pages for every class, in every discipline. To do anything less is to rob the student body of tuition dollars and a thorough learning experience.

-The writer, a senior majroing in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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