The Online College Instructor
Navigating the Virtual College Classroom

Blackboard or Bust?

According to a June 1, 2009 Chronicle of Higher Education ** article, some professors and colleges are contemplating the use of free blog services over the use of Blackboard for their online classes.  I guess I’m not alone in my desire to find something more timely, stylish, and useful.

I’ve been using Blackboard for over eight years now, and while at first I thought it was “cutting edge” with its white board capabilities and other useful features, I’m finding it more cumbersome and just downright boring.  The course management system doesn’t keep up with Web 2.0 tools, such as blogging, something that my students, both traditional and non-traditional, already use either at work or at home.

While individual colleges can modify the overall template of their Blackboard pages, there’s a lack of eye-catching style, leading to nothing more than an online version of the “sage on the stage,” that boring professor who stands at the podium lecturing for the entire class period.  Since I want to engage my students not only in my lecture but in the wealth of information available online, I do create my own webpages, which are linked through Blackboard and appear in the main frame of the Blackboard shell.

Accessibility and other usability problems occur using Blackboard, leaving both students and professors at a loss.  Of course, since I create my own lecture webpages, when Blackboard is down, I email my students (through a separate client list) the URL to take them to my site.  Of course, they can’t post anything on a discussion board, but I have, on occasion, added a blog feature to my webpage.  Not as great as a threaded discussion board, but at least, my students can still interact.

That leads me to the subject of professors using free blog services.  Even though I have a wonderful relationship with my university’s Blackboard administrator, who will work diligently to correct any problem I might contact him about, I find myself more amenable to taking the path of least resistance – free blogs.

There’s, Blogspot, etal, but most don’t have a particular feature I want in my online courses and that’s a threaded discussion board.  There is one free blog service with that feature, and I’ve only begun to experiment with it.  So far, so good.  The service is Ning, which offers both a blog and a threaded discussion.  Anyone out there using Ning for their online classes? And they have gorgeous templates!

The one drawback to using Ning for my online lectures (at least that I can see now) is the advertising.  I could pay $24.95 a month to have an ad-free site, but I’m not sure I want to do that and yet, on the other hand, I don’t want to subject my students to advertising on my lecture page.  I’ll have to continue experimenting with Ning to see if it’s worth replacing Blackboard.

Anybody out there experimenting with free blog services for their online courses?

** You can read the Chronicle article online if you have a Chronicle account.  Here’s the URL:


3 Responses to “Blackboard or Bust?”

  1. I am planning in the Fall to center my course around a Google Blogger blog. I’m going to use that page to tie together the blog space (blogger), a portal (netvibes), a wiki/site (google sites), a microblog (twitter, for announcements), and a discussion group (google groups) to deliver all content and instruction..

    Students are going to have their own blog space through which they’ll post their comments and assignments – including text, video, images etc. The portal site gives students a single place to go to see the classroom community.

    For classroom discussion, I’ll have two tools. One is Google Groups; students will be able to, if they want, add the RSS feed of the posts to the group discussion to their own blog space – to better monitor it. The other thing I’ll do is use something like Yahoo Pipes to combine all of the comments made on student blogs into a single feed – for easy monitoring, and again, if students want, they can republish all of those comments on their blog via the RSS feed.

    I’ve used Ning before; it’s good at what it does, but I like the fact that students will own their blogs free and clear of anything we do in class – with the Ning site, I still “own” the group. I don’t think it’s something students would keep coming back to or use again necessarily; they may not use the blog again, but I think it’s more possible..

    (found you via your comment at EduGeekJournal)

  2. Sorry I haven’t replied to your comment, but I needed a couple of days away from my computer! Anyway, it sounds as if you have quite an array of tools your students can use to stay informed and in touch throughout the semester.

    I’ve thought about looking into Google’s various tools (have used Google Groups before), and your comment gave me the push I need to take another look at Google.

    I posted a video from the Chronicle of Higher Education above dealing with the notion that professors and universities should start taking a look at other types of Web 2.0 tools because the mega course management systems available to us now are quickly outdated.

    BTW: What do you teach?

  3. Oh, I forgot. It was incredibly easy for me to get the video onto my blog – all through the Chronicle’s website. The video was instantly added to my blog from the Chronicle site. Try getting a video onto Blackboard that easily.

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