Technology Office Responds to Teacher Dissatisfaction With Blackboard

In response to growing faculty frustration with Blackboard, the Academic Committee on Technology is considering replacing it with a more intuitive Learning Management System (LMS) by 2015. “You could have this conversation at almost any school that is choosing Blackboard, and you’d find a general level of dissatisfaction with the tool… So the fact that it’s still here is just a testament to the fact that people are willing to tolerate something instead of to change away from it,” said Dominic Veneto, Director of Information Technology. Andover is considering switching to the Canvas or Haiku systems, according to Veneto. Canvas is the most widely used LMS within the Eight Schools Association, a group including Andover and its peer schools. Christopher Odden, Instructor in Math, is using Canvas to construct Andover’s online calculus course in collaboration with Lawrence High School. Both Canvas and Haiku give faculty more flexibility with course management, said David Mallick, Intranet Manager. “[In Blackboard,] it’s hard to find things, and it’s hard to search across the various tabs that we have… People say that it’s just a lot of clicking. It’s built upon older technology, and it just doesn’t have some of the stuff that a lot of people are used to, like just being able to drag a file from the browser window and have it download,” said Mallick. Teachers have been trying to find ways to work around Blackboard since the school started using it in 2005. Odden maintains his own website outside of the Blackboard system for his Math 590 students. “I found it easier to administer that site than to use Blackboard because it allows me to use my desktop operating system for the process in a natural way, as opposed to clicking through everywhere in sight,” said Odden. Peter Drench, Instructor in History and Social Science, has maintained a detailed daily assignment calendar for his history classes on a separate website since 2006. “The site is more dynamic,” said Drench. “As we do new things, we can add and subtract… The thing is that Blackboard gives you the connection: The school fills it with students, every class has one. So [Blackboard] just happens to be a handy container. But in effect, I have compromised by setting up the website inside of Blackboard. It is functionally a website.” In 2012, Yasmine Allen, Instructor in Spanish, began using Wikispaces, a site where teachers can create and customize educational websites, as an alternate site that can be easily updated and shared with students and other teachers. “With Blackboard, I found that having to copy and paste [class materials] from year to year from archived courses… took up a lot of time that I wanted to use on planning classes. So I just created the Wikispaces site, and everything was up there and ready to go without me having to go in and actually set it up every term,” said Allen. The Academic Committee on Technology meets once every two weeks to discuss the future of technology in teaching. The committee includes Caroline Nolan, Catherine Tousignant, Cesar Dominique Moreno, Christopher Shaw, Christopher Walter, Dominic Veneto, Elisabeth Tully, Jacques Hugon, Kevin Cardozo, Patricia Russell, Peter Neissa and Scott Hoenig.