Blackboard a bummer, but not for me

In a serendipitous way I was reminded why I made the right choice to abandon SFCC's and WAOL's use of Blackboard for Drupal. At an all-faculty meeting yesterday I learned of the disaster that has befallen the college's and the district's users of Blackboard, faculty, administrators and students alike, of which I was blissfully unaware. It caught me off guard when the president opened the Blackboard discussion by saying something to the effect that "and now for the reason I know most of you are here, the troubles we've been having with Blackboard." I'm not sure if he was looking at me as he said that, but it seemed like it was. Ah, to be unaware. Ignorance is bliss when it comes to Blackboard!

It seems the problem is that passwords were getting all screwed up for several reasons, making it a challenge to get students into, and keeping them in, their classes. Me, with Drupal I simply had students create their own accounts and, with a few exceptions, we were on our way. If only Blackboard were so user friendly. Or if it wasn't so locked down and automated where faculty have no control over who gets into their online classroom. But what struck me as an obvious consequence of being locked into a proprietary platform seemed lost on those in charge, at least the immediate dean overseeing distance learning/education which makes the software available.

The district wide contract was purchased with only 24 hours deliberation, which isn't exactly deliberation, which left faculty out of the loop and left the decision to people who don't teach with the software. That's never a good thing. The decision had to be made quickly because if a contract wasn't signed, the price would jump tremendously. I'd say this is a classic example of being held hostage by software companies, and a good reason to spend money on qualified personnel rather than software licenses. They should at least stick a gun in our faces before we sign so we can make the robbery obvious to all. Today there is so much open source material that there is no reason to spend always escalating amounts of money on licenses when predictable, relatively anyway, costs for employees can be had. But that would take a thinking shift on the part of the administration that they aren't quite ready to make. If a contractor says buy it today or the price goes up tomorrow, that's the sign of a scam. No one would buy a car, house or much of anything that is a big ticket item in this way, but we did.

The dean also fails to understand the notion of vendor lock, that faculty are stuck with an inferior product at an outlandish price that will only go higher. Instead, she saw that as a rational reason for sticking with Blackboard, because faculty can't readily move their materials into another courseware package. "There you go," she said in response to my query about this as if it wholly justified the decision. I'm having to search for the right analogy here. Perhaps it's as President Bush has said, though not so eloquently at times, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." I forget who he was quoting, Lincoln perhaps. And while The Who may not get fooled again, I'd say we have been by continuing on with an extortionist vendor. Ah, to be unawares.