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13 Ways of Looking at (a) Blackboard What the interface tells students/us 1. Content is King – it is a digital “Blackboard,” a place to store and access.

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Presentation on theme: "13 Ways of Looking at (a) Blackboard What the interface tells students/us 1. Content is King – it is a digital “Blackboard,” a place to store and access."— Presentation transcript:

1 13 Ways of Looking at (a) Blackboard What the interface tells students/us 1. Content is King – it is a digital “Blackboard,” a place to store and access content. Students’ primary role is retrieving content. Interaction with content is severely limited – for example, there not even a “search” function, perhaps the most rudimentary digital tool for working with electronic texts (it is a space for retrieval, not inquiry). Conduit model (cf Campus Pipeline, StraighterLine, etc.) 2. This is a rigidly hierarchical space – control rests entirely with the teacher. Students cannot contribute, change, customize or modify the interface. Communication is mostly top-down.

2 13 Ways of Looking at (a) Blackboard 3. This is an “artificial” space – students will spend 4+ years mastering a content management system that does not exist outside the university (perhaps because it is hard to imagine a social, civic or workplace context in which it would be much use). Warnick calls such spaces “walled gardens.” 4. It is an isolated, private, individualizing space. - Teaching takes place in private, individualized, gated electronic communities. The materials produced are invisible to other teachers. Teachers cannot easily “network,” share, or collaborate. - Student work will be seen only by the instructor, and is not intended for other audiences/publics. Students cannot see the course materials of classes they are not enrolled in. The teacher sees only her class, the student only his class. More flexible forms of access control are not possible. - no social dimension; can’t tell if other students are online, or see what they have been doing; no chat or other social tools (cf wiki).

3 13 Ways of Looking at (a) Blackboard 5. The system is in place and cannot be changed. Students must adapt to the system. They cannot change, tag, customize, modify or contribute to the system. (They are users, not “prod-users;” digital nomads rather than inhabitants). They cannot connect or integrate the system with any other aspect of their on-line lives. 6. The system is “closed.” It is closed in terms of access, but also as a technology. Most new media is designed to be open – remixed, mashed, embedded, linked to, hacked, customized, integrated, fed, etc. Many LMSs are “open source,” whereas Bb is closed and proprietary. (But deeply integrated into the university admin systems). 7. Bb is an “industrial” architecture. While it can be used in many ways, its primary affordances support automation, efficient management of large numbers of students, and key “back-end” administrative functions. It resembles the architecture of the 500- student amphitheater, and excels in supporting such classes.

4 13 Ways of Looking at (a) Blackboard 8. Bb is static – it lacks the dynamic, interactive, technologically and socially connective dimensions of many CMSs and LMSs. It focuses on “product,” rather than process or practice. 9. Student writing is segregated and electronic teaching spaces are temporary – writing submitted to Blackboard is cut off from the outside world and from all the other forms of digital writing students carry out. Student work will die at the end of each semester. 10. The key organizing units are the document (Word/pdf) and the folder. As a result, texts tend to be fragmented and decontextualized. One cannot easily compose texts that are integrated and cohesive, or that link to multiple texts. One cannot easily compose extended texts (the telegraphic style is favored). One cannot easily link or connect to sections inside documents. Each text stands alone. Just as users are atomized, so too are texts.

5 13 Ways of Looking at (a) Blackboard 11. Students cannot “look behind the LMS curtain” and see how the system works. (Compare this to a variety of other LMSs and CMSs, or even a hosted wiki – you can look, even if control is limited). Discourages reflexivity and new media literacy. 12. Bb tends to reinforce deeply traditional pedagogies (“We have designed and used LMSs... to manage the flow of students through traditional, semester-based courses more efficiently than ever before. The LMS has done exactly what we hired it to do: it has reinforced, facilitated, and perpetuated the traditional classroom model.” Mott, “A Post-LMS manifesto.”) 13. It’s a “learning MANAGEMENT system,” not a “LEARNING management system.” Bb was designed from the start for administrators not teachers.

6 This is, of course, a very ungenerous reading of Bb. There are other readings, and many uses of Bb. For many it is like a handbook (a reference device, a repository of useful course items), and our use of it signals its relative lack of pedagogic importance – the focus is face to face teaching and the teacher-student relationship. Bb is a supplement. For others it's a way of having a web presence at institutions where tech support may be minimal. In many respects its success may be that it “plugs” into administration, as well as the practical realities of the university (overworked teachers; automation; secrecy may be attractive, etc.)

7 On the other hand... It's hard to find people who study pedagogy or technology who think that Bb is a) very good, or b) better than the many alternatives. (Saba & Ed tech, ex-CEO of Bb). Schools with the resources and/or technical skills typically roll their own (MIT) or adapt an open source platform (Georgia Tech & Sakai). In conversation with “techrhets” at conferences and on- line, Bb is held in particularly low regard.

8 Bboard doesn’t just embody a pedagogy that supports deliverology, but is a) partners in a company ideologically committed to a particularly noxious form of deliverology, and b) publishes research explicitly arguing for restructuring higher education.

9 Bb recently published “Unlocking the Global Education Imperative: Core Challenges and Critical Imperatives”

10 Blackboard & Global Educational Policy  Blackboard did a review of existing scholarship on higher education produced by government and by universities, and deemed it ‘insufficient’ (2). Despite the ‘solid work’ done by government researchers and scholars, ‘something seemed to be missing.’  “Global changes are challenging the definition of what higher education means to individuals and national economies…higher education is largely reacting to these historical shifts, as opposed to leading.” (2)  "Blackboard solutions are utilized by more than 3500 HEIs [Higher education institutions], schools, government and corporate settings in more than 70 nations...Now, as the global education imperative is requiring re-examination and change, Blackboard is studying the changing global landscape in order to better serve higher education." (p. 24)  Blackboard is “ideally positioned” to function as an agent “for major change in higher education.”

11 Blackboard & Global Educational Policy  The main impediment to meeting the global education imperative is the institutional structure of the university, which is rigid, disorganized, unaccountable, lacking in transparency and proper surveillance and assessment.  Moving institutions toward "Practicing a Willingness to Change Fundamentally" is a key goal.  Academic institutions are divided into 3 categories.  1. "Static and Traditional" - hierarchical, limited flexibility, commitment to the system not students. Heavy on administration.  2. Trying to change, but in an ad hoc, disorganized fashion.  3. Institutions moving toward "a networked sense of continuous improvement and transformation," one that is flexible, accountable, dynamic and transparent.

12 Web 1.0: “read-only” web Web 1.0: “read-only” web characterized by information “pushed” at users; top-down, hierarchical, one-to-many models of distribution; knowledge and cultural texts produced by experts in closed, hierarchical organizations; closed, proprietary models of production and ownership; limited access to circuits of cultural production and distribution. Web 2.0: read/write web Web 2.0: read/write web characterized by user- generated content, bottom-up, distributed, many-to-many models of distribution; knowledge and cultural texts produced in open, participatory, collaborative social groups; open-source, creative commons-style models of production and ownership. But Doesn't Blackboard's Architecture Embody Precisely the Organizational Values it criticizes? Isn't it hopelessly “web 2.0”?


14 Our use of Blackboard may put us in a difficult position Our use of Blackboard may put us in a difficult situation – it leaves us open to the charge (made by Blackboard in its policy documents) that our use of technology is behind the times, at odds with our students use of new media, that our teaching is hopelessly uncoordinated and atomized, and we constantly reinvent the wheel. Yet Blackboard’s design encourages precisely such tendencies.

15 Furthermore, Blackboard is part of a series of alliances and projects that aim to change much of higher education in the U.S. Exampl: Straighterline

16 “Tight Budget? Think Disruptively! Turnkey Courses from StraighterLine." Higher education is in the throes of a perfect storm - budget cuts, surging enrollments, lower endowments, increased competition and needier students. Just trimming expenses wont make ends meet and will undermine educational quality. With StraighterLine’s ready-made, ready-staffed, ready-to-go developmental and general education courses, colleges can increase revenue by serving more students without having to build additional capacity. This is a must-attend event for college professionals. REGISTER TODAY!


18 “The StraighterLine model only provides general education courses. By working with partner colleges, StraighterLine can carve out these high enrollment courses. These courses are the best candidates for standardization and commoditization at volume. “If all goes well, in 3 years or so, StraighterLine will be a primary provider of general education courses. Students will contemplate coming to StraigherLine first, and then continue their coursework at a college of their choice.”


20 Extending outsourcing “There are many teaching functions that can be easily outsourced. For instance, math, science, and writing fundamentals are essentially the same across schools, states, and countries. Most schools are already comfortable with outsourcing at least some elements of education; many schools that offer distance-learning courses do so through third- party providers, and textbooks and courseware are the result of outsourcing content development and delivery.”

21 Transforming the cost structure of higher Ed “StraighterLine has the potential to transform the cost structure of higher education.” “Every year, the cost of education outpaces inflation with no increase in overall student performance. No matter how it’s defined, education, like other hidebound industries before it, is about to become part of a global market...Viewed one way, this threatens the cost and service structure of American education. Viewed another, this is an opportunity to rethink the components and functions of a school and all of the political, economic, and accountability structures that surround it.” “Such a radical pricing model has never been tried because there has never been a labor model that could be implemented like this.”

22 Mr Smith's Modest Proposal ■ CEO Burck Smith suggests it is useful to think of a writing program “like a customer service center.” ■ He argues that the practices of quality control, monitoring, assessment, tracking and recording make these online courses superior to traditional classes – they ensure transparency, accountability, and consistency, and enable ongoing assessment.

23 Extending Quinn Warnick’s metaphor of

24 We have piloted a wiki to: 1. Make resources more widely available to teachers in our department and across campus (common book program). 2. Open up and share teaching resources and program materials with outside groups (high schools, community colleges, the CSU)




28 We are piloting CMSs and wikis to: 1. Conduct teacher training & provide more opportunities for collaboration and coordination 2. Provide alternative platforms for teaching; give students experience of a CMS with relevance outside the classroom; open up different roles for students than the traditional LMS. 3. Encourage “CMS literacies” that support new initiatives in publishing, community organization, collaboration, public intellectualism, teaching, and open source education.

29 Linking undergraduate writing assignments to student interests Include some writing students do for outside communities in order to foster reflexivity about their writing practices (email, texting, Facebook, blogs, YouTube, etc.) As a bridge between familiar genres and academic writing To introduce and practice applying key concepts To model elements of academic writing, and contrast with academic writing. Genre bending. To help them use new media tools in their academic work


31 Teaching and scholarship mix and the “process” is opened


33 Open Humanities Press: peer reviewed journals using Wordpress & OJS




















53 The rhetorical construction of a “crisis” in higher education – 199 vs. 2011

54 1999

55 1999: Universities to be “Amazoned,” or turned into digital EMOs?  “Milken and Allen say they will turn the $700 billion education sector into ‘the next health care’—that is, transform large portions of a fragmented, cottage industry of independent, nonprofit institutions into a consolidated, professionally managed, money-making set of businesses.” (Wyatt, 1999.)

56 1999: the high water mark for plans to restructure higher education?  “Education over the Internet is going to be so big it is going to make e-mail usage look like a rounding error.” John Chambers CEO of Cisco Systems, (1999).  “You guys are in trouble and we are going to eat your lunch” Michael Milken, 1999.  "In future years we will look upon the wired remains of our once great democratic higher education system and wonder how we let it happen." David Noble, 1999.

57 Even the same economists and business analysts...  “The Internet and marketplace demand are the driving forces in unbundling the needed learning experience from the campus-based and high-cost college product. Elearning thus represents a “disruptive innovation,” in Clayton Christensen’s term, because it breaks apart the bundled higher education product into the components desired by a market segment that needs less and at a lower price.” Irvine, 1999.  “Thirty years from now big university campuses will be relics. Universities won’t survive. It’s as large a change as when we first got the printed book.” Management Guru Peter Drucker.

58 Differences between 1999 and 2011 There are continuities in the rhetoric, but also some key differences. For example, arguments for restructuring have modulated calls for corporatization (there's more talk of democracy, transparency, consumer rights, accountability, diversity, access, etc.) The “crisis” rhetoric has changed (Being Amazoned vs. fate of newspapers) Focus on high–end versus “low-end.” Idea of replicating great schools, versus idea of starting at “bottom” and eating up the chain. The collapse of the internet bubble in 2000 was milder and set back many online education projects – both silly projects launched by universities out of fear, and plans to restructure higher ed. Current crisis is more severe, and may accelerate them.

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