Photo by Nathan Boyd

Blackboard is one of the most commonly used websites for online learning. With over 19,000 schools and organizations using Blackboard, it might seem obvious why we use it here, yet it can have its problems.

Even if you don't have difficulties with Blackboard, you likely know someone who dislikes using it, and some professors prefer to use different websites for their online content. 

The idea of using an official alternative to Blackboard has been considered by Otterbein in the past. Years ago the university tried to use Moodle, an open source learning platform, but rejected it since Otterbein would've needed to handle a lot of the programming and management of the site, which the university didn't have the resources to do. 

The main benefit Blackboard brings over other platforms is that most of the site management is handled by the Blackboard company, and educators can still have a place to put grades and a syllabus. Unfortunately, Blackboard also has a non-universal layout for course pages, which can be hard to navigate. This being a bigger problem since the pandemic where everyone had to adapt to online learning which made it harder for students and teachers to work effectively.

          

Before the pandemic, professors disliking blackboard was not a problem since some classes didn't need to be online, but during COVID-19 professors had to be prepared to use a system that may not be good for the way their class works or the way they get things done.

Currently, Otterbein is looking into the possibility of switching to an alternative version of Blackboard called Blackboard Ultra, which differs from Blackboard in a few key ways with advantages and disadvantages over what we currently use.

Kathryn Plank, a professor at Otterbein and associate provost for The Center for Teaching and Learning has said that Blackboard Ultra is "Promising, but not quite there yet. Students haven't complained about [Blackboard] but for some faculty, tasks such as entering grades are harder than before."

          

A survey is being planned for the classes that were using Blackboard Ultra as a test to see its effectiveness for students. Plank has said if Blackboard Ultra is to be implemented it won't be any time soon and more upgrades would need to be implemented.

It's too early to say whether Blackboard Ultra will be an improvement over Blackboard; but even if it isn't, Otterbein should still look into ways online learning can be improved for faculty and students because Blackboard isn't the most ideal system.