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Blackboard needs cleanup, faculty says

Some students and faculty have given the newest version of CourseInfo a failing grade after its first semester of use, BU faculty members said. Blackboard, an online site for university courses, has garnered mixed responses from students and professors trying to adapt to the new program.

BU Blackboard, launched in August of 2008 and officially announced December of the same year, caters to about 650 courses throughout the university, while CourseInfo hosts 1,200 courses, Office of Information Technology Network Information Services Director Richard Mendez said in an email.

Though neither Blackboard nor CourseInfo are mandated by any BU college, 33 percent of the faculty has made the switch from CourseInfo to Blackboard, Mendez said.

Despite reported problems, Blackboard has more features than CourseInfo, including an improved discussion area, School of Education Instructional Materials Center Director David Whittier said.

‘However, like any technology, there are problems from time to time,’ Whittier said.

The most common problem at the beginning of the year was access, Mendez said.

‘Class rosters are updated nightly, but sometimes, a student might try to get in before the roster has been updated,’ Mendez said.

College of Arts and Sciences Director of Latin American Studies Strom Thacker said he had problems with the uploading process when he tried to post a reading.

‘When students downloaded and opened the file, it was blank,’ Thacker, an international relations professor, said. ‘Through trial and error, I figured out that there cannot be a number in the name of the file.’

Similarly, CAS philosophy department Graduate Placement Director Susanne Sreedhar said Blackboard was slow to upload files. However, the bigger problem was when the website did not automatically add and drop users, she said.

‘It has a lot of kinks, and if I could do web design, I would design my own page,’ Sreedhar, a philosophy professor, said. ‘But I like Blackboard better than CourseInfo.’

Posting readings online is a great advantage because they save paper and money, Sreedhar said.

‘It saves paper, which is wasted when readings are printed out, and I can update the materials without reprinting a full class set,’ Sreedhar said.

‘ ‘We have some support on how to use it, mainly instructional support,’ Whittier said.

When a problem arises, professors fill out a form on the online support system, Thacker said. The Office of Internet Technology then contacts professors via email with a link that has instructions on how to solve the problem.

Network Information Services handles all complaints about course-related software at BU, Mendez said.

‘My group provides support for all courseware products,’ Mendez said. ‘We handle 8,000 tickets a year for all courseware products.’

While some professors have warmed up to Blackboard, some are still using other sources of online communication, CAS computer science professor Azer Bestavros, who does not use Blackboard or CourseInfo, said.

‘There is no right and wrong when it comes to choosing one of these programs. It depends on the course and professor’s needs,’ Bestavros said. ‘The features that a program provides could serve as advantages or disadvantages.

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