Point: It’s time to trash Blackboard

| Senior Forum Editor

In my three years on the Student Life staff, I have had more than my fair share of conversations about the darker sides of Washington University. If you want proof, look no further than my listing on the Student Life website: I’ve complained about Greek philanthropy, the work-life imbalance that many students face, the problem with replacing red Solo cups and Washington University construction (by far, one of the most absurd facets of being an undergrad at Wash. U.).

As the outgoing senior Forum editor, I’ve got one more fight to pick. It’s something every student at Wash. U. has in common, and as you’ve probably noticed, our course management system is in pretty bad shape.

In sum, Blackboard is an outdated, convoluted and mediocre system for managing virtual learning at Wash. U. Blackboard continues to have serious problems even after our tech department spent winter break “upgrading” the interface. If there’s ever been a case to switch virtual learning platforms, this semester has made it all the more clear.

The fundamental problem with Blackboard is that it is clunky and unusable. There are a myriad of issues I’ve experienced as a Blackboard user, from the repeated outages, to the breakdown in functionality (for instance, sometimes a class’ materials stop working on the website), as well as the complexity of the website’s endless pages and usages.

The grading page includes classes I took in the fall of 2014, the main page is poorly organized (they even ask you to organize it yourself now) and there are features on the website no Wash. U. student will ever use. Take the entire “To Do” function that shows up on your homepage and on most classes main pages: it’s not used and it’s also a terrible tool that Microsoft Outlook and a variety of other applications do infinitely better.

For teaching assistants, the issues multiply: head Computer Science 131 TA, Joshua Landman, cites the fact that Blackboard crumbles as classes get larger and the grading system becomes more complex. In a testament to the software’s limitations, CSE 131 has stopped using Blackboard. Landman has also used Blackboard in other upper level courses and explained that when a student submitted multiple versions of the assignment, it became a major headache to grade. For Management 100 TAs, who must insert comments directly on Blackboard assignments, the interface is purely archaic: grading is done within a Blackboard tool that has the functionality of Microsoft Word 2007.

The solution to all of these problems is simple: look for an alternative. There are plenty of other products out there for virtual learning management, and the switching costs for students of using a new platform are rather low (we can navigate any website without too many problems). You might argue that Blackboard is the best we’re going to get, or you might not care enough to switch platforms, but the status quo is clearly problematic today.

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