Introduction and Evaluation of Blackboard LMS
There are a plethora of learning management systems (LMS for short) used by higher education institutions, competing for market share. Some of them are commercial, while others are free, but then it is the institutions’ responsibility to host and maintain the course website, or a third party vendor is hired to customize and manage the LMS. Here is the breakdown of the market share for the most widely used LMS in higher education:
- School Administration – includes the financial and tech support aspect – the primary decision makers
- College Students
- College Instructors
The decision which LMS an institution is chosen is made by the administration, primarily based on
- features of the product
Those are the two key factors vendors consider as relevant when pitching their software.
However, the users, the people who get to use the learning management system on a daily basis are the students and the instructors. This disconnect often leads to hard-to-use but feature-rich systems.
Use of Blackboard at a local college
For this project, I am going to focus on Blackboard, currently in use at the local college where I work as an instructor. My informal survey among the primary stakeholders (undergraduate college students and instructors) show that relatively few features are used is most courses.
From the School Administration’s Perspective
From interviews, it became obvious to me that the administration is aware of the users’ primary needs, however, the Blackboard LMS does not allow for customization, rather, it is a rather inflexible big box. To help users, the university’s tech support put together a manual (available as a pdf) – however, it is not widely publicized. Even though I have been working with Blackboard for close to 10 years, before doing research for this projects, I did not know about this manual. My surveys with other instructors revealed that they had not been aware of this manual file, either.
From the Students’ Perspective
90% of the time students log on to the college’s website, they do so to access course websites. What do they do on the course websites? As the graph below shows, the two primary goals are to
- Access files
- Assess their standing in the course
The course website serves as
- File Depository: Accessing files (mostly powerpoint and word files) is the most important function students use Blackboard for . We could add the third most popular category to the “File Depository” function – when students follow a link the instructor provided, they are basically accessing a file that is not instructor-authored, but accessible through the internet.
- A close second function is checking their scores and grades on assignments and tests, which is tied to the fourth most often used function of online quizzes.
The rest of the functions account for less than one-third of the primary two functions.
From the Instructors’ Perspective
Based on the surveys and interviews conducted with instructors, it is clear that LMSs are important for managing courses in higher education, (57% of the instructors considers it crucial, with 43% thinking a course site is useful), for three reasons:
- Limited contact hours . Instructors want to give access to a plethora of non-textbook materials
- Students missing classes and need to access course material. Instructors can post their notes, presentation files, homework assignments.
- Making course materials available online cuts down on the need to xerox handouts, so this is both a big timesaver and agrees with green principles.
Functions that are essential for both groups are
- Making materials accessible, and
- Communicating grades to students in a confidential manner.