Protesting Blackboard 8.0

This post is being written in response to the unreliability of Blackboard 8.0—outages, slowness and bugs, oh my! Are we beta testing? Some didn’t realize how dependent we’ve become upon Blackboard until it went down for three consecutive days in mid March 2009.

As I hear rumors that Blackboard is likely to remain unreliable with periodic outages, I’ve quietly been setting up workarounds so the show can go on. Below are some of my tricks; apologies for undoubtedly provoking the ire of some of my friends in corporate IT. And Kevin Wolff in BCTC, everyone says you are a miracle worker. Seriously. Thanks from all of us in the faculty.

Question 1: True or false? Baruch offers a service so you can post items on the web, even when Blackboard is down.

True!

Faculty can sign up for their own blog with Baruch’s Bernard L. Schwartz Communications Institute (the sponsors of this blog). The blogs are easily formatted to have the look and feel of a web page (example). Post away! (Another option is the eReserve.)

Question 2: True or false? When Blackboard is down and you want to post a giant file, you can send emails with large attachments (say, up to 1 gigabyte) for free?

True!

There are several free services—my favorites are www.dropsend.com (1 GB max) and www.YouSendIt.com (100 MB max). These services send an email to your recipients with a link to download the file.

Question 3: True or false? You can (easily) send an email to the entire class from your baruch.cuny.edu email account even when Blackboard is down.

True!

The easiest way I know is via Gmail, though other email packages allow you to set up broadcast groups as well.

Step 1. Create a new Gmail email account (or use the one you already own).

Step 2. Download the class email list from the Baruch eRoster (select the “download roster” option and save as XLS file).

Step 3. Go to Gmail > Contacts > Export to download your contacts as a “Google CSV” file. This gives a nicely formatted Excel spreadsheet into which you copy-paste the names/emails you downloaded in step 2. Save as CSV format.

Step 4. Go to Gmail > Contacts > Import, and select the CSV file you updated in step 3. Be sure to check the box “Also add these imported contacts to new group.”

Now send an email to the group. As a bonus, Gmail allows attachments up to 20 MB in size. But wait, there’s more! Go to Gmail > Settings > Accounts > “Send Mail As”, and enter your baruch.cuny.edu email address. Even though you are emailing from gmail.com, students will see baruch.cuny.edu, and replies will go there too.

For those interested in other computer tricks, the following NY Times and WSJ articles may be helpful.

P.S. A week after I wrote the above, Dennis Slavin forwarded a note from Arthur Downing: “The BCTC has launched a new Blackboard status page that posts the current availability of the system along with the status messages received from CUNY: http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/blackboard “. There’s some good stuff here too.

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14 Responses to Protesting Blackboard 8.0

  1. Kyra Gaunt says:

    I cannot believe that beta-tested this broad system this semester. Sprung it on us without notice and then had no backup in case of outage…CUNY-wide!!

    I am not going to use Blackboard again. And it wasn’t just three days. It’s been on and off since then. I cannot rely on it and it was the only source of communication I had (never occurred to me in my spitefulness to download the roster and get emails).

    I am creating a wiki for next fall and thinking of moving my blog over to Baruch’s Bernard L. Schwartz Communications Institute as they keep reminding me on my twitter account. lol

  2. glenn petersen says:

    And people laugh at me when they find out how little I rely on technology. Being on the trailing edge, rather than the cutting edge, has its advantages. I have only one use for Blackboard and can easily use plain old email in its stead. But I do thank all of you who are using technology; you work out its kinks, so that by the time I start using something, five years later, it actually works.

  3. Avatar of Leah Schanke Leah Schanke says:

    There’s an article about the issues with Blackboard 8 in the May issue of Clarion. It can be found on page 5 at the following link:

    http://www.psc-cuny.org/Clarion/ClarionMay2009.pdf

  4. If you’re interested in seeing what you can do with a wiki and a blog as Blackboard alternatives, you may want to take a look at what Gardner Campbell from Baylor University did for his students in “Intro to New Media Studies” course this spring: <a href=”http://gardnercampbell.wetpaint.com/page/FYS+1399+Memex+to+YouTube+S09?t=anon”course syllabus (using wiki software) and course blog.

  5. Nice post, Will; it strikes a balance between the outrage that a lot of faculty and students are feeling towards BlackBoard with the generous recognition that effective web services are a challenge that a college needs to face collectively and in a variety of ways.

    I especially like that you suggest methods for users to take more ownership over their work on the web and for responsible backup practices. No web service enjoys 100% uptime (even Gmail has experienced problems recently) so backing up your data and making sure you have access to it when and where you need it is really the only guarantee. We get lulled into the belief that technology should just be there when we need it, that it should “just work” all the time, but I believe we do so at our peril.

    Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use it, only that we should do so aware of the risks.

    And with that ringing endorsement of technology: Kyra, we’d love to help you use a wiki, a blog, or a bliki! Drop a line whenever you’re ready!

  6. Avatar of Tomasello Tomasello says:

    In the late 90s, during the pre-Blackboard days when Baruch hosted its own syllabus pages, the site would go down and be denuded of all course content (forever and always) about four days before the start of each semester. I used to get pretty upset, reflected in at least one infamous e-mail. My advice now?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwAaeAeyYw4

  7. Elisabeth Gareis says:

    Thanks, Tomasello. :-)

  8. JIm says:

    This is so EDUPUNK!

  9. For those not familiar with the term “edupunk,” Jim is referring to a way of teaching that, according to recent write-up in the NYT, “avoids mainstream tools like PowerPoint and Blackboard, and instead aims to bring the rebellious attitude and D.I.Y. ethos of ’70s bands like The Clash to the classroom.”

    See the wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edupunk

  10. glenn petersen says:

    What a hoot! Out in parts of West Texas it’s so flat folks there say if you stare hard enough you can see the back of your own head. Sounds like in ignoring blackboard, power point, and related technologies, I’m now so far behind that I’m nearly on the leading edge of the curve. Maybe I should go home and rip out the knees on all my jeans?

  11. I don’t know, Glenn. I’ve always thought of you as proto-Edupunk.

  12. Team as you explore various other options. There are some learning concepts that are pretty interesting when it come to leveraging social technologies. Blogs, wiki’s et. al. Some say there should be a new wave of applications on the horizon. Sort of the imagine if scenario.

    Our group just released a white paper you might enjoy, thinking about true “Social LEarning”. Enjoy.

    Social Learning Buzz Masks Deeper Dimensions, An Industry Whitepaper from the Gilfus Education Group : http://www.gilfuseducationgroup.com/social-learning-buzz-masks-deeper-dimensions

  13. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed this NY Times article by Blackboard founder Michael Chasen. He and I were both introduced to personal computing on the TRS80 computer. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/jobs/15boss.html

  14. YJN says:

    Nice posts Will… do you have a twitter?

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