Blackboard Learn Sucks, Again – Or, Teaching Mobile

imagesThe Blackboard app sucks more than Blackboard itself. The mobile app is teacher unfriendly. In fact, it’s downright teacher-hostile. Remember, the medium is the message. Since Blackboard has yet to master mobile-responsive design, the mismatch between the website and mobile app causes users to get mixed messages. This is a huge headache for teachers and students alike.

Additionally, instructors cannot access the grade center, or grade anything, which renders Blackboard Mobile pointless for teachers.  The app is just an added burden for instructors to address in course design, without much payoff.

What the app is useful for

1. Uploading docs at the last minute.

2. Posting last-minute announcements while you’re at a red light because you’re late for class.

Which only works assuming all students have the mobile app AND they’ve set notifications properly. If that’s the case, then the mobile app is almost as good as mass texting. HOWEVER, if they’ve set notifications improperly, they will get pinged every time you upload something, and they will hate you.

3. Discussion boards, the app’s main functionality, and its grand fail.

Why the discussion board fails

1. BB mobile screws up links.

Users are given an error message stating that links were improperly created, and that they must follow the error message to get to the link or the embedded media. So they must double link to get to whatever content the instructor includes. It takes a patient, tech-savvy student to follow these directions.

2. Blackboard provides no immediate instructions on preventing this error.

3. Error messages everywhere.

The app frequently reads embedded media as an error, and forces you to hyperlink out. That is cumbersome, especially if students have to view three or four videos or images for an activity or a discussion board question.

4. Even when embedding media with the toolbar app, you still get error messages. That is just wrong.

5. The app is certainly not cross-platform friendly. It doesn’t play nice with Android – either on a Samsung or a Xoom. Browser resizing makes links go haywire.

The Really Bad

Blackboard Mobile wants a news feed akin to Facebook or Twitter. It gives us just a block of text. Admittedly, we can forego the unwieldy klunk of Blackboard’s discussion board threading and website formatting, but for little payoff. The terrible downside is that the “content-rich” reward is broken and the text – which is what college is all about – is Twitter-sized.  Now you know why your students’ discussion board posts suck. If they are posting from Blackboard Learn, then they are just Tweeting. People cannot make substantive arguments in tweets. Form and content are mutually interdependent. As Neil Postman explained it, the shift from oral to print literacy created a context for complex (long-winded) argumentation. When writers squeeze their thoughts into tiny boxes, they can’t develop complex arguments. Twitter has its own kind of literacy. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It just means rethinking pedagogy. Again.

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