Platforms, old and new, under utilized

On Oct. 10, during the Drake University student forum discussion for the plus/minus grading system, the students present were asked if their professors use Blackboard inadequately. The majority of the students raised their hands.

At the forum, Drake students expressed the major reasons why they are unhappy with Blackboard usage. The reasons included professors blatantly not using Blackboard, the timeliness in which grades are posted and the different versions of Blackboard.

Des Moines native Suzanne Hess, a learning management system analyst at Drake, assists users and faculty with Blackboard.

“There is probably 38 to 40 percent of people using Blackboard in general, but two thirds of it, the courses are in Blackboard 9 and one third are in Blackboard 8,” Hess said.

Sophomore health sciences major Hannah Rebhorn has not been impressed with the amount of professors that use Blackboard.

“During my three semesters at Drake so far, I have had less than half of my professors use Blackboard,” Rebhorn said. “The professors that do use it, don’t post grades often enough.”

Faculty Senate President and associate environmental science and policy professor Keith Summerville, does not use Blackboard. Most of Summerville’s classes are small. With only a dozen or so students, and are very hands-on.

“Blackboard is not terribly conducive to my classes,” Summerville said.

Summerville thinks that if a student is concerned or unaware about his or her grade, they should talk to the professor face-to-face.

“You don’t need a computer to tell you your grades, Summerville said. “Interpersonal communication is more important than intrapersonal communication.”

A large part of professors’ lack of usage of Blackboard may come from the learning process.

Jerome Hilscher, learning technology specialist at Drake, helps professors find the right technology to use in their classes.

“Professors might not be completely sure how to use (Blackboard), so it takes time to learn it,” Hilscher said.

Drake professors can go to weekly Blackboard workshops and take an online class to better learn Blackboard. Hess teaches the sessions.

While some professors do not use Blackboard, they often use another technology tool, such as websites and social media, to communicate with students.

“They still use some form of electronic platform or learning management system, it just might not be Blackboard,” Hess said. “It’s just that Blackboard is what is recognized and it is what is supported.”

Associate professor of marketing Andrew Norman thinks most of the tools Blackboard has are sufficient.

“Blackboard does so many different things that whatever you’re accomplishing through some of those other things you could do through Blackboard,” Norman said. “At least Blackboard is centralized. I see the benefit being that all the students have one place to go instead of 14 different places to go.”

Norman does wish Turnitin, a plagiarism checker and online grading system, was a part of Blackboard. Drake’s College of Business pays to use Turnitin every year. For Turnitin to be a part of Blackboard, the university would have to pay the licensing as a whole.

With Blackboard 9, more tools have been added like blog and wiki functions.

Philosophy professor Leah Kalmanson is in her third year at Drake. She uses Blackboard 9 for  the calendar, grade book, content and discussion functions.

“I try to keep the assignments as up to date as possible so that everyone can check Blackboard and see what their grade is at any given point in the semester, ” Kalmanson said.

Sophomore music and biology major from Chicago, Ill., Mallory Rasky, is generally happy with the way professors use Blackboard. However, she dislikes the two versions of Blackboard.

“Choose one. Having two is confusing,” Rasky said.

Norman still uses Blackboard 8 after taking a sabbatical last year, when Blackboard 9 was introduced.

“Over the holiday break I intend to look at Blackboard 9 and see what the differences are,” Norman said.

Hess said Drake is making the transition from Blackboard 8 to Blackboard 9. By May 2013, Blackboard 9 will be the only version used.

“We are making a slow phase transition and slowly easing everybody into it,” Hess said.

With the new system being implemented by May 2013, some of the student discontent will be resolved.

“Blackboard is nothing more than a tool,” Hilscher said. “I think the biggest thing I’ve heard from students is they’d like to see, not more or less of Blackboard, but more engagement with instructors.”

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