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College asked to evaluate utility of Blackboard

Blackboard is an online educational aid. Mills is looking into how often Blackboard is used. (Bridget Stagnitto)

On Nov. 5 the Associated Students of Mills College (ASMC) passed Resolution 103, requesting that the college analyze how professors and students use the online resource, Blackboard Learn.

The educational platform is owned and managed by Blackboard Inc., and is currently used by Mills College for online educational purposes, such as keeping track of students’ grades and coursework. Blackboard provides students with access to readings, handouts, and syllabi in addition to a discussion board feature.

According to Resolution 103, online programs assist in the education process by being convenient, accessable tools for students of varying capibilities.

“The Resolution proposes that the officers of Mills College address the use of Blackboard Learn in each lecture and seminar-based course at Mills College,” said Monica Bower, an Academic Affairs Chairperson for ASMC.

The Academic Affairs Committee conducted an online survey with a single question: Would you like to see Blackboard being used in every lecture/seminar based course on campus?

73 students completed the online survey between Oct. 27 and Nov. 1, 2012. The results showed 67.1 percent of students wanted to see Blackboard Learn being used in every lecture and seminar-based course at Mills.

“We have discussion questions on Blackboard and it helps to think about them over the week; people post throughout the week and it’s helpful that way,” said Alexandra Michelle, a second year Dance and Math major.

Less than seven percent said they did not want it used in each class and 26 percent said they had no preference.

“I find the structure a bit confusing and I would guess that staff do too because oftentimes the information for a class will be misplaced or hidden somewhere that even they are not aware of,” said Lauren Martin, a junior.

The survey also concluded that students feel Blackboard is not very user friendly, a possible indication of why students might be reluctant to have Blackboard Learn in all their classes.

“I also find it a little inconvenient to have to log into it through the portal to get the information, in that it doesn’t send you any updates for events or assignments; you have to hunt them down yourself,” Martin said.

There are professors who do not currently use Blackboard as a central learning tool in their courses.

“I work full time as the Director of Auxiliary Services in addition to teaching the class and I just didn’t take the time to learn a new program,” said Dorothy Calimeris, Directory of Auxiliary Services. “If my class continues I will definitely use Blackboard in the future.”

English Professor Thomas Strychacz, tried Blackboard in class one year, but found it to have many issues for students and professors alike.

“I had students put their essays onto Blackboard, but immediately there seemed to be questions about how to format, why Blackboard didn’t allow certain kinds of formatting, and after a few weeks I just gave up,” Strychacz said. “Every time I’ve gone to try to use it I can’t seem to make it work, or it doesn’t work in the way I expect or want.”

For some professors, Blackboard is a convoluted method of course organization.

“Blackboard just seems like an overly complicated and counterintuitive way of accomplishing something that nowadays we should be able to do with absolute ease,” Strychacz said.

ASMC’s resolution will be discussed on Nov. 19 at the next Faculty Executive Committee (FEC) meeting, as per an email from Provost Greer.