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Blackboard Buys Moodlerooms and Netspot

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the cutting-the-ropes-instead-of-boring-the-hull dept.

Open Source 95

crumley writes "Blackboard, the proprietary giant in the learning management software market, has purchased two companies, Moodlerooms and Netspot, that sell support for their open source competitor Moodle. Blackboard said that they plan to allow Moodlerooms and Netspot to continue operating with their current leadership. It will be interesting to see if this move leads to an exodus from Moodlerooms and Netspot, since many of their clients were intentionally trying to avoid doing business with Blackboard."

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they can continue for now... (4, Insightful)

captbob2002 (411323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484525)

Blackboard's modus operandi is to purchase and kill. I expect they will do the same here. Try to kill-off support for Moodle since they can't kill Moodle directly..

Re:they can continue for now... (5, Informative)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484593)

Which is rather unfortunate, since I can say without exaggeration that Blackboard is probably the worst piece of modern software I've ever had to use. Moodle's certainly not perfect, but I've found it absolutely fine in general day-to-day use; Blackboard is slow, buggy, and has a web interface which manages to disable such revolutionary new browser features as 'the back button', and 'middle click'.

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484791)

Which is rather unfortunate, since I can say without exaggeration that Blackboard is probably the worst piece of modern software I've ever had to use.

I have no experience with it, but I know teachers who love it.

Not that teachers are reliable judges of software, but still...

Both true (4, Insightful)

pavon (30274) | more than 2 years ago | (#39485345)

Blackboard is one of those products where the idea is great but the execution is horrible. Compared to having to maintain a website themselves, it is a huge step forward for teachers and students. It enables them to do things that most education IT departments didn't support before, like discussion forums and per-student access permission (for grades, feedback etc). Compared to just about any other popular webapp however, it is complete shit. It is like all those horrible intranet applications sold to business that are completely dependent on plugins just serve static content, require 7 clicks to do something that should require 2, have poor browser support, break when you do normal things like click the back button, and seems to get worse with each new release.

Re:Both true (2)

toadlife (301863) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486273)

One of the things I remember about Blackboard is the regular re-introduction of old bugs. Blackboard would fix a bug and the bug would come back a couple of releases later, at which point we would have to prove to Blackboard support that the bug had come back; because of course they had it in their head that they had fixed it. And of course, Blackboard would take several months to fix any bug that had any kind of workaround, even though many times the workarounds were completely unreasonable, like they IE7 compatibility workaround: 'disable every security feature of Internet Explorer 7'.

Re:Both true (2)

ngg (193578) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486519)

break when you do normal things like click the back button, and seems to get worse with each new release.

Yes, but after (how many years?) the latest release finally fixes the race condition that would delete an entire class's worth of grades if two teaching assistants (who teach, say, different lab sections for a single lecture section) dared to upload grades at the same time! The same release forces you to triple-click on a cell to enter a grade, but hey, we've almost advanced to 1960's-era databases!

But in all seriousness, I don't know a single professor in the department who would use Blackboard if it weren't mandated for all courses by the university administration.

Re:they can continue for now... (0)

maxdread (1769548) | more than 2 years ago | (#39485749)

Teachers love it because it allows them to be lazy. The same reason some teachers are now relying on quizzes and activities provided by book publishers on their website, one less thing they need to look at or grade. The sad part is if you don't buy your book new, you get to pay $30 to the publisher for the privilege of taking tests.

Re:they can continue for now... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39488681)

In many cases the school is hellbent on pushing everything online. We have been lectured every year about how we need to get more classes/content online. No discussion is made of the effectiveness or utility or really anything. Just DO it. Why? Because, every other school is doing it.

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39488003)

Most of the teachers and professors never create content in blackboard. They use course cratridges ( archive of course content provided by text book publisher) and pawn the associated text books to students as required material.This is why blackboard is popular since teaching staff can use it without any pain and and courses are taught using canned publisher provided content.

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

BForrester (946915) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488025)

The only teachers who enjoy Blackboard are those who have never used any of the vastly superior alternative learning management systems.

This is analogous to the masses who "love" Internet Explorer.

  - It's functional, if awkward.
  - It gets you from A to B, slowly.
  - It's buggy, but not to the extent that you'll lose hair over it.

Disclaimer: college sysadmin for D2L.

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

Randle_Revar (229304) | more than 2 years ago | (#39491585)

If they love it, they are idiots

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#39491833)

Idiots by the standards of this site, sure - but probably perfectly adequate for teaching most primary school subjects.

Re:they can continue for now... (5, Funny)

toadlife (301863) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484889)

Using Blackboard is bad enough, but to get the full effect, you should try administering it.

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

Canazza (1428553) | more than 2 years ago | (#39485109)

Or developing for it.

It's the opposite of intuitive, I had to have someone take me through how to upload a simple SCORM course the first time. It's burried under about six menus, half of which tend to be un-alt-tagged generic icons. Needless to say that a year later when we had to do it again I had completely forgotten how to do it.

It's *really* clunky, and every one I've seen uses frames like they're going out of fashion. Rather than, you know, DOA.

Re:they can continue for now... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39485857)

Rather than, you know, DOA

Dead On Arrival?

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

datavirtue (1104259) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486095)

Right now there is shit storm brewing because I added a bunch of wait-listed students to a course. The only thing is, I deleted them after adding them. Guess what, wait-listed students are logging in. FUCK!! Blackboard admin, oh the fun.

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

toadlife (301863) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488499)

Manual additions and enrollments caused a bit a grief and confusion for us too. We solved the issue by banning the manual creation and enrollment of students. The only way a student could be added or enrolled in a class was through the snapshot process. We only ran it twice a day, so students would have to wait up to 12 hours to get into their class, but it eliminated a common source of confusion.

I talk in the past-tense because we've moved onto another LMS.

Re:they can continue for now... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39487773)

Nobody really thinks about LMS and their QC, so blackboard has been squeaking by for far too long. I don't know how else to say it, but if your worth anything as an admin, you'd be trying to switch to Moodle and KILL blackboard doing every child a favor. Non-dynamic, single platform, buggy software is meant for the 90s, the only reason they are still in business is because people are too lazy to switch off them.

Blackboard represents a common theme in the grade school IT spectrum and that's convenience over cost (has a yearly fee rofl, you don't "just" buy it), as well as complacency. Imho you can spend the money on the kids themselves (books, labs, better software) and not managing them, corporate America will take care of that for you.

Re:they can continue for now... (3, Informative)

jmerlin (1010641) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488341)

I would be laughing at this comment if I had not been in that war myself. Unfortunately, I am now forever unclean.

And it's not just Blackboard Learn. It's every piece of software they've ever written (I have a great deal of experience extending and supporting BBTS at every level, there were massive gaps in middleware that they didn't provide that I had to write myself). I'm quite convinced they design the software to be intentionally bad to secure service contracts (that are enormously expensive, indeed). Even something as simple as monitoring their services was a nightmare. The tools they provided almost always hung when opened. I had to reverse engineer the protocol they were using and write an app that would detect when a service was having problems and auto-restart it. One service would just kill itself if it got too many errors (as I was told by one of their engineers, it maintains a count of failed actions, if that count gets too high, the process either hangs or exits), and these errors were internal, not really "errors," and happened at a very rapid rate. I just can't comprehend that level of bad. Don't even get me started on the DB structure, the backup methods, nor the interfaces between the individual components and their 3rd-party bindings (which weren't well maintained). Holy shit, man. Holy shit.

There were some bright people working there, unfortunately they have to support a monumental failure. I feel their pain.

Re:they can continue for now... (2)

toadlife (301863) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488753)

For awhile they shipped a buggy version of tomcat that could not close the threads it opened. This resulted in tomcat seizing after a week or so of being up.

I spent two weeks troubleshooting this and was literally advised to "RTFM" by Blackboard support when I contacted them for help.

The kicker? Blackboard was never even aware of the bug until after they accidentally fixed it by shipping an updated tomcat binary with a new release.

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#39485309)

Sounds like Microsoft. Remember "DOS ain't done 'til Lotus won't run"? Or Stack Electronics? This is the same M.O.

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

pushing-robot (1037830) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487833)

Remember "DOS ain't done 'til Lotus won't run"?

Why yes, I do. [slashdot.org]

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484595)

On the other hand, Oracle continues to support MySQL, a copylefted RDBMS that it bought along with the rest of Sun.

Re:they can continue for now... (3, Interesting)

MisterSquid (231834) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484939)

This is 2012. I understand academia moves slowly but I certainly expect more of a services provider for education than horrendous table-based layout from 1997 [netspot.com.au] .

While not the underlying technology, the landing page is the first thing potential (and, in many cases, existing) clients see and such antiquated structure would warn me away from such a provider. If companies like Netspot are the competition Blackboard can squash only through purchasing, Blackboard must be a really shitty company.

Re:they can continue for now... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39507365)

Ive never understood why the only two Moodle Partners in Australia, NetSpot and Pukunui, have such crappy-looking websites! NetSpot has excellent webdesigners on staff...I've seen Moodle themes created by them. Why can't they apply that fu to their own frigging website?

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

datavirtue (1104259) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486043)

My guess, the Blackboard application will be the one getting killed in the future. Many states are in the process of trying to get students on a single-login-for-life and I can't see everyone standardizing on a proprietary closed-source system housed within the gates of a single company. Moodle is a better choice since it is open-source. Let the community build it, test it, and Blackboard can make their own mods and specialize in support and content. It is not like most schools can even begin to implement their own LMS even if it is FOSS. Blackboard costs a fortune to setup and maintain properly, so something has to give. Nonetheless, the Blackboard corp will become a dominating force in whatever transpires.

They have not been purchasing and killing, it is more like purchase and integrate.

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

Kalriath (849904) | more than 2 years ago | (#39489907)

Haha, you're funny. Everyone knows that governments and academia are guaranteed to standardise on a proprietary closed-source system within the gates of a single company.

You may not like it (hell, no-one likes it), but it's the reality.

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

crumley (12964) | more than 2 years ago | (#39490873)

Odd comment. Care to post any examples? In my observation, academia and governments are usually fractured.

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

Kalriath (849904) | more than 2 years ago | (#39502999)

I work for a government department. Guess how many open source products we use? If you guessed "zero" - well, you'd actually be wrong. We're using open source for content management. But everything else? Proprietary. And the university we're partnered with? Also proprietary all over the place.

Re:they can continue for now... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39487241)

They have done the buy and kill for LMS (Web CT and Angel in separate deals), but they also like to buy the top two companies in a space and merge them into a new division. They did that with Eluminate and Wimba and formed Blackboard Collaborate. This is the first take over since Bb went private last year, so it will be interesting to see the direction they go with it. They may have decided if they can't beat em join em.

I was with Eluminate / Bb Collaborate for nearly 4 years.

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

galego (110613) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488257)

Two words: Leopard ... spots

I think it it's "if you can't beat 'em directly on the field of battle or if you can't buy them out, see if you can choke off their logistical support". People will run from hosted Moodle because Blackboard now runs it (and starves it of good support/innovation). Then some genius administrator who holds purse strings will say "Hey, how about we host with Blackboard!?!?!" ... Not that I've ever seen any thing similar to that happen.

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

ylikone (589264) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488609)

I don't see how this can kill Moodle, as they are not buying Moodle, just 2 of its partners. There are over 50 partners world-wide that provide funding for Moodle development. They will never get the largest Moodle partner, www.remote-learner.net, who are dedicated to open source.

Microsoft is the Answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39489191)

The apple did not fall far from the tree...

http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2001/Apr01/04-24BlackBoardPR.mspx

Embrace, Enhance, Extinguish. Litigate or buy anything that is left over.

Re:Microsoft is the Answer (1)

Kalriath (849904) | more than 2 years ago | (#39489937)

I don't see how a press-release from 2001 is even slightly related.

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

MichaelPenne (605299) | more than 2 years ago | (#39490687)

It's important to remember that Blackboard bought 2 of 52 Moodle Partners. Others, like the company I work for, are completely independent of this deal. The Partner program gives good insulation to customers - if they don't like the Partner they are contracting with, they can switch to another one, or bring their Moodle site in house.

Some of the other LMS companies have an open source option, however none have a Partner program, so you have to choose between DIY or the commercial company that also owns the code. With Moodle, Martin Dougiamas, Moodle's founder, focuses on core development and his team is funded by contributions from the Partners. This means there are many choices for Moodle customers and the purchase of one or several of the many hosting/support companies in the Moodle Partner program won't change that.

More: http://info.remote-learner.net/blog-0/ [remote-learner.net]

Re:they can continue for now... (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 2 years ago | (#39494493)

It's a bit odd then that they say on the front page of their web site that they now support both commercial and open source learning platforms, and have joined forces with Moodleroom. But I suppose only time will tell.

This isn't even funny. (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39484531)

Every time our college escapes Blackboard and their horrendous technical support and technical staff they buy the company we moved to. Likewise, every time they buy the company we moved to, the technical support takes a noticeable nosedive. Our support people notice it, our staff notices it, it's just that obvious when it happens. We have to almost fight with them to get things done sometimes and the only thing they can manage to do with reasonable turnaround time is notify you of outages (caused, the majority of the time, at least for us, by their mistakes).

Re:This isn't even funny. (1)

superflippy (442879) | more than 2 years ago | (#39485265)

It's been almost a year since I last worked at a university. I had almost forgotten about all the "Blackboard outage notice" emails that used to fill my inbox. Thanks for the memories, AC.

Re:This isn't even funny. (3)

Seta (934439) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487541)

Sorry to dig up bad memories. If I recall some of the latest issues we've had with them... they like to add servers to our server pools without notification or copying customizations. They also occasionally try to mis-represent the amount of used disk space, sometimes by tens of gigabytes, to try to get us to renegotiate our contract. Bug reports generally go unanswered for days and sometimes can span for weeks at a time only to be closed with "it's not a bug, it's a feature that can sometimes be used maliciously to compromise the integrity of your database" (obviously paraphrasing a bit). Relatedly, what's even less funny, is that I forgot to log in before posting that. Pretty sad that the first +5 informative I get is when I post anonymously. :(

Re:This isn't even funny. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39485671)

The good news is that if your college uses Moodle you can change support providers without changing your application. Remote-Learner [remote-learner.net] supports Moodle and isn't owned by Blackboard, I think it's a pretty good company but I am biased, since I work there.

Re:This isn't even funny. (2)

Math.sqrt(-1) (1574847) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488743)

<rant>

My institution is in the same boat. We were a WebCT school and then moved to ANGEL shortly after Blackbeard conquered, pillaged, and plundered WebCT. We'd been running ANGEL for a couple of years when, out of the blue, we found that ANGEL had been assimilated by Blackborg.

Blackboard has a tendency to buy anything that appears to be making a positive change in the LMS market. Rather than purchasing these competitors and incorporating the innovations and enhancements into new products, they let the old product sit there as is, make money off of it, and provide occasional inconsequential "improvements" semi-annually (at best). Eventually, when they do release a new product, the "new" product is woefully incompatible with current and emerging web technologies. There is no foresight, no innovation, and no significant improvement in the quality of the product or the support services provided.

Case in point, the fall 2011 release of ANGEL 8.0 introduced support for WebKit-based browsers. Prior to this time, students and faculty using Chrome, Safari, or other WebKit based browsers were screwed. It's one thing to force all our users to install IE or Firefox on their computers, but what do we do about mobile devices? Since mobile devices typically run WebKit based browsers, students (and faculty) can't adequately utilize their online courses from most mobile devices. So much for the iPad in the classroom.

Then there's the Blackboard Mobile Learn app. It's free for iOS users (although it's sorely lacking in functionality) but Android users have to use a specific service provider (Sprint) in order to actually use the app.

Combine these issues with Blackboard's propensity to purchase anything that looks anything like viable competition and you'll get a good idea of the state of distance education in the US. Next up, they'll probably purchase Instructure...

Granted, Blackbeard's new acquisitions don't really have anything to do with everything I just said, but it gave me a chance to get up on my soapbox...

</rant>

Re:This isn't even funny. (1)

Seta (934439) | more than 2 years ago | (#39493113)

I find it incredibly eerie that your institutions entire history almost mirrors mine. Every LMS you used, we used, and I've complained to my boss about almost everything you have. I could almost confidently say that I might actually know or work with you if I didn't know from your website that you're from the state next door to me.

What makes it almost scary was that just today I was speaking to my boss about Instructure being pretty much the last choice to stay away from Blackboard, but with their popularity among the faculty they would probably be bought up next. He then said (fully believing the salesman that came to pitch it to him) that they could not be bought up by Blackboard because their product is open source. I then pointed out that the original author has every right to change the license of their product (though not retroactively) and that a boatload of their major features are actually not open source.

So we, once again, come to a crossroads that really isn't a crossroads at all. We can't run Moodle locally because our IT department is filled to the brim with arrogant and/or incompetent twits. The one Moodle host that we were thinking of going with has been bought out by a company that sells support without actually providing it. Our last hope is Instructure with Canvas, but we can't support it locally because our IT department communicates with each other using grunts and smacking each other with clubs. We could go with their hosting service, but that wouldn't save us from the eventual issue of Instructure being swallowed up by Blackboard.

So hear we are. Doomed to go in a circle over and over until some regulatory body steps in and tells Blackboard no. When we first moved to ANGEL I thought it was a piece of junk (and it is), but now it's a piece of junk owned by Blackboard and that makes my life as an LMS administrator/programmer hell. What makes the buyout of ANGEL scary though, is that Blackboard actually kept the ANGEL interface designer so that they can make the next version of Blackboard look like ANGEL while being functionally (on the back-end) Blackboard. As you work at a college, you already know who the real decision makers are and the real decision makers love bubbly interfaces.

Long story short, we've just been shafted. Again.

Re:This isn't even funny. (1)

Math.sqrt(-1) (1574847) | more than 2 years ago | (#39496097)

<rant>

Unfortunately, it appears as if our tale is the industry standard. I was at the ITC conference in Long Beach a few weeks ago and had the same discussion with several people. It seems as if we all do our best to escape the clutches of Blackbeard and just about the time we think we're free from their grasp, they suck us in again.

The good news about Instructure is that they seem to be digging in their heels and preparing for the long fight. Here's a most excellent blog post from Josh Coates [instructure.com] on the topic. Gotta hand it to him, the fella's got a pair of brass cojones. But, Blackbeard has the cash and he who has the cash makes the rules, and time will tell us whether or not those brass cojones are real or if it's all bluster.

Sorry to hear about your struggles with the IT folks at your school. Fortunately for us, our IT folks are actually a very solid team who are ready to work with us regardless of which direction we choose. But our institution lacks the funds and manpower required to support internal hosting of the LMS, so we're stuck with using an external host.

We've been playing around internally with the new Pearson OpenClass platform, but are VERY hesitant to jump into bed with any publisher to such an extent. (The vile textbook publishers are another topic for another day)...

In the end, my fear is that we're going to end up with an interface and system that makes it more difficult for students to succeed. Students can't master the course content when they're constantly struggling with the LMS and/or publisher resources. As Blackborg continues to assimilate the competition, they stifle the growth and advancement of the LMS as a whole, and instead of simplifying things, they get more complicated which in turn hinders student success.

</rant>

Moodle is _awful_ (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39484561)

Honestly. The Open University switched from the highly proprietary Firstclass to Moodle for conferencing over the past couple of years and it's like moving from a comprehensive, well thought out online collaboration tool to something downloaded in 1996 from Matt's Script Archive.

(1) Separate the protocol from the interface, please - it's nice to have various different ways of accessing, right the way down to a text interface;

(2) Especially for accessibility reasons - lots of people at the OU have disabilities;

(3) A dedicated win32/GTK/Cocoa client is so much fucking faster than a web page;

(4) And much better presented;

(5) And changing message views etc is so much nicer and quicker;

(7) As dragging and dropping of messages around;

(8) With a comprehensive permissions system.

I sometimes wonder whether open source systems are written by people who actually use a similar product they're building from day to day and want to enhance on it, or some guy just wakes up one day and thinks, "I know what's going to get me noticed by cheapskates."

GRAB THE CODE! (2)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484563)

Moodle, even if it's in it's current state of code should make for a very usable open-source platform for a long time to come.

Re:GRAB THE CODE! (5, Informative)

fotbr (855184) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484701)

No need to. Blackboard only bought two companies that provided Moodle hosting.

The code is fine. The Moodle organization is fine. The only thing that is happening is that schools are learning yet again why it's better to host it yourself than to outsource.

Re:GRAB THE CODE! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39487421)

I wonder how many support comanies for Moodle they'd be willing to buy to squash their competition? Time to go start one up...

Re:GRAB THE CODE! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39485343)

This makes no sense. Moodle will still be developed, hosting will just be sold by different companies.

Non-issue (2)

BlastfireRS (2205212) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484569)

It's not so much that clients are specifically avoiding Blackboard; schools and such are vastly under-funded, and given the choice between competent free software with smaller support costs and a proprietary LMS, why pay the premium? My university has been steadily moving courses from Blackboard to Moodle for that reason specifically.

So long as the services and prices of these companies remain the same, I don't think clients are going to care who the owner is.

Re:Non-issue (1)

captbob2002 (411323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484643)

Wish our was. We seem to have the mind set of "The more they charge us, the better it is!" Hence we have Blackboard and it is hosted. I expect once they have our content locked up good and tight we'll see substantial annual increases in their fees.

Interesting "solution" (1)

uvsc_wolverine (692513) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484571)

The university I work for has developed our own home-grown learning management system. The beta is going...so-so and we're supposed to drop-kick Blackboard in 2 months and go wholesale with our own LMS. As a tech I'm somewhat concerned.

Re:Interesting "solution" (2)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484639)

To be honest, I have had better experiences with home-grown systems than with prepackaged software. My alma mater got rid of their home grown system in favor of Banner (by Sunguard) and it was a complete disaster, after having flirted with Blackboard (which was less of a disaster but still terribly annoying). My current school uses Sakai, and it is just awful compared to the CGI scripts that professors sometimes write.

Re:Interesting "solution" (1)

Skuld-Chan (302449) | more than 2 years ago | (#39489299)

Banner isn't an LMS by itself - they have a module for their SIS called course studio and yes it sucks.

Of course - everything Sunguard makes kinda sucks.

Re:Interesting "solution" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39490971)

home grown is a bad option. what do you do when that one guy who developed said software holds your intitution hostage? it has happened more or less at the .edu where i work!

"Learning management systems" (5, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484601)

I have experienced three of these systems -- Blackboard, Sakai, and Banner -- and I have to say, I am not particularly impressed. Each one came with a phenomenal set of headaches, both for students and for professors/TAs.

Ugly as they were, simple CGI scripts rolled by professors worked just as well and did not induce any further headaches (and usually had fewer issues). At my alma mater, they had a less aesthetically pleasing system for entering and viewing grades, but it worked -- you never had to go more than two levels of links deep to find what you wanted. Yet schools seem to constantly get rid of these home-grown solutions in favor of Blackboard 'n pals...why?

Re:"Learning management systems" (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39484619)

Yes, Blackboard is a nightmare. Using it, and managing it.

Re:"Learning management systems" (1)

captbob2002 (411323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484675)

Then admin/mgmt can say "Look how much money we saved by laying off those pesky techies! Blackboard will do everything for us!"

So what will we be looking at for annual increases in the hosting/support fees? But they don't worry about that, only employee headcount.

Re:"Learning management systems" (1)

Harshmage (1925730) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484815)

Actually, no. It's not the headcount, it's the headaches when whoever programmed the home-grown solution leaves for a higher paying job. Remember, we're in education; they pay as little as they can get away with. My take-home is about 32k a year, and there hasn't been a raise (or cost-of-living-allowance increase) in 7 years. We lose more people to industry jobs that pay twice as much.

Re:"Learning management systems" (2)

5KVGhost (208137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39485263)

Sometimes it is the headcount, and sometimes that's with good reason. It costs a lot more than a salary to keep a person on payroll, and the overhead for each employee is only getting higher. And it is genuinely risky for the institution and the students to rely on any proprietary system, home-grown or COTS, if there's really only one person who knows how it all works.

Re:"Learning management systems" (1)

tbannist (230135) | more than 2 years ago | (#39485789)

Don't forget an import aspect for stupid managers, reducing head count and outsourcing can improve ROI or ROE numbers. When you divide revenues by investment (or employees), outsourcing is good by definition.

Re:"Learning management systems" (1)

Kalriath (849904) | more than 2 years ago | (#39489983)

You know, I've never understood that. My disillusioned manager once explained it as having something to do with shifting expenses from the OPEX budget to the CAPEX budget, but even that doesn't make sense to me. Surely it's the same money, and more of it, being used?

Re:"Learning management systems" (1)

jedwidz (1399015) | more than 2 years ago | (#39491467)

Always reminds me of 'The Meaning of Life':

Hospital Administrator: Ah, I see you have the machine that goes ping. This is my favorite. You see we lease it back from the company we sold it to and that way it comes under the monthly current budget and not the capital account.
[Everyone in the room applauds]
Hospital Administrator: Thank you, thank you.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085959/quotes?qt0256725 [imdb.com]

I guess that'd be moving CAPEX to OPEX, but with the same confounding result of costing more money.

Re:"Learning management systems" (1)

Kalriath (849904) | more than 2 years ago | (#39503007)

Your example of a movie about a hospital adds extra amusement - the organisation I work for is indeed a hospital.

Re:"Learning management systems" (2)

fallen1 (230220) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484841)

I'd be willing to bet my last dollar that Blackboard getting adopted by schools can be summed up in one word - kickbacks.

Greed is good. Unless you actually want to educate your students, then it funnels money needed for local projects to big companies who are complete shit.

Re:"Learning management systems" (1)

himself (66589) | more than 2 years ago | (#39495469)

>
> I'd be willing to bet my last dollar that Blackboard getting adopted by schools
> can be summed up in one word - kickbacks.
>

Well, there is one other reason: a school can pick a better product but then BB buys the competition. Ask everyone who selected Angel over Blackboard. :7(

Re:"Learning management systems" (4, Informative)

Acheron (2182) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484893)

"Yet schools seem to constantly get rid of these home-grown solutions in favor of Blackboard 'n pals...why?"

Because of CYA support contracts. Executive university ITS staff hate the thought of having the buck stop with their department. By paying outrageous fees to these big players, they always have an out when things don't work - they can yell at someone at Blackboard.

The linked article only mentions Moodle, but Blackboard also announced yesterday that they have hired Charles Severence, one of the founding architects of the Sakai project, in the role of "Chief Sakai Strategist", and also announced that they will provide hosted Moodle and Sakai installations. This is a major foray into the Open Source LMS world, and it's still to be seen whether it is an opportunity to keep relationships with non-Bb schools, or a razed-earth invasion of the OS support arena.

As a side note, technically Banner isn't an LMS, it is a Student Information System (SIS): it goes rather deeper into the registration process than an LMS, and also acts as the HR system at most institutions that use it.

Re:"Learning management systems" (1)

krinderlin (1212738) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486333)

I had several Professors who used the Course Page features, such as Forums, File Management, the ability to allow students the ability to upload files, and email in the Banner portals rather than use BlackBoard. That speaks volumes to me.

Re:"Learning management systems" (1)

mounthood (993037) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486443)

CYA is part of it, but in academia the teachers and administrators have all the power, and they want the new shiny that'll put them on the cutting edge of 'education'. A home grown system doesn't have any cachet and is usually reviled for any errors. IT also has to go with it because otherwise "you're interfering with teaching!". It's ironic, but academics are the only ones allowed to have an opinion on teaching while ignoring ITs opinion on software.

Re:"Learning management systems" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39486765)

"Yet schools seem to constantly get rid of these home-grown solutions in favor of Blackboard 'n pals...why?"

Because of CYA support contracts. Executive university ITS staff hate the thought of having the buck stop with their department. By paying outrageous fees to these big players, they always have an out when things don't work - they can yell at someone at Blackboard.

Precisely this. I don't work for Blackboard, but I work for one of their biggest competitors, and I can tell you I have not seen a single school that knew a damn thing about IT. They LOVE to have someone to blame for their fuckups. In my last support call we had a school IT department who blamed the lackluster performance of our system on our "shoddy design", and sent multiple emails to their administration complaining about this fact. Their administrators got in contact with our administrators and a shitstorm was generated which made its way to me.

I log into their servers, and within 2 minutes I figured out they had their database configured to run on only 1 core of their 8 core server. Enabled the extra 7 cores, and suddenly system performance is top-notch. They were "dealing" with this problem for months, too. Ultimately I ended up getting forwarded an email where their IT staff claimed credit for "brilliantly finding a hack to speed up their shoddy software", completely leaving out the part where I told them they misconfigured the system.

Best part? This happens all the time. In 5 years of working for this company I have not seen a single school IT department that actually knew what it was doing*.

*Granted, I assume the school IT departments that have their shit together probably write their own software and have no need to purchase software from a 3rd party vendor in the first place, so my observations may not be indicative of the college industry as a whole. But holy crap.

Re:"Learning management systems" (1)

5KVGhost (208137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39485153)

Why? There are all the usual reasons why homegrown applications are replaced, plus the issues specific to course management, student tracking, academic assessment, FERPA compliance, etc.

Re:"Learning management systems" (1)

fermion (181285) | more than 2 years ago | (#39485157)

I have not used these in any large distribution, but I do use them in small distribution. Like any prefab product, there is a need to conform your expectations to the product, which means that both student and instructor has to adjust to the product. This is pretty much the same in any situation. One could make the argument that use a prefab DBMS is silly when one can simply write a customized version in C that does not have to the same compromises. Of course most people do not see the compromises they have to make by used a commercial DBMS. Everyone has made the convenient deal that this is the way it is.

When I look these learning systems, what I was looking for was something that did not simply take the physical classroom experience and copy it to a computer, thereby keeping all the disadvantages of the physical classroom and adding the disadvantages of the computer. This is the temptation as it provides a comfortable environment to the instructor: powerpoint, multiple choice questions, typed essays. Of course there is little benefit to the students. I saw the same thing with Autodesk. Initially it simply mimicked the process of the drafting board, but as time went on it did leverage the unique capabilities of the computer.

This is where we are with LMS. Most of it is crap because it just brings all the horrible stuff to the computer. For example, there is no reason for a multiple choice test on the computer. With calculated question and short answers that are graded by regular expressions, there is a possibility of real assessment. For technical work, the LaTex filter allows us to process math(I don't know if BB has this), but users still present work as they would typewritten. There are lesson modules that allow branching and the like, which makes any powerpoint type presentation quite counter indicated.

A product like BB that has to be marketed to large purchasing departments is going to be, by it's very nature, a conservative product that does not allow innovation. Fortunately we do have OSS which can include controversial features.

Re:"Learning management systems" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39485855)

Have a look at Canvas. That's what my uni will be switching to this summer, and the committee that chose it all think it's fantastic.

We're switching away from ANGEL, which was bought by Blackboard and has gone down the shitter as a result; you may be unsurprised to learn that we switched away from Blackboard to ANGEL a few years back.

Re:"Learning management systems" (1)

Skuld-Chan (302449) | more than 2 years ago | (#39489269)

A lot of online courseware comes in ims format - which you simply import into a course shell and it has lessons, content, quizzes etc all setup - at most you just need to setup permissions on the quizzes and setup the grade book.

I think there is a lot less instructional design time required for tools like D2L and Blackboard than a roll your own solution. And from my experience in a university roll your own solutions typically only have one developer who is a student or something and when he/she moves on - you have to roll another solution - which is hard to do if you have 1500+ professors who rely on it.

Moodlerooms and Netspot (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39484605)

Moodlerooms and Netspot

I thought that was a law firm on Tatooine.

law firms.. (1)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484653)

have the damn funniest names [oddee.com] ...."Payne & Fears"..."Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen"... "Weiner & Cox"

Re:law firms.. (2)

gabereiser (1662967) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484691)

My favorite law firm name is Bogins Munns & Munns cause whenever I hear it, I think to myself Bogus Buns & Buns... lol

Behold Libre-Moodlerooms (2)

schrodingersGato (2602023) | more than 2 years ago | (#39484811)

Looks like its time for someone to fork these projects!

Re:Behold Libre-Moodlerooms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39485273)

"Looks like its time for someone to fork these projects!"

What projects? Moodlerooms is a hosting and service company.

Re:Behold Libre-Moodlerooms (1)

tbannist (230135) | more than 2 years ago | (#39485859)

The projects are fine, Blackboard bought two Moodle hosting and support companies and hired a developer from Sakal.

Son of a Bitch! (1)

who_stole_my_kidneys (1956012) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486195)

When blackboard bought WEB CT, we were all aboard on moving to the blackboard collaboration, till the cost doubled during the planning phase. We went to Moodle rooms for a more cost effective approach.....guess they adopted the Microsoft model, buy everyone that is a competitor and phase them out.

I 3 MOODLE (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39486329)

moodle is intuitive, fast, and works!!!

Blackboard is all teeth and no brains (1)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 2 years ago | (#39486623)

If Blackboard took some of the money they spend buying up open-source competitors and used it to make a product that didn't suck, they wouldn't be gasping for air.

The college I teach at switched from Blackboard to Moodle a few years ago, and it's been glorious. Better for students, better for professors, better for administrators, better for the budget. We administer it ourselves, and switching from "supported" to "do-it-yourself" software actually *reduced* the time our techs spend with administrative tasks.

Not what I thought it would be (1)

hectomaner (2604741) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487081)

I'm sitting in my office having lunch and I got really excited because the company I work for (Blackboard) made Slashdot! And then I started reading the comments.... I have read a few extremely negative comments directed towards the company that I think do a wonderful job at pointing out some severe flaws, which I will be forwarding to several people. Thanks for those.

Re:Not what I thought it would be (1)

cwgmpls (853876) | more than 2 years ago | (#39487207)

You work at Blackboard and are only *now* becoming aware of the terrible reputation you guys have developed in schools over the last ten years. Just how out of touch are you?

Re:Not what I thought it would be (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39487751)

I'm responsible for IT at our university. We moved away from blackboard last year and switched to moodle. Although moodle is not perfect, blackboard was horrible. Different windows linked to each other, frame like behavior (!!! open in new tab breaks everything !!!) and no multiple file uploading, html code you input randomly changing. I don't care what you do, we're never going back.... can you say "Hey, blackboard! Leave those kids alone!"

Re:Not what I thought it would be (3, Informative)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 2 years ago | (#39489509)

As a professor, I HATE blackboard. I use it to enter grades and post basic texts, and that's it. For every other use, it is absolutely awful. Example: I have a directory of files I want my students to have. I should be able to upload the directory itself, like every other ftp app has been able to do since the 1980s. But Blackboard? Nooooo. I have to create a directory, name it and check its attributes, and then set it into the Blackboard system, and then load each file to it individually. Or, I have to go and zip the files together, which assumes my students have unzipping software and that I have the time to zip the stuff up (As if I don't already have enough to keep me busy with bullshit). When I enter grades, out of 200+ students, at least one or two grades somehow get "undone". Its ugly, its clunky and completely retarded. I'm sure you are a nice guy, but I want your company to go out of business. Now.

Re:Not what I thought it would be (1)

Kalriath (849904) | more than 2 years ago | (#39490075)

You guys should really get out more, and remove the Outlook rule you clearly have to delete every email from your customers. And check your voicemail and clear the letterbox sometime, because I can't imagine there's any contact method that hasn't been used to tell you that Blackboard sucks donkey balls.

Re:Not what I thought it would be (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39515457)

I second the professor who commented on not being able to upload a directory of files. That stinks. Also, blackboard is waaay too expensive. It insane to me that BB took our school's money to buy support companies for other products. Support your own product first! We've had bugs not fixed for years. We are probably going to move away from it, also.

From personal experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39487197)

Blackboard is horrible. I've used Moodle in different organizations with varying degrees of success, but Blackboard takes the cake. I'm enrolled in an eCampus solution that is blackboard only.. and it is painful to say the least. Limited browsing options, slow navigation, and horrible menus are just the tip of the ice burgh. I for one am sad to see blackboard acquire competing products.

-Unsatisfied user

BB can... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39487969)

go straight to hell. Besides it not ever working properly, there's things like only in the last version has it seemed to support tabbed browsing (every link used to just be a javascript event).

Non-issue (2)

berryjw (1071694) | more than 2 years ago | (#39488313)

So, Blackboard acquired some firms supporting open source LMS. At most, they've inconvenienced the folks who have been using the services of the firms they purchased with needing to find new support. At least, they've acquired some new potential profit centers. And, if they do a poor job of managing them, or deliberately kill them, they will have succeeded in creating an opening for new firms supporting LMS. They can't impact the code or the knowledge base, and those people currently working for those firms always have the option of working elsewhere, like new start-ups. Come on people, a huge percentage of us got into this business, at least in part, because we didn't like how someone else was doing it, and knew we could do better ourselves. This is just another one of those opportunities ;-)

Re:Non-issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39495021)

Absolutely agree with you, this is an opportunity!

Re:Non-issue (1)

odoketa (1040340) | more than 2 years ago | (#39497689)

Sort of true, but not really.

If I recall correctly, in addition to commercial support, MoodleRooms also contributed back to the code base. I don't know the percentage of improvements that came from them, or from NetSpot, but I'd bet they were solid components if someone was willing to pay to have them written. And there's all the improvements related to running Moodle as an enterprise app, as opposed to on an old 486 in the back closet, which is often how many installations start out.

If Blackboard's plan is to harm Moodle, they could do worse than taking out some of the key development partners - over time, simply stop contributing. It's slow, but they can't kill the product all at once anyway. So they could collect revenue for a while, and at the same time take development resources away from the community. Eventually the customers decide to move, because the product no longer supports (shiny new thing), and look! they already have a relationship with Blackboard!

Re:Non-issue (1)

berryjw (1071694) | more than 2 years ago | (#39498493)

Interesting argument, but I still disagree. Being purchased by Blackboard does not prevent those previously contributing to the code base from continuing to do so. Additionally, talent moves into/ leaves open source projects regardless, and Moodle is certainly large enough to draw new talent in on its own. Again, it's an opportunity. In an absolute worst case scenario, Blackboard further enhances their bleak reputation, while Moodle remains the same.

Canvas? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39488437)

My institution is moving to Canvas. Typical migration headaches, but the product itself is so much better.

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