Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Blackboard's Facebook App (My Frustrations with D2L Grow)

The Chronicle reported on Blackboard's new Facebook application that sends a notification to students when a course has been updated with new material. It also somehow munges together a Blackboard course roster with Facebook friends or profiles (correct me if I'm wrong here) to better connect with classmates. Institutions can disable this if they want, but I don't understand any security or privacy concern when all Facebook is receiving is a notification message.

This development makes me frustrated with the Desire2Learn Learning Environment for a few reasons:

1. D2L does offer users an Updates widget for their My Home page and course home pages which is very useful...theoretically. Our institution has been advised to disable our Updates widgets due to the load it puts on our system (frequent queries to various tables), potentially degrading overall performance. Right now, UW students cannot even benefit from this handy notification system that already exists within the course management system, let alone in a prominent third-party app that's not going away any time soon.

2. D2L's lack of play in the open architecture field is becoming more apparent. Sure, D2L is releasing some type of SDK soon, but it is literally years behind Blackboard in this area. Blackboard's Building Blocks program has opened many doors for custom development by not only their partner vendors, but also educational institutions.

3. D2L's lack of social learning tools is a growing wart on the system. I hear an increasing number of faculty wanting things like blogs and wikis for collaboration purposes, but D2L is sorely lacking in this area as well. The current blog tool in D2L is for personal blogs (not course-based blogs) and has an interface that will turn people away if they've ever used some of the common blogs available today.

To be clear, I'm not advocating for the course management system to be an increasingly larger beast. Its enormous and complex architecture is costly and fragile. We all would benefit from an opening up of the CMS so that we can hook in our other tools and services, not to mention push out its data when necessary and appropriate.

Well, I'm sorry for the semi-rant here. I guess hearing of this Blackboard advancement touched a nerve of mine! As always, I'm curious to hear of your thoughts and new ideas.

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