Chris Alexander

On Engineering

Blackboard? More like C__pboard

8th December, 2009

Blackboard is an academic tool, used by hundreds of educational establishments worldwide. It is a highly adaptable, extensible database back-end and web interface front-end.

On paper it is quite simply phenomenal, in practice however I suspect it’s the worst ‘web-app’ designed by man. Hit the link to find out why.

Lets start with the basics; it often doesn’t work. Below is a table of some major features supported by Blackboard, and if that feature has failed during my use of it:

Now excuse my presumption, but I think you’d have to agree the above table is a pretty good display, of fairly poor performance. If you happen to be a fairly (or even vaguely) web-ducated person, you’ll notice that most of the above tasks are fairly simple to achieve. Hrm, a website that provides 24/7 services… yea, excuse me while I remain not blown away.

A second gripe of mine is the interface in general. To the web-savvy amongst you, I can be succinct; Blackboard uses frames. To the non web-savvy, I can still be fairly succinct; Blackboard employs a layout technique that good websites did away with 10 years or more ago.

Navigating a Blackboard page is tortuous, Blackboard offers customisation options that can make a static page look like crap. And where my mind boggles, is that some poor coder had to provide this extensibility. I’d rather the file upload utility worked before you start giving me the option to make all buttons bright orange!

My third and final issue with Blackboard is this; much much better alternatives exist. I use a web-based, collaborative, management system featuring online document editing (not a Blackboard feature) and full timetabling support that can integrate with any major calendar application. Oh, and the website even works 24/7 (a rarity, I know). The name of this all-singing, all-dancing, quite fantastic tool is Huddle. And I cannot recommend it enough.

Having recently announced their growing Microsoft Office integration (#1614), Huddle is a web-app that’s going places… fast. The online editing facility can alter .doc and .xls files without a download being required. Audit trails are automatically established for all file transactions, a sample of a trail is pictured below;

Is Huddle the end of Blackboard? I sadly can’t say so, the grade database of Blackboard is a feature that Huddle lacks, and it’s undeniably a vital one. Though having seen how online document management can be done, it makes one shudder upon returning to the Blackboard environment.

I welcome your comments below, especially if your Blackboard experience is diametrically opposed to mine.