Blackboard use leaves much to be desired

Caroline Hroncich

Blackboard Learn and Management System is a third party company that provides college students and professors all over the world with an easy and effective way to access course materials. The University students use Blackboard tools on a daily basis, but rarely ever question the technology behind the program. 

“I honestly never thought about what goes into Blackboard,” said Mary Beth Reed, a senior from the School of Business. “I always viewed it as a convenient tool where I can monitor my grades, get class readings, and have basically all my academic sources in one convenient location.” 

As technological capability advances, so have the possibilities for learning using that technology.

Recently, a Wall Street Journal article discussed how in an attempt to increase graduation and retention rates, universities are installing high-tech tracking systems to keep students from skipping classes. The article mentioned that Villanova has been using “student monitoring of some form since 2007.” However, this isn’t entirely true. 

While the University doesn’t use technology to track students’ attendance in class, Blackboard gives professors the ability to access and track students’ progress in a course. Faculty can tailor their classes’ Blackboard page to their classroom needs. This includes tools that allow professors to detect plagiarism, distribute class reading and conduct online conferences for distance learning. 

Professors are also able to use Blackboard to tell whether or not a student is completing course readings. Blackboard gives professors the option to see if a student opened a document, in addition to how much time they spent viewing it. Now, updates to Blackboard will give faculty the opportunity to more easily access this information.  

“I would say right now, the tracking and statistic information is not so easy to get to, but it’s about to become a lot easier,” said Kevin Donahue, Assistant Director of E-learning Technology at the University. “We have a couple of dashboard views, it’s called the retention center, the other is called Blackboard Analytics, so we can see how many interactions students have with a course.” 

Senior Nicole Allman, from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, says that if she understood more about the broad capabilities of Blackboard, such as the statistics and tracking information, she would be more attentive when completing readings online. However, this type of e-learning technology is not a new addition to student life at Villanova.  

The University first introduced e-learning technology to the campus in 1999, with the inclusion of WebCT, an earlier version of Blackboard, which provided students and faculty with basic online learning tools. The University made the switch to Blackboard Learning and Management Systems in 2006, when the company purchased WebCT. From then on, Blackboard was adopted on campus.   

Today, Blackboard boasts on their website that they work with 80 percent of the “world’s top academic institutions.” In the Philadelphia area alone, Drexel University, Temple University and Philadelphia University all utilize the site to post student coursework. The University of Pennsylvania phased out the system in 2014, in favor of another e-learning platform called Canvas, saying that it offered “better teaching tools.” 

According to Steve Fugale, Vice President for Technology and Chief Information Officer at the University, over 90 percent of students utilize the site, while around 60 percent of faculty use Blackboard to post course material. 

“If the faculty are using it, the students are using it,” said Joan Lesovitz, Assistant Vice President of Instructional Technology. “What we see is that students, at any one point in time, are using Blackboard more each semester.”

The Technology Services Department at the University has been working with each academic department in order to tailor Blackboard to meet departmental needs. Technology Services is working with departments to see whether or not Blackboard is providing effective outcomes for departments, and how they might be able to improve or change the site.  

“Villanova has constructed this portfolio, centered around Blackboard,” Fugale said. “That has all these additional capabilities associated with it, so it’s everything from content, to textbooks, to anti-plagiarisms, they’re all tied together in this portfolio that we make available to faculty and students to facilitate whatever type of course content or pedagogy is required.” 

“We’re cognizant that learning occurs outside of the classroom 24/7,” Fugale said. “So we know you’re using all different types of devices anywhere and everywhere and learning at all different times.” 

The Technology Services Department at Villanova says the future of e-learning technologies relies on collaboration between students and faculty. Ultimately, Fugale says, providing faculty with e-learning tools can improve curriculums and enhance student’s overall experience in the classroom at Villanova.