Tech Devil: Online Alternatives to Blackboard

“Blackboard’s down again?!”

That’s a common phrase that’s uttered by almost every ASU Student at least once during their enrollment at ASU. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s wanted to chuck their computer across the room and cry themselves to sleep -- I mean, punch a wall. Blackboard is software used for everything from scheduling classes to providing access to financial-aid information. Now before I get too deep into this I want to establish that I don’t know what takes place behind the scenes every time blackboard goes down or has some issues and if it can’t handle the 70,000+ people that use it, so I’m going to focus more on some alternatives that I found that could be very useful.

One of the main problems people have with Blackboard is that it’s not very user friendly – really, it’s a pain to use. For the most part people get by just fine, but the navigation and consistency for each class page could be better. The other issue is that the only way to effectively communicate with other students and professors is through Gmail on Blackboard. Now Gmail is great and I don’t have any issues with using it but I’ve done some research and found that ASU doesn’t make use of the full suite of Blackboard features. Their website boasts about video chatting and instant messaging. That would make things a lot easier if we had those products. Still even an IM system might not work.

One of the first alternatives I found was, a higher-ed startup based out of Berlin, Germany. Iversity runs like a regular website. Professors create a page for a class and students sign up with an email and password. You’re then taken to a very clean and simple interface that has all the content right in front of you instead of buried away in menus like on Blackboard. Each class page has Dashboard, Activity and Resources tabs. Each one allows you to see important things like if a teacher posts an article or assignment for the class. It also allows for a Facebook-style commenting system on the Dashboard and other tabs which allows for easier communication between students and professors.

The other alternative I found was Coursekit, which runs on the same online format as iversity. It has a similar layout and concept, though it is focused more on the professor and giving them the right tools more than the students. Not to say it’s hard for students to use, but rather giving the professor control is more likely to convince a school to consider Coursekit as an alternative. The layout of the site is just like iversity: a minimalist layout with the content at your fingertips. Coursekit does have a little more substance to it than iversity, though both are preferable to Blackboard, in my mind.

Both iversity and Coursekit are on the right track to replace outdated software like Blackboard, but don’t expect the administration to jump on board right away. There is a lot that has to happen if we’re to replace Blackboard, especially in terms of the system we use to sign up for classes. We can hope that the administration listens to its students, though it might take some campaigning on our part. I just hope that schools across the country realize that simplicity and ease of use will delight its students and professors more than bulky software that no one enjoys using.

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