Why I never like course management software

What Jason Fried of 37signals (Ruby on Rails, Backpack, Ta Da, Highrise, Basecamp, etc., etc.) says about enterprise software is also true of the bigger course management software packages, such as Blackboard/Vista:

The people who buy enterprise software aren’t the people who use enterprise software. That’s where the disconnect begins. And it pulls and pulls and pulls until the user experience is split from the buying experience so severely that the software vendors are building for the buyers, not the users. The experience takes a back seat to the feature list, future promises, and buzz words.

I know that the Educause folks think that students want course management software, and so they believe they’re advocating on behalf of students when they promote it.  And I know, too, that there needs to be some sort of command-and-control ability to interface with registration software, etc.

But the bloat & frustration level with something like Vista are just intolerable, especially compared with how easy it is to use tools like blogger, pbwiki, del.icio.us, etc., etc.  I’m interested in helping my students engage the material in new ways, not in teaching the byzantine architecture of a program they’ll not see again after they graduate.

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7 Responses to Why I never like course management software

  1. Alex says:

    I brought this up with the College at one point, had a fairly long discussion with some administrators about it. I’d love to see some sort of home-grown program, one that utilizes social networking with an easy-to-use interface, while still being safe. it is not impossible, but it would require some time.

  2. SE says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I no longer use Blackboard/Vista because the work does not equate to a better payoff for my students (and, well, me). Plus, I heard our univ. system paid around $2 million for this platform when they could get a similar one for free (from Moodle and other similar systems). What a waste of money.

  3. Brian says:

    A nice find and a very good point. Students don’t WANT to use Blackboard just for the sake of using it. They want to learn things in an interesting way. You can do that with Blackboard, but it’s not customizable enough to make it easy.

  4. jbj says:

    @Alex: I’d characterize a homebrewed program as “spectacularly unlikely,” since: 1) we’d need to coordinate with the sister campuses, 2) we don’t really have a graduate program in a related field, so we can’t throw bodies at the problem, and 3) it’s not clear that there’s enough faculty demand for such a thing.

    @Scott: Yeah, it’s pretty expensive. Moodle’s probably not literally free (i.e., we’d either have to pay for a support package or hire a significant number of people to support it) but it’s still cheaper. Its user experience is better than Vista’s, but not enormously so. (For example, I still prefer my little purpose-built apps to the convenience of an all-in-one solution.)

    @Brian: Sometimes students will say that they want, for example, a common look-and-feel, or that they want a single all-purpose cms. I’m not persuaded by either: If a student knows how to use Vista, that’s all they know. But if a student knows how to use different kinds of tools, you can help them orient themselves to new, as-yet-unimagined programs / web apps, etc.

  5. Alex says:

    I agree with all of your responses, doc. I know the idea of a such a homebrew program is very unlikely, but you are talking to the kid who wants a state school to teach him about games, so “Spectacularly Unlikely” is pretty much where I spend my free time.

  6. Zach says:

    I’m using Wrike http://www.wrike.com with my students. We use it for group work on different projects. I feel that using new-generation tools, like Wrike, Flickr, Blogger helps to broaden their minds.

  7. jbj says:

    Thanks for the pointer to Wrike, Zach. I agree: The new tools can help alert students to what’s possible, which is somewhat more interesting than “the same old thing done more efficiently” (as valuable as that is).

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