If you can’t see the video, you can access it through this link.
My first blog post in a while. I hope to post more soon. Here goes….
I’m pretty convinced that the iPad (or something like it) can be effectively utilized for education. In particular I think it will be a great media literacy device since it offers a good mix of interactivity and multimedia. However, the vision offered by Blackboard in this ad is hardly the kind of innovation that I imagine. For one, Blackboard is a proprietary system. It is a closed system. Though it offers additional interactivity than a traditional classroom Web platform, you are stuck with their service and would be dependent on their pedagogy and architecture (check out Douglas Rushkoff’s great rant about it here: “Blackboard is brilliant… it is written for the Blackboard company to dominate education in a particular way”).
As a grad student I really hated Blackboard. It has been a few years since, so it may have improved, but the video depicts a technological bandaid for the traditional educational approach–it is very mechanical. The interactivity shown in the ad is very limited and repeats the top-down cliches of the one-to-many educational model. If multimedia is to be incorporated into education, it should be more interactive, hackable and open to the outside world. The medium is the message.
I used to use Ning for my courses, but they switched to a paid service, so I could no longer use its platform in my classes. It was modestly good– I didn’t like the fact that it had only few plug-ins (the plug-ins that did exist were pretty bad and lacked any community or tech support). The free version required displaying google ads. The paid version is ad-free, and though not priced too exorbitantly ($19 a year per site), if you are running a site for each class, the bill can add up (I had seven sites). I didn’t qualify for the sponsore-free service for educators because I’m not based in the US.
In the end, Ning pissed me off because I learned that my students like to access course Websites after they finish the class, and now they can’t access the sites. I have some students who continue to use the sites for several years in order to access videos, notes, links and articles. In one case a student needed coursework evidence to justify a transfer credit. Unfortunately, even as the site creator I have to pay to access the site. Imagine the situation with Blackboard. What if the company were sold or went out of business? What is the access for adjuncts and students once they leave the university and no longer have registered accounts? What about the symbiotic relationship between Blackboard and expensive textbooks? Would students be locked into both?
The solution is open systems. I have always been a big fan of the open source blogging platform, WordPress, and have been relatively pleased with the BuddyPress plug-in that turns WordPress into a social network. I host my education site myself, so that means I pay for it. But I don’t pay extra because it is covered by the fees I pay for my other Websites (such as this blog), and every time I create a new course blog it doesn’t cost me anything. The only additional cost is the domain name registration. My hosting service, BlueHost, uses SimpleScripts, which makes installing sites really easy.
Using BuddyPress for my main site (Open Media Education–note I’m still building it out, so it is not that sexy–I can launch Websites for each additional class I create. I can manage all my sites through the parent network, which is a great advance made by WordPress. I can upgrade and install plugins across the network for all my course sites with the click of a mouse. The other reason I love WordPress is that there are so many fantastic plug-ins and an amazing community of support. BuddyPress also has a great community of users and developers. I have usually gotten my tech questions answered within six hours.
I’ve been using WordPress since the early days, so for me I find it quite intuitive and easy to use. The current version (3.1.1) is very simple to use and much more powerful and flexible than previous versions. It’s also mobile and has multilingual support. I hope more educators will discover the power of WordPress. It will empower them and their students. And you don’t need to depend on the whims and business strategy of Blackboard to develop your online classroom.