Friday, August 22, 2008

interface u

With the new academic year fast approaching (all too fast approaching, but that's another story), I've been working on getting classes together, with the usual combined feeling of hope and anxiety, punctuated by bursts of rage when Blackboard does something stupid. Among the times of the year, this is one of them.

Blackboard, for those who don't have the pleasure, is a proprietary web-based course software package. Schools and colleges pay the Blackboard people (and a few others who offer similar packages) thousands and thousands of dollars for the licenses to run these, and spend thousands more on servers to run them. There are some extremely avid users of Blackboard among faculty I know - and by some, I mean, let's see... 2.

I use Blackboard, but I don't like it. I use it mainly to avoid having students pay a publishing company $100 or more apiece for a textbook that doesn't work well for my course.

Some people use Blackboard to "deliver" entire courses. I loathe this expression, and I don't even know what it's supposed to mean, unless a course is a ready-made package of material, and in that case, I don't think I know what "teaching" means, other than to be a delivery-system for information.

(What really surprises me is that some faculty seem to feel just fine about that model of teaching, and don't seem to recognize the implication of it that is glaringly obvious to me: ultimately, there's no way I can compete with digital media as a delivery-system for information. I create way more noise, am far less efficient, and I demand a higher wage.)

This year, I've decided to use Blackboard to "deliver" quizzes to my Professional Ethics students, as a way for them to gauge that they've understood a couple key points in the reading, and also as a bit of a prod to keep them up to date on the reading. I thought it was a good idea. Sometimes that kind of prodding is just what a student needs to keep from procrastinating too much. There are a lot of students like that.

But this requires that I use Blackboard's test creator function, which is the computer interface equivalent of tooth extraction via renal catheter. So when I think of my colleagues who enthuse about Blackboard, and who use it to "deliver" courses, which presumably these faculty have designed through Blackboard's various routines, I gotta wonder.

And is it just as wondrous an experience for students? Do major insurers cover this procedure?

Anyway, today I took a break from all that, and we walked around at Knight's Ferry instead.

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