I spend more time in Blackboard then any other application / site. For the past 7 years Blackboard has been the place where I taught my online/hybrid courses, partnered with subject matter experts to build courses, and trained faculty. In many ways Blackboard enabled my transition from full-time teaching to learning technology. Blackboard has put bread on my table.
Perhaps it is because I'm so entangled with Blackboard that found Lisa M. Lane's article "Insidious Pedagogy: How Course Management Systems Affect Teaching" to be so compelling. (Thanks to Stephen Downes for the link.)
Mostly I believe that Blackboard and other CMS's have opened up a space for conversations around learning. We use Blackboard has an opportunity to engage faculty colleagues on re-thinking their course design and teaching practices in order to focus on collaboration and the student production of knowledge. In every workshop or one-on-one training we talk first about learning goals and pedagogy, and only then show how the CMS can support and enable these goals.
Lane is considerably more critical of the course management system. She builds a very strong argument that the default design of Blackboard/WebCT, what she calls an "Opt-Out design", privileges a non-interactivist and anti-constructivist method of teaching. She writes that:
"The defaults of the CMS therefore tend to determine the way Web–novice faculty teach online, encouraging methods based on posting of material and engendering usage that focuses on administrative tasks.......[Blackboard/WebCT] forces the instructor to think in terms of content types instead, breaking the natural structure of the semester, or of a list of topics."
Lane also builds a compelling case for the pedagogical advantages of Moodle:
"In an Opt–In system (such as Moodle), the instructor selects each activity and presentation factor from a menu list, effectively designing much of the interface for students. Fewer defaults are pre–set, forcing the instructor to think holistically about the class structure. Features such as chat, polls, and interactive lessons as options presented with the same weight as more traditional text–based resources. Thus there is less of an implication that presentation is key, and more of an implication that interactivity is important."
In reading Lane's article I came to realize that much of the work that I do with faculty members is to help move them off the default settings and towards a more narrative and interactive approach to course design. I wonder if learning technologists/designers working on Moodle campuses have higher rates of success in this effort?
I wonder if Blackboard plans to move its defaults towards an "Opt-In" system that behaves closer to the Moodle model. The strength of Blackboard is in its robust Grade Center, testing engine, assignment management, discussion tools, and integration with student information systems. It seems like these strengths of Blackboard could easily be integrated with a more progressive default design.
Lane's article is one example where I'd very much value a discussion that includes the people from Blackboard, as well as the Blackboard and Moodle user community.