Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Best and Worst of Times: An HCC Faculty Member attends Blackboard World

by Dr. Rebecca M. Mills
Associate Professor of English, Brandon Campus

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…”(1) I hope Charles Dickens won’t mind if I borrow one of my favorite opening lines from The Tale of Two Cities to describe my recent experience at the Blackboard World 2011 conference in Las Vegas.

It was the best of times: thanks to the CITT, I was able to attend and help co-present a poster about HCC’s current training model entitled, “Faculty Trained in the Blackboard Learn Platform AND Distance Learning Teaching Strategy is Icing on the Cake: A Three-Tier Training Approach.” The poster session went off without a hitch, and the rest of conference proved to be very interesting and useful to me.

It was the worst of times: I found out that my job as a full-time faculty member is almost obsolete. On Thursday, July 14th, I attended a session lead by Zach Johnson, the Senior Director of Blackboard Developmental Education. I thought I might hear about some best practices or new techniques to help online developmental students be more successful, but what I heard was a sales pitch. I guess this is where I entered the ‘epoch of incredulity,’ although it was also where I realized how na├»ve I was.

Blackboard Developmental Education is one of the latest frontiers for the company, and for a mere $800 per student per course, Blackboard believes it can “narrow the achievement gap in the new millennium” whilst making a pretty penny for itself, partnering with K12 Inc. Blackboard provides the instructors, the curriculum, the 24/7 technical support, and the analytic reports to educational institutions and claims to be able to do so “at least 30% less than that of traditional delivery.”(2)

At the end of the pitch, my head was spinning, and I had several questions. I put up my hand and asked how much Blackboard instructors get paid, but I got an evasive answer. Mr. Johnson said the instructors received competitive pay in whatever market courses were offered. I asked if full-time college employees could teach the courses, and the answer was, no, but they could be campus-appointed mentors. Then I asked how he dealt with strong faculty unions to which he answered that he had done quite a bit of mediating between faculty and administration in the past year (I interpreted his answer to mean that union opposition was not a problem for Blackboard). My last question was about how he could claim success in the long term. Did the Blackboard developmental students transfer and graduate at higher rates than other students? Mr. Johnson conceded that Blackboard Developmental Education was only in its second pilot semester, but he was already singing its success-rate praises from the roof. I would rather wait for the evidence, but I had already asked so many questions that he moved on to someone else.

Perhaps Blackboard Developmental Education is the answer to help struggling students. I certainly suspect the company’s shareholders will do well with this new product, but I hope students will, too. It is a truth universally acknowledged (sorry Jane Austen)(3) that Blackboard is a force with which to be reckoned in online education today. No longer merely a Learning Management System, the company has moved in on developmental curriculum, so I am wondering how long before Blackboard sets its sights on college-level curricula as well. I just hope I can make it to retirement before I become completely superseded by the behemoth…oops, I mean Blackboard.

(1) Dickens, Charles, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
(2) “Blackboard Developmental Education,” Handout,, 1997-2011
(3) Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dr. Craig Hardesty Wins Blackboard Exemplary Course Award for MAC 1105 College Algebra

Congratulations to Dr. Craig Hardesty, winner of a Blackboard Exemplary Course Award for MAC 1105 College Algebra!

According to Dr. Hardesty, the My College Algebra course has been designed to be as visually appealing and user friendly as possible. His goal was to make sure anyone logging on for the first time would know exactly where to go and what to do. While incorporating “Why College Algebra?” as a “real-world” theme, he has attempted to consistently use a variety of visual aids, videos, websites, careers, and discussions illustrating applications of the course concepts that surround us every day. Believing strongly that students need to see their online professors as real people with whom they can connect, he has also incorporated as much of himself as possible through use of a personalized orientation video series, video lectures, weekly video summaries of all assignments, etc.

Click here to read the full article.

Click here for a list of all exemplary course winners.