As the hub of all things academic at UR, Blackboard receives a considerable amount of traffic from students. While the concept of the site as one place for all course materials is excellent in theory, in practice many aspects of the site lack cohesive execution and pose a challenge and a hindrance to students.
To make maximum use of the site, UR should publish a set of guidelines on how to use the site for all instructors who choose to utilize Blackboard. This would ensure continuity while also making it much easier for students to locate course materials, stay up-to-date with course syllabi and monitor grades.
Currently, professors can choose where they upload course readings and homework assignments. While this might cater to a professor’s teaching style, the variance can be chaotic for students, especially when different courses might have materials in different places such as Course Materials, Reserves, Assignments, Lecture Notes, Handouts, Readings or Recitations.
Another inconsistency of Blackboard is that instructors can upload course materials in different formats, which can prove difficult for students trying to download or print the material on computers that may not have the most up-to-date version of programs like Microsoft Word. Similarly, some instructors upload course syllabi to Blackboard, while others merely post a link that students must download.
Blackboard has a number of other inconsistencies as well. Some instructors choose to use the option under “Course Tools” to post student grades, while others do not. In addition, a number of instructors choose to use the blogging tools Blackboard offers — discussion boards, blogs and journals — while others ask students to visit sites outside of Blackboard entirely to complete such assignments. While these options might serve the needs of an instructor, they present unnecessary hassles for students juggling four or more classes that each use the site to varying capacities.
This problem is compounded by the fact that some classes — in particular many mathematics and brain and cognitive sciences courses — do not use Blackboard at all or only use it for some aspects of the course, necessitating that students visit separate websites for these materials.
Blackboard has the potential to make academic life at UR streamlined and easy — a one-stop shop for course readings, lecture notes, syllabi and grades. While guides and FAQs for instructors exist on the site, they do not define concrete practices that, if implemented, would radically improve the site’s functionality. Blackboard’s disorganization and lack of convenient consistency could easily be solved by creating a guide delineating principles that all instructors using Blackboard must follow.