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Blackboard Learn/Sync :: A Review


Effort is a Good Start

Blackboard is trying.  Let’s start with that.  They are making an effort to stay up with the times.  We’ll review the new Blackboard 9 next month.  Great effort.  And because they are basically buying up their competition, they can afford to sit on their laurels.  But we know from Microsoft what happens when the big dog doesn’t innovate.  People get restless.  And look elsewhere.  Blackboard has made a great effort to become more relevant by creating two synapses to some of the most relevant Web 2.0 tools:  Facebook and the iPhone.  Official Wiki for Bb Sync & Bb Learn

Blackboard Learn

bbsyncI had been waiting for this app ever since I had heard rumblings it was being developed.  Once it was released, I immediately downloaded it and began pleading with our network admin to make the magic happen to enable the service.  Once enabled, I was elated to try it out.

The first sync went through flawlessly.  I connected to Bb on my Mac, punched in the code to authorize the app, and watched it sync pretty quickly.  Upon logging in, I discovered that the app does connect me to my courses, but not really.  I can see announcements posted, which is very convenient.  I can look to see if any forums (DB) posts have been made in my courses.  But that and a few other “Feeds” are all this app can do.  I can read that there are new posts.  But I can’t read the posts.  I can see that grades were posted.  But I can’t actually see the grades.  I can read there were updates to the course.  But I can’t see them.  All of these require me to login to Blackboard and authenticate.  Which I don’t ncessisarily want to do.  Once more, I don’t know if I should.  More on that later.  On the iPhone 3G, the app has crashed a few times for me and sometimes is sluggish in the sync.  Eventually, it does get there.

Blackboard Sync

Blackboard Sync for Facebook is another great attempt at connecting students where they are most comfortable and familiar.  Facebook.  It’s a good app.  Again, once things were configured on the server side, the connection to Bb Sync was fairly easy.  The GUI is straight-forward.  It mirrors Bb Learn for the iPhone.  You get the same tabs to access and feed information and links to the actual authenticated Bb content.  The same princples hold true for Bb Sync as for Bb Learn.  Same tools and accessibility.


These tools are a good start.  A few of us have been having conversations lately surrounding mobile learning and what it looks like.  Sure, we could create an iPhone app that would allow us to post on the DB, but should we?  Yes, we could create a mobile version of Bb that would allow us to write on the blog or wiki, but should we?  These apps are a good first blush into connecting our learning to popular devices.  They don’t really do much other than serve as a glorifed RSS feed.  But the bigger and better question is, should they?  Should we really be learning on an iPhone?  Blackberry?  Facebook?  And do we/can we/should we be feeding content to Facebook.  Even if we could feed everything Bb offers to FB and still keep the content authenticated and secure, should we?

Because of what I do, I’m always on the front end of evaluating new things.  I’m a classic early adopter.  I love gadgets.  But as I am growing and learning with these technologies, I’m also learning to ask better questions.  One of the best questions I believe we should ask as educational technologists is not “Can we?”, but “Should we?”  My stance today is we shouln’t really be learning on mobile devices.  Learning in this post today defined as engaging Blackboard on mobile devices like discussion boards, blogs, wikis, etc.  I’m seeing mobile devices really prompting us or keeping us connected to the learning, but not necessarily becoming the primary tool we use to engage.  The same for Web 2.0 tools like FB or any Web 2.0 mash up service that can feed all of our “stuff” into one place.  Yes, we could have our learning mashed into our Google reader, Friend Feed, or whatever tool we choose.  But is that an appropriate place for our learning?

We use iTunes U to deliver rich media content to students, but we know the majority of them do not listen or watch the content on their mobile devices.  They consume the content on their desktop/laptop.  It’s nice to have.  It’s a good “can”.  But not necessarily a “should”.  This principle is definitely something we need to look at as many of us are gatekeepers for these tools.

So, Bb Learn.  Bb Sync.  Good?  Yes.  Great?  TBD.  Keep in mind this is a review with Blackboard  We are currently testing Bb 9.  When we put 9 into production, I’ll revisit the review and post an update then.  Irregarless of the tool, what about the principle?  Where do you side?  Any reserach to back it up?  Would love to hear comments on either your evaluation of these tools and/or your views on how mobile devices and Web 2.0 services should be used in teaching and learning.

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