Earlier this semester, Barbara and I attended a training session intended to introduce the new version of Blackboard (Bb) the College recently bought to the select (and by select I mean very small) group of faculty members who will be testing the system this Fall before the system goes live campus-wide this Spring. The disciplines represented in the room were fairly diverse – Economics, Aural Skills, History, Russian among them – but unfortunately, a wide range of computer-related technical ability was not. I understand that the system needs to work for everyone, and we certainly should consider ease-of-use, and that those with above-average computer skills can often figure things out for themselves and need not be targeted for training. However, when I need to test whether or not something’s going to hold up to the use and abuse of a much larger group of people, I look to someone who 1) delights in pressing all the buttons she’s “not supposed” to press and consequently breaks the bejeezus out of something and 2) can communicate with me what is going wrong as a result and what she did to break it. To do this well takes a certain level of skill which most of the people in the room that day just didn’t have.
As a result, we spent the majority of the session talking about how students were going to negotiate two separate Bb systems (most of their classes will remain in the old Bb during the testing phase), and how to make a course -look- a certain way, instead of discussing what Blackboard has to offer, and how to -effectively- use those tools. This worries me; is Blackboard going to get the workout it deserves before we as a campus start relying on it? Or will we spend another three years using a piece of software that doesn’t do what we need?
A second concern: many of our IT folks want to move towards Single Sign-On, where everyone has one username and password that gets them into every campus resource, and it’s got them looking for ways to integrate email and Blackboard and a campus calendar and the printing system and and and… I’m not particularly enthralled with or opposed to the idea, but in this training I heard something that sent me almost through the roof: integrating Facebook with Bb.
In case you’re not familiar with Facebook: it’s “a social utility that connects you with the people around you.” Anyone can now join, but you can restrict who can see your profile, or even let some people see some information while others are completely restricted. Once you have an account, you can populate your profile with your contact information, photos, lists of movies, books, and music you like, funny / witty / clever quotes or sayings that reflect your personality, etc etc etc. After you’ve created your online persona you “friend” (yes, it’s a verb) people you know, or sometimes people you don’t, and then communicate with them by using Facebook’s private messaging functions, groups (I am a fan of the “Catcher in the Rye can’t be everyone’s favorite book” group, myself), or a bunch of other features seemingly designed to kill a few minutes between classes.
Most importantly: although Facebook does allow for -some- academic uses (student organizations can form Facebook groups to publish information and stay in touch, and individual students can input their class schedule), that doesn’t mean we as administrators / faculty / staff *should* use it for academic purposes. More on this, including reflections from the SOCHE-sponsored Facebook forum, coming up later this week.