September 18, 2008

C.U. Considers Alternative to Blackboard Site

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Recently, several universities across the country decided to put an end to their relationships with Blackboard and switch to one of its competitors. Cornell is now evaluating whether it will do the same.
The University is currently testing Moodle, one of Black board’s leading competitors.
The pilot does not stem from complaints about Blackboard, but rather is part of the typical process of making sure that the University is using the best services available, according to Clare van den Blink, assistant director for academic technology services and user support for Cornell Information Technologies.
“This year we’re piloting Moodle to see how it is,” van den Blink said.
This fall and spring semesters, there are 40 courses will to pilot the Moodle website.
“So far, I like Moodle,” said Prof. Jami Carlacio, English, who is using the Moodle pilot for her class ENGL 2880: Making the News: The Politics of the Media. “It’s a clean site, user friendly, and insofar as I have used it for only a month now, seems to be more flexible in ordering and changing course content around. The interface is uncluttered and can be adapted to however you want your students to retrieve materials from your course.”
Van den Blink explained how it was necessary that the professors of the courses who agreed to use the Moodle pilot were users of Blackboard in previous years. Since these professors were experienced with Blackboard, they are able to offer comparisons between the two websites.
“As I see it, Blackboard is less flexible than Moodle. Frankly, I haven’t had to work very hard to figure out Moodle,” Carlacio said.
In order to get feedback about the pilot, there is an evaluation process, interviews, surveys and focus groups that will be conducted with faculty and students.
Allison Fischler ’11 is using the Moodle pilot for NS 1150: Nutrition, Health and Society. While she has so far been pleased with the site, she has encountered frustration in having to switch between different sites to find out information about her different classes.
“Last year all my classes were on Blackboard. Now I have two classes on Blackboard, one on Moodle and two on independent sites. It’s harder to keep up,” Fischler said.
Don Sim ’11 shares Fischler’s frustration about having to go to multiple websites to find out about his different courses.
“Although I have nothing against Blackboard, it would be a lot more convenient if the site had all the classes for Cornell,” Sim said.
Sim is enrolled in classes on Blackboard and PSYCH 101 and NES 2662: Daily Life in the Biblical World, both of which have their own separate websites.
Even though faculty and student reception about Moodle is an important factor in deciding whether or not to make the switch from Blackboard, it is by no means the only factor considered.
There are over 30,000 Cornell users on Blackboard, including students and faculty on campus and on Cornell campuses and programs abroad. Van den Blink stressed that with all those users, switching from Blackboard to Moodle would be no simple task. C.U. has used Blackboard for 10 years.
The nature of the two websites is another factor that will be considered. Blackboard is a corporation with a tangible ownership, meaning that Cornell’s control over the site is somewhat limited. However, if the site malfunctions the University has a source it can turn to for assistance. Moodle, on the other hand, is an open-source website, meaning users have a greater ability to control and alter the site based on their needs. It may be more difficult to get web assistance.
There is no set date when Cornell will determine whether or not they will make the switch from Blackboard to Moodle. Van den Blink said that making the decision is an ongoing process, and that CIT will judge the reception of the Moodle pilot throughout the year based on their own experiences with the pilot as well as the evaluations they receive from faculty and students.
In recent years, Cornell has conducted similar pilots programs with iclicker, blog and wiki systems for the like purpose of determining if one served the campus better.