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What is Blackboard?

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009 by | Filed Under: Uncategorized

When I say “Blackboard,” you probably imagine the big green slate-looking thing hanging on the wall in first grade -and you’d be right. But I’m not talking about the board in front of the room that was thrown out with the mimeograph machine, I’m talking about the sophisticated software system used in more than half of all online and distance education courses.

If you’re one of the millions of students faced with taking a class through distance education, here’s the skinny on Blackboard.

What is Blackboard?


Blackboard is a course management system (CMS) used by many educational institutions (and no, I don’t mean “mental” when I say “institution,” well, usually…). It has all sorts of cool bells and whistles such as an electronic file exchange system called the digital drop box and an integrated chat feature. Think Facebook, but for school—and without the extensive social networking! Think Target’s online shopping website with all of the pictures and information about products. Blackboard is a one-stop-fits-all for school: it holds content, including graphics and video, an interactive gradebook and access to discussion forums. In short, Blackboard is your entire class wrapped into an attractive electronic file.

Who Uses it?

This probably sounds all well and good, but what’s the point? Who’s actually going to use this stuff?

If you’re like me (and half of the other population on this planet), you’re so busy you’re like a hamster running around in one of those little plastic balls. In order to attract your business, colleges and universities (and K-12, you may be surprised to learn) have developed online classes in order to provide educational access to those overscheduled human beings like you and me. Using Blackboard allows instructors to provide all of a course’s materials in an organized, somewhat attractive appearance. Take this World Literature 1 class for example:


All of the class materials are available to the student in an easy-to-access manner. I mean, who wouldn’t want to learn about Shakespeare from pictures and audio files? (Okay, I know—you’re rather pass on ol’ Bill….)

Other Options

As cool as it seems, Blackboard is not one-of-a-kind. There are many CMS’s: the late WebCT (cannibalized by Blackboard), the fading Angel (being cannibalized by Blackboard), Jenzabar (ignored by Blackboard), the open-source Sakai, and the open-source emerging winner Moodle. Each of these systems provide access to content in much the same way as Blackboard.

Now the next time you have to schedule a class that boasts using Blackboard, you’ll know to leave your chalk at home.

~Karen Powers Liebhaber

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