Blackboard shmlackboard


There. I’ve said it.


This fall my department has purchased a new, online grammar-practice program that has to be integrated with Blackboard. Integrated by each individual adjunct, not in one fell swoop by the college.

In theory, the program is a good idea. We need a grammar-practice program, and if the new one we’ve got were on paper I would be ecstatic.

But it’s not on paper. It’s online.

And it has to be integrated.

As horrifying as that prospect sounded to my ears, I have, amazingly, managed to integrate the new program with Blackboard completely on my own, sans any instruction or help-desk help whatsoever.

But now that integration has been achieved, I have to deal with Blackboard, a task I’ve avoided for years. I’ve always used a class blog with no log-in, no password, no winding, multiply-nested, counterintuitive pathways to whatever you’re looking for, and easy to find on Google to boot. I could send out a class email with a single, solitary link, and with one click my students were exactly where they needed to be, not on a landing page with a mile-long menu bar in need of perusing.

These days, though, most of my students seem to have gotten used to Blackboard, and would like to see class content on Blackboard.

So Blackboard it is.

Thus far I’ve spent …. is it 2 hours now (?) …. dealing with Blackboard, at the end of which I have  successfully loaded a picture of myself.

I experienced a ray of hope when I came across a page informing me that I can receive in-person Blackboard training here in the town where I live. Wow! That would be a huge help, and efficient, too.

But the appointment link is broken.

And why not?

There’s no other means of reaching the promised live-instruction humans, no email, no phone number. Just a dead link and another problem to troubleshoot. Maybe YouTube will have a video.

Then there are the grammar exercises themselves, which, albeit integrated with Blackboard, continue to reside on their own site.

Which is a labyrinth. Page after page after indecipherable page, with links that aren’t located in obvious places and aren’t labeled with obvious terms.

So yesterday I spent two hours on the phone with the publisher’s tech person.

She was a saint.

By the end I was so frustrated I could hear myself becoming cranky and short, something I try never to be on the phone. Or in person, either, but somehow short and cranky seems like worse behavior on the phone with a complete stranger who is only trying to do her job.

The phone connection didn’t help.

“Could you say that again?”

“Could you say that a little louder?”

“I’m having trouble hearing you, could you talk a little louder, please?”

Which gradually gave way to modal-free eruptions like —

“I don’t know what you just said.”

And to modal-free, one-word responses like:

“Can you hear me better now?”


Another problem: half the site’s pages seemed to be named the same thing, so the customer service person and I had recurring episodes of thinking we were looking at the same page when we weren’t.

Throughout all this my interlocutor remained calm, friendly, and encouraging, finally confiding in me that the site is indeed hard to use but it gets easier after you do it for a while.

One useful piece of information I picked up: if I want to build my own test, I can’t use the “Test Builder” function to do it.

Good to know!

Test Builder doesn’t build tests. That I’m going to remember clear as a bell next time I work up enough nerve to attempt a feat of online test-building.

The Test-Builder-doesn’t-build-tests rule reminds me of our old campus system, which required us to change passwords every 90 days.

When you got to the change-password page, there were 2 options: one that said “Change Password” and another whose legend I’ve forgotten.

If you clicked on “Change Password,” it locked you out of the system.

I didn’t realize till today, thinking about it, what an oddity that was.

Aside from the obvious illogic of “Change Password” meaning “Lock me out of the system,” why would you have a “Lock me out of the system” feature anyway?

When does anyone want to be locked out of a system?

Do people ever want to be locked out of their car or their house?

Or their office website?

Has Lock myself out of the system ever appeared on anyone’s to-do list, ever?




I wrote this post at least a week ago, thinking I’d edit the next day, then didn’t get to it.

Between then and now I’ve made friends with Blackboard.

It’s a pretty easy site to navigate, as work sites go (and I dealt with a doozy last summer–or with what I took to be a doozy given my blessedly limited experience of workplace websites.)

Meanwhile the online grammar exercises, which my students are actually doing (!!), need  a user manual.

How it works: the technology boondoggle

I’m hearing the same story from friends in other districts.

  1. A teacher in your district is selected by Google (or perhaps by the publisher of a reading curriculum, a variant I heard from another parent) to work for them as a “presenter.” 
  2. The teacher is then flown around the planet by EdTech Team, Google “partner,” making presentations to audiences of other teachers.
  3. These presentations, while billed (and paid for) as professional development, are for all intents and purposes a sales pitch in the guise of continuing education. 

Districts pay EdTech Team to pitch their teachers.