Will Blackboard be disrupted?

It was about 12 or 13 years ago, that we decided to design a class website template. It seemed that student materials were heading online and at Melbourne Business School we opted for a faculty-designed solution. For those days, it was pretty slick and it was the main template used for about a decade. A few years ago, wanting more features the School moved to Blackboard. And when I got to the University of Toronto there Blackboard was again. My kids’ school uses Blackboard. It is everywhere and it is terrible. While it has all the features you could want and it has some integration with University systems, it is very cumbersome to use. So much so that I kept its use to a minimum for my course this semester and opted for my own WordPress hosted solution.

Now Blackboard has some competitors. There is an open source option — Moodle. I haven’t explored this beyond a minimum to realise that it was going to take time to set-up. It also required additional hosting and other things that, while not beyond my expertise, were beyond my patience. But, unlike Blackboard, it was free. However, it is a competitor not a disruptor.

Today a new option has launched — Coursekit. Coursekit was founded by a few Wharton undergraduate students who dropped out and raised a million dollars in venture capital to provide an alternative to Blackboard. Right now, it’s free. But more critically, it is a joy to use. I only wish I had known about it three months ago and I would have definitely put my class onto it. I set-up my PhD class for next semester in about 10 minutes; including the time it took to set up my own account. I could put in a syllabus with an easy interface. Set up a blog. Make the posts private or public with a simplicity that would surely impress Facebook or Google. And students can sign up with a simple code and even use their Facebook accounts as a login. The grade book looks simple. The whole style is friendly and intuitive. If you are an academic, you should give it a look. There’ll be no training sessions for this one!

Blackboard succeeded because it was able to sell itself as a solution to University administrators. Coursekit will face some challenges in that. So, in typical disruptor form, they have bypassed those decision-makers and gone straight to academics. To be sure, the University could come back at that and prohibit use. But then again, they are sitting there writing big checks to Blackboard so there is a chance, in these budget constrained times, this will not be appealing.

But Coursekit will eventually have to earn some revenue — if only to give people confidence that they will be around long enough to rely upon. I suspect there is an acquirer in their future (most likely someone who won’t need revenues from Coursekit but will have another purpose) and, if that happens, there goes Blackboard’s revenue stream. Blackboard has been losing market share for sometime to competitors like Desire2Learn. Coursekit demonstrates that the industry is far more vulnerable.

9 Replies to “Will Blackboard be disrupted?”

  1. They are not the first – and likely won’t be the last. Check out Edvance360 (7+ years on the market) and Nixty (open source). Both designed by faculty for faculty who are not happy with Blackboard. I understand Instructure/Canvas has a similar background. All three have social networking capabilities and Edvance360 provides a free, secure social network for the schools (which takes care of any boundary-crossing issues encountered when integrating with Facebook.)

  2. Online Self-learning is becoming fast the perfect choice of learning, especially with so many great educational videos available for free. The only problem is to sort the good ones from the rest and present them in an organized manner.

    This effort is being done by: http://Utubersity.com which presents the best educational videos available on YouTube in an organized, easy to find way to watch and learn.

    They are classified and tagged in a way that enables people to find these materials more easily and efficiently and not waste time browsing through pages of irrelevant search results.

    The website also enhances the experience using other means such as recommending related videos, Wikipedia content and so on. There’s also a Spanish version called http://utubersidad.com

    This is a project that YouTube should embrace itself, with curated content from academics and maybe using a different URL (Youtubersity?) so it won’t be blocked by schools.

  3. As a heavy Blackboard user (and, hence, hater), this alternative looks terrific and (based on 10 minutes of playing) extremely simple. I’m scheduled to give a seminar to my faculty about the joys of Blackboard in a couple of weeks, so this will be fun.

    One possible deal breaker for one of my subjects is that you can’t upload videos. Instead, there’s only a facility to link to other video sites. That’s a problem for my evidence course, which relies on customised but copyrighted videos that I cannot put on linkable sites. I realise that a free service will have bandwidth (and maybe copyright) issues with videos, but this is perhaps something that will make it tricky to disrupt Blackboard, given its local hosting and cozy relationship with uni technocrats.

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