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.