The Connector
The Connector
Blackboard Inc.

Blackboard is used in colleges across the country to streamline the process of taking classes. This online format allows classes to be taken remotely and provides a learning environment from anywhere in the world.

While Blackboard does its job and facilitates submissions, discussions and lessons, there are some issues with the layout and interface that make the platform difficult to use and less conducive to an engaging online classroom.

One issue in particular is the use of ineffective notifications. I have been using Blackboard on and off for about five years and have only ever looked at the “Updates,” tab once. The problem here is that there is no point in having a notifications feature if it is easy to miss or unnecessary to look at.

In fact, I believe that the lack of properly utilized notifications is what keeps conversations in the discussion posts mostly one sided, especially in online classes. In a physical class, the interaction is spurred on by the professor and the face-to-face contact means that a lot can be expressed with little effort and there is more chance for an actual conversation to take place. Commenting on other student’s posts in an online class is less like a conversation and more like throwing random thoughts at the wall and walking away.

Blackboard is an online platform like many other forums we see on the internet, so why don’t debates or conversations take place in the same way it might on a comment thread on YouTube, or Reddit? One aspect of this is not Blackboards fault — the way the online classes scheduled means that people are focused primarily on the assignments and they will most likely not go back to check and see if anyone has commented on their post after that unit is over.

For the most part discussion threads have main posts with comments on them, but few people ever comment on comments. This is because after the initial post is made, that fills the requirement for attendance and there is no immediate need to look back.

If Blackboard were to implement more effective notifications that alert you to when someone has responded to your post, I believe it would be easier to have a conversation. What you have to do now is go back into the thread and check every single post individually to see if anyone responded to you, and since they usually don’t, there is no real reason to check.

But, if students were notified immediately when someone responded to their post and given easy access to that thread it would naturally facilitate more organic responses and actual conversations.

I realized this recently when I felt that my online class didn’t give me the same freedom to really learn from the people around me as a face-to-face interaction would. What is a shame is that this problem could be rectified, but thus far it hasn’t.

All it would take is some more consideration for design and a proper utilization of notifications.