Thursday, January 31, 2013

No, Blackboard is NOT going away! Partnering Blackboard and Google Apps

Somebody out there is spreading a troubling rumor, and we wanted to address it before it gains any more momentum.

The rumor goes something like this:

"Now that the district has Google Apps/Docs/Drive/Sites in place, there is no need for Blackboard.  As a result, the district is going to do away with Blackboard in a cost saving measure."

Despite the inaccurate soothsaying of a few of our colleagues, Blackboard is NOT going away.  At least, not for the foreseeable future.  In the age of technology and educational change, nothing is guaranteed forever.  However, to be clear, there has been no discussion about the removal of Blackboard, or the shift to a different Learning Management System (LMS... and that's what Blackboard is).

Especially with conversations about Waukesha One and personalized learning spinning up, the need for structured digital platform (which is what an LMS like Blackboard provides to students and staff) has never been in greater need.  To be clear, Google Apps is NOT an LMS.

Additionally, with eAchieve coming into the fold with Waukesha' s Blackboard implementation, the value of a robust LMS solution that can support face-to-face, hybrid, and virtual instruction is critical.

Yes, there is a cost to Blackboard.  However, in a brief analysis of other vendor solutions, the core components of Blackboard are comparably priced to alternate solutions.

Those of you aware of Moodle as an LMS will argue that Moodle is a free solution.  To quote the SDW CIO, Steve Schlomann, "Moodle is free like a puppy is free."  There are hosting and support costs associated with Moodle.  Because it is not vendor owned/created, any professional support required will need to be contracted as well.  Those costs can add up in a hurry.  So, even "free" isn't free!

That said, the next question is apparent:
If we are going to have Google and Blackboard as a part of our ecosystem,  do the two systems work together?  If so, how?
The good news is that they CAN work together, and teachers across this district are doing it!  Imagine a world where a syllabus can be changed in Google Docs, or a handout, or a class list, or any other document shared with students/staff/parents, and the changes are immediately reflected in Blackboard -- no additional uploads, attachments, or work needed. No version control or confusion. Imagine students pulling a copy of a document directly from a drive folder, but navigating to that folder easily from a consistent link provided one time in Blackboard.

Dale Van Keuren focuses on seamlessly  integrating
technology into classroom practice on his blog,
Waukesha North Technology Corner.
Dale Van Keuren, Instructional Technology Integrator at North, has written a blog post in which he outlines the larger purpose for each system (Google and Blackboard), and he points out how they can function together cohesively.  Take a look.  "Google and Blackboard: Making them BFFs"

"There are two amazing tools that students and teachers in Waukesha have access that can enhance their classes...Blackboard and Google Apps for Education.  These two tools are critical for the success of learning in Waukesha.

But wait...don't they do the same thing?  How can I make them "play nice" together?  I mean I can share a Google Doc with a student or I can upload it to Blackboard...same thing different tool"