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Blackboard problems remedied, say IT staff

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Blackboard, the familiar teaching software program sharing a love/hate relationship with many members of the University of Calgary, is again experiencing difficulties.

An upgrade to version 7 last August led to issues with the dependability and security of the program. Most of the simple bugs were taken care of by the regular software updates Information Technologies gets from Blackboard. Recently, several instructors were unable to add new students to their rosters, but that problem has since been solved.

Other issues, such as instructors having difficulties getting the program to do what is desired, are harder to fix. As of now, instructors are unable to split grade books between teaching assistants because it is not an integrated function of the program.

"[Problems are with] basically just administrative things--you can't do what you want," said learning technology consultant Patrick Kelly. The Teaching and Learning Center where Kelly works provides support to instructors and graduate students to enhance teaching with programs like Blackboard.

"We've had some security issues as well," noted information technologies client relations and communications manager Heather Weiland. "It was allowing people to see into the course. Not grades or anything like that, but they could get into areas they really shouldn't have gotten into."

First introduced in fall 2003, Blackboard quickly changed the way many classrooms operate.

"When we first started out, I would say we had 60 per cent of our students on one or more Blackboard course," said Weiland. "I'm going to say 89 per cent of profs and students are now using Blackboard."

Student's Union vice-president academic Shannon O'Connor noted that while the university is in charge of decisions regarding technology, the SU is keeping an eye on the progress.

"Blackboard means less time lecturing and more face-to-face time," stated O'Connor. "I think that while technology can be fantastic, it's still really important to have interaction with the profs, so you need a balance."

As for future updates to Blackboard, nothing is set in stone.

"It really just depends on what our faculties want and what the students are asking the faculties," said Weiland. "What students will probably be seeing are things like more blogging built into Blackboard."

O'Connor mentioned increasing interest in podcasting where links could be placed in Blackboard.

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