Binghamton University’s academic management system is being taken back to the drawing board.
Blackboard, a service used by almost all BU students, will experience changes including an improved navigation menu that allows users to switch quickly between courses without having to go back to the main menu, a more flexible grade book that allows online grading for assignments and a “retention center” that gives instructors a quick overview of student performance and activity in the course, according to Inside Binghamton University.
“We’re taking this opportunity to change the design a bit, and we hope to reduce screen clutter and make it easier to navigate,” wrote Donald Loewen, vice provost for undergraduate education, in an email. “Also, there are some new features that will make it easier for students to track activity in multiple courses, and to navigate back and forth between them more easily.”
Loewen added that they are looking at ways to make it easier for instructors to incorporate video materials for students to use.
“I think we may see more use of video as instructors adopt a ‘flipped’ or active-learning classroom model, and we need to be ready for that,” he wrote.
According to Loewen, Blackboard usually introduces updates several times a year to add new features or improve existing features.
“It’s important that we constantly look for ways to improve the learning experience — and ideally, make it more engaging for students and easier or more flexible for faculty,” Loewen wrote. “In the last 18 months there have been major changes in the Blackboard organization, and as a result we’ve seen a much greater emphasis on being responsive to the concerns and suggestions voiced by faculty.”
According to Connor McDermott, a senior majoring in accounting, a professor’s use of Blackboard can be more important than the service itself.
“I have professors that use it and make sure they post all their announcements on it, but I also have professors who don’t post anything on Blackboard, so it’s up to the professor and how they use it,” McDermott said.
However, McDermott also said that he is excited for some of the updates.
“I think that a more flexible grade book and more communication between the students and professors would be beneficial,” McDermott said. “And as students we would be able to make adjustments if things aren’t necessarily going so well, and sooner rather than later, which would potentially help our grades, and that would be great.”
Mary Haupt, a lecturer in the English department, admits that Blackboard has a few issues, but said she has no big issues with the site.
“[Blackboard] has its flaws, but I manage — and students seem able to navigate my course sites with few problems, too,” Haupt wrote in an email.
According to Vice Provost Loewen, the changes will begin at the end of the fall semester.
“This is the first time that we’re updating at the end of the fall semester (December 27 is the target date), and we’re trying this for a number of reasons,” Loewen wrote. “Most important, we get a chance to bring the first active users into the new system during the Winter term, when the load on the system is lightest. Faculty will have the whole month of January to get used to the new look and features, and we’ll have a chance to make any adjustments that seem necessary.”
Sam Sherman, a sophomore majoring in economics, said that he thinks improved navigation will be useful.
“You have to backspace a couple times when going between classes.” Sherman said. “I always have difficulty when I click on one class and there is no menu to go back to the home screen. I always press my home and it goes back to the Binghamton home page, and that just annoys … me.”