After completing an individual review of Blackboard Learn the team carried out user research covering various areas and using a variety of research techniques. This research covered user observations, competitor analysis and student surveys, and was eventually combined with the previous initial review to aid us in identifying the key issues.
Competitor analysis was the first stage of our user research, it allowed us establish the current state of the art and aid us in beginning to form questions for later user research. It would also make us more familiar with what the current strengths and weakness of whats currently been used in the overall problem domain of virtual learning environments and course management systems.
Through my workplaces intern program I had direct access to two students using Moodle and was able to observe them using the system and interview them about positive and negative aspects of the system.
The homepage was clearly laid out and used a mix of iconography and text with colour to call attention to various areas. Users felt that that it was easy to understand how to navigate through the various courses and how to access functionality such as alerts and online conversations. Both users also pointed out that that the calendar being featured prominently on the homepage meant they could quickly see upcoming events.
Again both users felt the course module was clearly laid out. The central panel provided all relevant information and documents related to that particular module, including uploaded assignments, course notes and assessment tasks. The centralising of all module content made it easy for users to see everything at a glance. It was also mentioned that the functionality in the right panel provided quick feedback as to who was online and what messages where pending. Although the very top panel did cause confusion as it used a number system instead of names to reflect the core navigation on the left hand panel.
Again both users found this section extremely useful as it allowed them view their overall progress for the course. They could view their grades for each module, available feedback, and the contribution the modules grades had on the overall course grade. Being able to see at a glance if user feedback was available was also useful.
Similar to Blackboard Learn but providing more information and an easier to user interface the assignment submission page provided all relevant information relating to an assignment submission with a clearly labelled status as to its state.
With the short time frame allotted extensive user observations was not possible. To help combat this we used the following sites to obtain user reviews of Blackboard Learn which would later be combined with actual user observations to inform our problem area.
Due to the many versions of Blackboard Learn it was difficult at times to identify which version reviewers where referring to, the following reviews are a small cross section of the types of reviews.
- “You can also email directly through Blackboard. You can also search for classmates if you don’t have contact information and need to find out information about an assignment your group is working on, for example.”
- “Easy to put in grades, send out messages to students, post assignments, etc. My students also submit their assignments through Blackboard, which makes it easy to do grading. I also like that Blackboard can check student work for plagiarism.”
- “When trying to read in text comments on graded assignments, you have to expand it in a such a way that doesn’t seem like it would be an option if you want to read what your instructor has noted.”
- “I believe Blackboard has become a bit bloated over its years on the market and can be less intuitive than some of the newer LMS options. Many of the instructors that I worked with had a difficult time learning to use the system, even if they had prior knowledge of working with an LMS.”
- “Frequently get errors when sometimes handing in assignments or uploading documents.”
- “Things that the user needs to do are buried down a few layers and are not intuitive to find”
- “Difficult to master. This is because there is so much functionality. It takes some investment in time.”
|Key positive points||Key pain points|
It is difficult to give an informed appraisal of Blackboard Learn based purely on user reviews and competitor analysis alone in the limited time allotted. Generally Blackboard Learn receives mixed reviews with some users more than happy with it. It would appear that many of the more useful features and functionality are not enabled on the version being used by IADT, such as learning analytics, automatic notifications if failing class, visualisation tools and social learning. Some consistent complaints regarding Blackboard Learn are it can appear buggy at times, inconsistent, and difficult to learn.
Some areas blackboard Learn is lacking in are,
- Actionable cards
- Use of a search bar
- Clearly identifiable actions
- Contextual feedback after actions
The below table provides a comparison of of Moodle, one of the more popular virtual learning environments and Blackboard.
|Payment model||Freemium (open source)||Proprietary|
|Course assignment||Activity list on a single page||Weekly activities tab|
|Managing content||Automatic content management.||Manual. You have to change settings every time.|
|Features/Plugins||Limited options, you have to create new plugins and develop them||Extra features are included in the price|
|Product/vendor model||Many supporting companies and vendors||Extra features are included in the price|
|Help options||Forums, Knowledge Base||Forms, Knowledge Base + Live Tech Support|
|Mobile friendly||MoodlEZ iPad app for $2.99 and/or free MyMoodle app||Forms, Knowledge Base + Live Tech Support|
|Market share (2015)||22.98%||34.22%|
(Source, iSpring 2015)