The Review

This is an initial personal review of IADT’s Blackboard Learn education portal. It documents my own personal reactions and experience in using Blackboard Learn for the first time. It is not meant as an exhaustive in depth analysis.

Each team member took the time to  review Blackboard Learn and record their own observations of preforming various tasks. This information was used as part of the overall research to aid in identifying the initial key problems with Blackboard Learn.

Login Page

Starting at the beginning, the login screen, I found this to be quite annoying as it provided none of the established norms regarding logging into an application (Sitepoint, July 2014), if your login failed which it did, there was no way to recover your password, which resulted in second guessing of the login credentials until frustration got the better of me, and I was forced to give up. I later had to contact the site admin to establish what the issue was. This could have been improved by informing me on the login screen, that I had not yet been setup on Blackboard Learn. The lack of user feedback and control had already established a lack of confidence in the system.

Home Page

First impressions of the main area of  Blackboard Learn were that it appears to be quite barren, which is understandable as we are in the very early stage of the course. Either way there is a sense of inaction about the site or there being nothing of use to review.
There are three icons that are present, two sit in the top left, one of which is extremely small and easily missed if a student happens to be on any type of a hi-resolution monitor, which based on current trends is quite likely (Statcounter, 2017). You can discover what this small link icon actually does by hovering over it.

Quick links

Although an example of modeless interactive help, in this case the tool-tip information creates the assumption that quick links will take you quickly to the location they are referencing. Instead this causes a modal window to display with the title of  the similarly named panel on the page, upon clicking the title the associated page item flashes and the modal disappears. Not only is this notification confusing and difficult to spot, but the tool tip would also fail to work on a tablet due to the lack of a hover state.The second link is a large plus sign which appears to be a broken link.

Digging Deeper

On the right hand side of the homepage is a panel which helpfully lists all the courses I’m taking, with recent announcements under it, although it is a duplication of the announcements panel in the centre of the Home page, which again adds to the sense of ‘not a lot that’s useful’.
Upon clicking on one of the courses you  are taken to what initially looks like an announcements page. This causes quite a jarring effect as you’re left feeling that you’ve mistakenly clicked the wrong link, this is repeated for all similar pages and once again reduces the level of confidence in the overall site.

There’s some slightly useful information describing when and who posted the content on the page. Unlike the Home page there are more icons, unfortunately the point of these seems a little bizarre and I suspect they have just been left in.

Blackboard Learn, Course Screen

Taking the left side navigation panel, there are two icons, one I assume for refreshing the navigation and the other  creates a duplicate floating panel of the navigation with links to relevant course material. It seems unusual that this more detailed navigation is not just set as the default navigation for the whole site This duplication and inconsistency in core navigation is extremely confusing  for users.  (Cooper et al., 2014).

Blackboard Learn Course Navigation
Blackboard Learn, Course Navigation

 

Main Navigation

I have already discussed the unusual navigation choice used for the courses section of the site, here I’ll focus on the main navigation on the left hand side of the Home page which although I perceived it as navigation is actually a list of tools, maybe the title should have been a giveaway but it just didn’t sink in for me, probably due to the fact that I’m used to seeing navigation on the left of the site as an established convention. (Nielsen, 1999)

Blackboard Learn Tools

So when it promptly disappeared when navigating to another section of the site,it caused confusion. It could have been a quite useful feature if it had been added to the header as permanent navigation, allowing you access to these “Tools” no matter where you are in the site.

When navigating from the home page of the site to one of the courses by using the My Course panel, you are presented as previously described with information relating to the particular course. Once again the navigation choices are unusual, instead of presenting all of the courses in the left hand navigation, the only navigation links are those relevant to the course the user has currently selected, but yet the calendar option allows you see all dates relating to all relevant courses

In the top right hand corner of all pages is the only consistent navigation used throughout the whole site.

The unlabelled log-off button on the far right logs the user out, which might prove a bit annoying on first use as its unclear as to its function. Next to this is the user name, where the list of courses enrolled in can be found and navigated to, its a useful piece of navigation but it should be prominent as it prevents the student having to return to main page all the time. There are also a series of icons on the right which are not mapped to the text on the right. The usage for one of the icons is reasonably obvious while the other four seem to cover a variety of tasks from swimming to setting an alarm clock.

Overall the initial review of Blackboard Learn gave the impression of a system that was not developed with students goals in mind. It suffers from inconsistent and confusing navigation which I would consider one of its major flaws and overall does not install confidence in its use. Other functionality such as the calendar and email which could have been very useful tools have had the bear minimum of thought put into them. These issues will be dealt with in further detail in the next post “Problem Identification”.

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