Blackboard CourseSites, the VLE and the Cloud

Yesterday Blackboard launched CourseSites, a web-service based on their Blackboard Learn platform where teachers can create their own courses and invite their students to enrol.  For anyone who works at an educational institution which has the latest version of Blackboard as its virtual learning environment (VLE) it will look very familiar, but making a comparison between the same platform hosted institutionally and in the cloud is quite revealing.

Blackboard have aimed this service at individual teachers; further “CourseSites is designed to support instructors who may not have access to a learning management system at their institution or school” they say.

But looking at it from a teacher’s point of view, I wondered if there was anything CourseSites didn’t offer, or if there were any disadvantages you might miss out on if you used it instead of an institutional solution.

One thing it doesn’t offer is the ability to customise and add plug-ins (or “building blocks” in Blackboard speak) enabling you to connect it to other systems.

But it does offer its own unique advantages. I like the ability to log in with Twitter/Facebook/Google etc. More importantly if you don’t already have Elluminate it can provide you with a virtual classroom for up to 50 participants, for free.

And although the invite process for getting your students into your course is more involved that having them automatically enrolled (if your institution has integrated the VLE with its student information system) the benefit for lecturers is the flexibility to invite participants who are not enrolled on their course or even at their institution. It makes it much more appealing as a platform for external collaboration, too.

So perhaps, in terms of functionality, it’s swings and roundabouts? For an individual lecturer, it might depend upon their course (if Turnitin integration is of greater utility than Elluminate, or visa versa, for example).

Another, often fiercely debated factor in the comparison between institutionally provided and cloud based services is resilience and reliability. Is it too early to make a judgement on this?

Perhaps this morning’s outage on the new service was “teething trouble”.

Another concern that I’ve often heard raised about cloud services is about intellectual property rights.

In their guidance, JISC legal highlight the importance of checking the terms of “Web 2.0” services “as some…have included exorbitant IPR claims over everything submitted to that service.” In fact, Blackboard doesn’t claim ownership, and because Blackboard is providing a web-based service to individuals, rather than an institution, some sort of licence must be necessary to be able to show to other users (your students) the content you (the lecturer) upload. But how permissive does it need to be?

Any Content that you upload into or otherwise make available (“User Content”) into the Service is and remains your sole property or the property of your licensors. By uploading or otherwise making available any User Content, you automatically grant and/or warrant that the owner has granted Blackboard, the perpetual royalty-free, non-exclusive right and license to use, reproduce, modify, publish, distribute, perform, display, and transmit the User Content through the Service, including use of User Content, courses, designs and customizations for promotional and/or marketing purposes.

From Section 4, CourseSites Terms and Conditions

I’m certainly not a lawyer, so I’m unsure how concerned I should be by “perpetual” in there, nor the fact that the licence Blackboard asks you to grant does not appear to be restricted solely to the purpose of using their service…

I haven’t played with CourseSites enough yet to make a proper comparison, but I’m still curious whether lecturers at institutions with their own Blackboard (or other VLE) platform will make use of this service.

Have you tried CourseSites? Are you thinking of using it with your students? If you have an institutional VLE, what do you think are its benefits and drawbacks by comparison?

Author: Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See for more...

4 thoughts on “Blackboard CourseSites, the VLE and the Cloud”

    1. Where there’s a migration to another VLE (away from Blackboard), it occurs to me in the short term CourseSites might offer individual lecturers with well developed courses (who are unready or unwilling to rebuild them) a convenient alternative to transferring to the new institutional system.

      In the longer term, will this development mean more lecturers choosing a platform based on their purpose, rather than institutional provision? What will the support implications of this (a particularly interesting question where there is a VLE migrations)?

      1. I might think of this for my WBL site on Blackboard to be honest, although we are also moving most of the content to PebblePad for these specific learners. will keep you informed of progress one way or another of course!


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