California State University East Bay

The Pioneer

Blackboard’s online blackouts

Franck Camhi

Veronica Hall,
Layout Designer

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Update isn’t clicking with everyone

It was week five of our 11-week quarter and midterms were in full swing. After finishing my essay and going through a round of proofreading, I check the clock. Only twenty minutes left to submit before the 11:59 p.m. deadline, so I opened my browser and clicked over to Blackboard.

I was greeted with the usual black login screen for Blackboard, the course management and learning website students use to access courses and submit work posted by instructors. The instructors use the site to post syllabi, course materials and assignments. Blackboard has been used on our campus since 1997.

I entered my netID and password in a hurry. Upon logging in, the loading screen didn’t disappear. Instead, I was faced with the purple loading circle that continued to spin as if it was laughing at me for not submitting earlier.

Procrastination is nothing new, but neither is the buffering online platform. For students and faculty at Cal State East Bay, numerous issues plagued Blackboard in the beginning of the 2017 Fall Quarter.

The service disruptions started on Sept. 20, the day fall quarter started. They continued until Sept. 28 with a total of around 11 hours in downtime, according to Online Campus, the company that runs Blackboard at CSUEB.

After more than a week of Blackboard failing, Online Campus reported on Sept. 30 Blackboard Inc. would be increasing database size to the East Bay environment because of the constant online traffic causing the disruptions.

It’s no surprise that high traffic can make anything crash. The beginning of the school year is the time when the systems are being used the most and many new requests are constantly going through. According to the IT service desk on campus, when fall starts and problems arise with the system it is because of the previous lack of activity then a sudden burst of usage.

Blackboard underwent an update over the summer and the new software was looking to be a cure-all for the previous Blackboard interface.

Instead, the update only appeared to promote change in the display areas of the interface. The layout is different with classes listed vertically and then opening up a new, smaller window once being clicked on. Blackboard emphasized its new look with a statement from their website saying that overall look is updated for readability and function.

But a new color scheme was the last thing on my mind when trying to submit a paper and instead being held up. The range of problems with Blackboard goes far past just wait times. Since the update, there have been problems with accessing Blackboard on Firefox, such as courses jumbled with some repeating from previous quarters and a series of different error messages popping up in the activity screen.

As a transfer student, I was nervous to start using a new online course website when I began taking classes here at CSUEB in Winter 2017. My other school, College of Alameda, used Moodle which was also not a huge hit among students. However, in terms of getting work done, the website was easy to navigate through locating classes that popped up upon signing on and uses a simple process to submit work.

Fall 2017 transfer student Viridiana Olivia noticed the differences immediately. “I was confused by Blackboard more than I ever was with Moodle. For almost three weeks, the only class that popped up was the orientation ‘class.’ I was nervous. I don’t even have online classes but it made me not want to.”

Since I am one of many who take online classes, it’s important that the website we use is reliable. The process of submitting online already has anxiety associated with it and is amplified because of Blackboard’s roadblocks.

In addition to being mobile, having an app is key for checking grades or making a quick post. Blackboard changed their presence with an entirely new mobile app, although its interface has had a few problems with connecting through smartphones. My Blackboard app takes a while to load that I sometimes forget what I even clicked on.

Regardless the technical issues Blackboard has or how much the database needs to expand, we have no choice but to use it. Online Campus is bombarded with complaints about it all day but this one is for Blackboard Inc. It’s a growing company, building its clientele with different schools and companies.  However they should consider hearing feedback of people that use the website the most: the students.

Opinions may range, but it’s an effective way for a website to make changes where it’s specifically needed. Blackboard Inc. can set the example for other course management websites in terms of ease of getting work done, if it listened to the students’ needs.

One can only hope that the next update is less cringeworthy and instead lives up to its name rather than being a downdate. In the meantime, I’ll continue to be patient when dealing with loading screens. I can’t say I won’t slack off, but it’s safe to say that this Blackboard update did.

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Blackboard’s online blackouts