Mere seconds before I had 20 minutes worth of work deleted right before my eyes. LMU spent the summer “upgrading” to Blackboard 9. I had my first encounter with the newest Blackboard system recently while taking a little ungraded quiz. Blackboard 9 boasts Facebook integration, an iPhone app and Web “two dot oh” features. Unfortunately, the core of Blackboard doesn’t work. It never has. It’s confusing,

This post deals with the bugs nuances of Blackboard and how to work around them.

New “Features”

Blackboard is one of those systems that has more functionality than you would ever want in a course management system. Once Blackboard pushes a feature out the door, it’s as if they forgot they ever wrote it. These bugs persist for a while.

Save Individual Test Answers

This is the thing that got me riled up enough to write a post about Blackboard. The newest version of Blackboard allows you to save individual answers to your test as your taking them. I was taking a little diagnostic quiz for my databases class. Thankfully this quiz was nothing more than diagnostic.

It was a 10-question quiz, and I was on the home stretch. Question 8. Just to make sure I didn’t lose my work, I wanted to save my questions. I noticed the little “save this answer” button. Out of curiosity, I clicked it. I should have known better than to assume all features would work!

Clicking the button caused my page to reload, thus deleting the last 20 minutes of answers for this diagnostic quiz. Little did I know, “save this answer” actually meant “delete all of my work.”

Facebook integration? Where?

Facebook Integration

While Chris and I bantered about the Facebook integration a few episodes back, not much has changed. I still have not been able to get the app to work. Blackboard does not like the portal URLs I hand it. Never mind that Blackboard has access via Facebook to my school with a .edu email address and could probably cross-reference that with a school’s install of Blackboard. Never mind that.

Also, I don’t quite understand the logic of creating a Facebook app. Most people use Facebook as an escape or for social reasons, not to see how badly they bombed a test.

The iPhone App

Everyone and their mothers seem to have their own iPhone app these days. Hell, even I had an app made for me as a birthday gift (thanks to Derek Smith). My birthday app and the Blackboard iPhone app have one major difference, though: mine works.

Create Your Own Blogs

There seems to be some confusion among the nomenclature here. For those that are finicky like myself, a “blog” has a collection of “posts,” or regular written pieces. You do not “post blogs.” Most people don’t have more than one blog unless they are doing it for a living.

Curious, I navigated to the “My Blogs” section of Blackboard. I was going to let the nomenclature mishap slide, until it didn’t work. Oh yeah, and reloading the page informed me I didn’t have permission to look at my own dashboard, thanks!

Still No RSS

While I’ve fallen off the RSS reading bandwagon as of late, RSS is an essential tool for those that use it regularly. Hell, some companies even base their entire internal program structure off of RSS. It’s a standard.

Due to security reasons or something else, Blackboard still does not have RSS support. Is it too much to ask to get a stream of my homework assignments as my professors post them? Now that would be a feature I would stand behind. It would also make the iPhone and Facebook apps a cinch to code.

Workarounds

This post would be nothing more than a rant if I didn’t offer some alternatives. Well let’s get to them, shall we?

Questions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 might be blank you say? They look pretty complete to me!Use Google Docs to Collaborate with Classmates

If you must collaborate, don’t use anything inside of Blackboard. Use Google Docs. We’ve written plenty about it here, but it’s a perfect 90% solution for most group paper writing needs.

And when you’re taking those Blackboard tests? Write the answers in a Google doc first, then copy them into the Blackboard answer box. That way you won’t shoot yourself in the foot.

Use Simple, Flexible Blogging Platforms like Tumblr, WordPress or Blogger

In that order. If you must blog for a class, use a system that works. Find a way to trick your professor into making them think you’re using Blackboard. (Well, that might be tough.)

I’ve recently become a huge fan of Tumblr for anything blogging related. Tumblr is simple, fun to use and looks great. I used to recommend WordPress to everyone I knew, but WordPress has become too bloated for my tastes. Why throw a kitchen sink at a 5-minute problem? I’ve been using Tumblr for a few of my side projects, among them: One Month Here, Cult of Less and Fuck Yeah LMU.

Get an iPhone App that Works for You

Don’t rely on the Blackboard iPhone app to tell you when assignments are due. Be responsible for your own work. It sounds meticulous, but I always keep my Remember the Milk as up-to-date as I possible can with all assignments for the semester. That includes test study sessions, paper writing sessions and the smallest assignments. Be religious about it and you’ll never forget another assignment. Chris is a big fan of OmniFocus.

What do you do to get around Blackboard? Or do you just live with it? Or are you attending one of the few lucky schools without it? Let us know in the comments!