This post is part of our ongoing Blackboard Week.

We’re just asking for a drop of improvement. Awesome photo by flickr user laszlo-photoWhat we’ve talked about in the other posts of Blackboard Week have not been the most realistic critiques of the system, taking to mind the process of software development. Blackboard, Inc. probably has their roadmap laid out for the next 2 or 3 versions of the system. If they were to take heed everything we’ve said, they would have to scrap their entire system. Such a task is not realistic, nor is it necessarily the best thing to do.

This post will talk about improvements and refinements Blackboard could make today to make their system more user-friendly.

Tables and Sorting

A documents section currently looks like this inside of Blackboard 9.If one of my professors posts an assignment in PDF form on Blackboard and don’t take it upon themselves to sort it, I have no way of knowing what the most recent document posted is. The document system inside Blackboard 9 is quite poor: it doesn’t provide much information that’s useful to the end-user, the student.

Much of the page is taken up by obvious icons letting me know that there is a file (or several files) rather than a folder. This is the bulleting method used by the system. The bullets don’t make much sense, since many things my professors upload–such as PowerPoints–are not documents. Also, multiple documents uploaded do not show as a multiple document icon. No biggie, but just a minor thing.

What the documents do lack is any sort of context. I will not be able to glean much from the file size of each document (except for how many pages I might need to read). I should be able to see dates created, dates uploaded, number of pages/slides in the document, icons that reflect the file formats and maybe even the author of the documents. I should also be able to sort by each one of these attributes.

If someone at Blackboard doesn’t feel like doing this, expose the data and I’ll write a Greasemonkey JavaScript table-generator. I don’t care.

RSS/Atom Feeds

While not widely adopted, RSS is cool and could also help internally organize the Blackboard system. (Quick RSS tutorial: rather than visiting Web sites, the Web sites visit you. Watch this video for a more in-depth explanation.)

Rather than having to log in to Blackboard and click around for each class, it would be nice to get a digest feed of every activity regarding the classes I’m taking. That way, I just have to glance at my feed once a day to see if anything’s new. That takes a few seconds, as opposed to the few minutes wasted navigating through the system.

In the world of digital media, choice is key. While a majority of the users out there probably wouldn’t check up on their classes via RSS, it costs Blackboard nothing (aside from developer costs) to provide. Given my experience at companies that use RSS internally, it can also be a huge asset to organization and extensibility of information inside the company.

Don’t show me modules that aren’t enabled

Look at all of these things I can’t use!While I would love to know everything that Blackboard can do, don’t display things to me if I can’t use them. That only makes me jealous of other classes. But seriously, it doesn’t make much sense.

Apple could display to me rocketship controls inside of my System Preferences, but that doesn’t mean my MacBook will be flying me to the moon any time soon. Superfluous controls are superfluous.

This is probably the most minor out of them all (it’s not inhibiting productivity during my time using the system), but it would be a simple fix:

for (tool in tools) {
if (tool.enabled())
tool.display();
}

There, I did it for you.

These are all pretty simple things that might take someone a few days to implement. Do you have any other simple ideas? Let us know in the comments!