If you’re a college blog regular, you probably haven’t missed the news that the Blackboard corporation will start integrating itself into Facebook. Blackboard released recently its Facebook application “Blackboard Sync.” I would love to experiment with the app, but it seems a bug is preventing me from logging in. Who knows whether it’s LMU’s fault or Blackboard’s fault?

What’s the Big Deal?

Wow, another Facebook application from a corporation. Amazing. What took them so long? You would think that Blackboard would have written the first Facebook application for a social network that used to cater only to college students.

While Inside Higher Ed completely misses the point of the application, Blackboard is doing some cool stuff even if they showed up a year late to the kickball game. HackCollege has knocked useless Facebook applications since the very beginning. (No, I don’t want to play you in a sponsored game of rock, paper, scissors.) But we’re all for integration that makes it easier for us to access our own information. No matter how hard a specific school tries, its portal will always be inferior and less-frequently visited than Facebook. If Blackboard lets me access information without navigating through 4 pages of portal vomit, awesome.

Open the Gates

While it might appear that Blackboard is just one on the long list of “the Man” companies to make a Facebook app, I hope this amounts to a little more than just another icon on my profile page. Blackboard is a company notorious for fragile, incomprehensible database structure.

Why is that important? There’s no good reason–other than keeping money in Blackboard’s pocket–for this. To most students, Blackboard is probably “that place where I go to get my professor’s notes or assignments.” If Blackboard even exists in Web form on your campus, chances are it’s in more places than you can imagine. At LMU, every card reader is designed and operated by Blackboard.

Back to the importance of this. Hopefully Blackboard lets data get out in other ways. It’s virtually impossible to change systems these days because companies like Blackboard are the only ones who know how to pull out information en masse. Other sectors of tech have already been or are being destroyed by such selfish practices. But the educational technology world is a little different. Checks seemed to be signed with less consideration. Hastily made decisions are the norm.

And for some reason or another, many institutions choose a proprietary system with the promise of “support” over an open system like Moodle. These proprietary systems always seem to be a headache for either IT or the students later down the road. Once a problem occurs, there’s no easy way to fix it. A support ticket is filed into the blackhole of corporate support and disappears. With an open system, the people who maintain the software can fix the problems. With many proprietary systems, everyone loses except for a company like Blackboard.

Most students won’t have any say in which system their school chooses, so this post might not be too applicable. But be aware of the decisions your school is making and voice your opinions. If worse comes to worse, write an angry letter.