Taking a look at the first of the three open-ended questions posed in our Blackboard Faculty Satisfaction Survey hasn’t been a huge surprise, which is a good thing. (I’d hate to think my feel for faculty opinions is too far off of reality.) The question: “What do you like best about Blackboard?”
259 faculty responded to this question (out of 301 total survey respondents), which makes for quite a lot of commentary reading. In an attempt to process what themes might be present in a mass of text, I like to create a Wordle and view the word frequency use graphically. (To see any of the smaller text entries, you will want to click the thumbnail image below and see the larger version.)
It was gratifying to see what the largest word (and therefore the presumed primary focus of the comments) worked out to be.
Looking over the actual comments, I noticed a high frequency of comments (nearly 10%, 24 to be specific) mentioning the “ease of use” of Blackboard. I’m not too surprised to see quite a few comments liking “grades” or other grade-related functions such as “Gradebook”. Keep in mind that this is what faculty like about Blackboard, not necessarily that it’s what is easy to do in Blackboard.
Not all the comments are sunny and bright, of course. One professor writes “Not sure there is anything that stands out that can’t be done elsewhere better.” This is a valid point; the best analogy I’ve ever heard used to describe Blackboard came from a support tech at some past conference: “Blackboard is Tupperware.” All it is ever going to do is hold the material faculty put into it, and by trying to support all the different things that faculty want at the same time it can be difficult to do any one specific thing the best. Certainly there are better discussion board systems, better content management systems, etc. I’m not sure that there are systems that do significantly better that do as much (in potential, at least) as Blackboard while allowing institutional SIS integration. The recurring theme I hear when faculty come back to using Blackboard is that although it doesn’t do any one thing the best, it does bundle tools together in a way that is “good enough.”
One particularly glowing comment mentions that the professor “Couldn’t live without it.” I’ll admit to amazement, when our system is down for upgrades or maintenance, at how many faculty seem to want to interact with our Blackboard system even in what is typically thought of as “down time” between semesters. I’ve had a professor want to know if I really must have the system offline on New Year’s Eve… sheesh, go party and I’ll try to have the system back online before morning!
One aspect that comes through looking at the comments directly that isn’t apparent from the Wordle is how often faculty referred to the discussion board. (Seems folks don’t know how to refer to it: DB, disc. brd, forums, there were too many ways to describe that function to become prominent in the image.) We generally get poor attendance at training workshops covering the discussion board though, so perhaps faculty feel like they truly have a good grasp on how to use that tool; apparently they like the function well enough.
That pretty much wraps up my thoughts on what faculty “like best about Blackboard” at the moment. I’m sure I’ll be revisiting some of these issues once I’ve had a chance to ponder the other two open-ended questions on what faculty like least and what they would change.