Making Sense of Blackboard

By C. Aileen Blaine

Courses typically delivered in-person had to undergo reconfigurations to become compatible with online platforms, such as Blackboard, Webex and Zoom. However, this presents challenges to both students and faculty, especially to those who are unfamiliar with navigating the system. 

Tiffany Knight, a senior public health major, said prior to the pandemic, she only once experienced a mild issue with uploading an assignment to Blackboard. Now, it’s different.

Out of four of my classes, only one teacher is using the calendar,” Knight said. “Also, I have had problems in locating assignments and now with the teachers who are not using the calendar. It seems so disorganized.”

Knight said there are too many options for where homework assignments might be found, as well.

“Assignments may be in modules, assignments, discussions, tools,” she said. 

Rosalyn Donaldson, manager of the IT Service Desk, said the desk typically receives two types of tickets regarding Blackboard: service requests and incident reports. Service reports indicate maintenance is needed, whereas incident reports state something isn’t working correctly. 

“We try to identify recurring issues and make that something we can just check off so that we know that this is something that people are asking about,” Donaldson said. 

Donaldson acknowledged Blackboard Collaborate, the platform’s video conferencing tool, frequently experiences issues. She said it’s likely due to bandwidth shortages on Blackboard’s servers. The issues with Collaborate led to a partnership with Webex and, most recently, Zoom for video conference needs. Common issues with Respondus Lockdown Browser, an academic integrity browser, are also often due to software limitations of an individuals’ equipment. Though infrequent, Donaldson said there are times when Blackboard experiences an outage YSU is unable to control.

Jessica Chill is the director of the cyberlearning department. She said most of the complaints the department receives stem from a lack of understanding of how to use Blackboard. However, the occasional technical complaints are resolved quickly. 

“Sometimes, it’s a Blackboard issue,” Chill said. “Sometimes, it’s a hardware issue with what either the student or instructor is using, and sometimes it’s an actual issue for the software.”

Many issues within Blackboard are due to a lack of organization by instructors. Often, instructors fail to make an assignment visible to students, causing them to think the issue lies within Blackboard and its services. Other times, a student wishes to see a course before they’re permitted access, Chill said.

Chill and her department work with both students and faculty to ensure the utilization of Blackboard is as smooth as possible. Instructors receive development instruction for their courses, with a review process to deem the course ready for release. The Department of Cyberlearning provides resources and support to both students and faculty navigating Blackboard. It also offers training for both instructors and students on integrating videoconferences within their courses, as well as structuring and accessing online course materials and resources. 

“I would highly recommend having the training, whether you need it or not, just because you might be able to do something in a more efficient way,” Chill said.  

Donaldson said the service desk is ready to support students or staff experiencing issues.

“People don’t necessarily complain to us; they seek support. We don’t view it as complaining. We view it as you’re having a concern, and we need to help you work through it,” Donaldson said. 

She said the IT service desk hopes to increase its staff to better accommodate those experiencing issues. The increase will be considered in January.