"Why?" is a common question that comes up regarding Blackboard. Why should I use it at all? And if I have to use it, why should I spend the time to learn anything beyond its basic elements? These are fair questions; Blackboard is an occasionally cumbersome interface that is neither intuitive to learn nor aesthetically pleasing. However, the advantages to learning to use Blackboard outweigh its deficiencies. The following are several key answers to some of the "why" questions:
Blackboard provides a secure platform for collecting and storing your students' work. Your students' essays, discussion threads, and emails are all protected by FERPA (the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) once you have assigned a grade to them. Backboard keeps all such records behind a strong privacy wall, for which Cornell rather than the instructor bears responsibility. Managing student records through Blackboard rather than through your own private website both increases the security of their work, and provides you with a layer of protection. Additionally, keeping materials behind Blackboard's privacy wall helps the University to defend you against possible charges of copyright infringement -- because copyrighted materials (such as movies) that you post to your course site are not in the public domain, you have a better claim to its use in a strictly academic / learning context.
Ease of Communication
Blackboard is a central point of online access for your students; they will manage most of their classes via Blackboard. Using Blackboard means that students will see reminders and notes from your class along more readily. Moreover, Blackboard's email feature allows you to contact students individually, in groups, or en masse easily, and without needing to keep track of their contact information. You will also receive a copy of all correspondence and reminders sent to your class.
Ease of Storage and Transition
Not only is Blackboard central for your students, but it can be a hub for your own teaching resources as well. There is no limit on the amount or size of materials that you can upload to Blackboard at Cornell. Blackboard can provide a place to house any files that you think might be useful in the classroom (movies, video clips, sound files, images, PDF's, etc.). You can create an archive of materials that you can draw on for any course. Not only are your materials portable from class to class, but you can also transition whole sections of one class into a new one -- you can reuse earlier work where applicable.
The University maintains Blackboard and provides quick support -- via email or phone, but also in person if needed. Any problems that occur with your course site are not yours to fix, and help is readily available. For contact information, see the "Troubleshooting" page of this guide here.
This guide is designed as a basic introduction to some of the aspects of the Blackboard classroom management software. The guide is built with the specific intent of providing a point of entry and reference for graduate students teaching First Year Writing Seminars for the Knight Institute.