Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Blackboard Mobile wishlist

This is my first semester teaching (yay!) and since we're eventually migrating to Blackboard Lean 9 on my campus I've decided to be part of a pre-pilot using Coursesites (fantastic and free service, by the way, if you are looking for a free LMS).

One of the perks of coursesites, that briefly was taken away from us last year but is now back, is access to Blackboard Mobile on iOS, Android and Blackberry (hopefully a windows phone version soon?).  In any case, since I don't have a computer at home that I regularly have access to, I tend to use my iPad and Blackboard Mobile to keep on top of things.  While Bb Mobile is a great app, it does have a few shortcomings that I hope Blackboard addresses in the near future.  Some of it is (or should be) easy to implement, while other things might need a little more work on the back end to make feasible.  So here is my laundry list:

What's New and Due
This is a great feature of Bb Learn - it essentially gives you (student and instructors) the ability to see what's new in the course you are taking (or teaching).  Announcements, calendar items, tasks to-do, as well as new discussion board forums, new assignments, and new content are easily available in a new dashboard format.  In Bb Learn however you are just given a "view in browser" link.  Now while the iPad may be OK the iPhone and other narrow screen devices are not.  It should be easy for Blackboard (Bb from here on out) to make this data easily accessible and format it for the appropriate display. It shouldn't be a "view in browser" feature, but rather should be integrated into the app.

Attachments (dropbox integration):
The nice thing (at least on iOS) is that in discussion posts (and I assume blogs and journals) you're able to add attachments to your posts.  The only problem is that the only type of attachment you can have up to now is a photo, which is pretty limiting.  If I had dropbox integration I'd be able to attach documents that I have on my dropbox into my blackboard course so that my students could use them.  Or, if I were a student, I could submit a paper that I have stored on dropbox for a course assignment.

Course wiki, Messages & Live Classroom:
Nice features, but they suffer from the "view in browser" issue that What's New and Due suffers from.  This needs to be addressed.  In addition, Live classroom is based on Blackboard connect (formerly Elluminate) which means that you need Java to run things. There needs to be some sort of iOS client for these types of synchronous conferencing tools.

Assignments, and Grading:
Assignments suffer from the "view in browser" issue that What's New and Due suffers from, obviously there needs to be something native for mobile to access and submit assignments, preferably with some sort of Dropbox integration so that students can submit their assignments via mobile.  There are a number of word processing (and note taking) apps that leverage dropbox on iOS as their storage mechanism, so it would make sense for Bb mobile to be able to pull files from dropbox as valid items for submissions.
Grading is not an available option on mobile.  Canvas (a competitor LMS) has a nice app (SpeedGrader) that allows you to log into your course, see what's submitted, annotate it, comment on it, and grade it, all from the comfort of your iPad.  With apps like GoodReader having shown us that is it possible to annotate, save and re-sync PDFs into your online storage location of choice (and with Canvas' precedent), I don't see why there aren't any instructor friendly options in Bb mobile.  Now granted, it's early in the semester and papers haven't come in yet (give it another month), but it would be nice to know that I don't need to go to a desktop to receive papers, annotate them, and send them back to students with their grades. This stuff should be seamless on a tablet :-)

Discussions, Groups & Assignments (creation):
Not doable on Bb mobile, you do get the "view in browser" option which does work remarkably well, however it would be nice to get some native functionality to create new discussions while on mobile (something that doesn't require opening a browser window), creating a new assignment, and creating groups on the go.  It seems like Bb mobile has been created with course management in mind (at least to some extent) once all the hard work of setting up the course has already been done through a desktop/full browser client.  It would be nice to see some of that functionality trickle down to the tablet (without having to squint at the screen) :-)
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