Blackboard Ruins College

Those of you who went to college can almost certainly relate to the hope that class will be cancelled when sitting in a classroom after the bell has rung but the teacher has not shown up. Are we getting a freebie, you wonder?

A missed class meant that assignments that would have been assigned could not be. Changes in the schedule meant that syllabuses will be out of date. Each fault line in communications meant opportunity for the enterprising student. Free time? What could a college student possibly do with that?

Then came Blackboard (Nasdaq: BBBB  ) . Walk through any college town in America -- Chapel Hill, Stillwater, Madison, Moscow, Hanover -- and you will hear many a student muttering unprintables at the mention of Blackboard. This company, a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick, has fundamentally changed how professors and students communicate. It has wrung out the inefficiencies to the detriment of many students' social calendars.

While the Internet has brought the world to our doorsteps, alas, for the many students out there, it has also brought our teachers there as well. Blackboard has taken the concept of the blackboard, the classroom one-stop shop for everything, and put it online. Using available technology, Blackboard offers communications possibilities that those using a hard black slab and a piece of chalk could only dream of. The idea has caught fire very quickly, with Blackboard technology now being used in more than 40% of American universities. To most, Blackboard is an exciting sign of the Internet melding with academia. For me, it is a sign of darker things. It heralds the end of an era: the end of the slacker.

Take a moment to let what child is left in you mourn, because this is truly the end of those days. Thanks to Blackboard, gone is the time when a missed class meant a professor wouldn't be able to assign homework. Now, homework assignments are posted on Blackboard -- with no chance of their not being seen because the teacher can't make it to class.

Sitting in the back of the classroom and looking inconspicuous no longer means that one can stay out of class discussions. Blackboard offers discussion boards where professors can get a clear idea of exactly how much information a student actually knows -- or if he or she has even bothered to open the book. Professors can now easily post class notes and summaries online and hold students fully responsible for the material. Thanks to Blackboard, telling a professor that you couldn't find the book you needed is a much less credible and rarely used excuse. With the use of Blackboard, professors can make available electronic copies of required library reading.

Test and quizzes can also be administered from Blackboard. No area is sacred or safe from Blackboard's reach. Course outlines, grades, office hours, practice tests, course readings -- you name it. They're there.

Remember those halcyon days of skipping class to throw a football out on the quad? Gone.

Shortcuts? Gone. The days when classes merely passed the time between parties? Gone. It's enough to make one wish that progress, at least in this one little part of our lives, had not bothered.

For those hoping that Blackboard may eventually go the way of the pet rock, neon leg warmers, or Beanie Babies, despair. Though Blackboard runs its subscription on a yearly basis, for a school to replace and implement a different system can take far longer. Because Blackboard also cuts down on administrative costs, once schools have adopted the system, they have proven unlikely to abandon it.

What's even worse is that Blackboard is now going after the grade-school children -- by God, the children. The company has entered the K-12 arena, adding new features that allow parents to view their children's schedule, homework assignments, and teacher evaluations. Parents can very easily keep track of their child's progress in school and schoolwork, to their distinct pleasure and the obvious displeasure of their children. Like I said, the age of the slacker is at an end. From here on in, it seems that the youth of today and tomorrow will have to expect to, well, learn without recess when they go to school.

Blackboard has changed everything, and this seems to be just the beginning. I for one hate it.

Andrew Pattersonis a Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is interning with theHidden Gemsnewsletter.We have it on high authority that the protestations from his inner slacker are extremely overwrought, that he really just misses theoption ofgoofing off. Andrew owns no company mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.


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