On Board with Blackboard

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To continue the "working with imperfect technology" theme . . . I've never been one for Course Management Systems (CMS). WebCT and Blackboard (Bb) always struck me as being imagined for a huge 300-seat lecture course and not specifically for my 22-seat writing course--it was just too much, too big, too complex, too everything So, while I've long been a tech kinda person, I've also long avoided using CMS of any kind. But that's changed recently and one of the reasons it's changed is the Community site feature of Blackboard. One of my colleagues here actually suggested we start one for the writing program and I've been so glad that I followed his advice. The first thing the Writing Program Community site does for us is provide a central document archive where we can post sample assignments, syllabi, and policy statements. These are organized by course so people moving into a course for the first time have one place to look for all the stuff they need to get ready to teach. We've also used the discussion board with some limited success (it's hard to get a critical mass going for sustained discussion, ya know?), most usefully when we want to toss out an issue and get feedback and commentary. The most exciting tool, though, was Teams (though now it seems to be missing... did some new version of Bb come in and rename or lose that tool?). Teams created a mini wiki within Bb. We used it to have all teachers in the program contribute collaboratively to a draft of our new grading criteria. I loved how we could tap into a Wikipedia-like harnessing of the "wisdom of crowds," and I loved too how every teacher got an equal chance to make any alteration to the developing draft. The Community site seems to play a bigger and bigger role for me as WPA each year. It provides a virtual space of community, which is handy when you have 60 GTAs, 20 full time instructors, and 10 adjuncts spread over 8 courses on 4 campuses. But I imagine my view is skewed by my role as WPA. That is, I don't think it functions to create a true virtual community; it's more like a virtual office where you can drop off or pick up some important forms. I'm not sure what it would take to turn that into a virtual lounge. In my experience, community isn't planned; it just happens. Still, I'm happy for this feature in Bb. It makes my life easier and it has a lot of potential for us yet to explore.
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About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.