Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

Coverage

Press release on PR NewsWire.

Inside Higher Ed - "Although there are numerous remaining proprietary players, including eCollege, as well as an emerging cadre of open source platforms for course management, such as Moodle and Sakai, the combined Blackboard/WebCT entity is likely to control as much as two-thirds of the e-learning market, says Burdt of Eduventures."

Scott Leslie - has a comprehensive report that is spot-on. "It's not totally our fault - yes, the specs were a moving target for a long time. Yes, compliance testing likely means a load of liability insurance that no one can afford. Yes, there are good reasons to accept that the specs need to be able to be extended to accommodate things they couldn't do in their original incarnations. But we've accepted all of these excuses and what do we have? Instead of content interoperability and portability between systems, we basically have vendor lock in, the very thing the freaking specs were supposed to help avoid! And that just got a world worse too with this consolidation."

Motley Fool (will annoy you with a login redirect - hit the back button, then the forward button to read). "The merger, in my book, rates no more than a B-minus. The combined companies' 3,700 clients will be one clear benefit -- the merged company's base of annual software licensing fees will far surpass that of competitor eCollege.com."

Chronicle of Higher Education - "They really are two powerhouses," said Catherine F. Burdt, lead analyst for postsecondary solutions for Eduventures Inc., a market-research company based in Boston. "This company will come together to create a big powerhouse." But that doesn't necessarily mean Blackboard will squash all its competition, she said. Another software company, eCollege, is still a big player in course management, and there are several smaller competitors, including Angel, Desire2Learn, and Intralearn, she said. "They'll now only have to keep their eye on one big competitor," she said.

XplanaZine weighs in with an article and podcast. "If ever there was a marriage made in history, this has got to be it."

New! Inside Higher Ed - Blackboard vs....? - "many are skeptical of Blackboard's pledges to continue to offer and support WebCT products. That's not because they necessarily distrust Blackboard, but because of a pattern in which such promises are frequently made by technology companies, post-merger, and abandoned a few months later."

New! Information Today - "The acquisition will create the largest e-learning company in the field with more than 3,700 customers, including colleges and universities and corporate and government clients. The merged company will be headquartered in Washington, D.C. The combined company would have approximately 800 employees in seven offices in the U.S., Canada, and abroad."

New! Desire2Learn responds to the merger - You Can Decide TODAY What Your CMS/VLE of Tomorrow Will Be. - "Desire2Learn wishes to seek the advice and opinions of our clients and potential clients that have comments, questions, and/or concerns about this recent event and the increased growth opportunity for Desire2Learn."

Edubloggers React

Brian Lamb - There's only a Technorati breeze blowing right now, but I suspect it will be a gale soon enough -- Blackboard has acquired WebCT (they call it a merger, you decide). I can't say I have much to add to the general chorus of disbelief and confusion... although there is a certain inescapable logic to the process, it seems to have taken everyone by surprise.

It will be interesting to observe how the open source community responds to the new reality. And will a Microsoft of the LMS provoke a broader backlash on campuses? I suspect there will be a lot of overtime being put in by the marketing types.

As it happens, I will be in Orlando during the press conference they have scheduled for October 18th, though I won't be blogging it live (oh darn). I'm going to be co-delivering a preconference seminar on portfolios and social software. So I will even miss the "mergercast" (doesn't that term inspire confidence?)...

D'Arcy Norman - Larry Johnson just sent an email to the NMC list with news that Blackboard and WebCT are merging. Holy. Crap. I mean - there goes any sense of competition in the LMS game. What�s left to compete? Moodle? Sakai? Something else? I really hope there is more than one Big Player left in the LMS world...

Here�s hoping the new LMS behemoth doesn�t go all Microsoft on our asses, and is able to do something innovative with their new collective girth.

Looks like Bb and WebCT brands will continue for some time, with the best of both being amalgamated into a new Bb version. BbCT?

I, for one, welcome our new LMS overlords...

Nancy White - Oh, dear gods and goddesses of learning, please tell me that this does not mean more gets locked behind large and (at least in the past) inflexible systems that lack the graceful bend of a willow in the wind???

Scott Leslie - Well, there goes any claim to being an insider! Just found out about this a few minutes ago and had no idea it was in the works. I believe this is true as I am sitting on the analysts conference call right now. You kind of knew something like this had to happen, but still it's profoundly shocking now that it has, especially as WebCT is just pushing WebCT Campus Edition 6 out the door in the last few months, which meant it was no longer supporting 2 code bases. Somewhat unsurprisingly, it was referred to as an 'acquisition' a number of times, which seems really like what it is.

On the analysts call the first piece of work that was identified to bring the two products closer together was unifying an API for the Blackboard and WebCT.

So, what does that mean for things like the IMS Tools Interoperability Profile? Well, seems to me like the new unified API becomes a de facto 'standard' that will be even harder to displace for any of the more open approaches to integrating 3rd party tools into CMS.

Stuart Yeates - Blackboard and WebCT are to merge. From an econimic point of view, this makes little sense unless they no longer see each other as key rivals. Do they now both see Moodle as their key rival? Or Bodington?

Michelle Chua - So the Pepsi and Coke of the edtech universe are merging.

I know the WebCT name survived one acquisition, but I don't think it will survive this time. "The company will remain under the Blackboard brand." It's not "taking on" the Blackboard brand. It remains, it always was the Blackboard brand. And all the announcements are on the Blackboard website.

Not that I'm trying to rub salt into the acquisition wound, but come on now -- let's call a spade a spade.

(And Sakai, Moodle - remember when Wordpress made lots of noise when Movable Type moved to the turn-a-profit model? Something smells like opportunity.)

Jay Cross doesn't comment directly but passes on some comments "from pals" - Could it be that the motivation for LMS consolidation is more a belief that $1 + $1 > $2 , instead of anything directly relating to product attributes, customer opinions, complimentary products/markets or competitive forces (open source, etc)?

Seems really odd Jay. The places I go and the people I meet definitely prefer WebCT to Blackboard. Most believe that Blackboard's technology is inferior. And after getting to know the WebCT management people a little bit during the past year after giving talks at their conferences and having them write a chapter in my book and having met some of the Blackboard people (who have a habit of saying no to any good idea or to say "why don't you put that in our building blocks" even if it hits them smack in the head), I can attest that WebCT people are a much more fun and better managed group of people. And WebCT has become profitable during past couple of years. So this seems odd. Why is Blackboard in charge? The industry is in real trouble now.

Could opensource tools like Sakai and Moodle be forcing such a decision?

Ben Watson - Wow, consolidation is running rampart in the eLearning space as everyone continues to merge or acquire. Look to your left and look to your right; easily one of those will not be around in six months. Today BlackBoard announced plans to merge with WebCT; the two leading providers in the higher education eLearning space (BlackBoard alone forecasts US$150M+ for their fiscal year).

Now having gone through a "merger" myself (SkillSoft and SmartForce) it sounds like BlackBoard is really acquiring WebCT and it doesn't bode well for WebCT given that there is a tremendous amount of product overlap between the two companies (a similar comparision would be if SkillSoft and NETg, the leading providers in the corporate education space, merged). It also doesn't bode well for WebCT's willingness to play with open source (sorry Harold!) If you are a WebCT employee you may want to dust off your resume with comments like this: The combined company expects to realize significant efficiencies by leveraging shared development infrastructure, and mitigating duplicative marketing initiatives and administrative expenditures.

This announcement comes on the heels of Saba acquiring Centra. Now this deal makes more sense as Saba continues evolve beyond its Learning Management Software (LMS) roots (Saba recently bought THINQ) by rounding out its services offering. Personally I like its focus on 'on-demand learning' and its Services Oriented Architecture as I think generic content is a tough business to be in. Plus Saba + Centra creates a US$100M revenue company which is not too shabby!

And of course back in August we had WebEx buying Intranets.com and SumTotal (created out of Docent + Click2Learn) buying PathLore as I discussed in this post.

Clark - you need to update your Chart of Consolidations!

The Resulting Big Five: (forecasted annual revenue)
SkillSoft $200M+
NETg $150M-200M?
BlackBoard $150M+
Saba $100M+
SumTotal $100M
* strangely none of the investors like any of these deals as the stocks of the related companies have all dropped when they have announced their news.

Rick Schwier - A letter from Carol Vallone made what was a welcome and, for me anyway, surprising announcement. WebCT and Blackboard have signed a formal agreement to merge the two companies. I must admit, my first thought was whether this was a response to competition with each other, or to competition from the open source community. At any rate, those of us in universities that use either system and eschew open source products, may benefit in the long run from the improved designs promised here. At least we can hope. If not, I know where to find Moodle. Something tells me that Alec Couros and Rob Wall may have something to say about this.

Rob Wall - If there was ever a reason for institutions of learning, especially publicly funded ones, to run screaming at full speed away from corporate, proprietary learning content management systems and start to seriously embrace open source solutions, this is it: Press Release: BlackBoard and WebCT announce agreement to merge

"The combined Companies� 3,700 academic clients will create an unparalleled Community of Practice enabling collaboration and innovation around the world"

I believe the term they are looking for is not unparalleled Community of Practice, but captive market whose data is locked into our proprietary formats! See the Slashdot discussion of the BB-WebCT union for further incisive commentary.

Matt Barton - Hmm. I can't say I'm really surprised, although I'm still working out how I feel about this merger. Here at St Cloud, we're using an LMS called "Desire2Learn," though it's chocked full of bugs (it was designed for small Canadian schools and just doesn't seem to be handling the entire Minnesota system), so there's talk at the top of switching to something less irksome (my guess would be Blackboard).

I can't help but make the analogy to Microsoft. Perhaps once Blackboard gets a good enough grip on the ed market, maybe Microsoft will step in with a me-too plus (maybe some variation of its Sharepoint Team Services).

George Siemens - Big news in the elearning space: WebCT and Blackboard merge I've put together a pocast of my views: My Take: WebCT and Blackboard. Slashdot dissects the merger as well.

Rochelle A. Mazar - In other news, Blackboard is buying WebCT. I know the whole academic blogosphere is abuzz with this news, and my jaw dropped as much as the next person�s. And yes, this is going to have a huge impact on those of us involved with such systems, whether or not we are current subscribers. Is this going to provide us all with a better option when it comes to course management systems? Is it a response to some of the very cool things going on with Moodle? How will a goliath system effect the development of other open source CMS products (like Sakai)? While I will be directly effected by this move, I have no direct opinion about it, really. I�m not a burning fan of any current CMS, so merges and changes just make me raise my eyebrows and nod dutifully. Will it make things better? Who knows. As long as the APIs are still around, I�m happy enough.

Christopher D. Sessums - Could this signal the beginning of the end for corporate, one-sized-fits-all learning management systems?

Has open-sourced solutions broken the giants' backs?

Perhaps. Although these two mega-players control a majority of the market share, neither have been completely successful in convincing colleges and universities that their solution is the best one.

Can't wait to see how this plays out.

I wonder when Yahoo and Google plan to get into the VLE market?

Sherri Vokey - Whaaaaaaa? Blackboard and WebCT have announced plans to merge. In the short term, it looks like both services will operate as-is with a longer term plan to incorporate the features of both under the 'Blackboard' brand.

I used to work with WebCT in my previous position and have to admit that I've never been a fan, either as a user or an adminstrator, though I never did get a chance to see what new features became available in the Vista release (and I hear there were some exciting improvements). In any case, we're heading down the Sakai path here at FIS/UofT.

Lee Kraus - Yesterday, Blackboard and WebCT announced that they have agreed to merge. What this merger will mean to higher education should be interesting. I remember reading a blog not too long asking if Blackboard and WebCT would exist in five years? Well the answer is no, at least not in their current form.

David Davies - Blackboard and WebCT have announced agreement to merge with BlackBoard remaining as the brand name. In reality however, WebCT, both the company and the platform, will be stripped and incorporated into Bb. So, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well for starters it�ll make the WebCT or Bb decision that bit easier! But pity the smaller VLE/LMS vendors who�ll now have a monster to battle. More importantly I think this merger will probably be a threat to interoperability standards.

A couple of years ago I was at the IMS Alt-i-lab meeting in San Francisco and heard two very interesting and honest presentations from the CTOs of both WebCT and BlackBoard. Effectively they were saying that BigCo vendors were cautious about embracing interoperability too vigourously because their companies have a commercial imperative to maintain their distinctiveness in the market place. Imagine if you could use WebCT one week, effortlessly switch to BlackBoard the next and so on, �what would be the reason for remaining loyal to any one system?�, or so they argued.

While the big two vendors remained separate there was always a customer demand for the ability to at least in principle switch content from one system to the other as universities for instance feared content lock-in. With the announcement of this merger a major reason for content interoperability has probably just disappeared. Sure there remain a number of very good but much smaller systems as alternatives to the Bb/WebCT behemoth but if you were BlackBoard would you work hard to make sure your content or services were interoperable with those? Well let�s hope so, but I think this news is going to present some real challenges to the interoperability folks. There are alternatives, choose open source for example, but if you were a university where would you put your money?

Harold Jarche - Via Stephen is the news that the two biggest course management systems for the academic market are going to merge into a single corporate entity, though the Blackboard company name will dominate. Here are my initial thoughts:

* My first question remains, "Does it do anything for the learner?" A: I don't think so.
* Elliott will say he saw it coming all along ;-)
* This makes the comparison with open source learning systems a lot easier, because there will be fewer proprietary systems to compare with :-)
* The WebCT brand will quickly fade away (don't want to confuse the client) * License fees will increase for this "new & improved" product.
* Those really interested in facilitating learning, like George, will continue to do their own thing and still not be engaged in a discussion by Blackboard.

Michael Feldstein - Now is exactly the wrong time to be locking in, because we�re just now starting to figure out what these durned things should really look like. And what they should look like is not like either Blackboard or WebCT. Let me emphasize that I don�t have anything against either of these two companies or the people who work at them. While I don�t particularly like either product, I don�t think they�re evil, I�m not ideologically opposed to large companies, and I�m not ideologically opposed to proprietary software, either. I don�t want Blackboard to die; I just want them to evolve. But this move at this time in this space is potentially very bad for innovation in product category that really isn�t mature yet.

I stand by my earlier claim that monolithic LMS�s are doomed in the long run. The componentized, standards-compliant approach just makes too much sense on too many levels. But Blackboard may have made a move to substantially retard this process of natural selection. The big dinosaur can survive for quite a while by eating all the little ones. That makes it unsafe for mammals for the foreseeable future.

Now is the time. It will take Blackboard some time to digest WebCT. The FOSS communities need to get their acts together on standards and pick up the pace of innovation. If we don�t learn to start hunting in packs really well really soon, we may be living in fear of B-Rex for some time to come.

Pegj - Inner Psyche - There was never any doubt about it, the consolidation of the e-learning industry was always going to happen. The big question was going to be if the current industry participants would be the drivers, or if some external forces would come to play and move things forward.

To date we have seen a steady release of news about who was getting together with who, but the tipping point at last seems to have arrived with news in recent weeks including SumTotal and Pathlore getting together and SABA and Centra agreeing that heir future lies in a deal with one another.

And to prove that there is now no going back, and that a radically different e-learning landscape will exist next year, we today have Blackboard agreeing to buy WebCT in a deal worth in the region of $154m.

The challenge for this new enterprise will be if they can move out of their educational stronghold and into a corporate market, before the open-source versions (Moodle, Drupal, ATutor, etc.) of their products overtake them.

I believe that these past few weeks have been a major milestone in the development of the e-learning industry, and in the next few months we will now start to see companies currently outside of the industry running their sliderules over revenue, growth and profit expectations.

New! Bryan Alexander - One business now has the lion's share of the CMS market. BB is the new Microsoft for this field.

BB's Incentive to innovate just dropped still further.

The conflict between proprietary and open source CMSes just deepened. I expect a BB FUD campaign or two. Watch for them to paint Sakai as, oh, elitist and overambitious. And Moodle et al, perhaps too amateurish, or beneath competition.

What will happen to WebCT courses archived, being run now, planned for spring '06? Will they persist as WebCT safe havens within the BBverse, or get morphed into the new order?

Best Comments From SlashDot

Slashdot Thread

Dgatwood - My initial thought was "Wow, so two of the worst pieces of software I've ever had the misfortune of dealing with will now be under one roof. Maybe this will spark some competition that's actually worth using."

Then I realized that if software this bad is the state of the art in the field, it probably means that there's no real money to be made in the field, so no one will bother. *sigh*

Open Source Opportunity, I suppose.

Anonymous - I love moodle, I really do... I use it to run a small, private, online school and it runs very nicely. The BIG break for moodle however, will be when they clean up the code so that it runs faster and uses less cpu.

Right now, one user simply clicking onto the main page, with no other connections to apache, is pushing an httpd process out to 21 meg of ram, and 19% of cpu. When someone actually does something, or when a whole class is connected, things go downhill a bit. No one's getting connection time outs that I know of, but I do worry about it.

I'm using the best hardware I can afford to run it but I still have to put the database server on another machine or it just gets too laggy to be useful. I can't afford to just throw more hardware at it, so my little school remains private with very limited enrollment.

I'm grateful that moodle is free and I love the software, but I'd love it even more if I could open my little school to the public and let anyone who wants to enroll, enroll.(grins)

P.S. - My school is free, no teachers are paid and no students are charged, so extra hardware really is _not_ an option... I just have to hope they'll optimize it a bit :)

SillySnake - the merging of two terrible web based systems for an even worse web based one.

Seriously, it's often so hard to find where a professor has put the file you're tyring to find. With so many different places to put things, it just gets students confused. Not to mention all the trouble one has to go to in order to find a specific post, send an e-mail, etc..

I don't mean to troll, but both systems could stand to see quite a bit of tweaking.

commodoresloat - I have some insight on this topic as a university professor. I've used both systems, and I was on the Academic Technology Committee when it was advising the CTO and CIO on purchasing decisions for such systems. We wound up paying for both. As you say, they both suck, and I'm sure whatever unholy combination is produced will suck even worse. At the time - 1999 or 2000 I believe - "open source" was something my colleagues on the committee had heard of but didn't know anything about, and the CTO and CIO were computer-savvy but looked on open source with disdain (this made sense as they were constantly wined and dined by folks who represent closed source companies looking for big deals).

I was teaching summers at UCLA at the time and had the opportunity to use ClassWeb [ucla.edu], an open source alternative to such tools. My experience with the tool was exemplary; I thought it was easy to use, it fulfilled the necessary functions and was not needlessly confusing for students. It was also free. Best of all, the developer worked at UCLA so when there were features I wanted I was able to ask him for them and they were available in days. It was truly a classic case of the superiority of the open source model working well. For much less the price we paid for Blackboard and CT, which all the students complain about, we could have hired programmers to handle coding issues on classweb and had an open source solution that we could fine tune at will.

But when I made the suggestion, the feeling around the table (particularly from the CTO and CIO) was, shut up hippie.... Today I don't use any such tools -- I still code my course web pages by hand using html and have some very primitive open source discussion board technology for discussions. I think it's necessary to have courses online these days for various reasons, but the tools offered by these companies are needlessly ornate and confusing. The open source model makes sense in general but especially in public university settings where costs are a relevant factor and where the freedom to tinker with code brings with it additional educational benefits.

TapestryDude - This is interesting to me, because I worked at WebCT before I left to become an independent consultant.

What's more interesting is that WebCT's Vista was out pacing Blackboard's product in terms of features (at least when I left in October 2003). Blackboard was, I believe, an ASP.NET product, WebCT's Vista is J2EE (and written in Struts and JSP, not Tapestry [apache.org], alas).

My guess is that one of the two product lines will be phased out. This could become an interesting competative case for .Net and J2EE.

Sorry, JEE. Cause Sun can't stand to stick with just one name for anything.

What this will ensure is less innovation in the online schooling front; competition generally drives innovation. Unfortunately, these two packages are so very cumbersome that innovation is unlikely; the pedagogical framework that once strengthened the software(s) is kaput.

davecrusoe - It will be a challenge, but Moodle stands a great chance to out-think the combined WebCT/Blackboard group. What they MUST do effectively is reach out to districts - THIS is where the combined merger will find its force, in its broad reach.

pHatidic - Moodle, far better than either of the above, is still free. As someone whose university uses Blackboard, I can honestly say it is the worst piece of commercial software I have ever used. Worse than Windows XP. Worse than windows ME. Worse than realplayer. Worse than CometCursor.

OneByteOff - With the importance of education that is relevant to the real world I wish there was software which would integrate outside resources (google, wikipedia, etc.) and provide students with easily accessible information via a search engine as well as relevant to the classroom. I can't remember how many times in my CS classes the professor would post an assignment up with little or no instruction "Create a database program in C that stores and retrieves values with a non-graphical user interface", would have been awesome to have access to some helpfull functions, code snippets etc. Perhaps with this merger they can toss more resources towards R&D and focus on what students need and not just create a way for college prof's to be lazy....

syousef - This is getting ridiculous. I used both Blackboard and WebCT as an Astronomy Masters student a couple of years ago. Both were awful and I never did understand why anyone paid money for these solutions when this is one area where open source can easily provide the basic functionality, but...

What's with all the mergers lately? In 3D graphics, Autodesk aquired Discreet (3ds Max, GMax) a while back, and then Alias (Maya) days ago. They then promptly killed the free GMax product [autodesk.com] which a lot of game developers (both paid and hobby) use. There are also now very few competing products in the 3D market to compete. (Killing GMax is actually quite big news but I haven't been able to get an article on this accepted on /. - These days if it doesn't contain the company names Google or Apple, good luck...)

I thought there was suppose to be some kind of government control to prevent monopolies from springing up. I guess they're too busy with the "war on terrorism" and prosecuting music/movie/software "pirates" to actually police these laws...and there's no money in it!

Quattro Vezina - WebCT is an utterly horrible piece of crap.

My school uses WebCT for all classes, so I have to deal with it daily (coincidentally, I'm posting this while sitting in one of my more WebCT-intensive classes). WebCT has the single worst interface of anything I have ever used in my life.

I really, really hope that this results in WebCT getting replaced globally.

Anonymous - My principle problem with blackboard isn't usability or UI issues (I agree it stinks but I can tolerate lousy UI). What grinds my gears is that Blackboard is used to EXCLUDE students from online course content! Maybe I'm old fashioned but I thought that the purpose of schools were to educate fools like me. Unless I'm registered for a class, I can't take a look at handouts or problem sets! How are we supposed to "try out" classes at the beginning of the quarter/semester/term? Not all of us can afford to register for 10-15 classes at the beginning of the term.

As a result, some of us have resorted to posting course materials on "p2p" networks and we are aware that members of the administration are actively looking for us (with the goal of expelling/arresting the perpetrators). Ironic that we have to do this stuff to try to learn.

Foktip - Wait - they were seperate companies in the first place? My school uses a crazy combination of Blackboard and WebCT, which it just switched to. It doesnt work AT ALL... the interface is ridiculous, tedious, buggy, slow, completely backwards, and theres no help options. It took me 4 hours to figure out how to sign up for courses, and even then i "made a mistake" that required days worth of administrative stuff, and then had to wait 3 weeks to "gain access" enough to fix the problem.

It seems as though the registrars have lost too much control over "registering" because of this program. Also, this thing seems to be imposing other unfair restrictions on students, such as insanely restricted registration periods, enorcing max class sizes (previously you could sign a form to get in anyway but this web system doesnt allow that), enforcing NO tolerance on overlapping classes (again, the previously used forms which required Prof signatures dont work), not allowing you to switch sections on core courses, not allowing "probationary" students to sign up for anything at all... etc. Blackboard and WebCT havent allowed enough control for ANYONE to do ANYTHING, and everything is STILL royally messed up after a month of classes. Those at the bottom of the administration scheme (who actually do the work) dont have access enough to make the system fit with our schools policies.

Apart from that, none of the teachers even use the programs "advanced" features, such as mail, test dates, assignment categories, etc. They all have their own websites, which they like because they can actually format them however they like.

I seriously hope theyre working hard on improving it.

arachnia - We have been dealing with WebCT (the company) for quite some time now from the application and system administration standpoint. Our experience with the company is that the very few technical people they have are decent people who are pretty knowledgable. However, it is just about impossible to interface with them directly because nearly everything needs to pass through a minimum of one layer of management.

Dealing with WebCT's management, unlike their technical folks, is an exercise in frustration. The dominant behaviors I have noted from their management are:
- they are nothing but apologists (mouthpieces) for their company,
- they spend a great deal of their time protecting their technical people from customers (arguably, this is normally a good function but not when you have an LMS that is non-functional and campus is screaming at you), and
- they spend a great deal of time in CYA-based activities, i.e., they continually blame the customer for problems with the application in order to shirk responsibility for the poor performance of the product.

I'd like to hear from people who have dealt with the Blackboard management team. What is their corporate culture like? Do you think they will be more responsive to their customers than WebCT is?

I'm hoping that most of WebCT's current management team gets pink slips once the merger is complete.

Bonewalker - Amazing how few and far between anything resembling a positive comment is on this topic.

My school has been using BB for several years now, and we are actually considering paying the money to upgrade to the Enterprise version. I think I need to forward this /. story on to those that pay the bills.

My experiences:

1. No batch delete courses - (we found this out the hard way)
2. No sharing of content across courses
3. Glitches abound: everything from instructor's Enroll User buttons being grayed out to the occasional "Access Denied" errors when students and/or instructors try to access a course
4. Our support team hardcoded a URL into the system which prevented any of our Virtual Classroom options from working...and they figured it out after an entire year had passed.

Anonymous - So, a company that raises prices in mid-year, screws with features (SSL support in IIS, for example) so that the "basic" edition of their software can't be used securely, and has some serious problems (the original version of Blackboard 6 had gradebook problems, and there was an issue where students could take tests for other students) just bought the other heavy hitter in the course management software.

Blackboard is one of the most hated companies in higher ed. Nobody likes doing business with them. That's why so many large institutions are standing behind open source projects. The support sucks, too - they're really unwilling to try to duplicate problems on their systems, and upgrade procedures often go badly. They do things like release big updates just before the academic year starts, and then not support the previous version until you upgrade and risk breaking your system. Big database schema changes in minor point releases aren't unknown, either.

Share |

Comments

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

So, the data from the merger doesn't show growth...and the webct.com url doesn't even redirect to bb.com? What do you think this means? [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

See Blog by A-HEC Founder Rob Abel and several other comments from readers at Higher Education Insights Blog. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

Hmm, there are a some comments from folks who find open source LMS mature enough listed here. I'm seeing a alot of opinions of the 'closed source'=easy vs. 'open sooure'=hard sort, however I've supported closed source apps. that were nightmares and open source apps. that were easy. I think we need to compare products as products rather than license vs. license. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

I am a CIO at a small Community College (<5000 FT/PT). We have BB Basic and are moving to BB Enterprise. We are considering BB Community Service and Content Management. We are also a Jenzabar SIS user. We need an integrated SIS and LMS. The acquisition of WebCT by BB has a parallel in SIS with the likes of OraclePeoplesoft etc. The difficulty for me is making decisions today to support my campus while at the same time trying to make decisions that will hold water in the future. Right now I am thinking I should stick with market share in LMS and continue with Blackboard as my web portal. Eventually there will be an SIS/LMS purchase/merger that will create a full service SIS/LMS system for higher ed. SCT Banner/BB OraclePeoplesoft/BB BB/Jenzabar ?? As I look at this situation I also consider the open solutions. We are a MS campus. I dream some times of a project to create an Open Campus with OpenOffice, Sakai, $100 laptops from MIT Media Lab, etc., but open source is not mature enough and I do not have the technical expertise or resources to engage in experiments. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

We moved from WebCT to Moodle during the summer, because the license price of the proprietary product was no longer in any relation to the functionality it offered (or the lack of it). Moodle served and serves our needs much better in countless ways and allows us to modify it to suit us even better yet. With the announcement of the forthcoming annihilation of WebCT by MS buddy BB we feel relieved and ever more justified in our decision to abandon WebCT for a better product. Rgrds, Paul Nijbakker Kemi-Tornio Polytechnic eLearning Centre [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

It seems to me that Blackboard won the battle between Blackboard and WebCT because of it's pricing structure. I work at a WebCT school. A few years ago we looked at switching to Blackboard because we heard that it was easier to use and cheaper. What we found was that it was easier but much more limiting than WebCT. We found the base price was cheaper, but each feature we wanted was an extra charge. By the time we had the configuration the way we wanted it, it was more expensive than WebCT. Knowing that Microsoft owns a stake in Blackboard means BB has been advised how to best squeeze blood from the proverbial turnip. So now that we hear that they will be working toward a new product with the best features of both, I don't belive it. Blackboard will continue to sell with the "add on" module (and why not - it generates more money than WebCT ever did). The WebCT software is more intergrated, so I believe that it will be ignored in favor of the modular BB code. Both companies seem to put more value in the software than they do customer service. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

In my job I see dozens of WebCT sites a semester, and lots of them are really bad. Not WebCT itself - it's only a tool - but the unimaginative way it's used. Don't blame WebCT if you can't find your course materials - ask your instructor where they're hidden. A WebCT site can be planned and put together in a way that aids learning and maintained carefully, or lecturers can just chuck their lecture notes and powerpoints and a few links up and forget about it. That's not teaching. M-H [Comment] [Permalink]

talk about FUD

It's disappointing that you chose to hilight this post: "Right now, one user simply clicking onto the main page, with no other connections to apache, is pushing an httpd process out to 21 meg of ram, and 19% of cpu. When someone actually does something, or when a whole class is connected, things go downhill a bit. No one's getting connection time outs that I know of, but I do worry about it." Moodle runs where Blackboard won't even install. On shared hosts with hundreds of sites, on old p2s and g3s. Heck it can be installed on a bootable thumbdrive. And then gets hammered because on slow old hard ware it runs like it is on slow, old hardware. This is hardly a 'best comment', rather it's from someone who with unrealistic expectations from code and hardware, whether the source is closed or open. I mean come on, Stephen, check top, how much RAM does an httpd process use when loading a static web page? [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

Keep your eye on a company called Sycamore Leaf Solutions (www.sycamoreleaf.com). The company has a successful K-12 solution and now they are about to introduce a web-based LMS for colleges and universities called Sycamore Campus. It may be another viable option for those of you looking for something new. Anonymous [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

Sorry for the double posting!! A spastic index finger is to blame ... Johan Viljoen [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

Not knowing Blackboard at all (as it has no user base or support structure in South Africa) I confess to posing a one-sided view. Our institution has an excellent "academic support" section, the Department of Telematic Education, which swears by WebCT. I find WebCT rather irksome. Firstly, uploading of files is a cumbersome affair. Secondly, students have difficulty figuring out where and under which function/button materials are located. Thirdly, one can only use the bulletin board and e-mail functions on-line - which in South Africa is expensive, as one pays for every second on-line (except within the university network, of course). In the fourth place, the learning curve for both student and teacher to be able to navigate the labyrinth is discouraging, to say the least. In the fifth place, the cumbersome routine to download files, articles, etc., to one's own PC has always been one of my greatest frustrations. I have not tried out Moodle yet, but so far I have been quite content to use a combination of un-flashy old-fashioned HTML Web pages created by means of a variety of simple HTML and WYSIWIG editors, featuring interaction through simple Javascript, or by using the excellent scripts in Matt's Script Archive, or a nice Javascript-based teaching programme such as Hot Potatoes. I can upload my HTML pages from home in a single, quick FTP operation to my antique WWW server, stash them in a straightforward directory with no hair-raising navigation issues and hide-and-seek games. For discussion I have been using trusty old Yahoo.groups.com, which allows thoughtful (and cost-effective for us in South Africa!)asynchronous exchange of insights, information and ideas. Not the spur-of-the-moment, ill-considered blather that one regularly finds on bulletin boards because participants are trying to save on-line costs. MS Excell or Corel QuattroPro works wonderfully for recording of students' biographical information and progress data. A little manual work, yes - but at least I don't have to go on-line to administer my course while I am nervously counting the cents (which I cannot claim back). Perhaps I am a hopeless Luddite or a backward rock-spider, but I believe the main reason that only a disturbingly small fraction of higher education teachers in my country are using these "new technologies" is exactly the "sophistication" of the latter (read: "bewildering confusion and technical complexity"), created by computer freaks with NO understanding of educational issues, human communication or the prime users of their systems. I guess I'll just stay with my ancient technology for the time being, until some IT soul sees the light and starts devising tools that simple-minded academics like myself can use comfortably, as with a toothbrush. It seems that the further we develop technology for teaching the closer we come (paradoxically) to the point where "never the twain shall meet". Irony. Johan Viljoen Dept of Applied Languages Tshwane University of Technology Pretoria, South Africa (and caretaker of the "Who's Who in Instructional Technology" at http://hagar.up.ac.za/catts/learner/m1g1/whointro.html) [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

I have spent the last three years training faculty in how to use ANGEL, WebCT, Blackboard, D2L, and similar platforms. They're not great, and they make significant changes about as quickly as a supertanker doing donuts. Whether they suck or not has a great deal to do with 1) the instructor, and 2) the subject taught. In my experience, WebCT has an amazing userbase, which they leverage effectively using avenues like Ask Dr. C. The tracking tools in WebCT, even in older versions of Campus Edition, are vastly superior to Blackboard. And if you know even a little bit about HTML, you can customize the experience for students (regardless of administrative lockdowns) in some great ways. That, and it has a built-in file manager for each course. Blackboard has been struggling since Version 6.0 to provide an interface that allows anything like the customizable workspace available in WebCT's MyFiles area. They've never pulled it off. Student monitoring is virtually non-existent in any meaningful way. And, from a professional perspective, I can tell you that the training they provide -- to teachers as well as other trainers -- sucks the big one. WebCT has a much more robust training setup, and the materials lying around in their various knowledge bases to reward spelunking. The fact is that they both work fine. But, like any software, the user must conform his or her operating (read: teaching) style to the pathways available in the system. That can be done; it's always been the test of genious to achieve great outcomes with a limited set of options. Lastly, these platforms are tools for teaching courses. The online content and activities comprised in these environments do not constitute the sum total of learning to be done in a course. A course experience is more than binary data. Recognizing that fact, and the consequent imperative to think outside the admittedly cramped box afforded by your typical CMS, helps me sleep better at night. So they merged. Big deal. We'll learn whatever vanilla hybrid they release next, and get on with the business of teaching and learning. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

A little late getting to the discussion here; I've been following the chatter on the Blackboard users lists at ASU and OLN and doing some musing on my own. Among those user communities there seems to be a good deal of optimism not reported here. A lot of folks see this as a good thing. I find the "Blackboard sucks" commentary a bit over the top. I've been a Blackboard sysad since CourseInfo 2 was the new release. I learned Pearl and mySQL resuscitating CI3.x after each bug fix, which invariably broke something else. If you want to talk about sucky software and support, 3.x is a prototype example. Right now, we use the Basic version of Blackboard, which leaves us out of most of the cool features like Adaptive Release and Building Blocks. I make jokes about being treated like a red-headed stepchild. So if anyone's entitled to say "Bb sux", I am. But I don't. It's a pretty decent application that does most of what we need it to. Would I like to change some things? Yes, of course. But they're more in the nature of tweaks rather than wholesale architecture modifications. It's been stable once we get it tweaked right; the faculty and students have been adopting it in ever-increasing numbers, and we even have some faculty who really try to push the envelope. Corrie Bergeron [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

Does it feel more like a "merger" or "erasure" of WebCT into Blackboard? Something like this: www.ByeWebCT.com tom [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

It's interesting to note that there is little discussion about other current proprietary competitors like Angel and Desire2learn. All the early discussion is centered around Blackboard CT vs. open-source alternative solutions. I've used WebCT for about 8 years. I recently have investigated Angel. And, in my opinion, it's a superior product that's competetively priced. I wish I had a crystal ball to predict whether the new giant will be able to gobble up smaller competitors despite the giant's inferior product. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

They're have been lots of negative comments about this merger here and also about the individual products. I am not happy with the news either. I've compared the two over the years, whenever there has been a decision point on rolling out a new generation of software. We've just again have gone through the whole process of considering those options along with Moodle, D2D, Sakai development, etc. We've customized WebCT over the years to fit our needs. We have to grow exponentially rather quickly due to legislative mandate, and there isn't much choice here. Overall, our experience with WebCT has been positive. The technical people are gems. I would hate to loose what innovation there has been in the WebCT product-line. We find BB hard to customize or use many of our ideas with. We've turned to coming up with new names for the company to relieve our disappointment: BlackWeb, BlackBart, BlackHole. We'll definitely be looking at more options. black-on-black [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

Somebody high up in the discussion said it made the debate of what to do easier. I think it made the choice 200% more difficult for those sites either looking to a new product or thinking of upgrading the existing one. What do you do given that they've stated that they are retaining and improving the existing product streams and at some point bringing a combined one on-line? Do you upgrade now to webct campus version 6 or wait for a hope of something better? Simon [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

Sorry about that Howard. Things blur this early in the morning. [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

Thanks for the plug - "Harold" Jarche ;-) [Comment] [Permalink]

Re: Blackboard Acquisition of WebCT

The decision to use WebCT (or Blackboard, or some other proprietary tool) is too often made by the IT departments of colleges and universities, with little real input from the students or instructors who want to build and use a learning environment and collaborate effectively. IT people love WebCT. Their institutions seem only too happy to shell out thousands for training, which includes a three-day capstone session in Phoenix! I don't love Moodle because I hate WebCT. I love Moodle because it's participatory from the getgo. I can involve my students in every phase of its use. We can install it together, configure it together, curse the README files together when things go wrong, and, finally, use it together, as well as tweak and customize it together on an ongoing basis. We can make democratic decisions about which features to leave out or include, and the look and feel of the Moodle site. If they have questions I can't answer, I can say "Get on the Moodle forum. Or send Martin (Dougiamas) an email. If he's not too busy, he'll probably answer it." Gives me a chance to preach about OSS and the dream of a global learning commons, too. If you don't want to have to give a crap ever again about what Blackboard and WebCT are up to, the solutions are at hand. [Comment] [Permalink]

Your Comment

You can preview your comment and continue editing until you are satisfied with it. Comment will not be posted on the until you have clicked 'Done'.



Enter email to receive replies:

Your comments always remain your property, but in posting them here you agree to license under the same terms as this site CC By-NC-SA. If your comment is offensive it will be deleted.

Automated Spam-checking is in effect. If you are a registered user you may submit links and other HTML. Anonymous users cannot post links and will have their contents screened - certain words are prohibited and comments will be analyzed to make sure they make sense.