Monday, 28 January 2013

Blackboard vs Facebook at NUI Galway

For almost a decade, there has been continued debate about the future of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) such as Blackboard, Moodle, and Sakai. As technology evangelists and futurists have prophesied the death of email, telephone landlines, and other ageing technologies, so too has the VLE been heralded to become as extinct as the dinosaur. It has come under sustained critique for its clunky user-interface; the walled-garden of authentication access, shielding it from the wider internet; the lack student ownership and autonomy; and more recently the absence of social features (e.g. ‘Like’ and ’Share’buttons) common to newer social media platforms. Will the VLE survive in the face newer platforms such as the ubiquitous and mighty Facebook?

In the spirt of questioning older orthodoxy, we asked the NUI Galway Blackboard user community to voice their views on the utility of Blackboard versus Facebook. Specifically, we asked, “which is more useful for exchanging academic information relating to your NUI Galway studies- Facebook or Blackboard?’. The poll was displayed online over the duration of a week (from the 21st to the 28th of January, 2013), featuring prominently on our Blackboard login page.

Here's what we found:

The numbers:

The figures in percentages:

Both above diagrams illustrate that 688 respondents (55%) voted in favour or Blackboard as the preferred platform, with 272 (22%) voting in favour of Facebook. Interestingly, a close 230 (18%) of votes were expressed for both as equal in utility to exchange academic course related communications. So there is room for replication and linkages across tools, rather than a dichotomy view of either/or.

However, Blackboard is clearly the dominant platform at NUI Galway, according to these expressed opinions. The respondents (in an non-representative, non-randomised and biased sample) report a clear preference for using Blackboard to exchange academic information relating to their modules to Facebook. The masses have voted - the VLE is perceived to be a more useful medium. Or at least to those who vote on Blackboard polls ;)

Are reports of the impending demise of the VLE slightly exaggerated? Perhaps for the time being.

Additional Reading: 
Selwyn, Neil (2012)‘Screw Blackboard... do it on Facebook!’: an investigation of students’ educational use of Facebook. Paper presented to the ‘ Poke 1.0 - Facebook social research symposium’, University of London, 15th November 2007 [Online]

The (2012) Smartphones the future of internet – and 10 other predictions The, October 17th 2012 [Online]

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