beyond the astroturf

Welcome to our project Beyond Blackboard: “What on Earth are we Doing?”

This project evolved out of questions we were having about how (and whether) Blackboard the Learning Management System (LMS) was being used. Currently at RMIT we receive very limited statistics about Blackboard usage, let alone analytics – only the most rudimentary statistics are available, basically – hits per student per course.

Data does not include program level shells which excludes large amounts of vocational and studio activities. With such limited data on Blackboard use, we started thinking that rather than focusing on what is not being done, how about focusing on what is being done?

The RMIT Learning Teaching and Investment Fund provides resources to survey and research what is being done and to interview staff for this blog. Hopefully we can show some of our brightest and best educators and get their views, sharing what they are doing with online educational technologies. We are also interested to give an overview of new tool adoption across the University – so we will also be interviewing significant staff, for example from ITS.

In talking with staff about the project it has been interesting to discover some of the issues with the usage of the LMS. There are many times we have been asked to look at a course only to find a stack of pdf files uploaded and not much else going on – no activities or opportunities for interaction.

Associate Professor Paul Beckett, who lectures on the physics of new and emerging technologies, such as nanotechnologies, provides us with an interesting example:

…I might be a throw-back. I do use BB, but just as a repository for the files the students need to do their work. Google drive, or even Dropbox would probably work just as well. The grade centre seems to be useful in that they can keep up with their grades, but it seems like a passive thing – some check their marks, some don’t. And it can be a source of arguments about final grades. I think it actually serves to make the learning process more bureaucratic and marks-driven, if that is possible.

Indeed there is some speculation that alternate tools such as Google provide such a lot of functionality formerly assumed by the LMS that they will at some stage take over.

Paul is just starting to look at some alternate ways of working with students:

…I actually signed up for Facebook today to keep tabs on a page set up by my design student group. I feel that I may well live to regret it. The spam is already increasing, and it’s only been hours.

I hope it won’t be that painful or that Paul might explore other options; and might learn how to make Facebook work for him. There are examples of lecturers taking a positive lead with Facebook as well as other tools, that we hope to bring here in the coming weeks and months, so that lecturers such as Paul do not have to feel they are working away in the dark.

So stay tuned. If you use an innovative technology or know of a story you think is worth sharing then please let us know! Email:

Photo credit: Freedom 1 by Howard61 on Flickr CC licence.