The big buzz on my campus (and probably many others) is that Blackboard is buying WebCT.
Here’s a snippet from a very long press release at PRNewswire:
The merger of Blackboard and WebCT marks a major milestone in the build-out of networked learning environments by colleges, universities, schools and other education providers. It creates a large, collaborative community of
academic institutions-a global e-Learning “Community of Practice”-supported by unsurpassed resources for innovation and support. Currently, more than 3,700 higher education, K-12, corporate, government and commercial academic
institutions enhance their learning environments with solutions offered by the two organizations. Bringing Blackboard and WebCT together provides a powerful platform for innovating and supporting what at many institutions is the least
developed, yet one of the most strategic segments of their technology infrastructure. Further, it will break down barriers and enable collaboration across institutions by developers and end-users at a critical time in the
evolution of e-Learning technologies.
Or it could stifle innovation because there is no motivation to innovate when you’re the biggest (or only) game in town. Yes, there are other course management systems like Moodle and .LRN (both of which I am a big fan of), but the majority of academic institutions still use WebCT or Blackboard. Norwich has started trying out Moodle for some on-campus classes, so I’m hopeful that we’ll jump on the open source bandwagon.
There’s more info on the merger at Blackboard’s site.
I wonder what this will mean for WebCT clients (like us). The word now is that Blackboard “plans to enhance and support the existing products of both WebCT and Blackboard,” but that we will eventually end up with one product that combines the best features of both. I guess only time will tell if this will be a very good thing, a very bad thing, or won’t really make much of a difference. Personally, I’ve always liked Blackboard more than WebCT, so I’m not exactly heartbroken at the thought of my school moving to Blackboard one day.
What I’d really like to see is for it to be easier to integrate blogs, wikis, and collaborative software into WebCT. The version we have (pre-Vista) is a misery to do much of anything with. Blech!
My overriding hope is that somehow, magically, the merger will make all the tiny little technical problems with Blackboard go away (like the tendency to refuse access if more than some unspecified number of people are trying to get in– very stressful during, oh, say comps). I vastly prefer Blackboard to WebCT on pure usability issues.
Another small-but-growing online class-space is Shadow, developed by a prof at the University of Missouri, and it’s accompanying interface, The Zone. Sadly, it seems to combine all the counter-intuitiveness of WebCT with all the bugginess of Blackboard.
This definitely will end the WebCT vs. Blackboard fights that occur on campuses. Let’s hope that we get the best of both worlds with this merger.