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How A Blackboard Jungle Became A Symphony

Updated on October 7, 2017
Collaborative learning
Collaborative learning | Source
Cashnet | Source
Blackboard Mobile
Blackboard Mobile | Source

The true story behind the famed ’50s masterpiece, The Blackboard Jungle, is well known. Underprivileged urban poverty kids in Harlem destroy their one chance of success out of fear and ignorance. That situation still exists in many schools but the technology to defeat that intransigence has created enterpreneurial opportunity to change those same lives today. There are many educational software models on the market. From Blackboard and Google to Moodle and Magoosh, they can sound like a bad comedy team from those same 50s, but in fact are four of the largest online educational and interactive meeting software companies in the world. Today, I am going to through a brief review of just one of these: Blackboard.

Blackboard is probably the best known. Started in 1996 by a couple of students from Cornell intent on establishing itself in the burgeoning, online education market, it grew quickly after incorporating just four years later. Focused on the institutional market, it is now a $2B company that has well over 19,000 institutional subscribers, of which nearly 2,000 are international, and is the behemoth of the group. Its objective from the start was the interactivity between teacher and student and the various activities that can facilitate that dynamic. To make that work, it added its own myriad whiteboards, classrooms, and chat-boxes. However, Blackboard goes much further than that.

As enterprise software, it can manage both schools and institutions which means engaging educators as well as administrators. Its digital classrooms enable teachers to build skills while also showing students how to learn collectively. Teachers can take a student out of digital class for individual help and connect directly with the parents as the effective client. The software manages that easily.

The management side incorporates the business end of the school district. From grades to payroll, community engagement to district business, the software is all-encompassing. Beyond doing all the instructional and personnel management work, it handles the continual contact with parents as well.

Lastly is its franchise model, which it promotes to suffering districts around the country. Through a modular product and price plan, districts on slim budgets can still access Blackboard's award-winning tutoring and professional development software without breaking their budgets. This module alone accounts for a significant portion of their annual $200M revenue.

And all of that is just on the K-12 side of the business.

They didn't stop there. Their secondary focus was the higher academic environment as that was so often left out of business models in the software industry. It was also in the forefront of the founders’ minds as they were university students when they created the platform. They knew that territory well.

If university students were spirited back in the day of Netscape and early Yahoo, they are downright nomadic today as they are well known for their capacity to explore their minds as well as their environments. Blackboard recognized that it needed to incorporate updated technology into its platform space to satisfy the exigent demands of the most mobile college generation in history.

To that end, students use its Learning Solutions throughout campus by accessing lecture material from anywhere on or off campus and enabling professors to track their students as well as modify their lectures on the fly. With the built-in interactivity, the old style of trotting over to Professor office hours is very much a thing of the past. Direct online interaction, picking up of homework and instant question and response is far more the norm in today's student market. Blackboard was the first to make that possible.

They also had the university itself in mind when they built Cashnet®, their enterprise solution to finances and campus-wide cash distribution system. With a single card, not only can every student access their finances easily, but they can take those cards off-campus for local eateries and shops. In this way, Blackboard doesn't just work with each school of higher education, it includes the towns in which those universities exist as well. Local merchants enjoy the increased business and direct connection to the schools.

Cashnet(R) is also connected directly into the university finance system. That means all university bills, payroll and accounting systems are tied into the same system as well. Blackboard installed a single system to enable universities to manage all the cash in its network as a single entity just with multiple channels. That vastly reduced the university's expense budget by affording the ability to avoid having to pay multiple vendors to handle each different category of expense. A wholly-inclusive fiscal system.

Do you work in a government building? Are you a city employee or more on the federal level? Are you part of the military? Blackboard used its experience developing its software for the higher education market to build something similar for all of you as the system designs were similar.

Their learning management system (LMS) is a similar tool to what university professors use themselves. All the same tools, interactivity, and results-oriented software is included. Blackboard has the ability to incorporate their tools separately within a specific department or to encompass the entire division. They are also scalable which means a business or government entity can even test one component for a time, and, if approved, present the component to the larger entity for their own use, and Blackboard scales the software to size.

Imagine the cost savings to a business or public entity when they realize they can move more employees home with their families rather than rent space for them just so they can work collaboratively with no loss in production. All the tools are online so remote access is a definitive possibility if the boss can make it work. Just imagine the raises once the productivity shows while the cost for it has dropped to the floor!


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