Education related services and products, ranging from textbooks to educational consultation to Smartboards, require a substantial amount of public-private partnerships and make up an entire educational related services industry.
Blackbard, a publicly traded company, provides schools with an intranet service that connects students and teachers. For students, it allows messaging, posting, and course management. For teachers and professors, course management software such as Blackboard’s provides accessibility to students, assistance with grading and keeping track of student assignments, and monitoring capabilities.
Used in middle schools, high schools, and universities, Blackboard reaches more than 5,000 institutions. Recognizing that it has unique access to educational systems and information, Blackboard recently launched the Blackboard Institute. An independent organization that “seeks to help leaders at all levels improve student progression… and offer the education community insight into both the problems and the real practice of addressing them in a multitude of different environments,” Backboard is now positioned as an education information provider (Blackboard).
In July 2009, the Blackboard Institute held its first K-20 council meeting titled: “Pipeline Matters Council: Improving K20 Student Progression.” A mix of leaders from K-12, community college, and four-year institutions, government and legislative advisors; and association heads met to discuss educational challenges and solutions specifically facing the United States (Blackboard). Conferences such as this highlight growing awareness of new demands within education.
The institute’s initial focus is on “the evolution of online education as a growing part of modern education institutions and systems; assistance in the creation of educational progression models that remove physical and institutional barriers to learners obtaining degrees and diplomas; and study and understand student learning needs.” (Blackboard)
Despite the company’s new mission to help advance education, Blackboard’s partnership with schools and universities has its share of conflicts. Some of these conflicts may be traditional customer service issues, but others are representative of tensions arising from new educational models.
In some ways, the course-management software provided by Blackboard “has become a new kind of campus building—a virtual one where online classes are held and new kinds of “hybrid” courses take place. The unsettled question is who controls what these classrooms look like and how stable their foundations are.” (Young, 2009)
“Colleges don’t want to just buy these online classrooms out of a catalog. They want to feel like partners in design process.” (Young) This has apparently been a difficult thing for Blackboard to accomplish. Many administrators and professors have expressed frustration with what has been interpreted as Blackboard’s hostile demeanor toward competitors that may offer higher education better options in course management. Especially after Blackboard acquired its major rival WebCT in 2005, and went on to sue a leading rival, Desire2Learn, in 2006 for infringement after being granted a patent that many college official say was already in widespread use (Young).
Universities big and small such as Georgia Institute of Technology and Louisiana State University at Shreveport have left Blackboard for competitors. Michael Zastrocky, Vice President for Research at Gartner, Inc, a consulting firm that tracks trends in high-education technology believes “There are a lot of institutions right now that are upset with Blackboard, to say the least, and looking for alternatives.”
Tensions between for-profit and non-profit institutions are not a unique element in the discourse taking place within education. There are sure to be continued growing pains as the educational industry become more expansive and inclusive.