The Results Are In: CMS and Pedagogy

Finally I managed to crack the code and get into the database with my surveys from last spring (don’t ask). I had surveyed MiraCosta’s online instructors (most of whom use Blackboard) and a number from San Diego Community College District (WebCT).

I was assessing the extent to which faculty fully use their course management system to achieve their pedagogical goals.

The 43 respondents to MiraCosta’s Blackboard & Pedagogy Survey set the following patterns:

  • About 40% were teaching fully online; the rest were using Bb for hybrids or on-site classes.
  • Over half had been using Bb for 3 or more years, so they were experienced.
  • Over 80% used the Gradebook and Assignment functions, followed by 48% for Messages, and 41% for Question Pools. Very few used Bb’s more advanced features such as Scholar, Glossary, Office Hours, or MERLOT.
  • 86% did make invisible features they weren’t using, and 93% do customize the Course Menu.
  • 77% run other programs inside Bb.
  • Most are unhappy with the discussion bard.
  • Most do not run a separate FAQ or technical forum on the board, nor a separate forum for students to socialize.
  • Almost 70% upload .doc or .pdf documents into Bb the most. 25% or less upload flash or movie files.
  • Most of the materials they load into Bb are text based (79%).
  • They are only moderately Web 2.0 savvy, with over 30% saying they are somewhat familiar with new uses of the Internet, and almost an equal number saying they aren’t very familiar.
  • They define their greatest workshop need pertaining to Bb as learning to use it more effectively (51%), and equal numbers feel it both inspires and limits or neither inspires or limits their teaching.

The WebCT respondents to my WebCT & Pedagogy Survey (17 of them) were almost all teaching fully online classes, with half teaching 3 years or more.

  • Like the MiraCostans, they used WebCT primarily for administrative tasks (email, calendar, assignments) with 82% using the discussion board.
  • Almost all made unused features invisible, but surprisingly only 70% change the Course Menu buttons.
  • 70% did run programs inside WebCT, and the same number were happy with its discussion board.
  • Half do not run a separate forum for technical issues, and 70% do not have a forum for students to socialize.
  • Like MiraCostans, most upload .doc and .pdf documents, though 70% upload HTML files, much larger than MiraCosta’s percentage (47%).
  • An overwhelming 82% of materials are text-based.
  • 41% said they were not very familiar with Web 2.0, but the percentage saying they are very familiar (24%) was double MiraCosta’s (12%).
  • 41% felt WebCT inspired their teaching, with 35% saying it both inspires and limits pedagogy.

My conclusions are disappointing in the sense that most faculty continue to use their CMS for administrative functions primarily, tend to upload desktop publishing formats instead of native HTML, and rely overwhelmingly on text materials. And these aren’t just newbies either.

However, although not as many as I’d hoped were using Web 2.0 interaction, I was delighted that most are trying to customize the CMS, in the menus themselves and/or making other programs appear inside the shell. Interactivity and rich media are certainly lacking, and in my opinion so is discussion design: few have separate areas for students to get technical help or to socialize, regardless of their satisfaction level with the discussion function.

Interestingly enough, most workshop participants surveyed this fall requested “how to”, “hands on” workshops, and “Making Blackboard Work for You” came out on top. I still sense a reversal of priorities here, but I’m hoping our workshops can help with that. Second place was “Making Online Discussion Work”, which is encouraging. Perhaps we can get people to look away from their CMS and think first about what they want to do?

4 thoughts on “The Results Are In: CMS and Pedagogy

  1. This has nothing whatsoever to do with your blog, but I’m trying to de-spam a WordPress blog amd an wondering what plug in (if it’s a plug in) you’re using that requires text verification for an image. Please and thank you. 🙂 Julie

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  2. You’ve pretty much summed up my experience with Bb. 😛 If that many people feel that they need a workshop on how to use a CMS more effectively AND have the amount of experience that they do using it, then it’s the CMS that is broken /needs fixing. Not the instructors.

    Also, did you find a generational gap between those instructors who used the CMS to its fullest potential and those without?

    Thanks for the info! It’s been very interesting!

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  3. Nope, I’ve noticed no generational difference at all. It seems to be more a matter of how people use the web. Folks who are more adventurous when it comes to technology, as part of their personality, tend to be more creative in using the system.

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