A recent measure approved by the SDUHSD school board has replaced Blackboard Learn with Google Classroom as the default student, teacher and parent communication system.
Blackboard Learn has been the go-to system for teachers at TPHS for the past decade, according to Spanish teacher Leonor Youngblood.
To ease the learning curve that often accompanies the introduction of new technology, the district offered a “Google Summer Camp,” an optional multiple-day course at Pacific Trails Middle School from Aug. 14-17, to educate teachers on effective use of Google Classroom.
“[The course] was a full week of getting acquainted not just with [Google] Classroom but with Google in general … it was extremely beneficial,” Youngblood said.
One of the main reasons that the district decided to depart from Blackboard Learn is the connectedness of the Google system. For example, students can access Google Drive on their accounts, while teachers have access to both Google Drive and Gmail on theirs.
“If you look at the trends in technology, it’s hard to avoid … [noticing] Google, [as] it’s an incredibly integrated, useful platform,” Principal Rob Coppo said.
Youngblood also cites the ease of importing documents as another advantage of the transition, despite the initial learning curve and “cluttered” nature of Google Classroom.
“I still have to look for help, but I’m finding [using the system] easier and easier and easier [due to] those two reasons,” Youngblood said.
Other teachers have also switched this year, including English teacher Lisa Callender, according to Reagan Kan (12).
While one of the goals of the transition was to simplify the process of obtaining information from teachers, not all students agree that Google Classroom is the superior program. On Blackboard Learn, teachers have the ability to customize their class pages, allowing them to place information that they feel is most important, such as test dates, on the home page. However, on Google Classroom, information is located chronologically on a “feed,” similar to social media platforms.
“I like Blackboard because it’s more personalized, and … you need to scroll all the way down to find the information you need [on Google Classroom],” Lindsey Ren (11) said.
While both platforms have their advantages and disadvantages, a return to Blackboard Learn, at least in its current form, is not imminent, according to Coppo. This is, in part, due to the district ending its contract with Blackboard Inc., the parent company of the website.
However, this was not the only aspect that contributed to Blackboard Learn’s replacement, because the district board must first pass a measure before it can be put into effect. In order for one like this to be passed, Teachers on Special Assignment, or “TOSAs,” who work in the SDUHSD Technology Services Department at the district office, research potential products based on current trends. If they find anything of interest, it is researched further, a pitch is created and then it is submitted to the school board for approval.
“We’re always looking to maximize our use of tax dollars,” Coppo said, “so … if there’s another product that’s just as good and it’s either less expensive or … free, why would we not go with [it]?”
While some teachers have already switched systems for the 2017-18 school year, they can use whichever platform they want other than Blackboard, because all technological choices within the classroom are at the discretion of the teacher, according to Coppo.