Saturday, March 19, 2011

Some Progress, Ray, But Not Nearly Enough

After receiving a very significant amount of criticism regarding the Blackboard COURSEsites Terms of Use (TOU) over the past weeks, as discussed in a previous blog, Blackboard has responded by updating its TOU. In some ways, the changes could be considered an update, in the sense that the terms have been changed in order to accommodate concerns raised by the community. In other ways, the changes are really just clarifications of what Blackboard really means by its TOU. Despite this update, unfortunately, our biggest concerns with Blackboard COURSEsites have not yet been addressed. To Ray Henderson, the President of Blackboard Learn, let me say – There’s more work to be done here.

First, Blackboard has clarified that it does not intend to include advertising in COURSEsites “in order to support the service or generate revenue at this time” (emphasis added). Of course, Blackboard is free to change the TOU regarding the use of advertising at any time (without requiring your explicit agreement). This isn’t really much of a change from its previous TOU.

Second, Blackboard has clarified its need to obtain a license to view, copy, and distribute user content that is uploaded into COURSEsites. In an email, Blackboard stated that it requires “a license to the users’ content so that the COURSEsites staff and support representatives can view the content freely and duplicate as necessary” to diagnose the causes of issues and to rectify them “as they arise without disrupting active sessions.” Additionally, Blackboard has modified the TOU to state that it will not use users’ content for its own promotional and marketing materials without the express permission of the user. Fair enough; this satisfies my concerns about this section of the TOU.

Third, Blackboard has clarified who is permitted to use COURSEsites and has stated “with the exception of general tuition for student course enrollment in a non-profit institution, you (users) may not charge any fees to any party for their use of your COURSEsite.” Fair enough; this clarification to the TOU also satisfies concerns I raised earlier.

However, these minor changes do not in any way resolve the issues that currently prevent me, as CIO, from recommending COURSEsites to my faculty. Ray, it would be helpful if Blackboard would be willing to answer the questions raised in my earlier blog:

Is COURSEsites available for regular, recurring adoption by faculty members or is it limited to introductory, investigative use only?

Will faculty members be expected to pay a fee for regular, recurring use of COURSEsites beyond the “introductory, investigative” period?

Ray, resolving these questions in a way that is favorable to faculty who desire to use COURSEsites on a long-term basis would go a long way to ensuring that COURSEsites lives up to its potential. You articulated in your earlier blog that COURSEsites is “a free version of our (Blackboard’s) latest learning management system for individual instructors.” Until these two questions are resolved, it’s hard to see this as anything else than more marketing hype from Blackboard.

*Note the COURSEsites Terms of Use cited in this blog was downloaded from this site on March 18, 2011.

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