Jott Inspires a Reconsideration of Blackboard or Any LMS System In Higher Education

Man on Fire!!!

Today is the first time in many years of using, administering, and teaching in a Blackboard environment that I seriously ask myself: why use Blackboard? This is not an indictment against Blackboard or any other learning management system (LMS), but a revelation about the availability and capabilities of existing and emerging technologies that can at least enhance the LMS experience and make a serious attempt to meet learners in their own learning and communication spaces.

What has me fired up is the result of many recent discussions and collaborative efforts with my colleagues, Britt Watwood and Jeff Nugent as we explore and question working and learning in a web 2.0 environment, and Michele Martin’s posting which introduced me to Jott. I truly believe that Jott will change my life, my approach to sharing information and my consultation with faculty about their own course design, content delivery and interaction with students. Jott is still too new to me to understand the full impact, but it already has blown me away with its ability to translate my voice and send that as an e-mail to either myself, specific individuals or groups. Now I’ve yet to explore this, but Jott can also feed a message directly into a blog (see Jott Links). Yes, a blog. So what are the ramifications of that? Well, here is the actual text as transcribed by Jott while I walked from the parking deck to my office and contemplated some of the possibilities (and the message was there waiting for me when I arrived).

Screen capture of Jott message and actual text below:

"As a result of yesterday's experiments with Jott and discussing various things regarding RSS feets(?) with Breath. I am thinking about way to incorporate these technologies in conjunction with a blackboard class. I see some area of where I could be on the phone as I am now recording a message that would be forwarded to a blog. Then the blog will be then connected to my class with an RSSE and automatically update information into my class. It would be nice if this could be done in a blackboard announcement, but it may not be possible. So, trick could be to change to default announcement page to page inside the blackboard."

NOTE: There are a few things that did not get translated correctly, such as “feets?” and Britt’s name, which came out as “Breath”. Perhaps with a little more effort to articulate words more clearly and spell unusual words, its accuracy may improve. However, I must note that my earlier experiments resulted in perfect translation, including Britt’s name. Even with flaws, I could send these messages to myself and then proofread and fine tune them for postings.

The bottom line is that I am now pondering:

  1. Why to I want to use Blackboard or other LMS? (Class administrative assistance; roster, gradebook, central location or portal, other?) See my concept map.
  2. How can I harness the power of other technologies, tools and resources to provide rich and engaging learning opportunities and meet my educational goals? (The resources I am exploring are mostly free, with the exception of a cell phone and IP which most people will have)?

    A few examples:
    • Jott
    • Blog
    • Wiki
    • Delicious
    • Google Documents
    • Google Reader
    • Google Calendar
    • Voicethreads
    • Slideshare
    • Slidecast
    • Flicker
    • Screencasting
  1. Why does my LMS administration insist that students use the university’s e-mail? If we want to meet students in their own learning (and communication) space, we should be providing ways to forward communication to the student’s desired location.
  2. How can students provide or input information to feed class content and communication to their various accounts outside of my LMS?

Here is an outline of a scenario related to teaching:

  • The instructor walks out of class and is contemplating the previous hour, questions which did not get answered, awareness of ideas which some students did not understand or simply has a few related ideas to share before the next class.
  • The instructor calls Jott via their cell phone
  • Dictates the content
  • Having set up Jott correctly before class, the content is fed to a blog which has been created for the class
  • The Blackboard (or other LMS) class has an embedded RSS feed from the blog to the announcements page or other location in the class (there may be some technical / coding issues to be ironed out)
    • I’m wondering if there might be opportunities for students to use Jott to feed information into the class as well

PS: I’m beginning to re-think my cell phone as a tool and a command center with which I can share information in many ways, formats, media, and remotely control actions and leverage time-shifting to accomplish my goals.

I’m also re-considering writing and different types of communication in light of their media format and best use. Perhaps an imperfect translation from a voice translation system is not a critical problem within the right context. It may be as my friend Jeff Nugent often says, “JGE”; just good enough. This is not to imply that I would accept text messaging and misspellings in a final document, but as a means to convey quick thoughts after class (much like handwritten notes), it may be JGE.

Stay tuned, I’m a man on fire.


  1. This is a GREAT post, Bud--I agree with you completely about re-considering the whole idea of needing an LMS in light of the availability of so many free tools to support learning. I'd much rather see money spent on helping staff learn how to use these tools effectively rather than on the tools themselves. And I love your ideas about how Jott could be used to support learning. Has my mind going in a lot of different directions. Excellent stuff!

  2. Michele, thanks for your comment. i agree that courses using new tools are possible, but I'm not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I still see value in an LMS within an institution, but I really want people to explore the native capabilities or lack thereof and leverage appropriate ones to meet their objectives. Bb and other LMSs (I assume) do a good job of providing secure access and handling course administrative activites, however our learning opportunities can be much more. Let's use them where they work, tweek them with "steroids" (other tools) and link to other options when the needs dictate.

  3. Man on fire indeed! I am down in St Pete attending the eLearning 2008 conference, and tonight's opening keynoter was Barry Dahl, VP for Technology at Lake Superior College. He discussed E-Learning Myths...and used clickers throughout. One of his myths was that a LMS is crucial...and 88% of the audience agreed with that statement. Barry (and I) were therefore in the 12% that thought LMS's could be restrictive and not take advantage of wonderful Web 2.0 applications. So keep firing away!

  4. Our team at the Gilfus Education Group just released this white paper to provide critical insights to practitioners while clarifying "Social Learning" as a concept.

    Social Learning Buzz Masks Deeper Dimensions Mitigating the confusion surrounding “Social Learning” (Download Here)

    It is our hope that by leveraging socially based technologies the education industry can shape a new educational technology paradigm that realizes the promises of true “Social Learning”.

    By understanding its applications we can create a unique opportunity to improve student engagement, student retention, academic success and overall educational outcomes.

    – Stephen Gilfus, Gilfus Education Group (Founder Blackboard Inc. left the organization in 2007)

  5. Stephen, Frank, et. al., Thanks for reading my blog and for providing a link to your document on "Social Learning...".

    The problem which is still a concern to me is the "walled garden" approach to learning managment systems. I understand the concerns relative to FERPA, however to be truely engaged in social learning, one must have the ability to invite and engage learners outside of the "garden".

    As you move foreward in your work, consider that other content experts, authors, learners with great questions, etc. are/or can be part of a true social learning environment.

    Thanks again for your paper and for the conversation.