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December 9, 2004

Blackboard Popularity Explodes

Use of the web-based software CourseWeb, also known as Blackboard, increased 40 percent here last year.

CourseWeb is a software suite that enables faculty to develop, manage and use web pages for instruction.

About 70 percent of Pitt students have at least one course offering the web software, according to Nick Laudato, associate director of Center for Instructional Development & Distance Education CIDDE.

“The growth curve speaks for itself,” he said. “Faculty are adopting it because it works. And the faculty getting involved in it aren’t just technology leaders, but mainstream faculty. And students are asking for it, expecting it.”

At the high end, CourseWeb can act as a virtual classroom, offering interactive features such as chat rooms for students and faculty as well as quizzes. And, at the very least, faculty can post a syllabus, Power Point presentation and other materials. There’s one catch however: Faculty need basic training in the program, which can range from an hour to a four-day summer institute. Currently, more than 2,200 faculty members have been trained in CourseWeb, which is free and available at CIDDE. For more information, visit

Additionally, digital drop boxes have been added to CourseWeb to store assignments and grades: Students submit work electronically, an instructor grades the assignment and the results are stored in an electronic grade book.

“We’ll see more depth in the future as well as breadth in CourseWeb usage,” predicts Diane Davis, director of CIDDE. “I think we will see a greater proportion of faculty using advanced features for instruction rather than just the delivery of information.”

For example, Laudato was co-teaching a class in information systems and business process design last fall and a discussion on ethical issues went beyond class time. “At the end of class, nobody really wanted to stop talking,” he said. So Laudato continued the discussion on his CourseWeb “for students to make the points they couldn’t make in class.” The following day, there were 35 postings, “with replies and replies to the replies,” he said.

“Some faculty consciously use discussion boards to flesh out a topic,” Laudato said. “Some faculty feel like they know students better through discussion in Blackboard than the classroom.”

Usage of CourseWeb, which was initiated in 1998, continues to swell with1,707 course sections utilizing the web program. Usage has increased 40 percent annually since 2000, according to Laudato.

The speed at which faculty have adopted CourseWeb didn’t surprise Andrew Blair, vice provost for faculty affairs, who chairs the Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence. The web-based software is “establishing itself as a fundamental aspect of the instructional arsenal for a number of faculty. That’s true at other universities. This has already arrived, been digested and internalized by faculty.”

-Mary Ann Thomas

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 8

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