Highlight week: Overthrowing Blackboard

I'm going over some of my older posts and am reposting some of the good stuff that's still relevant. I've been at this a while, so there is a good week's worth of good essays hiding in the archives.
In 2008 the Western Front, our Campus newspaper, ran an article about the efforts of the Computer Science department to attempt to manipulate Moodle into something that could replace Blackboard. This sparked an essay on my part, and is the closest I've come to actual political advocacy in this blog. I try to avoid that, since it can get you canned. But it was on technical merits, so I felt somewhat safe.

For those of you who've never worked with education in a technical sense, Blackboard is a classroom Groupware product. It has all the things you'd expect; like whiteboards, homework and testing methods, as well as the all important grade-book. Blackboard also holds all the right patents so it's the only really serious commercial classroom groupware product out there, much the same reason that no one is really a direct for-profit competitor to Adobe PhotoShop. A lot of cash-strapped .edus out there (and there are a lot) have striven to replace the very expensive Blackboard with the very open-source Moodle.

This essay turned into a good illumination of the hurdles facing our conversion from a closed-source critical-path enterprise application to an open-source critical-path enterprise application. Some of the things in the article have changed, we're running MySQL in a couple of places and I know 'enterprise' support is available for Moodle now, but the main intent is still valid.

Overthrowing Blackboard