I was recently visiting a Blackboard client in Canada. During my visit, with a Blackboard product expert, we demonstrated the capabilities of the Grade Center in the Blackboard Academic Suite Version 8. We met with faculty members to discuss its new features, and since the IT staff wanted to do a hardware upgrade at the same time, we met with system administrators to discuss the technical requirements of the implementation.
During the course of the day, the director of academic technology posed a question about how the institution was going to measure the success of the implementation. Ideas were thrown around about:
- Measuring the number of active users
- How many faculty members they could get to use the new features
- The number of active courses as a percentage of total sections
- The number of discussion posts
All of these seemed like legitimate ways to determine if the system is being used. Finally, the director spoke and asked how they would determine if this was truly impacting the student and teaching experience for the better:
- Are students enjoying their experience more?
- Retaining more information?
- Are they connecting with classmates and the faculty more efficiently?
- Is it truly impacting curriculum planning for future terms?
These questions started a great discussion about the real, positive impact products can have on the teaching and learning experience. Soon ideas were flying around the room about figuring out ways to have a more meaningful measurement on the teaching and learning experience.
One discussion that particularly caught my attention was very close to my heart: measuring success by tracking the faculty and student support help desk tickets.
The institution was planning a large and comprehensive reach-out campaign to faculty members, to do individual training and workshops to get faculty questions ahead of launching the new Grade Center. They felt this should limit the number of faculty calls to the Help Desk. The question posed in the room was "Should we measure success by seeing if there is lower call volume to our Help Desk from faculty members with questions?"
I am always asked by colleagues at Blackboard about our technical support volume. I discuss the large peak volumes we have, and more complex questions related to issues like setup, configuration and integration. Many of them are surprised by the wide variety of these issues and wonder what we can do to help clients manage the volume and complexity of issues faced in these systems.
- What else can we add to the documentation?
- What other training programs can we offer clients?
- How can we prepare clients for functionality in new releases?
These are all fair questions and ones that I consider in my job every day. But I also remind my colleagues that the high volume of questions we receive from clients also indicates our clients are really using the software in increasingly sophisticated and demanding ways. Therefore, many of these calls are about ensuring that Blackboard products are reliable, that they are working all of the time, becoming increasingly functional, and providing a better overall experience for our students and faculty members.
So the next time that same faculty member returns to your office, the one who questions every feature and icon on the screen, appreciate the fact that they are pushing the limits of e-Learning and want to change the student experience—to improve it. They are the ones we hope keep coming back to us and asking us to make our products as good as they can possible be.