Maybe the reason people don’t use LMS collaboration tools is the tools are not collaborative

The video below, entitled “Why the Blackboard Wiki Is Not a Wiki”, shows how amazingly boneheaded Blackboard’s wiki tool design is. At the heart of the boneheadedness? The core idea of a wiki is that collaboration happens by way of

  • making things quick, and
  • seeing error and omission as community-creating opportunities, and
  • encouraging iteration

Blackboard, on the other hand, sees the job of a wiki as providing an interface to build finished pages. The Blackboard wiki is not distinguishable from the CMS your school uses to edit its website, except for the fact that it’s more poorly designed.

In other words, the collaboration tool is not a collaboration tool at all. It’s certainly not a wiki — a wiki, by definition, has page-creating links and other features that encourage organic growth. And as I demonstrate in the video there are no page-creating links, and everything possible is done to swat down the idea of emergent structure.

A report is out this week from EDUCAUSE on the LMS saying that the least liked and least used elements are the collaboration tools. What collaboration tools are those, exactly? I look at Blackboard and I’m not sure if there is a collaboration tool in there that wouldn’t seem right at home in 1999. Instead of thoughts about flow, we get buttons. Instead of buzz, we get stability.


Behind the scenes, it’s a big mess of HTML — no wiki markup, Markdown. No drag and drop.



My guess is it’s called a “wiki” for only one reason — they have to check off the RFP box that says Blackboard has wikis. No one who has ever used a wiki has worked on this software, I would guess. I’m not even sure anyone even tried to collaborate in this space — actually collaborate, that is, not use it as a book report publisher.  I can’t imagine anyone typing about anything they care about into these boxes and thinking, this feels really cool.

The report finds people would like to collaborate in the LMS more, but don’t use the tools, and the recommendation is to provide training:

For academic technology personnel, the findings suggest the importance of focusing faculty and student training and support on LMS features that support collaboration and student engagement. Many of the underused LMS features (e.g., those that involve collaboration) have the potential to enhance student learning and engagement.

I agree with much of the report, but at least as concerns the collaboration tools the majority of the American market is stuck with, nothing could be further from the truth. My guess is that introduction to tools like this, called “wikis”, could only do harm; it’s like giving someone a 1997 HTML editor and FTP client and telling them this is “blogging”.

It may be that LMS’s can get wikis right, and if so they should (Canvas’s wiki gets much muuch closer to the mark, for example). And at the point it’s actually a collaboration tool, I’ll let faculty know it’s there. Until then the real solution is better integration with outside firms who understand collaboration is not the same as multi-user publishing.


3 thoughts on “Maybe the reason people don’t use LMS collaboration tools is the tools are not collaborative

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