Blackboard Collaborate: an LMS gone astray

Normally Blackboard Collaborate wouldn’t have made it into our ranking. The vendor fails to deliver one element we see as crucial: making pricing information openly and easily accessible. Even searching the Blackboard website for quite some time left us none the wiser in that regard. Now there are two reasons we decided to test and rank Blackboard Collaborate after all:

  1. We were curious to see how the successor of Ellumiate vRoom would do, a tool previously ranked 18 in our comparison of online meeting tools.
  2. The renowned IT-research organization Gartner Inc. lists Blackboard as one of only 12 other vendors among the illustrious gang of Adobe, Microsoft, IBM and AT&T. So the tool must be good, right?

Wrong! After our extensive tests we were surprised to see a phenomenon that usually occurs the other way around. Web conferencing tools tend to get better with every version upgrade and usually climb up a bit in our overview – if only temporarily. Blackboard Collaborate disproved this trend and crashed all the way to 33. The only tool ranked lower is Microsoft NetMeeting, which we really only keep in our ranking for comparison and for which development and upgrading has stopped years back.

So did the programmers do a bad job after Blackboard acquired Elluminate and tried to integrate the vRoom-platform with the Wimba-technology? Well no, we wouldn’t go that far. For basic ‘learning management’ scenarios in which there are clearly defined roles for the participants Blackboard Collaborate works just fine. You can see that the platform has developed from the very specialized field of Learning Management Systems (LMS). If you are looking for a tool that allows you to be flexible in your diverse collaboration scenarios, Blackboard’s tool fails to deliver in areas that are crucial. Just to give you some examples:

  • There is no invitation functionality integrated into Outlook.
  • Switching control of keyboard and mouse was not possible in our tests – even though this feature is mentioned on the vendor’s website.
  • When setting up a meeting the tool does not create a meeting specific ID which means that participants from former meetings can join any time.

Blackboard Collaborate disproves the phrase of “the name says it all”. The product name “Collaborate” promises a set of functionality and a user experience the tool fails to deliver. Blackboard should consider sticking to its strengths and concentrate on the LMS-market in which we would say it  has a good standing, and rightfully so. And the IT-researchers from Gartner should perhaps reconsider their selection of vendors for their “Magic Quadrant for Web Conferencing” since for Blackboard it seems quite arbitrary.

4 comments

  1. Hmm, we'd sure love to engage with you further to understand why your evaluation came out the way it did. First of all, the fundamental capabilities of vRoom haven't changed at all. We skinned the same exact functionality with a new more modern User Experience designed working closely with our Product Advisory Council. So any deficiencies you should simply be repeats of what you would have found before with vRoom. Secondly, vRoom is our completely free offering for instructors and does NOT include the feature set of the full Blackboard Collaborate platform. Blackboard Collaborate is a platform solution that includes Web Conferencing, Instant Messaging and Voice Authoring all tightly tied to the Learning Management System of your choice. Gartner reviewed the Blackboard Collaborate solution, not our free offering, and ranked us among those top vendors accordingly.

    To respond to your specific examples of deficiencies:

    "There is no invitation functionality integrated into Outlook."

    The full Blackboard Collaborate Web Conferencing offering provides the ability to automatically save session invitations into Outlook using the standards based iCal method. It also provides the ability to send email invitations through the Learning Management System.

    "Switching control of keyboard and mouse was not possible in our tests – even though this feature is mentioned on the vendor’s website."

    This is definitely possible in Blackboard Collaborate. Based on user feedback, we are making this ability more prominent in the interface. We love to hear from our users about how we can make tall of our capabilities more usable. We welcome all product suggestions to bbcollaboratefeedback@blackboard.com .

    "When setting up a meeting the tool does not create a meeting specific ID which means that participants from former meetings can join any time."

    The Blackboard Collaborate solution definitely provides the ability to schedule meetings with a specific ID. In fact three different types of sessions can be scheduled: Meetings, Drop Ins and Courses and each type have a specific ID with configurable security and access parameters. The completely free vRoom offering does not provide access to the Administration system where these capabilities are accessed as it is essentially a single always open room as you've described.

    Those interested in testing out the actual capabilities of Blackboard Collaborate can get access to a trial set up and any pricing that they need by contacting collaboratesales@blackboard.com .

    Thanks!

    Valerie Schreiner
    Sr. Director Product Management
    Blackboard Collaborate

  2. No wonder they are so secretive.

    Web conferencing is really getting popular though and very affordable. Even the self employed can now afford them.

  3. Thank you for your detailed feedback, Valerie. We will revisit our test and evaluate the details you have mentioned.

  4. After reviewing our test results our initial findings were confirmed. We did take into account the vendor’s information in regards to Outlook integration, sharing mouse and keyboard control and securing meeting rooms. However, this only led to a minor improvement from rank 34 to 29.

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