Wednesday, July 29, 2015

BbWorld Promised Versus Delivered

I had the opportunity to talk with some employees of Blackboard Incorporated (Bb) during the #BbWorld15 conference last week and after reading blogs/tweets about the company being behind on product delivery and repeating statements from the 2014 conference, I decided to re-evaluate what was promised in 2014 versus what was delivered in 2015. Let me first being by apologizing for the length of the post.

Just do a search on #BbWorld14 and #BbWorld15 to find lots of information. For 2014, you might read a post by Kristine Putnam here and here or a post from Jason Rhode here, here, and here. If you don't trust either of these Bb MVPs then how about reading Michael Feldstein's (e-Literate) post found here or maybe the company's own BbWorld 2014 recap site located here. For #BbWorld15 check out the conference recap site at, or Michael Feldstein's post here, or Sue Watling's blog here. You can also look at the Tweeter hashtags #BbWorld14 and #BbWorld15 for more information. Regardless of where you read about the two conferences, it becomes clear in my opinion the follow was promised and delivered.

BbWorld 2014 primary items promised:
  1. CEO Jay Bhatt's promise the company was changing direction by embracing a Learner Centered model
  2. Removal of Java from their Collaborate product
  3. Redesign the user interface (UX) of their flag ship LEARN product
  4. Investment in mobile improvements
  5. Increased K12 innovation 
  6. Improved product quality in releases and updates
BbWorld 2015 primary items delivered:
  1. Company was so student focused they failed in communication with rest of client community
  2. Collaborate Ultra has no Java
  3. Learn UX redesigned (aka Learn Ultra) w/responsive design
  4. Company change in direction not only self & managed hosted clients but a SaaS solution 
  5. Mobile Learn out and Bb Grader out; Bb Student, Bb Teacher, are Bb Parent are in
  6. SchoolWires and ParentLink for K12
  7. Collaborate building block released for Learn during conference, Collaborate Tech Preview offered to attendees along with Learn Ultra Tech Preview during conference, Community Site Beta launched, Redesign of Help.Blackboard.Site shared, Learn Ultra released with limited initial features, and hiring of Peter George for quality control.
From this summary comparison it would seems that Bb Inc. delivered what they promised. But why were clients unhappy during BbWorld last week? My thoughts are the unhappiness is due to missed communication, incorrect assumptions, and poor message marketing. Which lead to Tweets like the following:

First of all, clients missed 2014 announcements about products like "MyJobGenie" announced during Jon Kolko's presentation because we focused on Bb Grader and the "early demo of revised Mobile Learn" (click here to watch video). To be honest, I missed the MyJobGenie announcement about this mobile app that lets students learn about careers, perhaps I was to focused on the BbGrader and Mobile Learn news. 

Lets now look at some other examples that lead to this client confusion.  Below is an image of the Learn redesign shared at the 2014 conference captured by Kristine Putnam:
and this one from Jon Kolko's 2014 presentation of Mobile Learn:

Now look at the image below of Learn Ultra that is on Jason Rhode's Blog for BbWorld 2015:
As you can see the images shown at both conferences are very similar, so yes clients may quickly say it was the same thing as last year, but it was not. The UX shown in 2014 was a sneak peek not a working model, but when shown 2015 it was live and named Learn Ultra for SaaS. Kolko's 2014 display of Mobile Learn, was in very early stages of development, as stated at least three times during presentation, and ultimately came out as Bb Student. The same holds true for the 2014 New Collaborate without Java, morphed into Collaborate Ultra. Yes the 2014 images are similar to 2015 images, I personally think Bb marketing should not have taken the easy road and just reused images. While it was stated in 2014, clients missed a key point that in that what was shown was only a goal and very early in development designs. Another issue were assumptions on the client side because in the past whatever was shown at BbWorld became available for use shortly after. The Bb Management changed approaches without making that change clear to clients. The dropped communications with client community about status of development like Learn UX changes only for SaaS, Mobile Learn demo was going to be changed to three improved mobile apps, and the demo done with Collaborate was just an internal development site not general release are key to understanding clients lack of excitement and trust with Bb Management right now.

Note only during this time of product revamping, eight players left the company (Maurice Heiblum, Mark Belles, Gary Lang, Michael Bisignano, Brad Koch, David Ashman, Mark Drechsler, and John Porter). While these people all landed on their feet, it did slow development and client community advocacy. Additionally, as Michael Feldstein pointed out what Bb is doing with Ultra is technically difficult and why "big companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple are still in the process of working out right now" (July 25, 2015). This added layer of complexity and Peter George's thumb on quality assurance has added unplanned time in development. 
Just as clients started getting improved product communications seen within detailed roadmap slides, within this post, thanks to Valerie Schreiner and through Bb's new Jive Client Site, it is "leaked"  that Providence Equity Partners LLC wants to jump ship on these innovations and the Bb client community. This move maybe because providence was expecting Bb Inc. to regain loss market share faster, instead of holding around 44% (Koner, EdSurge, Pappas 2015) or the company is just not the cash cow they thought, or Providence is scared of the little 3% Canvas market share increase (Koner, EdSurge, Pappas 2015), or it is just a marketing campaign. I  am not willing to jump to conclusions that it is because Providence has lost faith in the innovation or leadership of Bb Inc. If that was the case, wouldn't Providence just fire Jay, his top management, and stop Ultra development?

To Bb Inc., I apologize for being on of those clients who made assumptions on what was shared during BbWorld 2014, for not seeing the difference between vision and real product, and for missing announcements about things like MyJobGenie. I bet Bb Inc, never expected that from me.  BUT, Bb management team, I am holding you to promised improved communications with the client communities, improved quality all product releases, continued innovation and dedication to Learn 9.1, forward progress on Ultra and competency-based education, and inclusion of all key education roles to enable everyone to be learner focused. 


Monday, July 27, 2015 A Recap of #BbWorld15 Learning

To make it easier to bring all the great news and content from BbWorld 2015 home, please visit Bb's digital conference site online at Use this site as a tool for continuing and sharing the enthusiasm from BbWorld with your colleagues who could not attend the conference. Also the site is a good way to remember all the little things you might have forgotten during this amazing educational technology cram week.

There you’ll find a lot of the BbWorld experience, packaged to go, including things like:

  • Jay Bhatt’s opening main stage keynote presentation
  • The student Panel from Wednesday’s main stage, moderated by Katie Blot
  • Adora Svitak’s inspiring keynote main stage presentation
  • The insightful panel from Thursday’s main stage, moderated by Katie Blot
  • Bb's key product and leadership presentations that include roadmaps, news, and announcements
  • Important announcements, information on the New Learning Experience, and printable versions of Bb's new ad campaign
Most of us will be revisiting and talking about highlights from BbWorld 2015 for weeks to come, and Blackboard Inc. has made it easy for us this year. With so many sessions to choose from, it was impossible to see everything, so use to see a presentation again or to watch one you missed. 

The above information was from a letter from a letter I received under my door (with the hotel bill) from the Blackboard team before checking out. Also check out the Twitter hashtag #BbWorld15. Facebook and LinkedIn also have active DevCon/BbWorld communications. Oh, yes DevCon this year was asked to Tweet under BbWorld15, instead of using a separate hashtag.

#BbWorld15 Closing Day Reflections

The morning started off with a nice meet and greet hosted by the East Coast Client Service Advocates (CSA) group. It was a great opportunity to talk with the amazing Anthony Jovanis. He is a CSA and is always willing to help clients. I watched him that morning connect CSA's to clients (even if he wasn't their CSA) and was also willing to suggest other Blackboard employees who were at the conference that could answer their questions. While Anthony said he is always glad to help connect CSA's with clients, as I am sure other CSAs also do. I learned that sometimes the disconnect between clients and CSA is because Bb Inc. only works with a given person(s) at institutions and often the people seeking a CSA or attending the conference is not the person list for communication with Bb Inc. So anyone looking to talk with their CSA should first contact the primary Blackboard (Bb) communicator at their institution. However, I do think it would be nice for Bb Inc. to add a "Who is my CSA" page to their website. They don't have to list individual schools (thought that would be nice) they could simply do it by region or however Bb divides up the CSAs. This page would also provide direct contact information, then they just need to let all clients know this page is out there.

Next I was off to the General Session, which was another panel discussion moderated by Katie Blot. The panel included:
  • Richard Culatta, Director of the Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Dept. of Education 
  • Amy Laitinen, Deputy Director, Education Policy, New America 
  • Kent Hopkins, Vice Provost for Enrollment Services, Arizona State University 
  • Kris Clerkin, Executive Director, College for America at Southern New Hampshire University

The panelist made very important points about education, but the most beloved panelist was Richard Culatta. There was a Twitter call for him to be a keynote at next years conference. There was a lot of discussion on the need to stop saying "traditional" and "non-traditional". Because 75% of students now are old "non-traditional". Instead we should be using the term "New Learner".  There was a cry for more funding and to hold educational administrators more accountable for supporting educators who embraced the New Learner instead of forcing them to follow the old way of thinking.  The panelist also talked about the importance of competency based learning and the positive impact it will have on society if done correctly. Equally discussed was the need for personalized learning and to provide more guidance and support services to the learner.  As Eric Syliva tweeted "
Education needs to be a partnership between the student, faculty, staff and institution" there were also some great discussion on the use of #OER, addressing skill (competency) gaps through industry partnerships, and the need for revamping of the entire education system K12 to Higher Education. I personally think everyone wish this panel discussion would have been longer. 

After the panel discussion came the closing Keynote Speaker Peter Diamandis who is Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation. He provided attendees a trip through technology marvels and educational technology beautifully articulating how today's education system should and could learn from each of these past events. It is the questions that we as educators ask today that are going to be important for the success of the future. While I enjoyed this session, I am not sure the non-technical attendees enjoyed it as much. Blackboard live streamed this event, but if you missed it you can watch it at

From here I went to listen to fellow #BbMVP Doug Cohen talked about  Open SUNY's 
 ( University-wide collaboration that opens the door to world-class online-enabled learning opportunities. Join this discussion to learn about more about the tools, services, and supports that make up our Digital DNA, and how their implementation has been designed to help online students be successful. It is amazing how much work Doug and his team have put into making sure their Digital footprint was a positive one all their users. 

After a quick break, it was time for my participation in a digital badge panel discussion. I believe the panel gave an overview of badges and why they are important. Plus we provided three examples of how to use the badges (achievements) within Blackboard Learn to improve student engagement, work cross curriculum, and to move educational activities into skill evidence tools. Richard event about how police officers were using their badges to alert them for re-certification. While I talked about some things to watch out for when copying or modifying achievement setup and trigger definitions, the audience did seem to want to see actual demos of our classes. Perhaps it wasn't smart to combine our two presentations into one. I know that all the panelist will be glad to talk further with anyone who reaches out to them. Check out the "Gamification Leaderboard" building block on Oscelot if you want to do basic gamification in your classroom. The building block can be found at You can see a more detailed look into my courses with badges on YouTube here.  Our panel presentation can be found at

Then I spent time in the Exhibit hall with vendors after enjoying some wonderful cupcakes, which seemed to be the most common dessert in National Harbor. I was really hoping to talk with the vendor ProctorFree, but they had to leave before the "Time with Vendors". I heard they were a great company to work with and their pricing structure was more realistic then most of the other proctoring options out there. The amazing Jacob Spradlin did a blog post about them at  I just you check them out.

Blackboard has done a lot for research and realizes they need to improve their help site ( They had a very informative session that showed the new and improved Help experience is coming soon for Blackboard users! This session also explained their vision for the site to be a single help resource for all Blackboard products, and the upcoming redesign is a critical step on that journey. Clients will benefit from the new responsive site design, improved site functionality, better localization of content, and more accessible content. There will also be an expanding search and 'findability' of content. Attendees got to see an in-depth tour of the new design, content formats, and distribution enhancements we are making for developers, administrators, instructors, and students. We got to see how Bb Inc. involved clients in the redesign process, how the help site relates to other Blackboard resources, and hear about their plans for the future. More importantly, they provided clients an opportunity for our voice to be heard for future site developments.Conference attendees could so stop by the Usability Labs booth.

Then it was off to here Wade Weichel a Bb Sr. Product Manger talk about competency-based education (CBE). He explained that building a training program around competencies is beneficial because it allows employees to understand what skills they're developing and how they're being evaluated. Managers benefit because they have a clearer framework to discuss strengths and opportunities for development. This session while designed to help training manager plan for creating a competency model and evaluating employee development. It was informative for educators who are involved in starting or thinking about starting #CBE programs at their institutions. Wade even took time to explain how Bb Learn could already help with goals/alignments and automated updates with curriculum changes. He also explained how Bb was going to roll out more competency tools in Learn 9.1 very soon. 
Luckily I got to stay in the same room for a presentation by Capella University and their #CBE program known as Flexpath. Capella is an online school and they were one of the fist credentialed CBE programs. You can learn more about their Flexpath, self-pace program at While Capella set their program up in 6 months it took lots of work to get it ready. They worked hand-in-hand with Bb Inc. to use within Bb Learn and integrate with custom databases and PeopleSoft. The use Bb Analytics in addition to another 3rd party analytics tool. The suggest that anyone venturing down this path have a dedicated internal staff and to partner them with a single person at Bb Inc.There presentation will be available through Bb Inc after the conference.

In short, I feel like Bb senior management realized that they short changed their client community by not involving them as much as was done in the past. I believe that they heard the clients voice that we wanted more direct, specific, and technical communication. The company heard that not everyone has access to Behind the Blackboard (BtBb) and that they need to post more on known issues and workarounds outside the BtBb site. Clients are not aware of CSA group as they should be and that innovation and support of Learn 9.1 is an absolute must for the next several years. I think it was also clearly shown through comments at the executive session was while we loved the Ultra feel and support student focuses, we also wanted self-hosting ability with Ultra and did not want the company to forget that faculty also play a key role in student success. While I did receive some contradiction when asked about why Collaborate Ultra took so long, I believe this was because communication issues were also happening within the company. Find a new name for Blackboard User Groups, aka "BUGs" because that name alone according to Jay Bhatt indicates problems and User Groups are not a problem. However, senior management was very transparent during the executive listening session and I hope everyone will be open to giving them to now fulfill the many promises made during the conference. Some deliverables to clients, as I see it are:
  • Better internal communications so clients get consistent answers
  • Improved communication with clients & user groups, new community site a great start
  • Clearer marketing strategy so clients understand company vision and plan better
  • Identification of Client Satisfaction Advocate group, so clients know who to contact
  • Quality delivery of updates for all products, starting step hiring Peter George from Kronos
  • Include clients more in community activities, like presentation selection at DevCon/BbWorld and redesign of Help Site. Great start with offering attendees on Technical Preview of Collaborate and Ultra. 
  • Improved understanding of client community product passion. Off to a good start with listening sessions with MVPs & User Group Leaders. 
  • More technical & specific deliverable communication on Ultra & 9.1, more "Quick Hit" videos from Vivek Ramgopal and Jim Chalex webinars about 9.1.
Just enough time to do some chatting with friends and Bb employees before the Client Appreciation Party that is always looked forward to. There was lights of neon lights, good food, dancing, and socialization at Club Blackboard with tunes from DJ Ravi Drums. There was even some good creative team building activities like making statues out of the bling and fun photos.

If you attended the conference, please help out the conference team and complete the post-conference survey. You should have gotten an email in the mailbox of the account you registered with.

Save the date:  BbWorld 2016, July 12-14 at the Venetian|Palazzo Las Vegas