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Blackboard Wins Patent Suit Against Desire2Learn 186

edremy writes "Blackboard, the dominant learning management system (LMS) maker, has won its initial suit against Desire2Learn. Blackboard gets $3.1 million and can demand that Desire2Learn stop US sales. (We discussed Blackboard when the patent was issued in 2006) This blog provides background on the suit. Blackboard has been granted a patent that covers a single person having multiple roles in an LMS: for example, a TA might be a student in one class and an instructor in another. You wouldn't think something this obvious could even be patented, but so far it's been a very effective weapon for Blackboard, badly hurting Desire2Learn and generating a huge amount of worry for the few remaining commercial LMSs that Blackboard has not already bought, and open source solutions such as Moodle (Blackboard's pledge not to attack such providers notwithstanding)."
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Blackboard Wins Patent Suit Against Desire2Learn

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  • by Mr_eX9 ( 800448 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:00PM (#22552716) Homepage
    ....why the hell would anybody want to infringe on their patents? It's a really horrible design and interface.
    • by pembo13 ( 770295 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:08PM (#22552820) Homepage
      God bless you. I thought I was the only one that hated it.
      • by Workaphobia ( 931620 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:12PM (#22552850) Journal
        Mark my words. I have *never* come across anyone who liked it, in my entire undergraduate experience. Professors and students alike despise it, yet somehow our opinions don't seem to matter to the people making the purchasing decisions.
        • by pembo13 ( 770295 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:22PM (#22552958) Homepage
          Well I can truly say that I feel somewhat better today, unless of course you go to the same school that I do, in which case it proves nothing.
        • by CrispBH ( 822439 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:23PM (#22553564)
          Right on. I'm a Computer Science undergraduate, and the choices here are Blackboard or the professor's Intranet web space (which every user has including students). Almost no professor and certainly no students like Blackboard. Honestly, it feels like the most hacked together and unplanned pos you could imagine. I'm pretty sure any small group of moderately skilled programmers could do a better job; it's really that bad.

          Almost all of my tutors use their web space to provide material and updates etc. Interestingly, it's the couple of lecturers/professors who are lacking in the, er, quality department who DO use Blackboard and rave on about it.
          • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 25, 2008 @10:02PM (#22553930)
            You are very observant. As I reread this, I realize it looks like a ridiculous, cardboard-cutout of a troll, but I put forth that any sysadmin reading this will immediately recognize this as the voice of truth, and agree:

            I've had the (mis)fortune of working with Blackboard as a sysadmin for about five years now.

            It is without a doubt, a gigantic hacked-together hodge-podge under the covers. The installation guide is probably 300+ pages. Tasks that should be, by anyone's standards, put into a shell script are simply written out and numbered in the guide, which does nothing but increase the perception that not even the program's authors care about it.

            Blackboard runs (or at least used to run--to be fair, later versions are apparently more cohesive) on a strange polyglot of Perl, Java, and Shell (and who knows what else). The vast array of underlying technologies has the feel of something that's been hurriedly duct-taped together, and you're almost amazed the thing runs at all.

            Worse, upgrades are fantastically painful--accomplished by applying the endless patches in the proper order (obtainable at the 'behind the blackboard site' which is discouragingly useless) and any one of them can fail for any of a hundred different reasons.

            Nobody I know in the education technology industry claims to like installing/administering it, and in fact, it's become one of those tasks that nobody likes to do--almost a running joke. Hoping to ingratiate myself with my employers, I volunteered to be the "Blackboard guy," a decision I've regretted to this day.
            • Mod parent up (Score:5, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 26, 2008 @04:05AM (#22556022)
              I have also been a blackboard admin for about five years. The above post is 100% true.

              Here is a short list of Blackboard annoyances:

              It produces hundreds of megabytes of absolutely useless logs every day.

              These logs are basically consist of tomcat java core dumps which seemingly happen every second of the day. These java dumps are completely useless unless you are a java programmer, and even if you are a java programmer, blackboard does not provide the source to their jar files. You could probably decompile them, but who would want to given Blackboard's history of suing over IP.

              The built in log archiving utility doesn't work.

              With all of these goddamn logs, you would think proper log management is surely something Blackboard integrates into their product, right? Wrong. They include a nice little log file archiving utility but it contains precisely zero options on how to archive them, and it frequently fails to zero out logs, leaving you with gigabytes of log files after a short time. Many BB admins, including myself, have their own script to manage logs.

              It's built primarily on Tomcat.

              Everything I've ever seen that was built on Tomcat has been either unstable, dog slow, or both. One version of Blackboard shipped with a version of Tomcat that leaked threads, causing BB administrators all over the planet to have to restart the tomcat processes on their BB servers every 7-14 days.

              Their support is nearly non-existent

              Unless you say your server is down, support tickets generally take weeks, and in some cases months to get resolved. Simple ("non-critical") cases are all but ignored. Support reps have been known to answer with a polite equivalent of "RTFM". I was given the "RTFM" response to the case I put in regarding tomcat leaking threads. They never resolved the case. Instead I ended up monitoring threads and restarting tomcat by hand. When we updated to a new version of Blackboard the problem magically went away. I'm not completely sure, but I think Blackboard never even realized that they were shipping a buggy version of Tomcat. They accidentally fixed it by shipping a newer version in a later release.

              They use incredibly inefficient stored procedures which can bring down an entire system

              Most of the complex processes, like deleting entire courses or students are carried out via stored procedures in the database (BB runs on SQL Server and Oracle). In SQL server, the stored procedures are extremely inefficient and can suck up so much memory that they bring the entire system to a grinding halt. I ran across this when trying to delete a bunch of very old courses in our system. In researching the problem I read that the use of cursors was a huge no-no in SQL server (but okay in Oracle!). The stored procedure that deletes courses was, of course, written using cursors. Not being a skilled DBA, I could not rewrite the SP myself, so instead I broke it up into parts and has a script run the individual parts on all of the courses I wanted to delete.
              • I've built apps on Tomcat that had none of those problems. Tomcat, being free, ends up being the default of folks trying to do things on the cheap. Thus it has a certain gravitational pull to people who are throwing together hacky, poorly considered projects, in a hurry, on the cheap.
                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by nuzak ( 959558 )
                  Indeed, Tomcat is not to blame for speed problems. In fact current versions start up faster than Resin.

                  On Windows, however, it does have the distinction of being the only app server incapable of undeploying wars through the expedient of merely deleting their directory. It runs into the file locking issues on Windows, which I do suppose is partly the blame of Windows, but I'd also point out that no other app servers have this problem.

                  It also has classloader leaks that go back to the beginning of Tomcat, ha
            • I wrote an on-line education system as a project in College in '96-'97 based on hacking a security model into a perl based web board system. It actually worked surprisingly well until the server ran out of disk space and the forums ended up eating themselves (mmm, flat files for teh lose).

              Sadly it sounds like Blackboard's system isn't a whole lot better as commercial software written a decade later. If it weren't for the patent trolling I might even consider redoing my original system. I had that multi-r
          • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @10:38PM (#22554240) Homepage
            When I went to university, all we had was the Professors webspace. And we liked it. Do we really need anything more complicated? Or is this a solution in search of a problem? A lot of professors I had didn't even use the webspace. We seemed to do fine without it.
          • I wish that was the case here at UEA... the whole university, not just CMP students, uses a horrendous hybrid of "Portal" and BlackBoard... which is all tied in to the Athens library service.
            It's not quite as bad as some hyperbole in this topic/newspost suggests, but that may just be me rationalising the fact that I'll be stuck with it for another 3 years (and I've already put up with it for 2...)
        • by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:33PM (#22553658) Homepage
          I worked in College IT for a time, and we hated it too.

          Problem is, that sort of purchasing decision almost always gets made much higher up, or even at the state level. That's also why you also see SunGard/Banner all over the place.
          • Banner is the most hacked together peice of shit software on the planet. Hands down. There is a reason the largest university system in the world (The California State University) spend millions of dollars switching to peoplesoft and ditching banner.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by sammy baby ( 14909 )
          Speaking as someone who was occasionally called upon to assist in the administration of a Blackboard server, I can tell you that we hated it too.

          The group where I worked was a network operations center for several universities, and because the Blackboard server admins were puzzled by slow performance - "almost certainly a network problem," they told us - we agreed to let them keep the server with us. That was convenient, because the next time it was slow, I was in a unique position to explain to them the co
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Petrushka ( 815171 )

          I teach on various university courses with ca. 50-150 students each. Our term began this week. I have become so frustrated with Blackboard, and it led to a disastrous situation last month where 15 students almost failed a course through no fault of their own, and so I have given up on it. My university's IT department have been made well aware of the reasons, ... and as you might expect, they plan to change nothing, and will keep on throwing good money after bad on Blackboard.

          For various reasons setting up

    • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:18PM (#22552914)
      They did not patent the crap execution of the idea, just the idea itself.

      Here's a place where patents really suck: a good idea gets sat on and cannot be used by people would could make into something good.

      • Indeed, I see who owns the crap execution patent at the bottom of every pay stub, under the heading "Taxes".
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MrSteveSD ( 801820 )
        Off the top of my head I can think of many basic design patterns you could put to use in Learning Management Software (LMS). You would quickly identify many of them in a day or so, given the task of designing a system. In fact you could just go through the classic book "Design Patterns" and the applications of the patterns to LMS will probably just leap off the page. If you were to patent a few of these basic concepts in the specific area of LMS, it could totally prevent development of other competing syste
      • by kcbrown ( 7426 ) <> on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:12PM (#22553454)

        They did not patent the crap execution of the idea, just the idea itself.

        And this is why the patent should be thrown out.

        Patents were intended to give the patentholder exclusive control over the use of a method for a limited period of time. Methods can cover a lot, but in the end they should be specific. In the Olde Days, patent applicants were required to submit prototypes of their inventions.

        If the end result of the patent is to fence off a concept and not an implementation, then the patent itself is, I think, invalid.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 25, 2008 @10:16PM (#22554070)
          The main issue with that is that software is the art of abstraction. By its very nature, the higher a level a language you're writing your software in, the closer it is to just telling the computer the "idea" rather than the "method" - these days, you don't tell the computer how to bit blit every pixel onto a framebuffer, you tell the OS to open a window.

          Personally, I believe patents (not just software patents) shouldn't exist full stop (due to both economic and ethical reasons I won't go into here), but software is exceptionally problematic due to its nature - IF you allow patents on software, it is _necessary_ that patents be on the "idea" at some level, because idea/method is not a dichotomy in software, it's a spectrum.
      • by billcopc ( 196330 ) <> on Monday February 25, 2008 @10:45PM (#22554292) Homepage
        Worse still, is that when this heinous company eventually fails and vanishes, some half-bred law firm will snap up the patents and continue terrorizing the industry with spastic threats and baseless royalty fees.

        Software patents and those who thrive upon them must be exterminated from society, progress is infinitely more important than money.
      • They did not patent the crap execution of the idea, just the idea itself.

        Exactly. My uni decided all of the available options on the market sucks and wrote their own (much better in my opinion). On the surface it sounds like they'd be infringing on this patent as well, though I doubt they're as prime a target for litigation as I think it's only used here.

      • They did not patent the crap execution of the idea, just the idea itself. Here's a place where patents really suck: a good idea gets sat on and cannot be used by people would could make into something good.

        Trouble is, for someone awarded a monopoly, a crappy implementation is good enough (who in the purchasing department would bet their head on a competitor that might go down in a patent lawsuit?), and not even required: In fact, a better implementation by an unwitting infringer makes an even more promisin

      • And they didn't come up with the idea. All they did was move from a flat-file mentality to a relational understanding (note how I shade the difference...). They have "invented" the recursive foreign key connection, which is how a single table in a database can hold a single list of all employees, and another tiny table holds the supervisory links between employees. That way, a manager can be your boss, but the Department Head's subordinate. Meanwhile, the DH is a subordinate of somebody else... Gee, i
    • Not to mention horrible on resource usage. My school (University of Toronto) is in the process of switching to Blackboard, and they had to build an entire new server room to run it. CCNET all the way!!


      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by GraZZ ( 9716 )
        As an executive on the Engineering student government I have to say that we have been working this academic year to try to stop the garbage that is Blackboard, but it looks like it's being mandated across campus. Stories like this make me realize why it has to be mandated...
    • by rakjr ( 18074 )
      Quality set aside, what about prior art? This is too common a concept to be patented. It is a basic concept of all programming languages that include inheritance. So, does this mean OOP is infringing on the patent?

      Where is that brochure on deserted islands?
  • More obstacles between people, and learning.

    This one particular line almost made me vomit from my eyeballs: You wouldn't think something this obvious could even be patented, but so far it's been a very effective weapon for Blackboard, badly hurting Desire2Learn... Semantics notwithstanding, is it really even slightly plausible that a company focused on education would want to crush anyone else attempting to teach people?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by XaXXon ( 202882 )
      A company focused on MAKING MONEY via education wants to crush anyone else attempting to compete with them via teaching people
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Then it's not an educational firm... it's educational only as a secondary, possibly accidental effect (and based on these reviews, DEFINITELY accidental). I just... it... they.... AUGH!

        This only contributes to the dumbening of our children.

        ... Wait a minute, that's not how you spell dumbening.

        ... Wait a minute, 'dumbening' isn't even a word!
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by cp.tar ( 871488 )

          ... Wait a minute, 'dumbening' isn't even a word!

          Of course it is. It's a perfectly cromulent word.

  • Polymorphism (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gringer ( 252588 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:02PM (#22552738)
    Er, isn't this just polymorphism []?
  • Blackboard sucks (Score:5, Informative)

    by SameBrian ( 945591 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:07PM (#22552798)
    I am a student at UNBC (in BC, Canada), and Blackboard is our LMS, due to the fact that Blackboard bought out WebCT recently. I have to say that as a student, marker, and Computer Helpdesk staff member, I /LOATH/ Blackboard. The system is flaky, often crashes, logs you out for no reason, refuses to load files, fails to load files, as well as a myriad of other issues. I feel that not only is allowing a patent like this counter-productive to the advancement of the product, it also continues to add precedent that it's okay to patent stupid things and then create a monopoly. The idea behind the free market is that everyone has a fighting change to sell their product. Sure, consumers have allowed companies like Wall-Mart to take off and out-sell smaller companies, but that's the risk of doing business. Letting companies sue each other left and right is not allowing for a free market, and is in the end going to hurt consumers. For example, when Blackboard bought WebCT, they stopped supporting WebCT4 (Blackboard has released WebCT6/BCE6), despite the fact that there are many classes which are not fully compatible with the new version. I know this isn't really relevant, but I couldn't help but take up the opportunity to badmouth Blackboard. Another point to note is that a friend of mine worked at a college in Alberta implementing the system and said it's just as ugly and trying on the server side as it is on the client side.
    • Why fix the software when you can litigate the competition out of business?
      • Wait... I was a student at TRU, also in BC, Canada. They found a system WORSE than WebCT?!?! Holy crap, that IS Slashdot-worthy!
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by vic-traill ( 1038742 )

          They found a system WORSE than WebCT?!?

          Oh yeah, they found it alright.

          Now that Blackboard has acquired WebCT, it's getting worse, inconceivable as that might seem. The licensing was getting out of hand even pre-acquisition, and my Spidey-Sense tells me we're just about to take it on the chops from Blackboard. This patent, which stakes out the ground for role-based rights as a Blackboard invention, will kill all innovation as well as open source implementations such as Moodle and Sakai, etc. Everyone is going to be afraid for the future of t

    • Blackboard, The company people create when someone says "Well its not like we can break into the textbook publishing business eh?".
    • by kklein ( 900361 )

      I have used WebCT and Moodle, the former as both a teacher and a student, and the latter as a teacher.

      WebCT rocked, but was expensive. Moodle sucks, but is OSS. But Blackboard? I have never heard a kind word uttered about it.

      Being patent trolls doesn't help my image of it, either.

      • >Moodle sucks

        I'm glad someone else had the courage to say it. I know Moodle gets tons of praise heaped on it because it's OSS, but it's simply not as feature-rich as the 'commerical' LMSes, its UI is confusing and its documentation is a jumble of cumbersome wiki pages. Until Moodle 'catches us' to the other LMSes it will never gain critical mass.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by kklein ( 900361 )

          Good lord you should hear the bitch sessions at my departmental meetings. Teachers hate it, but despite the university having tons of money, because of some budget stupidity, the budget that pays for this kind of thing is too small to get a commercial piece of software. Now that BB has bought WebCT, which was my favorite, maybe we will forever have to make due with it.

          What the hell is the deal with the "weeks/topics" organization? Why is there nothing else available?

          Why does the page reload every time

          • Moodle sucks and everyone knows it. OSS works well for things that a lot of people like, use, and are interested in. No one seems too keen on LMSes, and that means that Moodle is kind of neglected.

            Yeah, I tend to agree. I've sometimes wondered if there's money to be made consulting on 'fixing' moodle / training etc, but I figure if a school has no money for a commercial LMS then they have no money to hire me either. That's sort of where the OSS Model falls down, in my opinion.

    • Be thankful that you aren't a WebCT admin. You wouldn't believe what a pain that is.
    • WebCT CE 4.1 is still supported until Jan of '09, and our license expires 8/1/08. The new BB/WebCT company has been so poor wtih support, etc. that instead of the Big Change to Vista or CE 6.x we're makign the Big Change to Angel....

      Now, if they made CE 4.1 Open Source, I'd be all over it like you wouldn't believe - its a good system, works well, just needs a db in the background instead of touch/lock files or files with a few characters in them...
  • Ahh yes.

    The "Is a..." relationship type in a relational database.

    A Person is a Student. A person is a Teacher.

  • Once Again (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pembo13 ( 770295 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:11PM (#22552842) Homepage
    Patents assisting innovation, just like they were intended for.
  • by MrSteveSD ( 801820 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:11PM (#22552846)
    I've seen "multiple role" examples in various database books going way back. It's not rocket science. This patent is just taking a basic concept and saying that it a narrower context than the general example, it's patentable. It's like saying you can't have a headteacher object inheriting all the features of the basic teacher object in a teaching application, because we have patented the idea.

    What other general concepts shall we patent in narrower contexts? How about patenting the basic concept of parent child relationships in Cinema Seat allocation software. It could get quite ridiculous.
    • I call dibs on the patent for "The abstract representation of a generic object from which all other objects, abstract or concrete, are henceforth derived."

      I'll be seeing you in court, Java's Object

    • In the Open University of Israel we have course ware that allows the same user to serve several roles based on identity/course/semester combination for several years already, probably predating the discussed patent. I don't know that exact claims of the patent, but I'm sure that the system here is prior art at least to some aspects. I have instructor privileges in courses where I'm an instructor, course coordinator privileges in courses I coordinate, and since I was a student in the past I also have student
  • by Apple Acolyte ( 517892 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:12PM (#22552856)
    Despite everything we've heard about defense against stupid patents, it seems clear that the Obviousness doctrine really doesn't matter to courts. And I hear thought the Supreme Court gave the doctrine a boost recently. I guess if you can't beat 'em, join 'em - I'm going to take a patent troll class, powered by BlackBoard!
  • by Sepiraph ( 1162995 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:17PM (#22552894)
    We can be digested by all ridiculous patent stories on slashdot and yet we can still laugh at them becuase most of the time we are not directly affected by it. However, as ridiculous and terrible as most software and business patents are, they will be NOTHING compared to the next big trend in patents--genetics/DNA engineering. When some soulless companies in the future robbed people of a cure for a genetic diease because somehow they claim to 'invent' it, I bet most of us won't be laughing.

    Patent reforms need to start NOW, or else it'd be too late and by then we (the general populace) would be too powerless to stop it.
    • Patent reforms need to start NOW, or else it'd be too late and by then we (the general populace) would be too powerless to stop it.

      It'll be as easy to change then as it is now. The difference will be that it's an area most people care about. One computer company pulling off a dumb lawsuit against another company is a niche problem. A pharmaceutical company exercising a patent against another pharmaceutical company that's developing new cures for cancer will get people in an uproar. Look at stem cells for what happens when the government ignores what people think is the best way to manage healthcare research.

      Change will come, it'll

    • In general, no, they don't have to change, they just have to be APPLIED the way they are supposed to be. The law already says that obvious ideas, or ideas that are embodied in "prior art", are not patentable. But if the court doesn't pay attention to the law, then the law doesn't matter much, does it? Changing the law would not make a difference.

      On the other hand, I do agree with you on the DNA thing. We should have really revamp that particular area.
    • by MrMr ( 219533 )
      When some soulless companies in the future robbed people of a cure for a genetic diease..

      That's nothing. Wait until they discover that part of your DNA matches their patented sequence. You will be forced to either pay up for the annual license fee for each of your 10^14 cells, or remove all traces of the infringing sequence from your body immediately.

  • is

    "N-T-I... Oh, Non-Terrestrial Intelligence. That's Better than CIA..." (from the Abyss)
  • ... that you could copyright a system for crashing browsers, infuriating mac users, and pissing off entire universities from students to faculties to staff.

    What a country!
  • by Sylos ( 1073710 )
    not another victory for this POS product. I have to use it for my own studies and half the time *I can't even log in*, let alone do anything useful. Arbitrarily laggy with random disconnects. And most of my professors use it minimally, if it at all. Stupid POS.
  • by davidsyes ( 765062 ) * on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:40PM (#22553140) Homepage Journal
    I looked at BOTH sites, Blackboard, and Desire2Lean, and both their products tried my patience, as far as the demos go.

    D2L's intro spewed buzzwords for maybe a minute, but it was quite grating. Worse, no pause or rewind or similar buttons.

    BB's demo had pause button, but instantly reminded me of a webified version of ms access, which i would never want to touch.

    If both apps are just turning to code what was done by hand, how can BB win? Both interfaces seem different, judging by their demos. Granted, getting hold of the functional versions of each will be the best way to compare them.

    I suppose, were I to sit down with 100 teachers, and ask each for their advice on creating an automated grade point average, curve break points, and so on, it would not be research, but patent infringement. If that is the case, then the judge, the court, and the USPTO all need fids and anchor chains hammered up their rear ends.

    Any programmer-turned-teacher should be free to develop and freely distribute OR SELL their OWN implementation of grading and scheduling systems.

    As for some hare-brained idea that there is something novel about a student being a teaching aid in one subject and a student in another, that's just the height of idiocy.

    Example, when I was in the USN (US Navy, many moons ago), we had this thing called "BMI" Basic Military Instruction. Sometimes, a senior seaman or 3rd class petty officer monitored as another subordinate lectured. Later in the week, or in the month, or the quarter, another sailor gave another lecture or course of material. Over time, we had our PQS (Personnel Qualification Charts) filled by date, time, pass/fail/understand/etc and other items.

    Fast-forward to real-world college or high school settings. Math whiz kid mentors history kid in one year or semester or quarter or trimester. Science whiz mentors both, while Student D mentors the other 3. Later, in other classes, all are mentoring some or others.

    It's just a souped-up database that schedules classes and helps create bell curves. Depending on the database, this need not even be achieved programmatically. Modules with lookup tables might do just as well, lending greatly to data atomicity, integrity and to other benefits of relational databases.

    How in the hell is BB's positioning/"differentiation" novel?

  • by Entropius ( 188861 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:43PM (#22553160)
    ... and those of us who are actually in the business of teaching and/or learning can get on with it.

    My university uses D2L. I, as a TA, hate the motherfucking thing, end of story.

    I have a professor who adamantly refuses to use it and posts course information as plain vanilla html pages (with pdf alternate links, if the LaTeK -> html doesn't look quite right). Nobody complains.

    As a side-effect you can use curl to download all the notes at once. Try that with D2L.

    • I have a professor who adamantly refuses to use it and posts course information as plain vanilla html pages

      When I grow up, I will be that guy.

      Since when was "" not good enough? What does Blackboard provide that plain HTML doesn't? Apart from the ability to post grades, nothing that I have seen people use. Most of the professors I've taken courses from use it like an FTP server -- which begs the question of why they don't just do that, for much cheaper.

      But my objections to Blackboard run deeper than its lousy cost/benefit ratio: Blackboard locks down information: I can

      • Blackboard locks down information
        There seems to be a certain posessiveness about lecture notes among many academics. I guess it's not surprising when you hear stories of chineese universities copying entire sets of lecture notes from their western counterparts and then to add insult to injury claiming them as thier own work.

  • by Dr_Ish ( 639005 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @08:53PM (#22553260) Homepage

    A few years back, we had Blackboard on our campus. It was horrible and I refused to use it [Techie aside: Take a look at some of their JavaScript, it is bloated and beyond ugly]. However, someone persuaded the students that Blackboard was a wonderful thing. So much so, that their organizations petitioned the administration to make Blackboard mandatory for all classes. I don't know if the student leaders were bribed, but it would not surprise me -- it is sad to say how easily some people can be bought for the price of a couple of pizzas.

    The students proposed a 'Blackboard is mandatory' motion that went through all the relevant committees. Fortunately, the Faculty Senate were rational enough to amend the motion to advocate not just Blackboard, but also 'equivalent technologies'. This left the way open for people to even use simple web pages.

    Then the next thing you know is that Blackboard suddenly wanted a HUGE amount of money for the new version -- much more money than we could ever afford. The techs basically told them to go to hell, kept on using the older version while they could and began to experiment with Moodle. As one of of the more technically sophisticated people on our campus, I was one of the beta-testers for our Moodle implementation. It is always a fun job trying to break software! Although early versions of the implementation had quite a few rough edges, pretty soon, Moodle was up and running in a slick manner. Thus, for a short time, we actually had both versions. Also during this period, negotiations with Blackboard continued, largely without much progress. Eventually their greed was too much. Blackboard was just scrapped. It was not just the cost of the software, but also the hardware requirements that were ridiculous, which killed the system for us. We have now moved entirely to Moodle, which is doing very well, even if a few people were initially unhappy about the change. Hopefully, more schools will be inspired by the predatory nature of the Blackboard people to get that monkey off their collective backs.

    In a final irony, just before the decision was made to pull the plug on Blackboard was made, one of my students demonstrated to me a method by which he could crack Blackboard and change the grades of assignments with relative ease. The main point here though is that behaving like bastards can ultimately have a business cost. I say to hell with Blackboard, support Moodle instead -- after all, it is open source!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I worked for several years at a company which produced a competing LMS, aimed more at the K-12 market than post-secondary. I can say two things about the educational software market:

      1) It takes an unbelievable amount of time and money to sell something to a school board or university. Like, at least a year and many thousands of dollars in expenses even for the most insignificant sale.
      2) Once you have a customer, you have to make that money back by milking them for years before you turn a profit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cvd6262 ( 180823 )
      However, someone persuaded the students that Blackboard was a wonderful thing. So much so, that their organizations petitioned the administration to make Blackboard mandatory for all classes.

      Blackboard's licensing fees are usually per-faculty, rather than per student, or flat size-of-institution-based. So, a VP of IT, CTO, etc., has a hard time justifying the purchase to trustees when only 20% of the faculty uses it.

      I don't know your institution's case, but most of the time, mandating use of Blackboard is a
    • However, someone persuaded the students that Blackboard was a wonderful thing. So much so, that their organizations petitioned the administration to make Blackboard mandatory for all classes. I don't know if the student leaders were bribed, but it would not surprise me -- it is sad to say how easily some people can be bought for the price of a couple of pizzas.

      In subjects like physics, engineering and CS it goes without saying that lecture slides, lab handouts, assignments, deadlines and timetables will all be on the lecturer's website in sensible formats (i.e. PDF, any maybe .ps).

      However, in other areas (like art history, literature, political philosophy etc) lecturers may be less technically adept, and may have chosen not to maintain personal websites.

      Perhaps the requests from students were mostly from students in those areas, who just wanted the same informat

  • by aricusmaximus ( 300760 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @09:13PM (#22553470)
    Well, my prediction back in 2006 [] was way off.

    Prior art was out there (including from the company I worked for), but neither Desire2Learn nor the educational community provided enough organizational will and competence to find it and kill this patent lawsuit. I personally spent hours of my time gathering prior art evidence as well as soliciting teachers and developers to help fight this. After tepid responses from both sides (including a form-letter sent one month later from Desire2Learn), I shrugged and walked away.

    Hopefully this doesn't affect open source LMSes such as Moodle or Sakai, but if it does then the EDU community has only itself to blame for not stepping up to the plate.

  • maybe they'll dump their winnings into a good developer who can code his way out of the shitstorm that is blackboard
  • Blackboards implementation of this technology is shockingly bad (Im being nice with that comment) so they will have to start fixing these problem or watch the market stagnate. If I was Desire2Learn I would patent all the improvements/methods (totally legal) and then submarine Blackboard every time they try and improve their product.
    • by TheLink ( 130905 )
      "If I was Desire2Learn I would patent all the improvements/methods (totally legal) and then submarine Blackboard every time they try and improve their product."

      Ah, the wonderful benefits of Patents. Speeding up progress and all that, by encouraging innovation. Wait...

      Imagine being able to patent new effective moves/combos in tennis/judo/tekken so that your competitors can't copy and use them. Yeah that encourages innovation and progress in the field.

      Personally I really don't think we really _need_ patents a
  • NASA had a project in the 90's that did the very same thing with user roles in a multiuser training session. It was called ICTT. If it's not too late, maybe D2L can save themselves. I'm sure at least one of the developers wouldn't mind giving his opinion.
  • Does the following count as patent infringement?:

    DB Table: Users
    PK: userID (int)
    Field: name (varchar)

    DB Table: Class
    PK: classID (int)
    Field: Lecturer (Users.userID)
    Field: Student (Users.userID)

    Method: access

    if (Class.isLecturer(curUser)){
    //Do stuff
    }else if (Class.isStudent(curUser)){
    //Do stuff

    I did a project like that in high school.
    • Even easier in js.

      var student = function() { ... };
      var teacher = function() { ... };
      var user = function() { ...
          this.init = function(class) {
              this.prototype = (this.permissions["class"] == _TEACHER) ? teacher : student;
      • Well, there's a bunch of syntactical / logical errors in there. I blame it on the tequila. (mainly this.permissions["class"] should be this.permissions[class] but, you get the point)
  • As a prof I tried out WebCT a few year ago just as my university was upgrading to Vista. My experience, using Firefox on Linux at the time, was initially limited to being told that I needed to "upgrade" to Internet Explorer or Mozilla! After fixing that with a quick user agent switch I was then told that I needed to install this point I gave up and tried Moodle and have never looked back. It turned out that this was a very good thing because the new Vista version completely overloaded the universi
  • ... for all you frustrated users out there (and apparently you are legion). I have absolutely no experience with Blackboard, Moodle, or any other product in this category for that matter, so excuse me if this is a dumb question.

    A lot of the responses in this thread seem to fall into one of two categories:

    • "We use Blackboard, it sucks and is expensive"
    • "We use Moodle, it sucks and is FOSS"

    So my question is, why don't a few of the universities that fall into the first category take some of the money th

    • So my question is, why don't a few of the universities that fall into the first category take some of the money they are plowing into Blackboard licenses (which presumably is quite a chunk of change) and use it hire some developers to improve Moodle to the point where it does not suck?

      Because universities like the free of Moodle, but besides that don't care about quality?

      All software sucks. Didn't you get the memo?
    • and use it hire some developers to improve Moodle to the point where it does not suck?
      Beyond that, how about encouraging improvements to it as computer science and information systems senior projects?
  • I designed and built two open source LMS (BBALearn and Xical/XicalServ) between 2000 and 2004. They both have a relatively solid object model and thus - unbelievably so - do seperate from the user and his roles in the system. For instance, being a tutor and a scholar at the same time.

    There must be countless examples of this, why didn't they claim prior art?
  • The university I attended in the 80's long had a practice of advanced students teaching classes for professors. We called them T.A.'s, short for "Teaching Assistants". As I understand it, this practice has been going on for centuries at many universities.

  • (Disclaimer - I don't know the patent in detail, I haven't read it, only the summaries here.)

    I worked for a small UK-based LMS vendor between October 2000 and March 2006. We deployed a huge number of bespoke and off-the-shelf LMSs to customers, mostly in the UK but a few overseas. For the first year, I was their sole developer, and was responsible for maintenance of what was already in the wild. I'm not saying who they are here just in case Blackboard's lawyers are bored ;-)

    Not one of these systems prohibit
  • How on earth could this obvious concept be patented? In life, we refer to it as people wearing multiple hats. Web app tools like Zope (I mention it because that's what I'm most familiar with) make it dead-easy to implement a single user having multiple roles, and different roles in different contexts. Each role has its own set of permissions. I'm scratching my head on this ruling.

    I interviewed with Blackboard when they were a Perl shop (2000). I haven't had experience with their products, but judging from t

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972