I have been using CourseSites since 2013. I was so happy to discover it, as my institution's in-house course management software was very bare bones. When the announcement came for the updated version of CourseSites, I was ready to embrace it with enthusiasm. I love how easy CourseSites has made running my classes. After the fall semester, however, I feel the need to take the time and give some honest feedback.
I say this with all the respect in the word for the Blackboard's developers: the new CourseSites is awful. I'm not writing this simply to insult the system or the people that make it. I'm writing this because I'm concerned for the future of a product that, up until now, I had championed year after year. There are multiple things that need to be addressed for CourseSites to be a viable tool for managing a course online. Some of them, I fear, I pretty deep in the core design. Nonetheless, here is the list I have compiled so far. I desperately hope that my comments will be taken to heart:
- Registering for courses via invitation links. It is very easy to click an invitation link from an email but not actually joint he class after logging in or creating an account. If the student fails to create an account the first time due to user error, or fails to log in the first time, or clicks the wrong "sign in" button, the information that the system needs to auto-join a course upon login can easily be dropped, and the student needs to try again. I had to help many students this semester and very often clicking one "sign in" button rather than another was what needed to happen to get them into the course.
- Homework submission issues. A couple students experienced an issue where they submitted a document for an assignment but the submission did not show that attachment when I graded them. When I log in and look at the assignment, I see no attachment. When they log in and look at the assignment, it's right there.
- Taking attendance is ridiculous. Taking attendance should be simple. There should be a list of students, and a radio button (or equivalent) next to each representing their attendance status. In the current system, I have to select what type of status I want to mark at the top,then I have to click a button next to a student to set them as that status. First of all, that's a needless extra click, second of all, when I select the status I want to mark at the top, the list is re-sorted every time, so I have to find the student again.
- Everything is painfully slow. So many things on the site are painfully slow, because the way the site is designed, requests get sent to the server for dynamic updating ALL THE TIME, and then I have to wait for the update from the server before I can continue using the site. Moreover, these updates aren't efficient, and they aren't stable. Here are some examples:
- Grading is super slow. Moving from one student's submission to the next student's takes too long. Loading a new page for each student just takes a long time. Worse yet, I input a grade and click the arrow to move on too quickly, the student's name and the assignment I'm grading can get out of sync! I've experienced this multiple times.
- Doing anything in the gradebook is slow and inefficient. CourseSites seems to be designed to send queries to the server for information when that information is visible on the screen. Why would anyone design the gradebook this way? When scrolling through submissions for a single assignment, for instance, I have to scroll and scroll and scroll just to load the whole list. I'll get to the bottom and have to wait for it to load more entries. If I'm scanning for a particular one for instance, it takes a very long time. This is terribly inefficient. I don't know what's happening behind the scenes but it looks almost as if a separate query is being sent to the server for every single list item. Why not just send one request for the whole list when the page loads? This sort of thing is exactly what RDBMSs are good at. The current design almost certainly needlessly increases server load and detracts from the user experience at the same time.
Even more astounding is the table view of the gradebook, where I can see all grades for all students and assignments at once. Here if I scroll, like usual I need to wait for the server to send more data entries, but then if I scroll back up, it has to load them again! Why? If something goes off-screen it doesn't need to be loaded again when I scroll back up. Using the gradebook table view is a nightmare.
- The same list-loading behavior shows up again and again. When viewing course content, for example.
- Built-in grade book calculations are silly. Gradebooks seem pre-loaded with an "Overall Grade" column, which is nice, but the way it works is extremely narrow-minded. It's letter grade only, which I can't change, and those letter grades are based on a pre-loaded schema which I can't bring myself to edit because I don't want to input new ranges for every single letter. Not all grading schemas use these ranges. And I, personally, am not interested in looking at a letter in the first place. I want to look at a percentage. This is fine, it's a feature that not all will use and I understand that. I just need to hide that column and make my own. Except, I can't hide that column! And also...
- Making my own calculated column is unintuitive, and apparently broken. I tried to set up a percentage-based overall grade column for one of my courses this morning, and still have not gotten it working how I want. I want to overall grade to be 30% final, 30% midterm, and 40% assignment. So I create this:
But alas, it does nothing at all. No calculated grade show up. I'll probably end up doing everything on my own in a spreadsheet somewhere.
- I can't sort the gradebook table view. I can't sort by any particular column, and I'd like to. I could with the old system. Why would you release a new product with fewer features?
Overall, I'm extremely disappointed with the new coursesites. I sincerely hope this issues get addressed. I understand that first iterations can be rough, and this seems like a big jump in the design. I am grateful for all coursesites has allowed me to do the past many years. But unless these issue are addressed, I'll have to find another solution.