The word blackboard, for alumni who graduated before 1999, probably conjures up images of the chalkboard at the front of the class. But for students on campus today, the word refers to a virtual doorway that leads to almost everything electronic at UNH.
The system consolidates electronic services like e-mail and Webcat, where students can view class schedules and billing information, and online course materials and community announcements. Students, faculty and staff members see personalized content for their group, and campus organizations can use the system to set up virtual offices.
"Our goal is to have Blackboard be the one place to go to bring up all of the things that someone needs to access electronically," says Terri Winters '81, director of academic technology.
UNH selected the Blackboard product for the university's "portal" because the system had already been in use as a course management system. Students and faculty members are "familiar with the syntax, and already have accounts," says Bill Baber, associate director of academic computing. "It's a natural extension of the core academic technology."
Forty percent of UNH courses have an online Blackboard site: 13,600 students are enrolled in those courses. The current "high water mark," or the maximum number of people logging into Blackboard on any given day is about 40,000, says Baber.
There can be pitfalls, of course, from the students' perspective. Nursing major Caitlin Mussey '07 says her teachers almost always use Blackboard to post class notes, syllabi and even tests and quizzes. "It's nice," said Mussey, "but it can be frustrating when I'm required to print out 10 pages of notes to bring to class."
Senior hospitality management major John Byrns says that of the four professors he had last semester, three of them used Blackboard. "I personally like it when notes are posted," Byrns explains, "because then I can pay attention to what [the professors] are saying as opposed to what's on the board." Some professors intentionally don't post notes "as an incentive to come to class," he adds.
For his classes, physics professor Jim Ryan uses Blackboard to post syllabi and any material that isn't already in the book, much like leaving reading material on reserve in Dimond Library. Other professors, like microbiology professor Frank Rodgers, employ Blackboard to its fullest, allowing students to take exams online, updating grades regularly and asking students to print out notes and bring them to class.
Because of the disruption to academic instruction that would occur if Blackboard crashed, UNH's computer and information services department houses the system on six servers to provide immediate backup if one server fails. "We do a lot of risk management," Winters notes.
The long-term goal is to include alumni as a group in Blackboard, offering them their own personalized portal to the university and access to their own transcript. The alumni version of Blackboard would work in concert with the Alumni Association's Web site, Wildcat World http://alumni.unh.edu, providing yet another doorway—albeit virtual—for alumni to visit the university.Return to UNH Magazine Campus Currents