You don't have frames? But they're awesome!



  • I made the mistake of signing up for an online class at my college just to see how it would work. I have a feeling this will be the first of many WTFs from it.

    The discussion board feature of the software they were using wasn't working right for me. Having emailed the teacher to complain about it, I got bored and did 'view source' on the page. Forgetting that just doing ctrl-U doesn't work on frameset pages, I was greeted by this:

     

    <FRAMESET ROWS="100,*" BORDER="0" MARGINWIDTH="5" MARGINHEIGHT="0" FRAMESPACING="0" FRAMEBORDER="0">
    <FRAME MARGINHEIGHT="5" SRC="top_frame.jsp?url=/bin/common/course.pl?course_id=_62343_1&tab_id=_2_1&" FRAMEBORDER="0" SCROLLING="auto" MARGINWIDTH="0" BORDER="0" FRAMESPACING="0" NAME="nav" TITLE="Header Frame">
    <FRAME TARGET="_self" SRC="/bin/common/course.pl?course_id=_62343_1" FRAMEBORDER="0" SCROLLING="auto" MARGINWIDTH="5" BORDER="0" FRAMESPACING="5" NAME="content" TITLE="Content Frame">
    <noframes>
    <body>
    <H1>Frameset Overview</h1>
    <P>
    The Blackboard Academic Suite environment includes a header frame with images and buttons customized by the institution and tabs that navigate to different areas within Blackboard Academic Suite. Clicking on a tab will open that area in the content frame. Web pages containing specific content, features, functions, and tools are accessed from the tab areas.

    </P>

    <h2>Header Frame</h2>
    <P>
    The <A href='top_frame.jsp?url=/bin/common/course.pl?course_id=_62343_1&tab_id=_2_1&'>Header Frame</A> contains a customizable institution image and navigation buttons that allow the user to access the institution home page, access Blackboard Academic Suite help, and logout of Blackboard Academic Suite. It also contains tabs that navigate to different areas within Blackboard Academic Suite.

    </P>

    <h2>Content Frame</h2>
    <P>
    The <A href='/bin/common/course.pl?course_id=_62343_1'>Content Frame</A> always contains one of the following pages:

    </P>
    <b>Tab area: </b>
    <P>
    The area that appears in the content frame when a tab is clicked. Tab areas hold broad information and allow the user to access Web pages containing specific content and features.

    </P>
    <b>Web page:</b>
    <P>
    A Web page appears in the content frame when accessed through one of the navigational tools described below. Web pages contain specific content or features and originate from tab areas.

    </P>

    <h2>Help</h2>
    <P>
    Detailed help documentation explaining this frameset may be found at <A href='http://www.blackboard.com/docs/documentation.htm?DocID=171003@X@user.locale@X@'>http://www.blackboard.com/docs/documentation.htm?DocID=171003@X@user.locale@X@</A>.

    </P>

    </noframes>
    </FRAMESET>

    Ignoring the fact that they're using JSP and Perl together: Is it just me or would this not be in any way helpful to a user without frames supported/enabled?

    (By the way, apparently it wasn't working because the first time I tried to use it I had opened that link in a new tab, and therefore a non-frameset page. Do developers go out of their way to make stuff this horrible?)



  • Frames mediate securely.

     

    Seriously, though, Blackboard is total shit.  Maybe not as bad as WebCT, but still pretty awful.



  •  @morbiuswilters said:

    Seriously, though, Blackboard is total shit.

    Can't argue with that. Just turned in the first assignment and got "! out of 0.0" points on it.

     

    It's going to be a loooong term. :-(



  • Blackboard is probably the essence of "TRWTF".

    Teachers hate it, students hate it, IT admins hate it... about the only people that don't hate it are the people who are charging (literally) millions of dollars per year to host this stuff for schools.

    There's a lucrative market opportunity out there to offer competition to Blackboard based on open source software (isn't Moodle open source?) and charge for hosting.  You could charge far less than Blackboard charges, offer far more features and far more stability, and still make off with a metric crapton of cash.



  •  I've taken several classes on Blackboard, and I haven't had any serious problems with it at all.  That isn't to say that I haven't encountered any WTFs.

     For instance, in one class, we had to choose our "buddy", our choice of person to watch video recordings of reading from our textbook.  We had four options to choose from, so naturally, we had up to four one-question tests to take.  They went something like this (I forget the names and exact wording; fictional names presented):

    • Test 1:
      • Question 1:  Please select your buddy
        • A.  Billy Bob
        • B.  Someone else
        • C.  Someone else
        • D.  Someone else
    • Test 2:
      • Question 1:  Please select your buddy
        • A.  Eliza Taylor
        • B.  Someone else
        • C.  Someone else
        • D.  Someone else
    • Test 3:
      • Question 1:  Please select your buddy
        • A.  Anita King
        • B.  Ira McNamara
        • C.  Ira McNamara
        • D.  Ira McNamara



  • @Heron said:

    Blackboard is probably the essence of "TRWTF".

    Teachers hate it, students hate it, IT admins hate it... about the only people that don't hate it are the people who are charging (literally) millions of dollars per year to host this stuff for schools.

    There's a lucrative market opportunity out there to offer competition to Blackboard based on open source software (isn't Moodle open source?) and charge for hosting.  You could charge far less than Blackboard charges, offer far more features and far more stability, and still make off with a metric crapton of cash.

    Well, yes, sorta.  I have some knowledge in this domain as I used to work in the educational, hosted software field.  It's all crap, but it's really, really difficult to break in.  A lot of the funding comes from federal or state governments and that makes it hard to get contracts unless you are well-established.  The fact is, you could probably write your own software better than Moodle with a small team and minimal funding but actually getting anyone to use it is impossible.



  • @morbiuswilters said:

    Well, yes, sorta.  I have some knowledge in this domain as I used to work in the educational, hosted software field.  It's all crap, but it's really, really difficult to break in.  A lot of the funding comes from federal or state governments and that makes it hard to get contracts unless you are well-established.  The fact is, you could probably write your own software better than Moodle with a small team and minimal funding but actually getting anyone to use it is impossible.
     

    The trick is to have an "in".  Break in to the market via your own school, preferably by getting a good word in from the Dean of your department.  Often departments will each have their own contracts, or at least have the ability to have their own contracts; my school's Math department used Moodle hosting even though the school had bought Blackboard hosting for every department.



  • How hard do you think it could be, on an individual teacher basis? Can teachers choose to base their classes on something else if they want?



  • My school uses WebCT, and they can't put Firefox or IE8 on the lab computers because WebCT doesn't support it. So there's no way to securely browse the web if you don't have your own machine.



  • @Seahen said:

    My school uses WebCT, and they can't put Firefox or IE8 on the lab computers because WebCT doesn't support it. So there's no way to securely browse the web if you don't have your own machine.

     

    Who cares? It's not like it's YOUR machine the porn popups and spyware are going onto...



  • The only thing I remember about blackboard is the 'great' file upload facilities. We had some group projects where we needed to share files with each other. There was an upload box or something where we started to throw in all the files. Until... we lost a file, and another, and another.



    Took us a while to figure out, but there was a maximum size the box could contain, and once it was full it deleted the oldest file, or a random file, not sure.



    Luckly there was also a message board, which also could contain uploaded files. And 8GB of test files later we found out there was no limit and no deletion on those. (On the next project we said "fuck it" and setup subversion)



  • @Heron said:

    Blackboard is probably the essence of "TRWTF".

    Teachers hate it, students hate it, IT admins hate it... about the only people that don't hate it are the people who are charging (literally) millions of dollars per year to host this stuff for schools.

     

    Yes, everybody hates it, but somehow teachers still use it.  I don't know if they are forced by administration to proove that their students used it or not, but I would think that a teacher, especially a CS teacher, could have their students perform a different kind of submission.  



  • @amischiefr said:

    @Heron said:

    Blackboard is probably the essence of "TRWTF".

    Teachers hate it, students hate it, IT admins hate it... about the only people that don't hate it are the people who are charging (literally) millions of dollars per year to host this stuff for schools.

     

    Yes, everybody hates it, but somehow teachers still use it.  I don't know if they are forced by administration to proove that their students used it or not, but I would think that a teacher, especially a CS teacher, could have their students perform a different kind of submission.  

     

    The only thing your average college professor hates more than using Blackboard, WebCT, etc. is actually having to do the administrative stuff inherent in teaching.  But can you blame them?  Putting forth some effort to keep track of grades, who wrote which paper, and the like would imply that they actually care.



  • @Justice said:

    The only thing your average college professor hates more than using Blackboard, WebCT, etc. is actually having to do the administrative stuff inherent in teaching.  But can you blame them?  Putting forth some effort to keep track of grades, who wrote which paper, and the like would imply that they actually care.
     

    If we were talking about high school, I would agree with you; however, we're talking about university-level education, and all of my professors actually cared about their jobs.  I actually liked learning from my CS teachers.

    Your school must have sucked.



  • @amischiefr said:

    I would think that a teacher, especially a CS teacher, could have their students perform a different kind of submission.  
     

    "Thank you, sir, may I please have another?"



  • I did some grading for a professor a few years back and had to enter grades in Blackboard...I hated it.  One day I went to add a column to the gradebook and...wait, where'd my gradebook go!?!?  Apparently I had tripped some size limit somewhere and it decided to drop the last 3-4 weeks worth of grades, not just for me, but for a bunch of other professors all across campus.  I was lucky I had backed up the grades recently, but I'm guessing most of the others didn't.  Based on a few conversations I heard after that, there were quite a few very angry professors.



  • @Heron said:

    If we were talking about high school, I would agree with you; however, we're talking about university-level education, and all of my professors actually cared about their jobs.  I actually liked learning from my CS teachers.

    Your school must have sucked.

     

    I went to what is widely reputed to be one of the better engineering schools here, and I recall having the exact opposite experience.  We had a few good professors - newbies or adjuncts, mostly - but the vast majority were apparently just there to get government grants for their research and viewed "teaching" as merely a responsibility, a necessary evil.

    In high school, on the other hand, most of the teachers were pretty good overall.  Probably because they were actually full-time teachers, teaching because they wanted to, not because the school forced them to as a prerequisite for using research facilities.

    Incidentally, my university had just started using WebCT in my 3rd or 4th year; all I can really remember about it was that it never seemed to work properly, if it worked at all.  Most of the time, requests would just time out or crash.  I'm pretty sure I recall them having to resort to manual methods as a workaround.  They also had their own in-house system for course registration, transcripts, finance, all that administrative stuff, and it always buckled under heavy load (i.e. when you needed it most), but for the most part it did actually work.  Evidently not every school feels compelled to use junk like Blackboard or WebCT for everything; some also get grad students to write crappy web-based frontends to old green-screen terminal systems.



  • @Justice said:

    @amischiefr said:

    @Heron said:

    Blackboard is probably the essence of "TRWTF".

    Teachers hate it, students hate it, IT admins hate it... about the only people that don't hate it are the people who are charging (literally) millions of dollars per year to host this stuff for schools.

     

    Yes, everybody hates it, but somehow teachers still use it.  I don't know if they are forced by administration to proove that their students used it or not, but I would think that a teacher, especially a CS teacher, could have their students perform a different kind of submission.  

     

    The only thing your average college professor hates more than using Blackboard, WebCT, etc. is actually having to do the administrative stuff inherent in teaching.  But can you blame them?  Putting forth some effort to keep track of grades, who wrote which paper, and the like would imply that they actually care.

     

    At the engineering/research university I graduated from, Blackboard was required usage across the board.  It got its most fervent use from the humanities professors at the university, and some lesser support from the sociology-related disciplines. 

    The Engineering professors I worked with--for the most part--not only understood how clumsy and limiting the system was, but also had the know how to implement their own systems on the side. A class would have its token Blackboard posting, but every student in attendance would receive their supplementary notes, labs, papers, amusing Javascript visual tools and tutorials, etc. through a separate source either managed by the professor or the department.

    Of course, us graduate students still performed the vast majority of simple grading and tabulating, but that's how we earn a living! (For the record, I was EE, so there was plenty of CS overlap... the same department, even.)



  • @Heron said:

    @Justice said:
    The only thing your average college professor hates more than using Blackboard, WebCT, etc. is actually having to do the administrative stuff inherent in teaching. But can you blame them? Putting forth some effort to keep track of grades, who wrote which paper, and the like would imply that they actually care.

    If we were talking about high school, I would agree with you; however, we're talking about university-level education, and all of my professors actually cared about their jobs. I actually liked learning from my CS teachers.

    Your school must have sucked.

    Your school must not have had tenure.

    Anyway, I'm being hyperbolic here. Most of my professors were actually pretty good, but I had a few (in CS) who completely failed at organizing classes. One guy was particularly bad; we had an incident where he just flat-out lost a bunch of papers, and hadn't even kept track of which ones. This was the same prof who gave the bookstore the wrong order at the start of the term, which led to a bunch of us having to overnight a book from Amazon in order to finish a paper in time (he hadn't updated the syllabus either). I'd like to think he was just scatterbrained, but he sure as hell kept tabs on his research work, so it was pretty apparent that he really just didn't care.

    My other CS and math professors were pretty good; humanities and social sciences were very hit-and-miss. Maybe it had to do with teaching non-major courses, I don't know, but I think in general they just weren't very interested in teaching.

    As for high school, I had some really crappy teachers, but for the most part they handled the administrative stuff reasonably well. That's probably because things like "technology" weren't really part of the district's budget.



  • I would think that a teacher, especially a CS teacher

    They're using it for everything, including the completely unrelated and useless classes you have to take when you first start college (biology in this case.)

    I just found out today that my programming teacher expects us to turn in work via Blackboard as well. Sigh.



  • My main Blackboard WTF comes from the way the IT staff at my school set it up.

    Just to paraphrase the instructions for logging on:

    Your user name is your last name plus the last four digits of your student number. Your password is "wtfu" plus the last four digits of your student number. (password changed to protect the guilty)

    Well, that seems all well and good decent, but then I see the instructor sent an email to the entire class, and the "To" field contains things like: "smith1412@wtf.edu, jones9148@wtf.edu, johnson5127@wtf.edu", etc...

    Needless to say that after discovering that fatal flaw, I spent fifteen minutes looking for the change password function just to correct it.



  •  There are three huge advantages of blackboard for a teacher that probably explain why they choose it:

    1) It's already set up and every student already has an account. They don't have to manage it, create accounts, or whatever.

    2) The school already supports it. When a student has a problem, they don't have to deal with it.

    3) Students only have to learn how to use one tool.

     



  • @joelkatz said:

    There are three huge advantages of blackboard for a teacher that probably explain why they choose it:
     

    Blackboard itself, or virtually any LMS?



  •  TRWTF, IMO, is the entire concept of a LMS.  We have both Blackboard for homework and PeopleSoft for administrative stuff where I go to school (yes, I get fucked with TWO shit systems.  Plus an unbelievably shitty in house email system that- well, think outlook for windows 3.1.)  and I don't see advantages for either.  Every IT instructor there loathes the damn thing and only updates Blackboard enough to "keep the beaurocrats off their asses" (actual quote).  They all go through the speil on the first day of class saying how (school name removed to protect the guilty) wants them to tell us to use our student email accounts, then state flatly they KNOW the campus email system is shit, and if we want to use an alternate, just send them en email from it with our name and the course.  Also, 3 of 4 I'm currently taking classes from use excel spreadsheets to track grades.  Blackboard is often only updated biweekly, if that frequently.

    My point, after all that rambling is, why even use a LMS?   The instructors seem to prefer manually using an outlook mailing list, excel sheets to track grades, and just handing out homework in class.  It seems to me an expensive, and entirely worthless piece of software.

    ---

    And jesus fucking christ, I swear if Community Server's editor deletes one more space out from in front of one of my words, I'll go postal.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @Master Chief said:

    And jesus fucking christ, I swear if Community Server's editor deletes one more space out from in front of one of my words, I'll go postal.
    You could always not use the delete key. Or use one of the other editors.



  • @joelkatz said:

     There are three huge advantages of blackboard for a teacher that probably explain why they choose it:

    1) It's already set up and every student already has an account. They don't have to manage it, create accounts, or whatever.

    2) The school already supports it. When a student has a problem, they don't have to deal with it.

    3) Students only have to learn how to use one tool.

     

    1) so do they for email. What's wrong with mailing lists?

    2) You suggest there is support?

    3) No: one extra. Email, office, a browser, and blackboard added.

     Some disadvantages:

    1) if a teacher wants to add students to a course, he has to add them one-by-one. Move the mouse to the top-left corner of the browser, then click a button at the bottom-right corner of the browser, and that times 30 (or more). 

    2) making tests is a hell for both teachers and students

    3) it is slow, very very slow

    4) everybody liked the solution of computer-science teachers making their personal web-pages, sending mails to mailing-lists, and so on. Why even bother?



  • It has some nice HTML-injection holes. Curiously they patch some XSS, but not all. I'm sure there's plenty of SQL injection as well (assuming there's SQL in the first place) but I didn't poke around much.



    We had one prof who just set up a file uploader on his personal website and had us send through that instead. Problem was he demanded everything be in PDF format, and set the file size limit too low, so that just about any PDF you generate from MS Word (which does make horribly bloated PDFs) would be too big. Of course the limit is not displayed anywhere, and exceeding it only gets you a generic "upload failed" message. You'd think someone who teaches networking would see the problem with that.



  • I did a study of Blackboard for a business case I was writing. Their "cost to close" is something like $250, 000. Meaning that's what they spend to make each new sale, from intiation all the way through ink.

    If they waste that much money in the sales process, you can't even imagine how much they are receiving in revenue from each client.



  • @savar said:

    I did a study of Blackboard for a business case I was writing. Their "cost to close" is something like $250, 000. Meaning that's what they spend to make each new sale, from intiation all the way through ink.

    If they waste that much money in the sales process, you can't even imagine how much they are receiving in revenue from each client.

    $240 million revenue for 2007 ($312 for 2008)

    3,500 licenses for their LMS at the end of 2007 (couldn't find data for 2008, but I'm pretty lazy)

    approx. average of $68,500 per-license, per-year



  •  My school has WebCT, but only two classes I have use it.  My chem class only uses it as a file uploader, of which they have so much confidence that printing out the confirmation page for the upload is required coursework. My philosophy class only uses it to host the syllabus.  I get 3 blocked popups every time I load it saying roughly "<My School> has modified WebCT in order to remove the popups for those who are unwilling to use Internet Explorer, call us when things go horribly wrong." The math department tends to use websites like www.<my school>.edu/~<teachername> where there is all of 3 or so links to their class syllabusses with no decoration beyond rainbow colored links.  The engineering department just puts syllabuses <syllabi?> as ebooks in the online library.

     The class scheduler is by Sungard, which loudly declares that Java and Javascript are required by redirecting the website to a warning for each thing disabled, even though I've never seen anything break or even become less functional with both turned off.

     The mail is by some different unknown provider.  It's really minimalistic, and you can log into it through 3 nearly completely different interfaces scattered across the main website.   At least they had the decency to allow forwarding to a different email address.

     It's kinda annoying to see at least 7 different user interfaces a day to complete roughly the same taskset, but it's no challenge. I haven't yet seen anything major amiss beyond the absolute instability of the Wifi here, but I can't shake the feeling that it's all going to collapse horribly at exactly the wrong time.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

     Remarkably, my school uses a heavily modified version of ANGEL - and despite being a member of this absurdly broken class of software, it WORKS. Aside one instance where it keeled over and during during finals week when everyone is trying to upload stuff and take online final exams (They'd had a big push that year to do submissions online and final exams online to reduce complexity and cost, and to prevent filling up the exam room bookings with "final exams" that consisted of handing in a paper and walking out. The servers actually fell over due to the unprecedented load, to no real fault of the software.

     

    Customizations include:

    -Using a third-party single-sign-on system rather than the inbuilt authentication
    -Removing vast swaths of features (including course scheduling and related features - because they already have their own proprietary system to do that. I understand from students at other schools that ANGEL's inbuilt systems for such are MUCH better than the proprietary junk we're saddled with)
    -Hideous school-specific CSS (though you can still select the defaults)



  • @Seahen said:

    My school uses WebCT, and they can't put Firefox or IE8 on the lab computers because WebCT doesn't support it. So there's no way to securely browse the web if you don't have your own machine.

    Wow, what ancient version of WebCT is this? The university I'm at is just retiring version 4.1 (to replace it with Blackboard, sigh), and it works fine in Firefox and IE8.

    (I haven't gotten a chance to test out the Blackboard rollout, because all the profs in the courses I'm TAing either weren't using WebCT in the first place or don't want to switch until it's absolutely mandatory.)



  • @scgtrp said:

    How hard do you think it could be, on an individual teacher basis? Can teachers choose to base their classes on something else if they want?

     No, at most schools they can't. I worked for a college that had most of their classes online (www.charteroak.edu).  Enrolling the students into the courses was done by the registrar, not the instructor, and the grades from Blackboard had to be interfaced with the rest of the school's computer systems (matriculation, financial, etc.).

     You can't have multiple online course softwares without creating chaos.  It was hard enough helping the less computer literate instructors deal with Blackboard - if we used other systems we'd have to learn them all so we could hold the teachers' hands.

     



  • When I was an undergrad we had WebCT, since then I can't remember what they use (though the first alternative was from the guys who did WebCT), but both Blackboard and Moodle sound familiar. No one (students, teachers, IT staff) has liked any of them, and in fact my favourite quote from supervising a lab session was:

     "See, when I click this link it crashes the browser, so that's working."

    The thing that wasn't working in this case was a PDF download which when opened would bluescreen the PC. To this day I honestly have no idea how they could have managed it. Surely you have to conciously make a decision to screw up that badly?



  • Well, at least all these systems seem to suck, which means that the system, PingPong, which has been forced on me, at least seems to be average :-(

    Previous system (developed by somebody at my uni, or maybe some other uni nearby):

    • students sign up on their own
    • students create their own groups (with certain limits, i.e. people/group)
    • sends notifications about when people have handed in solutions once every 24 hours

    Pingpong:

    • somebody has to sign up students
    • groups seem somewhat broken (*)
    • sends no notifications about anything
    (*) Or, rather, nobody seems to know how to deal with groups. Or can be bothered to find out. It seems complicated.

    Instead we get:

    • PIM, PingPong Instant Messages
    • nice graphs of everything, like little bars that show how many people have logged between midnight and 02:00
    • a global MOTY: "In 2009, all who wants can use the learning platform."

    Seriously? Yet another system for Instant messages?



  • @cvi said:

    Seriously? Yet another system for Instant messages?

    If they picked an existing one, you know it'd be something crappy... MySpaceIM would be a good candidate.

    At least they're making their own stuff instead of endorsing existing crap.


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