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Campus Pack (CP) addition for Blackboard: A usability review

I was asked to review Campus Pack (CP), a Blackboard overlay that attempts to improve on Blackboard functionality. Here are the issues I found.

1. Campus Pack lacks scent trails, or an intuitive design

The CP homepage graphic. This post is not in support of CP.

The CP homepage graphic. This post is not in support of CP.

Intuitive design is the feeling that a device makes sense from the user perspective. Campus Pack seems to challenge the user, and make even the simplest of tasks more difficult. For example, when new pages are created in the wiki, they must be accessed via linked hypertext that only appears on down scroll. Someone coming into a wiki to find new work will be hard-pressed to figure out where to access the work they are looking for. The browsing instructor can search for hours and never find the students’ completed work.

The dashboard is unlabeled and difficult to locate. Campus Pack uses a number of internally created terms which I find, and my students found, misleading. For example, “assignment dashboard” is a Campus Pack internally created term, and is the path to assignments, but it is not labeled as such and it difficult to locate. A Dashboard speaks to me as a selection of instruments gauging progress and present measurements in different areas. This seems to have a different meaning in Campus Pack. For CP, people have access via a dashboard.

Redundant features confuse users. CP contains a “directory” that neither access campus information nor BB information. Instead, it is a class roster that requires students to type in information about themselves. These types of problems plague CP. Campus Pack includes a redundant messaging, which does not disable the standard BB messaging function when activated. Therefore, the instructor may have messages they are unaware of. This duel messaging functionality cause problems because leaners who sent the instructor mail may assume their instructor checks “CAMPUS PACK MAIL” but the instructor may actually never find out about the message. Other pages are redundant and result in confusion. “Campus Pack: Course membership” serves the same function as the Blackboard Roster, but its presence misleads students to thinking that there is an alternative pathway to the wiki’s when there is not. Active hyper-linked pictures lead to spaces that appear as if they are undeveloped wikis, but are in fact a completely different content location. Students can easily be fooled into believing all their classmates’ wikis are empty. CP also includes a large, installable analog clock as a redundant feature for computers that do not have clocks. (I am yet to find such a machine.)

It should be noted that these new uses of older familiar terms are not defined. While a new use for an old term is in and off itself confusing, CP provides no glossary for their terms. Many items in CP are called “portals.” That’s fine, but few students have a clue what these words mean, nor how it impacts how they do things in CP. I am unclear as well. There is little use for a user to have their menu called a portal, unless the menu somehow functions differently from a normal menu.

2. Campus Pack has limited compatibility

Limited compatibility issues make CP very difficult for users, and limit its value as an addition to Blackboard. Mobile phone integration does not appear available for Campus Pack. Copy / paste functionality is not universally compatible with other programs. Campus Pack support C/P in some browsers, not on others. If your students read online, but write, and edit what they have read, in collaborative writing tasks, this will cause problems for students attempting to complete those tasks. Therefore, the software does not appear to have advantages over the most rudimentary versions of Blackboard. Students will like be unable to do any work on the fly via phones, and they cannot complete writing tasks in some browsers.

Some capability is actually disadvantageous. Campus pack includes social networking gadgets that link outside the interface, and can expose learners’ coursework to the public. SNS integration may appear an attractive feature of CP provide the instructor is protected from any type of related litigation, and does not teach in a public institution where the disclosure of learner information might potentially put the instructor in tenuous legal circumstances. Twitter, Facebook, and Flicker accounts can all be linked via CP.

3. Screen space is poorly used

While not nearly as detrimental as the two topics above, the misuse of screen real estate makes Campus Pack even more difficult to use and should be mentioned. Screen real estate is devoted either navigation, or to work space; the two functions are not integrated in one user interface. This creates problems in work flow. One cannot access, work, and save and move on seamlessly. The tasks must be broken up completely. Thus, you cannot read text in one area and write in another. Rather, navigation stretches the length and height of the screen, occupying all of it. For example, in some areas of the LMS addition, five different horizontal menus are employed while the rest of the screen is dead space.

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