Thoughts the Day After the Angel Users Conference

I’m home after an enlightening Angel User’s Conference. I’m walking away with a few good ideas to explore, but most importantly, with a little more information about how the acquisition of ANGEL by Blackboard will impact my school.

Like others, I had a bad experience when Blackboard took over WebCT. I’d have to rate that as the single worst customer support experience of my life. Based upon the comments of others at the conference, I was not alone in that experience. In fact, this was the first time that I was gathered with others who openly expressed that frustration in a group setting.

But enough on that subject… Based upon what I heard from Michael Chasen and other Blackboard employees as well as my own observations / reflections, I’m walking away from the conference with the following tentative thoughts / goals / plans.

1 – Blackboard really does want to keep the ANGEL customers and realizes that a repeat of the WebCT support issues will not allow them to succeed with that goal. One of the last requests that I heard from Michael was, “judge us by our actions.”

2 – Blackboard, as a company, will likely never have a culture like what some have loved about ANGEL. With that said, for those of us ANGEL users who are not in a position for an LMS change in the next 12-24 months, we have time to explore and connect with people in the broader Blackboard/ANGEL community, to seek ways to collaborate, to test the claims for solid support of the ANGEL product, and to test the waters a bit. So, they will never have an ANGEL culture, but they may well develop a BB/ANGEL culture in which I am willing and excited to participate.

3 – I’m a fan of Postman’s writing, and I do believe that, with every technology (and technology company) there is a Faustian bargain, a give and take. There will be losses for ANGEL users, but I’m open to the possibility that there may be gains also. There were gains and losses with the choice to go to ANGEL in the first place. It will be up to each decision making team to decide which gains and losses they are willing to accept.

4 – I went to the conference wanting assurance that I can boldly move forward with our ANGEL implementation, confident that we will have at least 3-4 years of a solid product with the type of support that we expect from ANGEL. If I understood Michael’s statements correctly, we can expect 4-5 years of a solid ANGEL product and support. I think there is a good chance of getting that. This is a must-win situation for Blackboard. How they perform this time around is just too significant of a factor for them to repeat their WebCT mistakes. I do not think Blackboard shareholders are ready to accept that, and I know that ANGLE users are not.

5 – Because of the unpleasant history with Blackboard, I confess that I am still concerned about Blackboard repeating old mistakes or making new and equally harmful errors this time around. However, granted that this doesn’t happen, I’m hopeful about the user experience in the ANGEL LMS for the next 4 years.

6 – My tentative goal over the next 12-24 months is to get as involved as possible in the greater Blackboard community and to give the company one last chance to cultivate a good and mutually beneficial relationship. To the extent that this community can provide the support that ANGEL customers need and want in order to aggressively and successfully pursue the mission of their various schools / organizations, I think Blackboard can pull this off and end up a better and stronger company. If Blackboard makes it their mission to not only give us a good product with good support, but to also help organizations excel and innovate in education, then they have my attention.

7 – I will try to attend Blackboard World, after the invitation and offer of a free registration for all ANGEL users.

8 – While I am open to giving Blackboard a chance, I must confess that my standard is likely higher, simply because of damage done by lack of support in the past. I already have a Moodle sandbox running, and a Sakai sandbox is probably in the near future. That is just wise and responsible planning.

9 – During the next 12-24 months, I will likely not be content with adequate service. I want to be an integrated part of the community, strong evidence that my school is and will continue to be a highly valued customer, and I will seek ways to help shape the quality and future of the product and community by my contributions. In this day and age, the community and support are as important as the product (in some cases, even more important).

10 – I want to better understand the core values that drive Blackboard.

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, host of the MoonshotEdu Show, professor of education, AVP of Academics, and Chief Innovation officer. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education, educational innovation, alternative education, and nurturing agency and curiosity.