Notes, Quotes, & Reflections from Jay Bhatt’s Keynote at #BbWorld14

One of the keynotes at Blackboard World 2014 was CEO Jay Bhatt. I’ve not always resonated with the vision of top leadership at Blackboard and Jay is new. Regardless, I resolved to go into the session hopeful and with an open mind. Here is what I heard, thought and concluded.

Jay started with a series of statistics to describing the changing state of education.

  • In a study conducted in Project Tomorrow, Blackboard learned that one out of every four students reported being motivated to learn because the like their school/classroom environment.
  • 75% of young people are using mobile devices.
  • One out of three feel education is preparing them well for jobs.
  • Our education system is not producing enough graduates with the right skills.
  • 57% of employers say they can’t find enough entry-level employees.
  • 100 million more learners worldwide are coming into our higher education institutions. We have a capacity problem.

In view of these things, Blackboard is committed to reimagining education, putting the learner in the center, and redesigning to embrace education in a more holistic way.

So, what does this mean in practical terms? What is Blackboard doing that was not done before? They are doing plenty, but I was most interested to hear about their commitment to corporate citizenship, to being an active participant in the global education community, conversation and challenge. With that in mind here are the ten activities caught my attention.

1. This means contributing to the education sector with a social good in mind. A specific example is their investment in MoodleRooms products, but contributing much of their work back to the Moodle open source community. Embracing the culture of open is an important part of reimagining education.

2. They are founding members of the Badge Alliance, a movement dedicated to exploring the promise and possibilities of micro-credentials. If you read my blog, you probably know my own interest and involvement with this group. I look forward to the good work that we can do together in this area.

3. They acquired MyEDU and are integrating it with Blackboard Learn. This tool demonstrates Blackboard’s commitment to putting the student at the center. This acquisition creates a space for students to display their work, showcase their skills, add new work experiences and associated competencies, and share this with prospective employers. When students leave the University, they still have their MyEDU account. This is a very different type of acquisition motive than some that I’ve experienced in the past. These strike me as smart and missional moves to expand their influence and impact in the education sector. These are the sort of acquisitions that I support and commend.

4. Blackboard is partnering with the American Council on Education to explore new models of learning around competency-based education.

5. The are working with Project Tomorrow and the Chronicle of Higher Education to better understand learnings in higher education.

6. The are being active and intentional about having BB team members writing, publishing and speaking about reimagining education.

7. They are intentionally using their industry position and voice to help give voice to or amplify the voice of promising practices among Blackboard clients.

8. They are offering TipTxT, an anti-bullying tool for free to k-12 schools.

9. They are investing in thought leaders and innovative programs that benefit education, everything from support for Sugata Mitra’s work to the ACE Fellows program. Yes, these are good decision from a relationship marketing standpoint, but these sorts of choices are also signs of a company that recognizes the distinct responsibilities of functioning in the education sector.

10. They are boldly and persistently chanting a commitment to student-centered education. This is not popular in all parts of education. What this tells me is that Blackboard stands for something educationally. It is a company with an educational mission and educational convictions.

Yes, Blackboard continues to develop a fine selection of technologies and services, but that is not enough for me. As a person committed to the social mission of education, I want to invest in and partner with companies that share such a mission. As I’ve noted in other articles, educational businesses are part of the education sector…a sector that has a social responsibility, not just a financial end. I am delighted to see the emphasis of a Blackboard that agrees with such sentiments.

As I briefly said to Jay Bhatt a few hours ago, “I am one of your most challenging converts to Blackboard, but what you are doing, what you are talking about, what you are emphasizing. That is what is winning me over.” I see a Blackboard that I can be proud to partner with in this good and important work of reimagining education. I see a Blackboard that is willing to support and help amplify my work and my organization’s work to reimagine education, to help build networks and communities toward this end, and to provide leadership in developing next generation products and services that will allow us to prepare students for high-impact life and learning.