This wasn’t originally going to be a blog post, but an attempt to share this via email with a Bb UI designer somehow failed, so I thought perhaps posting it here might generate some broader useful input anyway.
We installed Blackboard 9.1 service pack 8 on our production system on June 1st and the early-early feedback from faculty was, hey, the new look and feel is cool! But as our earliest summer classes got going, it was clear that there were some usability issues with the 2012 theme. Once we started peeling the onion, we found enough problematic issues that we decided to roll back to the 2008 theme.
The immediate issue has to do with how apparent (or not) hyperlinks are:
- The problem most bothersome to people: Links in content area titles (links, folders, pages, assignments, tests, etc) are not apparent as links. Doing away with underlining for hyperlinks is a fine and modern choice, but to do so, there should be consistency in the way links are represented. Users should not be asked to set a color for these titles anymore if underlining is gone. They should default to hyperlink color style.
- Many of the color schemes available within the 2012 theme for users to select provide little or no contrast between link colors and the text color. This simply should not be an option for course designers to select.
- Links everywhere should highlight upon rollover in the way that the course menu links do. At present they do not.
Our super Blackboard faculty support person, Karen Korstad, tells me that there is a good deal of traffic about these issues on the ASU listserv right now, but Blackboard thus far has not been responsive to the issue.
If you want to see what I mean in #1, go into CourseSites (if you have access). Look at the Student Orientation: Your Path to Success course. Notice that the titles of content areas are just black, regardless of whether they are clickable or not, and there is no rollover action. The designers compensate for this by explicitly telling people to click on the words, which to me just compounds the confusion, because it seems like you should click the words in the statement rather than realizing the statement refers to the words in the title.
Contrast that with the Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success #bonkopen course. In that course, all of the clickable titles are apparent, showing up with underlines and in green. But inspecting those elements it is apparent (I believe) that they have been MANUALLY, individually styled by inserting <u></u> tags around the title and selecting the color for the title that corresponds with link colors in the color scheme chosen for the course. Blackboard cannot expect faculty to follow this procedure to make their clickable area titles visible.
There are some other areas that we have experienced problems with in the 2012 theme that seem to be solved by rolling back to 2008, but I am less certain of the specifics … these are just things we’ve also noticed:
- Adding web links to the course menu takes a LONG time, and once added, response time when clicking those links is very long
- Browsing a course in Safari on the iPad doesn’t work
- Learning Units don’t seem to work correclty
All these final things are less certainly tied to 2012 theme for us, and pale in comparison to the issues with hyperlink styles I outlined above. Anyone else seeing these things or having other related issues?
UPDATE 6/21: After initial responses from Blackboard were quite discouraging (advising us to edit the CSS ourselves, telling us this would be addressed in sp10 at year’s end) we received this note yesterday on our ticket: “Just to confirm that we are waiting on patch for the issue where content items do not have hyperlinks. I do not have a delivery date, but it is a top priority, and we will let you know as soon as it is available.”
Thanks for this Jim. We are just embarking on an upgrade to SP8 from SP5, and this is certainly something worth looking out for.
An excellent argument for admin access to an editable style sheet.
We actually do have access, and we’ve looked at the style sheets, and they are very daunting. That is one response Bb has made to people complaining about this but it is not a very reasonable response to ask customers to figure out Bb’s mistakes and individually fix them.
I understand, but we’ve got a huge product from a huge company, and if they’re letting you change the CSS it shouldn’t be too hard to correct just this one particular problem for faculty (even if they’re CSS is crappy complicated). That does NOT mean I think that Bb shouldn’t fix this themselves – of course they should.
At SDCCD, we decided, after consulting with our faculty/admin steering committee, not to implement the 2012 themes, mainly due to the fear of confusion upon the part of faculty and students (we were also less than thrilled about having to redo a lot of multimedia tutorials :).
We didn’t consider this as a possible problem; looks like we should have. Thanks for the heads-up; I’ll share this with my colleagues.
FYI; we’re not having the course menu weblink issue you mention on our Test system where we have the themes active, and Learning Modules (we don’t use Learning Units, coming from WebCT VIsta) seem to work OK with the new themes. I’ll check with my iPad & see if we’re having that issue on our system as well.
Did you get the patch and apply it? I see that the issue in Behind the Blackboard now states that a patch is available, but it doesn’t provide any further info.
This an ADA issue! Please file and ADA complaint with the us department of justice, If we all call they will take action fast. I put the info at the bottom of the post
1. Not having underlined dark high contrast links makes it hard for the learning impaired to find the links. I think making the type bolder and eliminate these thin fonts would be a good Idea.
2. blackboard allows backgrounds and fonts to be low contrast.and they should only allow high contrast fonts and backgrounds.
ADA Information Line
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Hi, Clint – thanks for the comment but note, this issue seems to have been resolved with a patch and now permanently in Sp9 and beyond. We moved to 9.1 SP9 over winter break and went to the 2012 theme because the links are again underlined and stand out clearly, both content area title links and links embedded in text.
As an aside, I am not sure that going directly to DoJ every time a technology company makes a questionable decision regarding design for accessibility is the best way to get the problem resolved expediently. In this case I think Blackboard was surprisingly unresponsive at first, but eventually – within a few weeks – they got it and fixed it. These companies, especially when focused on education, know that accessibility is a must if they are going to keep customers.