Blackboard courseware opens up for open classes, CC-licensed materials

Blackboard, the ubiquitous, hedge-fund-backed classroom software found on campuses around the world, has just changed its billing structure to make it possible for schools to share their courseware without having to pay fees for members of the public who audit the course or download its materials.

This is a pretty substantial shift. As EFF co-founder Mitch Kapor said, "Architecture is politics," and when your campus runs on a service that is architecturally incapable of hosting an open course, by default it becomes a place where courses must be closed.

The last time I taught a course on a Blackboard campus, I found the product so cumbersome and walled off that I threw it out in favor of a mailing list, a wiki, and a Blogspot blog that the students all belonged to. It was slightly more work to set up (mostly because I had to manually add all the students to each of those services), but it gave me the flexibility I needed to teach the course I'd been asked to deliver.

Mr. Henderson said that in the past 18 to 24 months he has heard increasing requests from colleges officials to allow sharing. He said that he wanted to make the change sooner, but that it is easier for him to win the argument now that the company, which was publicly held, has been sold to a private-equity firm, Providence Equity Partners.

“This is something that is easier to do as a private company more easily than as a public company because the risk of being misunderstood by investors is less,” says Mr. Henderson. “The investor community was skeptical about that and worried” about an open policy, he says, adding that in the new ownership model, “we had to tell three people about that at Providence, who immediately got it.”

One key to Blackboard’s new “Share” feature is a partnership with Creative Commons, which offers licenses for free content. When professors choose to make their courses free, they will be presented with options to easily attach a Creative Commons license, something they otherwise would have to do manually.

In Victory for Open-Education Movement, Blackboard Embraces Sharing (Thanks, Dad!)