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Blackboard to Sell Remedial Courses

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Blackboard, Inc., the web-based course management system, announced on October 13, 2010 a partnership with for-profit education provider K12, Inc. to sell online courses to colleges that wish to outsource their remedial classes.

A popular e-learning tool which students can access right from their computers, Blackboard gives instructors the ability to provide students with the course syllabus and other handouts. Additionally, students can participate in chat rooms, post on message boards, take online quizzes, and more. The software is used by hundreds of colleges across the country.

Blackboard to Begin Selling Remedial Courses

Blackboard now wants to take things a step further by selling online courses designed and taught by employees of K12. A new way for students lacking basic skills to play catch-up, the courses will be delivered via the Blackboard course-management system.

It will be the first time that the company has sold entire courses as opposed to the software which delivers them.

Blackboard officials say they are in the earliest stages of designing the actual product; details of what courses will be offered have not yet been decided. Matthew Small, Blackboard’s chief business officer, hopes that the online courses will be available by next fall.

“We’re putting together a focus group of existing community college e-learning thinkers and deans and provosts who are very interested in solving this issue, and we’re going to work with them to figure out what this offering is,” Small said in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A growing number of non-profit colleges have been hiring for-profit companies to provide the technology necessary for their online programs, but the outsourcing of teaching and curriculum has long been a no-no. Schools that partner with companies for their online education needs have been incredibly careful to keep the technology completely separate from the actual instruction.

Arizona State’s Unique Partnership

“Some things, we would never turn over to the private sector,” were the words of Philip Regier, Dean of Arizona State University’s online programs following the school’s announcement that they were “partnering” with the for-profit education and media business Pearson to use the company’s learning management platform, LearningStudio, to boost its online course offerings.

While other companies have taken over management of the online programs at other large universities in exchange for a cut of the tuition revenue, none have formed the type of relationship that Arizona State has formed with Pearson. “In this case, we really looked at it as a joint venture,” Regier said in an interview. “Both sides have expenses, and at the end of the day if there’s a residual revenue, we decide together what to do with it.”

Arizona State faculty will teach their own online courses through Pearson’s LearningStudio platform, but Blackboard plans to mix things up a bit by using K12 instructors instead of relying on the colleges’ own professors.

Professors Avoid Teaching Remedial Courses

According to Inside Higher Ed, college faculty often view remedial courses as undesirable assignments because of their low pass rates and sub-college material, and Blackboard hopes to take advantage of that fact.

“Most professors who get to college level are not there to teach high school English and math,” explained Small.

“For so long we’ve been embarrassed about” how many students need remediation, are the thoughts of Katherine Boswell, director of community college policy for the Center for Education Policy and Practice. “We don’t like to talk about it.” Boswell said that she welcomes the new offering, as she would any new attempt to address the problem of improving remedial offerings.

At the moment, Blackboard does not plan to sell courses past the remedial level. “Outside of this very targeted effort, we have no plans to move into the general areas of curriculum and instruction,” said Small.

Remedial Education Costs Billions

The Larmie Boomerang of Laramie, Wyoming reports that the Alliance for Excellent Education estimates remedial education costs between $2.3 billion and $2.8 billion nationwide.

A study by the U.S. Department of Education found that 30% of first-year students at four-year universities and 42 percent of students at community colleges must take at least one remedial class, but there is still no guarantee that colleges will willingly outsource their remedial courses to Blackboard or any other company.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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