Post Blackboard World 2010 Musings

I attended Blackboard World 2010 as an exhibitor last week. The highlight of the conference for me, was the keynote speech given by Greg Mortenson who wrote the best seller, “Three Cups of Tea”, about his 15 year mission to build schools across Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson’s belief is that the only way to change the Islam extremism in that part of the world is to alleviate poverty and improve access to education, particularly among women. The book, which I read a few years ago, is an uplifting tale of hope in a part of the world with much misery, and hearing Greg Mortenson speak was inspiring. A few days after he spoke, a front page article in the Sunday New York Times talked about how many military leaders are approaching him for advice on how to deal with the tribal elders in Afghanistan. A great example of how powerful education can be in changing negative ingrained cultural habits developed over hundreds of years.

There’s a common theme that has become established at these conferences, and what began as a whisper a few years ago, has become a roar today. From administration and faculty alike at schools and universities, when asked about how they are handling securing testing for their distance learning environments (and today, virtually every school has, or is establishing a distance program) – the answer that came back was, “not very well.”

Schools continue to use a combination of methods – none of them ideal. From the honor system, to students finding their own proctors, to having to pay to go to a testing center, very few are satisfied with how they are handling the fastest growing part of their educational offerings. Concern about exam integrity and about how to handle the slowly changing accreditation rules top the list of what we heard from visitors to our booth. It is clear that what was a minor issue for most schools two to three years ago, is now moving up the ‘must solve’ list. We spoke to over 150 people at the Blackboard World conference, which followed the over 250 people who attended a webinar we hosted in June where Earl Ingram, Vice-Chancellor of TROY University’s Global Campus, discussed how TROY addressed the issue of securing the testing environment. By the nearly 100 questions that were asked during the one hour webinar, it was apparent that one way or the other, schools are looking to solve this problem.

And finally, at the Blackboard conference the light moment of the show for us was when one of the exhibitors at an adjacent booth asked what our Remote Proctor device was.We asked, “what do you think it is?” She said that her colleague thought it resembled a table lamp, but her feeling was that it looked more like a microscope. Not being one to overlook an opportunity for company self-promotion, that led to our marketing department coming up with a new activity “What is that?” Look for the chance on Software Secure’s website to make your own guess as to what the Remote Proctor device most closely resembles and then take advantage of seeing how it can help make an online program more credible and student and faculties lives less stressful.

Steve Lesser, VP Sales & Marketing
Software Secure

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