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Blackboard Buys ANGEL (But Who Cares?)

The answer is simple: educational technology administrators. More specifically, Penn State’s ETS administrators.


A little less than two weeks ago, Blackboard announced that it would be acquiring ANGEL. The acquisition raised ruckus among the prolific educational technology community.

Fool me once, shame on you…

Context is important here. Blackboard was an early leader in the CMS market but its customer support left many administrators wanting something better. That’s why ANGEL was successful with its more responsive, community-based approach to the CMS market. Think I’m just platituding the shit out of the situation? Check out this list of institutions that left Blackboard for ANGEL.

Ed-tech administrators are worried that Blackboard might not have learned from its earlier customer service mistakes, but there are a few things to consider here.

Blackboard will listen to the dollars customers

bartboardFirst, ANGEL won’t be completely integrated into Blackboard for two to five years. Moreover, the integration will be gradual– expect the interfaces of ANGEL and Blackboard to converge and Blackboard to adopt ANGEL’s best practices.

Why do I think this will happen?

Because Blackboard isn’t stupid. They understand that the ANGEL community is very connected– probably because all participants in the community are in the business of connecting people. If the ANGEL community isn’t satisfied, it will find another way to satisfy its CMS needs. Blackboard acknowledged this threat at the annual ANGEL users convention, held recently in Chicago, when it asked the attendees to judge Blackboard on its actions, not on its past.

Blackboard has demonstrated its outreach to the ANGEL community by appointing the second-in-command at ANGEL as the head of product development for the joint venture.

That’s not enough to ensure that the transition will be smooth though.

But the writing’s on the wall, or blackboard

Educational technology administrators will have to ensure that faculty are able to use the new joint venture. In an article about the acquisition, the Chronicle of Higher Education talked to Nancy Edwards, who is the director of eLearning at State College of Florida-Manatee and Sarasota Counties.

“Your course-management system, that’s your classroom—that’s like taking your school and blowing it up, almost, and having to build whole new structures,” said Ms. Edwards. Every professor on a campus interacts with the software, and changes can require extensive training.

The threat of the CMS market being monopolized is nontrivial but will probably not amount to any anti-trust actions, even though some IT administrators are asking the FTC to start one. Roughly speaking, ANGEL currently has 7% of the higher education CMS market and Blackboard has 57%. (It’s also important to note that Blackboard is currently involved in a patent suit with the third-largest commercial CMS provider, Desire2Learn.)

Cost is also always an issue. Thanks to the helpful tweet of Jan Day, a Blackboard employee, we know that Penn State isn’t shy in sharing its concerns.

Some online have threatened to switch to open-source alternatives, but representatives from both Blackboard and ANGEL have basically called their bluff by saying that switch would take a great deal more amount of staff time to properly implement.

Blackboard has said that the final convergence will be ANGEL 8.0. Penn State just upgraded ANGEL 7.3. Does that mean we’re going to get .7 versions worth of content out of this story? I have no idea… hopefully some ETS folks will share their thoughts in the comments.

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Creator of @OnwardState. Big fan of sweaters.

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