A few weeks ago we announced a change in leadership at Blackboard and my appointment as the president of Blackboard Learn. Some of you may have recognized my name and begun to build expectations of how I might influence the firm, but many others will know nothing about me. So I thought I’d pen a note to introduce myself and share thoughts about initiatives that I’ll be undertaking as I begin my work at Blackboard.
My professional story begins with teachers. I’ve had the good fortune of having some great ones —
teachers willing to do more than deliver information, who worked to really reach and develop me as a learner. They personalized learning for me at great effort and made sure to teach me how to learn rather than just learn the lesson of the day. I’ve felt a debt of gratitude to these people and their art ever since. And so you’ll see a thread in my resume about my attempts to return the favor, by trying to provide teachers with better tools to conduct their good works.
Early in my career I published introductory college textbooks in physics and astronomy. No better laboratory than that in which to encounter head on the challenges of remediation and the crying need to somehow personalize instruction/information on a wide scale. To my good fortune that’s the lab I was in as the web came along, poised by some accident to catch the promising spark that’s held my focus since—applying technology to the problems of instruction and learning delivery.
The roles in which I’ve done this work have varied over the years - VP of Technology at eCollege, President of Internal Technology at Pearson, Chief Products Officer of ANGEL Learning, and now President of Blackboard's eLearning division. What’s remained constant though is my continued amazement at how much farther the education and technology community has evolved beyond what I could have imagined along the way. Just a great ride that I’m thrilled to still be on.
I’ll share more stories from my journey and travail in elearning in the coming months on my blog at www.rayhblog.com.
My First Focus Areas at Blackboard
My feet have hardly touched the ground at Blackboard. I have much to learn about the organization, its culture, and its customers. But I’m not new to this industry nor to the buzz that one can’t help but hear about the problems we face both in eLearning and at Blackboard in particular. I begin my role with a belief that there’s much more right about Blackboard than wrong. But there are also important areas that need to be addressed as a priority. Here are the five I’m going to focus on most:
- Product Support - I have no magic formulas for leadership but one thing I pride myself on is recognizing the obvious and doing something about it. One such observation: Software support matters as much in educational outcomes as software features. Indeed a key reason for the ANGEL acquisition was to integrate some of the great support processes we had developed. So one of my first priorities will be to draw on that experience, build on the organic improvements already underway at Blackboard and start living this observation every day.
- Innovations – With the expertise of Blackboard, WebCT and ANGEL (both our people and these great communities, together 3,400 institutions strong) under one roof, there’s an incredible opportunity here to innovate. Together I’m hopeful we really can do some remarkable things.
Operating from the starting foundation of Blackboard's Project NG and Blackboard Learn 9.0, my team and I are (i) immediately jumping in to figure out how we expand this project to encompass some of the leading edge Angel technology as well; and (ii) looking hard at the upgrade process for all clients. The innovation is no good if the process of getting it implemented is too difficult. Simple and seamless should be the keywords here. If we can build on work ongoing at Blackboard in these two areas and take them both to some new places, we should have a result that reaches a scale and a level of innovation far beyond what’s available today. More to come on how we’re making that so.
- Openness - Some of you will know that I’ve been an energetic participant in developing industry standards, including active membership in groups like IMS, where I like to think my efforts helped spawn a significant effort now known as Common Cartridge. Nothing about my transit to Blackboard has changed my view about the importance of this work, and of the broader spread of openness in education technology overall. I believe that my involvement and focus in this area combined with the resources and reach of Blackboard can have a great impact on not just implementing but leading industry standards. Stay tuned for more details on how we plan to contribute in new ways to this critical area for our community.
- Transparency - I realize I’m already talking about a lot of change. And there is going to be change. But I’m going to make it as transparent as possible to you. Because while we may not always agree on decisions, I know it’s helpful for you to understand more about how a decision came about, what informed it and what it means going forward. So look for steady communication from me through a variety of channels, including these emails, my blog postings, listserv communications, and as many direct meetings and one-on-one conversations as I can muster.
- The Greater Good - I don’t need to tell you it’s a critical time in education. Between the focus here in the U.S. with the new administration and the investments in education happening all around the world, education is at the forefront of a lot of agendas. And we as a community are directly involved. Today Blackboard is serving over 2,000 institutions here in the United States, over 200 schools in China, over 30 schools in the Middle East, over 400 schools throughout Europe, and reaches schools across 65 different countries around the world. Together we are all beginning down a path of a common architecture, in a more open platform, supported by common standards.
What this collective momentum means to me is that we have a real opportunity to work together to really impact some of the important issues around education. So beyond advancing one standard or another together, we can also collectively work to move the needle on (1) improving access to education (2) sharing best practices to leverage the global expertise in online learning, and (3) using technology to truly improve the way people teach and learn around the world.
Are these big goals? Yes. And I’ll admit I don’t have a lot of specifics yet nailed down here. But I want to put it on the table because I believe it’s possible for us, even in some sense required of us. What’s more I think we’re better suited than ever to try for this kind of impact and that together we can truly make a difference.
In closing I’m hopeful that my note offers you some insight into my motivations, my near-term objectives, and the tone that you may expect from me. I also know that much of what I’ve said speaks more to my philosophies than to clearly defined commitments. Those will come as I gain my footing. I will commit to putting more flesh on these bones during the coming weeks, and especially during my talk at BbWorld 2009. If you want to provide me with input or comments directly please email me at Ray.Henderson@blackboard.com.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve you and the broader elearning community in this new role. And importantly, I look forward to meeting many of you on the journey ahead.
President of Blackboard Learn