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We live in Austin. Michael Dell went to school here. Both Facebook and Google have offices here. So then why is it that, in an era of obscene technological innovation, the interfaces we use to connect with our University look like they were designed in 1995?

Registration for the summer and fall semesters will begin this week and so will student frustration with UT Direct. It’s a system so shockingly bad that the only hope I have of properly navigating it is through its search function. It does, however, provide a handy “Pic o’ the Click” near the very top of the page that generates random photos of the University. That way, when I can’t figure out how to register for classes next semester, I’ll at least be able to look at pictures of the college I won’t be attending.

UT Direct is, of course, not the only antiquated system students are forced to use. Blackboard, which I’ve written about in the past for its ability to allow our classmates to spam us, is dreadful. Meanwhile, UT Webmail was finally and mercifully disposed of last week, when ITS announced new UT Mail powered by Google.

The tech problem this University faces is not unique. According to The Campus Computing Project, 57 percent of all colleges and 68 percent of public universities use Blackboard as their learning management system (LMS). It’s a statistic that’s down from previous years despite every attempt of the industry leader to stop it.

Blackboard is the Microsoft of the LMS world, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Since its inception, Blackboard has either outfought or bought its competitors. Most notable is Angel Learning, which was bought by Blackboard in 2009 after achieving 7 percent market share. And when that hasn’t worked, Blackboard has sued its rivals to retain a patent over use of its closed source software. Unfortunately for Blackboard, Desire2Learn, which has a 10 percent market share, won that legal battle this past November.

Most Blackboard competitors are championing open-source systems, meaning the source code is freely available for developers to innovate. One of those is Instructure, a Utah-based startup that announced Friday that it’s raised $8 million to fund its LMS called Canvas. One of those investors just happens to be Google chairman Eric Schmidt.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Canvas, unlike Blackboard, has the functionality to connect with other online services such as Google Docs, Facebook and Twitter. “When a teacher changes the date of a quiz, for example, students could automatically receive text messages to their cellphones, a message on Facebook or conventional email,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

It’s a revolutionary change that’s long overdue. Instructure even released a highly entertaining video on YouTube called “Change is Good,” which parodies Apple’s famous 1984 ad. But instead of Big Brother, it’s a blackboard that addresses rows of brainwashed students. It’s funny because it’s true.

Beyond Instructure, entrepreneurial students at universities across the country are creating their own alternatives. At Stanford, there’s ClassOwl. At Penn, they have Coursekit. And at MIT there’s iMobileU.

Then there’s Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, which has developed new course-picking software. The Chronicle of Higher Education has called it the “Netflix Effect”; the software analyzes a student’s major, previous academic performance and data on similar students to provide a recommendation in the way Netflix suggests movies you might like based on previous rentals. It even predicts what grade you’ll get. So far, the software has resulted in a half-point GPA increase for students who chose courses suggested by the program.

So why can’t Texas be next? Fortunately, ITS is trying to help. Beginning Wednesday and continuing into next week, Texas has opened up demonstrations from five LMS vendors to faculty, staff and students. All the big dogs will be there, including Instructure, Desire2Learn, Moodle, rSmart and, of course, Blackboard. They’ve also made surveys available online through which you can and should trash Blackboard.

The University is finally seeking our input on this, so make sure your voice is heard. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when you’re asked to dig up your old AIM screen name to login to a course chat room.

<em>Curl is an advertising graduate student.<em>We live in Austin. Michael Dell went to school here. Both Facebook and Google have offices here. So then why is it that, in an era of obscene technological innovation, the interfaces we use to connect with our University look like they were designed in 1995?

Registration for the summer and fall semesters will begin this week and so will student frustration with UT Direct. It’s a system so shockingly bad that the only hope I have of properly navigating it is through its search function. It does, however, provide a handy “Pic o’ the Click” near the very top of the page that generates random photos of the University. That way, when I can’t figure out how to register for classes next semester, I’ll at least be able to look at pictures of the college I won’t be attending.

UT Direct is, of course, not the only antiquated system students are forced to use. Blackboard, which I’ve written about in the past for its ability to allow our classmates to spam us, is dreadful. Meanwhile, UT Webmail was finally and mercifully disposed of last week, when ITS announced new UT Mail powered by Google.

The tech problem this University faces is not unique. According to The Campus Computing Project, 57 percent of all colleges and 68 percent of public universities use Blackboard as their learning management system (LMS). It’s a statistic that’s down from previous years despite every attempt of the industry leader to stop it.

Blackboard is the Microsoft of the LMS world, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Since its inception, Blackboard has either outfought or bought its competitors. Most notable is Angel Learning, which was bought by Blackboard in 2009 after achieving 7 percent market share. And when that hasn’t worked, Blackboard has sued its rivals to retain a patent over use of its closed source software. Unfortunately for Blackboard, Desire2Learn, which has a 10 percent market share, won that legal battle this past November.

Most Blackboard competitors are championing open-source systems, meaning the source code is freely available for developers to innovate. One of those is Instructure, a Utah-based startup that announced Friday that it’s raised $8 million to fund its LMS called Canvas. One of those investors just happens to be Google chairman Eric Schmidt.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Canvas, unlike Blackboard, has the functionality to connect with other online services such as Google Docs, Facebook and Twitter. “When a teacher changes the date of a quiz, for example, students could automatically receive text messages to their cellphones, a message on Facebook or conventional email,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

It’s a revolutionary change that’s long overdue. Instructure even released a highly entertaining video on YouTube called “Change is Good,” which parodies Apple’s famous 1984 ad. But instead of Big Brother, it’s a blackboard that addresses rows of brainwashed students. It’s funny because it’s true.

Beyond Instructure, entrepreneurial students at universities across the country are creating their own alternatives. At Stanford, there’s ClassOwl. At Penn, they have Coursekit. And at MIT there’s iMobileU.

Then there’s Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, which has developed new course-picking software. The Chronicle of Higher Education has called it the “Netflix Effect”; the software analyzes a student’s major, previous academic performance and data on similar students to provide a recommendation in the way Netflix suggests movies you might like based on previous rentals. It even predicts what grade you’ll get. So far, the software has resulted in a half-point GPA increase for students who chose courses suggested by the program.

So why can’t Texas be next? Fortunately, ITS is trying to help. Beginning Wednesday and continuing into next week, Texas has opened up demonstrations from five LMS vendors to faculty, staff and students. All the big dogs will be there, including Instructure, Desire2Learn, Moodle, rSmart and, of course, Blackboard. They’ve also made surveys available online through which you can and should trash Blackboard.

The University is finally seeking our input on this, so make sure your voice is heard. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when you’re asked to dig up your old AIM screen name to login to a course chat room.