Blackboard Inc., the District e-learning company that went public yesterday, says its purpose isn't to replace classrooms or professors but to apply technology to everyday life on campus. Were a university to purchase all lines of Blackboard's Internet-based software:
If her professor has chosen to use Blackboard software, a college student could pop open the laptop in her dorm room and, with a few keystrokes, call up lecture notes from a class she missed last week -- in time for a test today.
She could call up old quizzes, practice tests and study guides and post questions on message boards to communicate with professors and other students. Blackboard's software is designed to help professors create such Web sites even if they're non-techies.
Students also could log on to Blackboard-powered Web pages to register for the next semester's classes or check on the basketball team's schedule. And when they took a break from studying and head for the campus cafeteria, they could swipe their university identity card to charge a snack or meal.
That process, too, can be run by Blackboard. The company's transaction system works like a debit card, allowing students to make purchases at campus vending machines, bookstores and eateries without pulling out cash. The cards also can be used for security purposes, giving access to buildings only to those carrying authorized cards.
Blackboard isn't the only company pursuing such e-learning options. Its biggest competitor, WebCT Inc. of Lynnfield, Mass., offers similar services.
-- Ellen McCarthy