Blackboard Collaborate Ultra stirs conflict within FCPS

When COVID-19 forces the entire world to stay at home, schools needed to adapt.

After public outcry about their press conference on Facebook Live on Thursday, March 12, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) canceled school the next day. Then, on March 23, Gov. Ralph Northam extended his statewide order to close all Virginia schools for the remainder of the academic year and ban all gatherings of ten people or more.

With physical classes no longer an option, FCPS decided to use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra as a medium for high school students and teachers to continue learning and school instruction. 

“As an online platform, I think [Blackboard Collaborate Ultra] allows us to deliver information,” English teacher Jonathon Super said. “However, it does not replace teaching in person.”

Junior Gavin Bundy said Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is a good way for students and teachers to interact, but the program makes it difficult for teachers to control students and causes miscommunication.

“Students do things and can say things and the teachers can’t really do anything about it,” Bundy said. “With online learning and only getting stuff through emails and online classes, there are a lot of things that can’t really be directly answered or put in terms that everyone understands, so some people can get confused with information.”

To ease this confusion, teachers are providing office hours to students on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Following the resignation of FCPS Director of Information Technology Maribeth Luftglass and two online school day cancellations, Superintendent Scott Brabrand established the Superintendent’s Technology Advisory Council on April 20. With local technology industry leaders, the council’s purpose is to advise the Superintendent on technology issues. The council refused to comment on ongoing matters.

The rank&file also reached out to interim FCPS Information Technology Department Head and Chief Operating Officer Marty Smith, but he has not responded.