(AP) — Every day, millions of students taking online college courses act in much the same way as their bricks-and-mortar counterparts. After logging on, they move from course to course and do things like submit work in virtual drop boxes and view posted grades — all from a program running on a PC.
It may seem self-evident that virtual classrooms should closely resemble real ones. But a major education software company contends it wasn’t always so obvious. And now, in a move that has shaken up the e-learning community, Blackboard Inc. has been awarded a patent establishing its claims to some of the basic features of the software that powers online education.
The patent, awarded to the Washington, D.C.-based company in January but announced last month, has prompted an angry backlash from the academic computing community, which is fighting back in techie fashion — through online petitions and in a sprawling Wikipedia entry that helps make its case.
Critics say the patent claims nothing less than Blackboard’s ownership of the very idea of e-learning. If allowed to stand, they say, it could quash the cooperation between academia and the private sector that has characterized e-learning for years and explains why virtual classrooms are so much better than they used to be.
The patent is “is antithetical to the way that academia makes progress,” said Michael Feldstein, assistant director of the State University of New York’s online learning network and one of the bloggers who has criticized the company. (more…)