Open Thread on Blackboard/ANGEL Merger

Update: It looks like “bbplusangel” has already gotten some momentum on Twitter, so I’m switching my tag over to that.

I’ve already invited the opinions of ANGEL customers on a different post, but let me throw the doors wide open. I’m really curious to hear from all of you regarding your opinions. What are your hopes? Your fears? Your expectations? How does this change the landscape? Please comment.

Again, if you are writing your own blog post on the topic, you can ping this post by linking to it. Alternatively, I’m proposing the tag “bb-angel” for blogging, Twittering,…ing, etc.

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About Michael Feldstein

Michael Feldstein is co-Publisher of e-Literate, co-Producer of e-Literate TV, and Partner in MindWires Consulting. For more information, see his profile page.
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26 Responses to Open Thread on Blackboard/ANGEL Merger

  1. Bdean says:

    Notice what Blackboard wrote about itself and ANGEL in the Blackboard press release, “The acquisition combines ANGEL’s record of innovation and client service with Blackboard’s own innovation, financial strength and industry leadership.” What does Blackboard note as personal strengths? Innovation? Financial strength? Industry leadership? They don’t even boast of being focused upon customer support, the learner and instructor experience, or a quality product. Like the previous comment, I lived through having WebCT when Blackboard took over. Support was terrible, to the point that our entire e-learning program was on hold near the end of the semester for almost an entire week, and they were reluctant to escalate the support ticket (although they eventually did). It isn’t encouraging when you have sixteen e-learning programs frozen the week before finals and the support guy says something like, “Huh. That’s weird. Uh…We’ll look into it and get back to you.” And then they don’t call you back for a week?

    We spent a year and a half reviewing LMSs and just moved to ANGEL. I am wondering how long the ANGEL LMS will be around, be supported before I have to take the faculty through yet another LMS conversion…not to mention the conversation of 900+ courses. In the switch to ANGEL, we gained a ton of faculty support and momentum, and our course quality improved. We consistently got/get response like, “This is so intuitive.” I really hope that we are able to at least work in ANGEL for another 3-4 years. I will be at the ANGEL User’s Conference next week and “time frame” is one of the most important issues for me. Where do we go after ANGEL? Given our experiences with Blackboard in the past, I don’t see how we can afford that type of support / lack of customer service. You can’t just shut down your virtual buildings for a week because they don’t want to help you.

    I am looking for the silver lining in all of this. I’m thinking about putting together an article entitled, “Life after the LMS.” This really is challenging me to rethink how we do e-learning. In the early days, I had an old school mashup of individual products (Gradebook software, discussion board, web server, etc.). I’m thinking that it is time to return to this idea, but now in view of convergence culture, mashup technologies, and the whole world of web 2.0 technologies.

  2. Well, now that Blackboard has sued or acquired everybody else… I don’t know what to think. The acquisition price is $95 million, which in my off-the-cuff calculations is more than a little less than what it should be (I could be wrong) based on my guesses for ANGEL’s annual revenue, which makes me think Blackboard’s strong-arming again (stranger things have happened).

    I personally don’t see the validity of a merger like this, taking the #1 player and letting them acquire the #2 player — but I guess they got away with it last time as well. Still, with Bb trying to push D2L out of the country, and ANGEL the only other commercial competitor… I don’t know. I’m sure the lawyers will play the bad-economy card and talk in more general terms so they can include products for, say, corporate training as well. I don’t doubt it will happen, I just don’t think it should, personally.

  3. David Goodrum says:

    Blackboard’s acquisition and legal activities in the vendor marketplace for course management systems is no different than any business arena. Since there is a lot of money to be made selling to educational institutions, these businesses by design and intent must pursue whatever is of maximum benefit to the shareholders. The bigger question is what is best for higher education, its students, faculty, and researchers. An educational institution can buy from a vendor and lose much control, build its own and retain full control while bearing all of the burden, or seek like-minded partnering institutions to share the load and pursue related goals, values and mission. The later is the path made possible through open source and community source endeavors.

  4. mkenyon says:

    I’m still in shock, but, my hope is we retain ANGEL’s customer service philosophy because the lack of customer service was the big reason we left Blackboard.

    I have too many fears to list. I hope they are cleared next week at AUC or soon after as our faculty already heard about this via the ANGEL listserv and are not happy at all.

    I do not expect ANGEL to take the money and run. Hopefully, they will do what was stated in their open letter to customers which is to merge the best of both companies. Then again, I am a glass half full type. Only time will tell.

  5. Josh Baron says:

    David Goodrum’s post above captures some really key points. I hope that this situation acts as a wake up call to higher education and academic technology folks regarding adoption of vendor-based instructional technology solutions. I agree completely with David, what Blackboard is doing makes great business sense and is really something they are compelled to do in order to increase profits and meet shareholder expectations. The question I think we in higher education have to ask is whether a profit-driven model is one that works best for us with regards to development of instructional technologies. The answer for me is NO.

    Open-source or community-source development models turn us, higher education, into the “shareholders” and make teaching and learning, not a profit margin, the driver of the software development. As a result, I’m convinced that these models are and will continue to produce more innovative, less expensive and more predictable instructional software.

  6. Peter says:

    I have been reading Mr. Feldstein’s site for 6 months now after I found it while doing a report on the high cost of higher education. I love all these comments about money and profits by higher ed schools.

    It is very hypocritical to complain about Blackboard when these instituions are suing others for their patents and sending American students into a deeper debt hole. I am not defending Blackboard, I hate them, but everyone should spend just as much energy on making higher ed accessible to all.

  7. Greg Ketcham says:

    Well, Michael, you, I and others within SUNY have a long history through this story arc. The thing that comes to mind right now is that an arc is a segment of a circle, and a circle is a loop that has no break in it’s continuum.

    In other words, it may be wise to step back, revisit the underlying intent of the SLN 2.0 open source initiative, and examine our options broadly. I emphasize “may”, as my tenure as Chair of the SLN Advisory Board ends in just a few short days, just after AUC – how fortuitous for me 🙂 Any opinions I offer here or in other public forums are my opinions alone, and do not represent my campus or SUNY. Here endeth the disclaimer…

    Putting aside arguments regarding functionality, user-driven design, and even customer support, the primary reason the powers that be in Albany negotiated a contract with ANGEL was that Blackboard was unwilling to budge on it’s current state contract pricing. Period. So now, presumably, Bb comes back to the negotiating table and offers…what? We shall see.

    Greg Ketcham
    Chair, SLN Advisory Board
    Past Member, Technical Subcommittee to the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on Learning Management Systems
    Assistant Director, Distance Learning, SUNY Oswego

  8. Pingback: Podagogy » Life After the LMS or the Post-LMS Era

  9. My team and I are dumbfounded by this news. It is utterly shocking. We’ve competed against Angel and Bb for years. In fact, we are currently competing with Angel for several colleges. I can’t imagine this helps them. We were both finalists in the CODiE awards, but Angel pulled ahead and won. They offer a great product and great customer support. I’m really very surprised that they sold out to BB.

    This news has huge implications for the CMS/LMS industry. I look forward to reading more here. Inside Higher Ed has an article up as well:

    Michael, as always, thanks for being a central communication hub for these developments.

  10. Travis says:

    I hate to keep harping on this but it is all about the patents. I cannot encourage my school to develop it’s own LMS or the mashup strategy with the threat of lawsuits hanging overhead. If Bborg wins their patent claims it’s game over.
    The community has to fight this.

  11. Lanny Arvan says:

    I haven’t heard anything about a Justice Department investigation into this merger. There was such an investigation with the WebCT purchase, prior to the Patent Case with D2L. If you can shake some trees to find out about that, it would be useful info.

  12. D Jackson says:

    As part of a small, non-profit this move will send us running even more quickly to open-sourced options. At the end of the day, even if BB adopts the best of Angel, we’ll still be forced to pay heavily for a product that won’t be customizable.

  13. Frank Brusca says:

    Like you, I wish the hard working folks at Blackboard, Angel and the former WebCT all the best. Their hard work does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

    We use Blackboard Basic here. Blackboard appears to be designed by software engineers and not educators. It also seems as if they didn’t put any effort into the interface design. Angel, on the other hand, has that perfect balance of pedagogical design with software and human factors engineering. Angel’s design is clean, contemporary and intuitive. Moreover, Angel’s architecture is very, very well done. Blackboard, on the other hand, resembles a system with way too many bolt-on features.

    No doubt there will be a turf war between the Blackboard and Angel design teams. What I fear is that the Angel designers and developers will be plowed under by the more powerful, numerous and entrenched Blackboard team. The end result, I believe, will be a total dismantling of Angel and Blackboard’s attempt to just bolt-on more features (from Angel) onto Blackboard’s clearly inferior architecture.

    If I were in charge of things at Blackboard, I would assemble the troops and give this address:

    “Angel is clearly a better system than Blackboard could ever be. Some of you may not want to hear that, but that’s the way it is. If you don’t like that, get over it or start packing. Effective immediately, all development on Blackboard 10 is terminated. Angel will be the basis for Blackboard 10. I am putting the Angel design and development team in charge of Blackboard 10. The current Blackboard team will assist the Angel team in developing migration systems for existing Blackboard customers and third party applications. This strategy provides us with the best possible product and it buys our company good will from existing Angel customers. And, it may even attract new customers.”

    The reality, though, is that such a strategy will never take place at Blackboard. Blackboard will kill Angel and feed on the carrion like crazed vultures. All of the incredible brain trust of Angel will scatter to the winds. I do predict that the most innovative of Angels designers and developers may attempt to start up a new company carrying on the great work that Angel had begun.

  14. Paul McLean says:

    What we need now are migration paths to LMS alternatives.

    I doubt if the faculty at my school will want to “settle” for Blackborg after using ANGEL. Since we are going to have to migrate once Blackborg assimilates ANGEL into their collective, it would only make sense to look at other options, especially those with lower or even no licensing fees. Keep in mind that hosting and support services will be the same no matter what we choose. The only real difference will be what the license will cost.

    What we need is migration tools that will help us convert our ANGEL content into usable content within the new LMS, much like ANGEL provided with migration from WebCT and Blackboard. We can assume that Blackborg will provide us with such a path. If we don’t have similar tools for the other LMS environments, many of us will have no choice but to be assimilated.

    Paul McLean
    ACC Distance Learning Coordinator

  15. Jeff Parsons says:

    Angel’s acquisition by Blackboard is devastating. Many users of ANGEL came to ANGEL to get away from Blackboard. While ANGEL may be supported in the short term (x years), eventually it will be discontinued (see WebCT….). This means that ALL of the current ANGEL institutions are being forced, now or later, into transitioning to a new product. Given Blackboard’s propensity for buying out (or suing) its commercial competitors, former ANGEL users are forced into either buying Blackboard or going to Open Source, as Blackboard can apparently, at will, buy up any company that looks like a threat. ANGEL as a company and as a product was outstanding. This is a dark day for free enterprise and for current ANGEL customers.

  16. Bob Jones says:


    ANGEL supports Common Cartridge exports in their new (7.4) version. Your ANGEL content will export for use in ANY system. So there’s a tiny bit of good news…


  17. Tim Chambers says:

    I’ve never had experience on either system. I’m an open source man all the way. Angel must have seen it coming when they added the common cartridge system. Makes it much easier for their customers to migrate away from BB towards open-source. There are truly some terrific packages out there, and one would be well advised to consider the full range of offerings. I’ve tried most of them and the easiest one I have found to use is ATutor. It’s got all the communicative software your could ask for, it’s quiz functions are the best in the business, and it works well with eXe to give you even more options for developing learning content. It’s a very complete VLE and receives a major upgrade with new functionality every six months. Moreover, it works with the common cartridge. A great alternative to Angel.

  18. Pingback: Etale - Life in the Digital World » Blog Archive » Blackboard / ANGEL - Ten Bumper Sticker Thoughts

  19. Anonymous says:

    Regarding Common Cartridge and the comment that “Your ANGEL content will export for use in ANY system”: While ANGEL Learning has incorporated IMS Common Cartridge into their LMS, no other LMS has done so yet. While some have promised to do so (D2L, eCollege, Sakai, Moodle), they haven’t yet and some won’t for quite some time. Until that happens (if it happens), you won’t have anywhere to import your export content.
    Blackboard has not been very supportive of Common Cartridge. One aspect of CC is authorization scheme that lets the content publisher specify a system for unlocking the content. Since Blackboard makes money for each access code redeemed for a Bb cartridge, they essentially refused to back Common Cartridge unless it contained a way to get around this. Hence, the “CC Lite” compliance level ( How long will Blackboard let their new ANGEL subsidiary continue to drive the CC spec?

  20. @anonyomous, Scholar360 is very close to being common cartridge compliant. So there are other learning management systems that are there or getting closer : )

  21. Bob Johnston says:

    Angel defined themselves and built themselves on Service. Blackboard defined themselves as high priced, low to no service, predatory muscle in the workplace. One can only hope and pray that Angel will re-teach them how to listen and actually CARE for their customers. If not then Open source and Moodle have a bright future for a number of school systems, colleges and universities.

  22. Julia says:

    I thought you’d be interested in knowing that we Usability-tested 4 students to compared Angel, Blackboard, Moodle and eCollege. Students prefer Moodle to other LMS’s. So for colleges that are looking to decide what alternative LMS they could use after the Blackboard-Angel acquisition, our usability test show students are likely to recommend and feel more comfortable with Moodle.

  23. With respect, Julia, while I like Moodle and find it quite usable, it’s hard for me to draw conclusions from an evaluation of just four students, particularly since I don’t know the conditions, controls, etc.

  24. kcmeredith says:

    My thoughts? Blackboard has horrible customer support and a cumbersome LMS. ANGEL has effective customer support and offers intuitive operation.

    I fear the acquisition will lead to the same deplorable service with ANGEL that we experienced with Blackboard. Faculty working 70+ hours a week over the holiday break because there were so many problems with upgrades, our IT department writing their own patches for Blackboard because someone had to get the LMS running before classes started. Our college was essentially beta-testing an incomplete and inadequate product–and paying Blackboard to do so! When our institution began shopping around for another LMS, Blackboard threatened to immediately discontinue the contract upon any decision to switch, leaving us without an LMS at all in the middle of a semester. Apparently the contract with them contained a clause allowing them to terminate with 30 days notice. Does this sound like a company interested in serving the college market or a desperate corporate monster driven by nothing but profit margins?

    My suspicion is that Blackboard has gone after ANGEL because it’s easier to buy a profitable LMS than fix the existing problems with what they already own.

    If this acquisition doesn’t create a monopoly in the LMS market, I can’t imagine what does….

  25. beamer says:

    ATutor 1.6.4 gets the IMS Common Cartridge Lite 1.0 seal of approval. Authoring, Importing, & Exporting of cartridges CC-Lite 1.0.

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