|Founded||Washington, D.C. 1997|
|Headquarters||Washington, D.C., U.S.|
|Key people||Jay Bhatt, president and chief executive officer|
|Services||Platform and enterprise consulting, managed hosting, student and training services, online program management|
|Parent||Providence Equity Partners|
Blackboard Inc. is an enterprise technology company with corporate headquarters in Washington, D.C. that is primarily known as a developer of education software, in particular Blackboard Learning System, its flagship learning management system. Founded by Michael Chasen and Matthew Pittinsky in 1997, Blackboard became a public company in 2004 and continued operating publicly until Providence Equity Partners purchased the company in 2011. The company provides education, mobile, communication, and commerce software and related services to clients including education providers, corporations and government organizations. The firm's seven platforms are: Learn, Transact, Engage, Connect, Mobile, Collaborate and Analytics. As of May 2013[update], its software and services are used by over 37,000 clients worldwide.
Blackboard was founded in 1997 by Michael Chasen and Matthew Pittinsky and began as a consulting firm contracting to the non-profit IMS Global Learning Consortium. Chasen and Pittinsky started Blackboard upon leaving KPMG Consulting where they both had worked as part of the company’s Higher Education practice. In 1998, the company merged with CourseInfo LLC, a small course management software provider that originated at Cornell University and was founded by Daniel Cane and Stephen Gilfus. The combined company became known as Blackboard Inc. The first line of e-learning products was branded Blackboard CourseInfo LLC, until the CourseInfo brand was dropped in 2000. The new company made a profit in its first year, and its sales in 1998 approached US$1 million.
In 2001, Blackboard acquired AT&T Campuswide and CEI Special Teams, developers of ID cards that can be used for campus commerce and security. The firm began expansion overseas in the early 2000s, growing to include Asia, Australia and Europe in its service area. As of January 2001, the company was providing its software services to over 1,500 clients. Through a partnership with a Chinese education company, Blackboard also began providing software services to many universities in China. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, the company had become the leading learning management system This expansion was initially funded through venture capital from a number of investors, including Pearson PLC, Dell, AOL, The Carlyle Group and Novak Biddle Venture Partners.
In October 2005, the company announced that it was acquiring WebCT Inc., its largest rival in the education software industry. Through the acquisition, Blackboard gained over 1,400 institutional customers as well as 274 employees. In the two years leading to the merger, Blackboard's most significant growth was in the elementary and secondary education client sector. According to market research company Eduventures, the merger with WebCT increased the firm's share of the higher-education market to between 65 and 75 percent.
Over the next five years, the company invested in a series of new products and acquisitions, expanding beyond the learning management system market. Among these: ANGEL Learning, an education software developer whose acquisition expanded Blackboard's client base to nearly 6,000 educational institutions, companies and government agencies, in 2009; Stanford University student-run TerribyClever Design, LLC, whose iPhone application provided the basis for the Blackboard Mobile division to develop the service for other university campuses, in July 2009; Blackboard Collaborate brought together Wimba, Inc. and Elluminate, Inc., in July 2010; Blackboard Analytics formed when the firm acquired iStrategy, a data analysis firm, in December 2010; Blackboard Student Services was developed from Presidium Inc., a provider of administrative and academic support services, in January 2011.
On July 1, 2011, Blackboard agreed to a $1.64 billion buyout by an investor group led by Providence Equity Partners, which was completed on October 4. Immediately following the acquisition, the company merged with Edline, which is also owned by Providence Equity Partners. Edline provides online communications software for K-12 schools and, in June 2012, was renamed Blackboard Engage. In March 2012 Blackboard acquired two companies based on Moodle's open-source software including Baltimore-based Moodlerooms Inc. and NetSpot of Adelaide, Australia.
Blackboard Inc. is a provider of enterprise software and mobile applications, communications and commerce services, primarily to the education industry. It is best known as the developer of Blackboard Learning System, a learning platform for higher education, K-12, and professional education institutions. It also offers its products and services to businesses and government organizations. Since the late 2000s, the company has expanded beyond its learning management system. The company launched four separately licensed products and complementary services between 2008 and 2011, including communications, mobile, collaboration and analytics tools through technologies gained in the acquisition of companies such as iStrategy, Wimba and Elluminate.
Though previously a public company, following its 2011 buyout by Providence Equity Partners Blackboard now operates as a private company. The company's leadership comprises President and CEO Jay Bhatt, President of Blackboard International Matthew Small, CFO Bill Davis, CTO and President of Academic Platforms Ray Henderson, President of Administrative Platforms Edward Miller and President of Global Services Katie Blot. The company's headquarters are in Washington, D.C. and it has offices in Asia, Australia, Europe and in several locations in North America.
Products and services
The first product to be offered by the company was its course management software, first available in 1998. The latest version, Blackboard Learn 9.1, was released in April 2010. Blackboard Learn is a learning management system that provides a learning system for course delivery and management for institutions; a community and portal system for communication; a content management system for centralized control over course content; and a system to record and analyze student assessment results.
Though Blackboard's Learn software is proprietary, developers are able to extend the functionality of the system, and create customized course management and delivery by developing software and applications known as Building Blocks which allows third-party developers to create customizations and extensions for Blackboard Learn through open APIs and web services. In 2011, the firm launched CourseSites, a free version of its Blackboard Learn and Collaborate software, for which it provides hosting and support.
In 2012, TechCrunch writer Rip Empson commented that Blackboard's focus on acquisitions prevented the company from fully focusing on their software products, which has led to the continual introduction of additional features, known as feature creep.
Blackboard Collaborate was created in July 2010 and is used by K-12 schools and higher education institutions for professional development and distance learning. The platform is also used by businesses for distance learning and for conferencing.
The company launched Blackboard Mobile in 2009. The platform provides students with access to teaching and learning content and campus information through mobile applications for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and WebOS devices. Blackboard Mobile allows students to both access course materials, check grades, and participate in discussions, and to access information about campus life and services.
The company began providing its Blackboard Connect service in 2008, for use by school districts and higher education institutions to send out mass phone, text and e-mail notifications. The service can be used for routine alerts and notifications, academic or instructor notifications, or by school districts and communities to share time-sensitive information, such as in the case of natural disasters and campus emergencies.
Blackboard Transact, formerly Blackboard Commerce Suite, is transaction processing system tied to university ID cards, which can be used for meal plans, vending machines and laundry services, and an e-commerce front end for the transaction system. The Transact system is NFC-compatible and its ID cards use contactless technology. Blackboard Transact also includes a program for off-campus vendors that allow students to pay for goods using their college's campus card.
Blackboard Analytics was developed after the company acquired iStrategy, a data analysis firm, in December 2010. The Blackboard Analytics platform is a system for data warehousing and analysis, with applications for educational institutions to analyze student numbers, class scheduling, and financial information. The platform was created as a business intelligence tool specifically for higher education institutions and uses data from colleges' student information, human resources and financial information systems.
Blackboard's services include: managed hosting, platform consulting, enterprise consulting, online program management, training and student services. The firm's managed hosting organization provides web hosting to support clients' IT infrastructure and online learning. The company also provides services through its strategic consulting group, which offers varying degrees of consulting and training. Its services include customized mobile services for clients, and training and consulting for its software implementation and use.
In early 2010, the company launched Blackboard Student Services, following the acquisition of Presidium Inc. Student Services provides management services for student admissions and enrollment, financial aid, and student accounts and retention. It also provides IT and helpdesk support to students and faculty for learning management systems.
Development of education software
Since Blackboard was founded in 1997, use of online learning management software by higher education institutions and other organizations has increased rapidly. The company's growth is closely linked with this development in education software.  In the late 1990s, Blackboard co-founders Pittinsky and Chasen noticed that there was a trend in higher education towards greater use of Internet-based education programs. According to Pittinsky, at that time, the Internet had not yet had a significant impact on teaching in higher education and they founded the company to develop and market Internet-based learning management software. The education software industry focused on the development of course management applications, particularly those based online. In 1998, Blackboard was a participant in an IMS Global Consortium project to develop standards in online education.
During the early 2000s Blackboard and rival company WebCT held the majority share of the education software market and were leaders in the move by colleges to wider use of online learning applications. The services and products offered by learning technology companies diversified, and Blackboard and WebCT began to offer technology packages that provided administrative functions, in addition to online course management.
Since the late 2000s, the increasing use of mobile devices and the appeal of mobile applications to students have become driving factors in the development of mobile learning systems. In 2009, Blackboard acquired a company which had developed an iPhone application for students at Stanford University, and made the application available for other campuses and mobile devices. Near the end of the 2000s, Blackboard share of the learning management software market began to decline. As of 2009, the company held 60 percent of the market and, according to a report published by the Campus Computing Project, this decreased to 57 percent in 2010 and 50.6 percent in 2011.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office granted the company U.S. Patent 6,988,138 for "Internet-based education support system and methods" in January 2006. The patent established Blackboard's claims to the concept of connecting together web-based tools to create an interconnected university-wide course management system. The firm announced the patent on July 26, 2006, and on the same day it filed a patent infringement lawsuit against rival education software company Desire2Learn Inc. According to news reports, the awarding of the patent and the lawsuit against Desire2Learn led to concerns about patentability in the electronic learning community.
A website, BoycottBlackboard.org, was set up anonymously, calling for a boycott of the company's products and offering an online petition to be signed by those who opposed the patent. In addition, some critics of the patent and lawsuit created a Wikipedia entry for the History of virtual learning environments to document existing examples of course management software. The Software Freedom Law Center filed a request with the U.S. Patent Office to re-examine Blackboard's patent in November 2006, and in January 2007 the request was approved on the basis of prior art cited by the Center raising "substantial" questions. To address the concerns raised within the education software and academic communities, in February 2007, the firm announced that it had made a pledge to not assert its patent rights against open-source and non-profit software developers.
In February 2008, a federal jury in Texas ruled in favor of Blackboard Inc. in its patent infringement suit against Desire2Learn, finding the rival company liable for infringing on its patent. One month later, in March 2008, the U.S. Patent Office issued a preliminary decision following its re-examination of Blackboard's patent application, which rejected the 44 claims made by the company. The Patent Office stated that it would give a final decision following a review of the patent.
Following the ruling by the federal jury in February 2008, later that year Desire2Learn lodged an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. A ruling was made by the Court of Appeals on July 27, 2009 that the 38 patent claims made by Blackboard in its suit against Desire2Learn were invalid. The dispute was resolved, when Blackboard and Desire2Learn announced on December 15, 2009 that each company was settling all ongoing litigation between them and had made a cross-licensing agreement. In April 2010, the firm abandoned patent 6,988,138, and in November that year the company's legal counsel announced the patent's "official termination" and stated that Blackboard had ended its appeals.
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