Browser preference has never been a big deal for me: as long as I could access the content I wanted safely, I really didn’t care which browser I used. When the Internet was new and Internet Explorer was the only option for PCs, that was fine with me, and that remained fine for several years. I’m not even sure when my preference changed to Mozilla Firefox, though it was probably a couple of years ago when my work as an instructional designer moved to the higher education realm. At the schools where I’ve worked, Blackboard has been the learning management system in use, and those universities (based on Blackboard’s recommendations) have recommended Firefox as the browser to use for online courses.
Firefox has been quite adequate for me since I began using it, but the latest versions of Firefox are making me rethink this, and I’m hoping that Blackboard is recognizing the issues that exist when combining it with the Blackboard LMS.
I’ve seen three major issues with Firefox in the past few months while using it with Blackboard 9.1. (Note that these issues may not exist with earlier versions of Blackboard, and they may not exist with certain service packs. I just know that they exist in the version and service packs that my university has been using.)
- In Firefox 21, the Windows Media Player plug-in did not automatically work. This might not pose a big issue in general, but we have McGraw-Hill’s Tegrity lecture capture system at my university, and we realized in May that this absence of plug-in was crippling Tegrity. That is, recorded videos would not play. We found a workaround on the website for Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota website, but this involves multiple steps (typing “about:config” into the address bar, seeking out a specific line in the list of items, and changing the status), which is a major inconvenience for everyone—and telling students and faculty to access a page that “might void your warranty” is perhaps not the best idea.
- Beginning with Firefox 22, a bug disabled the ability to paste content that the user had cut or copied into Blackboard’s latest text editor. Again, to fix the problem, the user had to use the “about:config” solution to change the status of a given line of code. Although this worked, I have seen the problem raise its ugly head again now that I’ve downloaded Firefox 23, and I had to repeat the procedure to fix it.
- The latest issue occurred this week, just as my university’s semester got underway. Firefox now blocks mixed active content (HTTP content within an HTTPS site), and although this does sound like a good thing in a security sense, it is a major pain for sites like Blackboard, where we embed content from third parties like Screencast.com, Screenr.com, and Google Forms. Internet Explorer provided a similar situation last year, and I didn’t like it, either. However, I can accept IE’s method of dealing with mixed active content a little more easily, for this reason: IE notifies you of this blocking much more clearly, with a message at the bottom of the browser window, and asks specifically and immediately if you want to show the content. Firefox notifies you only with a small (basically hidden) shield next to the web address, so unless you have heard of this blocking feature, you have no idea why your webpage includes completely blank areas, and you have to drill down a series of steps to display the content. (See the images below to see what these messages look like.) Also, if you choose to accept the active content in IE while in your Blackboard site, your acceptance applies to all pages while you’re logged into Blackboard, from what I’ve experienced. In Firefox, you must continue to click the shield and accept the content for each and every page you access. Just as in the other two issues raised above, you can “fix” the issue by typing “about:config” in the address bar and adjusting your settings, but this is a major inconvenience. Many readers may respond that the way around this problem is simply to provide links in the Blackboard pages to third-party sites rather than embed the content. Yes, this is a solution; however, think about this: how often have you been directed to a webpage for one piece of content, only to be tempted by other links and elements on that webpage? Embedding content keeps students inside the course site so that they will not be distracted by other content on those third-party sites. Embedding content also makes the Blackboard page much more attractive, which is another reason I like to embed my third-party elements.
Although I will likely continue to work with Firefox as my primary browser in my work setting, issues such as these make me hope that Blackboard will make a major effort to rethink which browser is best for its audience and potentially reconsider its recommendation of Firefox as the browser to use. Adjusting to the online setting is tough enough for students and faculty; requiring them to change multiple settings or go through hoops to make something work is neither wise nor effective.