Updating Blackboard in May
Usability Enhancements and New Assessment Tools Drive Update
During the month of May, we will begin testing the latest service pack release (SP8) for Blackboard Learn 9.1. If all goes well, and we anticipate that it will, our instance of Blackboard will be updated on Sunday, May 20. Besides some critical bug fixes, this recent update to Blackboard Learn affords us some very useful and timely new capabilities, particularly those that will make grading easier to manage, improve the usability of our course sites, provide for better student activity reporting, and transform the way we assess and report on our students' learning performance. Here's a quick rundown of the new features:
Cleaner Look and Feel
The first thing you'll notice is that the overall look and feel of your Blackboard course site appears cleaner, with much less clutter. Navigation is easier to find, colors pop a bit more, buttons are larger, and the content is organized in a more pleasing and logical manner. This is good news for both instructors and students, who have had to navigate their way through the miasma of little boxes with tiny text and icons, and navigation systems that seem nonsensical. Finally.
New Course Themes and Structures
Starting in June, you will be able to modify your course theme - its overall look and feel - with the click of a button. Ready-made course themes will be available for you to choose that are optimized to support specific teaching styles, course types, and/or available resources. If you use a constructivist teaching style, for example, you could select a constructivist learning theme that would automatically provision the appropriate toolsets and site architecture to support such an approach. A lab course would be created with the appropriate toolsets and site sections that a lab course might normally use. All of these themes, of course, can be modified and customized in the usual way, but this feature provides a great way to set up all the tools, sections, and site structure your course requires in just a few seconds.
Grading Center - Regrading Features Added
The Grade Center, one of the most popular toolsets on Blackboard, definitely got some enhancements with the upgrade. Negative marking - the ability to assign a negative score in the Grade Center - is now available. Also, you'll find improved abilities to grade student work more contextually, that is, by opening a submitted file, making comments, entering a grade, then moving on to the next student's submission without ever having to leave the Grade Center. You will also be able to grade a portion of any submission - a essay question on a test - and move on to the answer from another student to the same question, all without loosing your place. Other enhancements include an improved filtered view of what needs grading, automatic regrading and grade dropping, and color coding entries to improve viewing and organizing data.
Assessments - Done Faster and Easier
One of the more interesting additions to SP8 is the alignment function. This feature will allow you to identify a key metric used for assessing student learning outcomes. When creating a assignment that is aligned specifically with a learning outcome, you will now be able to identify that assignment, collect evidence of learning, sample it, use a standard rubric to evaluate, and create a coverage report. This feature is a completely new and very timely addition to the mix of Blackboard toolsets, particularly as faculty will want to collect, evaluate, and report on student learning outcomes in a systematic way.
Blackboard's Community Outreach Program
There are additional features that will notice in June, but overall, all of the changes to the system are driven by Blackboard's customer requests. Indeed, Blackboard has done a great job in the past couple of years to transform itself into a company that listens to its customers and responds appropriately.
Their efforts in bringing this latest update to market is a good example of this change. According to its own customer impact report, highlighting the outcomes of their Community Programs, over 199 institutions were involved in usability tests during the production, 87 institutes participated in limited beta field tests, and 93% of software issues (bugs) reported by clients were resolved in SP8. When I attended Blackboard World last summer in Las Vegas, I participated in a usability test of their new interface design that at the time was still in production. To Blackboard's credit, almost all of the interface changes I had listed on my wish list had already been implemented in the version I tested. Obviously, I wasn't the only one who recognized the need for some changes.
Throughout the summer and into the Fall 2012 semester, we will be offering a range of Blackboard workshops to help our customers make the transition to the new version of Bb.
Remember, this software update is just an addition of a new service pack. It is not a major change to the application and is doubtful that any current experienced Blackboard user would need specific training to recognize and use many of the new features in the updated version.
The whole idea of the change is that this system will be easier to use not harder.
In our upcoming workshops, we will be focussing on the new capabilities of these features and how they can be used strategically to help improve the way we all use Blackboard for teaching and learning.
Blackboard Learn 9.1 Features
Bb's Commitment to Accessibility
SP8 Client Impact Report
Bb's Support Resource Center
COURSEsites by Blackboard