Students Frequently Asked Questions about Blackboard

Getting Started

What is Blackboard?

Blackboard is a learning management system that provides a web-based platform that allows faculty to add and organize course resources for students to access online. NIU’s instance of Blackboard is cloud-hosted and updated weekly, with new features available monthly. Faculty can choose to use either Blackboard Original or Blackboard Ultra Course View.

How do I access Blackboard?

Blackboard can be accessed at or by clicking Blackboard from the Quick Links menu on most NIU websites.

To log in to Blackboard:

  1. Go to
  2. Click the Login button
  3. Type in your Z-ID plus (e.g., and click the Next button
  4. Type your password (the one that corresponds with your Z-ID account) and click the Sign-In button

Every 30 days, if you are logging in from off-campus, you will need to confirm your identity using multi-factor authentication (MFA). You can set up MFA so that you receive a text message with a verification code, a phone call with a verification code, or a push notification on your mobile device with the Microsoft Authenticator app installed.  

I am a current student at NIU, but I cannot log in to Blackboard?

If you are unable to log in to the Blackboard system, it may be for one of the following reasons:

  • You have entered an incorrect Z-ID
  • Your password has expired and/or needs to be reset

Be sure you are using the full version of your ID, including "" (e.g., You can reset your password at

If you are using the correct Z-ID and a currently active password and are still unable to log in to Blackboard, please contact the IT Service Desk at (815) 753-8100.

What operating system do I need to use Blackboard?
For a laptop or desktop computer:
  • Windows users: Windows 10 or 8
  • Mac users: Macintosh OS 10.8.4 or higher

Blackboard can also be used on a mobile device. The Blackboard app is available for iPhone, iPad and Android. You can also log into Blackboard directly from the browser on your mobile device.

What type of Internet connection do I need to access Blackboard?

Blackboard can be accessed from any computer or mobile device with Internet access.  Please bear in mind that slower Internet access speeds might hamper the downloading or uploading of files, especially during peak usage hours (this might become a major problem when taking timed online quizzes or tests via Blackboard). Slower speeds will also interfere with the smooth playing of audio and video files. 

What browsers can I use to access Blackboard?

Blackboard supports four primary browsers for Learn releases on both desktop/laptop and mobile devices. 

Generally, the browser should be kept up-to-date using the general-release versions (not early-access or beta versions, as these may cause compatibility issues).

  • Google Chrome
  • Microsoft Edge
  • Safari
  • Mozilla Firefox
Check the official list of supported browsers for the current versions which are supported. 

Run the browser checker to see whether Blackboard Learn supports your browser and operating system.

Also, your browser settings should be set at the following:

  • Accept all cookies
  • Allow cross-site tracking (on Mac, iPhone, and iPad)
  • Enable Java and JavaScript
  • Disable pop-up blockers
Do I need additional software to use Blackboard?

You will need the following software installed on your computer to access course-related content:

  • Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), available at no cost to NIU students at
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader for PDF files

Please refer to your course syllabus for additional technology requirements.

Will virus protection software, ad blockers, or firewalls interfere with Blackboard?

Commonly used virus protection software products, like McAfee or Norton, should not interfere with accessing Blackboard.

Ad blockers can interfere with some tools that are integrated with Blackboard. We recommend disabling ad blockers for Blackboard. 

If you access Blackboard at home and you use firewall protection, you might encounter occasional problems while using Blackboard. To resolve such problems, you will need to make changes to your firewall settings. If you experience similar problems at work, contact the IT Service Desk for assistance.  


How do I change my name in Blackboard?New

Your name in Blackboard is automatically updated based on your name in MyNIU. By default, this is your legal name. If you go by a name that is different from your legal name, you can designate this within MyNIU. Once you have specified a preferred/proper name in MyNIU, Blackboard will update by the next business day to display your preferred/proper name on rosters, in the discussion board, in the gradebook, and anywhere else your name is visible to your classmates or instructor. Note that your preferred/proper name will also appear in the online directory, O365, commencement program, and press releases containing information supplied by Registration and Records. 

This process is different from changing your legal primary name on official records and transcripts, which can be done through Registration and Records.

Why do I sometimes see name pronunciation for my classmates or instructors?New
Blackboard profiles include an option for you to provide a phonetic spelling or short audio recording of how to pronounce your name. If your classmates or instructor has added information on how to pronounce their name, you will see that in Blackboard when you hover over or click on their profile photo. If you do not see name pronunciation in their profile card, they have not added that information.

Navigating Blackboard

What is Blackboard Base Navigation?

The Base Navigation menu is located on the left side of the screen when you log in to Blackboard. These links allow you to access your profile, activity stream, courses, and other important Blackboard features. 

What is the Activity Stream?

The Activity Stream is a customizable list of notifications related to your courses.  You can change which notifications you receive by clicking the gear icon.  These notices can help you stay up-to-date with course announcements, new materials posted to your course, upcoming or past due dates, and grades that have been posted. Plus, you can jump right into the assignment, content, or other activity right from the Activity Stream!

What is Blackboard Assist?

Blackboard Assist is a central hub that houses online and on-campus resources. Learn about and quickly link to support services like counseling, tutoring, career services, and more.


How do I access the courses that I am registered for?

When you log into Blackboard, you will land on the Institution page.  Click the Course tab on the left navigation to view courses currently in progress. Courses from previous semesters and courses not yet started can be located by changing the filtering options in the dropdown menu at the top of the page.  

Why can’t I see all my courses that I am registered for?

Most Blackboard course sites will not be available until the first day of the semester. Please allow 24 hours for courses to appear if you have recently enrolled or changed course enrollment. If you still do not see your course, please reach out to your instructor.

Additionally, some faculty members may choose not to use Blackboard for the courses they teach.

Why don’t I see the same basic layout in all my courses?

Blackboard currently has two different course views deployed, Original Course View, which has been used at NIU since 2010, and Ultra Course View, which is updated to be more responsive on mobile devices. Currently, faculty may choose which course view they wish to use, so you may have courses in both Original and Ultra Course View.

How do I know which course view I’m in?

In the Ultra Course View you will see a Details & Actions menu on the left side and tabs at the top of the page for content, calendar, discussions, grades, and messages. In the Original Course View, you will find a charcoal menu to the left.  


In the grades section of Blackboard, what is the pie cart icon that shows student progress compared to the entire class? Why does it exist and what is the benefit to students?New

The Pie Chart Icon that you referenced allows you to access the How Am I Doing? Panel, which provides an overview of your grade and activity over time as well as how you compare with your classmates. For the purposes of the panel, your Grade is based on the overall calculated grade (the same grade that appears in the small oval) and your Activity is calculated based on the total hours you have spent in the course on a weekly basis. 

  1. Blackboard is updated on a monthly basis. How A I Doing? became available to students In the April update on April 21, 2022.

  2. How Am I Doing? is intended to help students understand how their activity level and grade have changed over time and to self-assess how effective their learning strategies have been. For example, if you see that your grade has increased, you can feel more confident in your knowledge and your learning strategies. If you see that the time you spend in the course in Blackboard has decreased compared to your classmates, it can help you determine whether you need to spend more time engaging with course materials or participating in course activities in Blackboard.

  3. Being able to view the trends in your own grade or activity is likely the most important use of the How Am I Doing? tool, but there are benefits to being able to compare your grades and activities to the average of your classmates, as long as you view it through a growth-minded lens. For example, seeing that your grade is near or above the class average can improve your confidence. Seeing that your activity is lower than the class average can motivate you to be more active in Blackboard.

    If your grade is below the class average, it is important not to be discouraged! Adopting a growth-mindset that recognizes that you can be successful will motivate you to try new study habits or reach out for help from your faculty or the support units at NIU.

Additional information is available on the web page about Checking Your Grades in Blackboard.

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