Tips for Building Effective Courses in Blackboard Ultra

Blackboard Ultra Course View was designed from the ground up to be an effective teaching and learning platform featuring consistent and clear navigation, intuitive design and interactive features, and emphases on accessibility and performance on all devices. Over the last two years, the Ultra Course View has had an impressive number of feature updates and improvements, including responding to faculty and student feedback, feature and user analytics, and idea submissions and feature requests. The Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning is working hard to support the campus transition from Original Course View to Original Course View, providing opportunities including the Ultra Transition Academy, Workshops and Consultations, and a host of web resources to make the transition a smooth as possible by the final transition deadline of January 2024.

These are some of the strategies, approaches, and features that we have found particularly effective and efficient when building courses in Blackboard Ultra.

1. Build, Don’t Convert

Blackboard does have the ability to run a complete conversion on your Original Course View course. However, given the important differences between Original Course View and Ultra course view, including in navigation, implementation of features, and settings and configurations, a complete conversion often results in errors and content conversions that require substantial reworking, editing, or replacing. We have found that it generally takes less time and is more effective to rebuild the course, using the native Ultra Course View tools, using the Original Course as a reference, and when appropriate, to copy or retrieve text, documents, and links. Rebuilding this way also can provide a valuable opportunity to think carefully about the design of the course, assessment alignments, and opportunities for improvement.

Card for the course with an arrow pointing to the starred button for the course

2. Add Development Shell to Your Favorites

This tip combines two suggestions. First, consider building your Blackboard Ultra Course View course in a development shell, rather than in the regular course section. This gives you flexibility throughout the development period to build, experiment, and test without impacting the regular course section. When ready, use the Copy Content feature to copy the shell content into the regular course section. You can then continue to use the development shell to prepare for the next offering of the course or to save it as a master version. When working on a shell, as well as when teaching a course, use the Blackboard Ultra favorite feature on the courses page to keep your favorite shells and courses at the top of the page.

3. Consider the CITL Blackboard Course Template

The CITL Blackboard Course Template gives you a head start on building your course by providing a basic structure for the course using Learning Modules as well as basic information and resources to help you support your students. The template includes a welcome page for you to provide information on getting started with the course, suggested structure and resources for instructor and course information, and a host of student resources. A bonus of using the template is that many of the included features and resources address elements of the NIU Quality Essentials standards.

4. Use Learning Modules for Structure

Consider using Ultra Learning Modules to create the top-level structure of your course, including the weekly or topical subdivisions of your course. Using learning modules as a container for items and folders creates a clear visual clustering of content that can help students focus on the module and its contents. Learning Modules also facilitate forward and backward navigation for students to view content sequentially, you can also force this type of sequential viewing if that is appropriate for your content.

In Create Item panel, Learning module option under Course Content Items
In the Create Item panel, Learning module available beneath Course Content Items.
sample learning module, titled "Module 1 - Topic of Module" with a "Module Introduction and Objectives" document, "Readings and Media Resources" folder, and "Activities and Assignments" folder
Sample Learning Module, consisting of a Module Introduction and Objectives document, Readings and Media Resources folder, and Activities and Assignments folder.

5. Create Names and Descriptions with Mobile in Mind

When naming modules, folder, and content items, create names and descriptions with mobile devices and small screens in mind. In titles, include the most important information first so that it is more likely to be readable and consider keeping the titles short and efficient. Use the description field to include other important information such as dates or instructions. Users can tap the “show more” link to expand the description field.

sample module viewed from a mobile device
Sample Learning Module viewed from a mobile device. Title of module, documents, and items are truncated.

6. Create and Duplicate a Template Module

This time saving strategy can help you build a consistent module structure throughout your course in a relatively short time. Start by creating a template learning module with subfolders, items, and even naming conventions and descriptions that you would like to include in all of your modules. Then use the Copy Content feature, select the same course as the source and copy the module to duplicate it. Run this copy process 2-4 more times, selecting the duplicates each time to create the number of modules you need for your course.

7. Use Ultra Documents and Content Items Strategically

Consider carefully whether to build your content within an Ultra document or by inserting content directly in a folder or Module. In an Ultra Document, you can insert a combination of formatted text, multimedia, links, files, and other objects to build a coherent content presentation document. This approach is best when content items inserted in the Ultra document are closely related or address the same topic and are meant to be consumed at the same time. Inserting multimedia, links, files, and other objects directly in a Module or Folder also has advantages, including making content easy to find and view and the ability to view content sequentially using Learning Module navigation arrows. A final advantage of inserting content items directly is that students' interactions with these items can be analyzed using the Progress Tracking feature, something that is not true of content items inside of an Ultra Document.

8. Move Content with Your Keyboard

Many areas of the Blackboard Ultra interface support drag-and-drop for moving and reordering items. While effective, drag-and-drop can be tricky when the desired location is off of the screen, inside of a module or folder, or when working with a laptop touchpad or small screen. Instead of dragging and dropping, you can move items with your keyboard. To move an item with your keyboard, first use your mouse to open the visibility drop down on the item. Then press the TAB key to tab over to the “move” symbol. Hit ENTER to activate the move function and arrow keys up and down to position the item. To put the item inside of a closed folder or Learning Module, position the item on top of that container and use the right arrow to open the container. Once the item is in the desired position, press the ENTER key to finish the move. Watch this quick video tutorial to see how easy it is to move content with your keyboard!

9. Use Assignment Content Area for Instructions and Support

In Blackboard Ultra, the Assignment Assessment item type allows you to create an assignment submission area, complete with due dates, grading options, rubrics, and so on. Instead of including the instructions for the assignment and supporting materials outside of the assignment, use the Assignment’s content area to build your assignment, including instructions, supporting documents and media, and other content. When using this area for instructions and assignment support, click the + button and choose the Add Text option to insert a rich text editing field. This field will allow you to add those supporting content types. If you’re including documents in your assignment instructions, be sure to include them using the Attachment function in the Add Text rich text box and not by using the Add local file option from the + button. Adding a file using the Add local file function will prevent you from being able to make changes/corrections to the file after anyone has accessed the assignment.

New empty Assignment with no instructions included
New empty Assignment with no instructions included.
Sample Assignment with video and text instructions included
Sample Assignment with video and text instructions included.

10. Use Granular Copy from Original or Ultra Courses

In Tip #1, we cautioned you to consider building your Blackboard Ultra Course view rather than using the Blackboard Convert tool, providing a clean, well structured, and thoughtful course build, with fewer errors and messy conversion translations to fix. Once you have built your structure, however, you may have some success and save some time copying certain items from your Original Course View courses. Blackboard Ultra’s Copy Content feature supports copying from both Ultra and Original courses, and copying particular individual items, such as files, links, rubrics, and tests should copy over with few issues. More complex items, such as assignments and discussions often introduce errors or unexpected formatting issues, items that are not supported, such as surveys, wikis, and certain test items will not copy at all.

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