LMS Review Frequently Asked Questions

About the Review

Why did we conduct a review of our learning management system (LMS) at this time?

During the 2020-2021 academic year, NIU was in the final year of a three-year contract with Blackboard, the current Learning Management System (LMS) vendor. While faculty and student usage of Blackboard remains high, the university had not conducted a formal evaluation of other LMS’s in a number of years. This was an appropriate time, before the university pursued another renewal of Blackboard, to conduct a thorough evaluation to determine whether an alternative LMS should be considered.

What did the review entail?

The evaluation was broad in scope with input from all faculty, staff, and students on not only their current satisfaction with NIU’s current LMS (Blackboard) but also what features are desired in a LMS moving forward. The review included in-depth feature comparison and demonstrations of the leading learning management systems used in higher education today.

What was the goal of this review?

The evaluation supplied the data needed to prepare a recommendation as to whether an alternative LMS should be considered at this time.

Blackboard Learn has two versions / experiences: "Original" and "Ultra". Which version of Blackboard did we evaluate in comparison to competitors?
Blackboard Learn is indeed one platform but currently available to NIU users in two different "experiences": Blackboard Original and Blackboard Ultra. Knowing that Blackboard Ultra is the future of the Blackboard platform and is the version that eventually all faculty, staff, and students will need to move to, we focused our evaluation on Blackboard Ultra and how its feature set compares with the other leading LMS platforms today on the market. We also compared the future features roadmap of Blackboard Ultra with competitors.

About the Recommendation

Why was Blackboard selected as our LMS to use going forward?

While each system has strengths and weaknesses, Blackboard received the highest review score, taking into account all the review elements. The overall scoring included feedback from faculty, instructors, staff and students; technical review; pricing (both for transition and multi-year contract); roadmap of new feature development; and vendor support for transition and training.

Continuing with Blackboard allows faculty to be thoughtful and deliberate about transitioning to a new system on a longer timeframe. Blackboard Learn Ultra has a robust feature set that is being added to rapidly over the next year, and Blackboard provides enterprise-level security and reporting options we need as a large institution. Staying with Blackboard is also the most affordable solution to the university and provides the most value to our students and faculty.

In choosing to stay with Blackboard as our institutional LMS, does that mean we can continue using Blackboard Original?
Yes, those who today use the Blackboard Original course experience for their teaching at NIU are able to continue using Blackboard Original into the future. There will however come a point and time when Blackboard Original will no longer be supported or receive any future feature enhancements and all Blackboard users will eventually have to transition to Blackboard Ultra. We do not have a fixed date when this transition would need to happen, but it will need to happen in the future. The Original course experience will be available at NIU through May 2023, at a minimum.
How long will NIU faculty be able to continue teaching with the Original Course View in Blackboard?

We strongly recommend faculty transition to the Ultra Course View as soon as they are comfortable doing so, with the support of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL). Faculty can learn more by attending a workshop or taking advantage of a CITL partnership to work one-on-one with a member of their team. Blackboard course templates are also available that provide a quick start for building your course in Ultra.

The Original Course View will become unavailable at some point, and all NIU faculty and instructors will have to adopt the Ultra Course View at that time. Right now, that date has not yet been determined. The Original Course View will be available at NIU through May 2023, at a minimum.

The Division of IT and the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning will be working closely with their advisory and governance committees as well as with Blackboard to identify an appropriate timeline for sunsetting Blackboard Learn Original.

What new features are coming to the Ultra Course View?

Blackboard is updated on a weekly basis, and new features are introduced every month. Since NIU introduced the Ultra Course View in May 2019, Blackboard has added over 50 new features and enhancements to Ultra. Blackboard has even more on their roadmap to be released. Stay up-to-date with new features on What’s New in Ultra?

What is Blackboard Ally?

NIU’s new contract with Blackboard includes adoption of Ally, a revolutionary product that integrates seamlessly into Blackboard and focuses on making digital course content more accessible. As the instructor adds course content, the content passes through an accessibility checklist and is scored, and machine learning algorithms perform a full structural and visual analysis. Alternative formats are automatically generated for students and the instructor is provided feedback on how to ensure future content is as accessible as possible.

Download Printable Report (PDF)

Creative Commons License
Northern Illinois University LMS Review Criteria and Scoring are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Back to top