Coming Soon: A Look At What's Next For Blackboard

Date posted: 2/10/2012

The dust has settled on the May 2011 Blackboard upgrade, a major event which took us from Blackboard Version 8.0 to Blackboard Learn, Version 9.1 (Next Generation), and feedback surrounding this current version of Blackboard has been overwhelmingly positive.  Both students and faculty report an overall improved user experience.  Having acclimated ourselves well to Blackboard Learn, there are new changes on the horizon to Blackboard’s interface, features, and overall functionality.  These changes will be ushered in when NIU upgrades to Blackboard Learn, Version 9.1, Service Pack 8 (SP8) later in 2012.

The Blackboard Interface

SP8’s interface changes will be immediately noticeable and more in-line with today’s Web 2.0 experience.  Most apparent, will be the missing editing icons that allow users to drag-and-drop, access, make changes and add content to their course.  These functionalities, of course, will remain but will be replaced by rollover editing, meaning that editing icons are visible only when your mouse cursor hovers over certain areas.  The result will be a cleaner, less cluttered, and contemporary interface.

sample faculty profile

Faculty Workflows

  • Course-to-course navigation: When in a course, you will no longer need to navigate to Blackboard's main landing page to access your other courses.  You will now be able to move from course to course from within a course by clicking the drop-down menu in the upper left corner of the page.  Additionally, you will be able to specify where you would like to go in the other course.  For example, if you are in one course’s Grade Center, you can jump to the next course’s Grade Center easily to complete your grading tasks.

Course Structures and Course Themes

    • Course structures:  When a new course is requested in Blackboard SP8, you will be able to choose from a wide variety of pre-built course structures.  Options will be made available through a set-up wizard, and once selected, changes or customizations to the Course Menu can be made just as they had been able to in the past.  Course structures contain course areas, optional sample content, pedagogical information, and instructions to help you design your course.

Course Menu Structures
On the left, NIU's default course structure. On the right, sample course structure based on Constructivist learning theory.

  • Course themes:  Course themes will provide an easy way to create a visually engaging course environment. Course themes will be part of the set-up wizard, but will also be available within the course area.  Faculty can apply an available theme to match their preferences.  Course themes add a background image to the course display and change the color of the interface, including the Course Menu, buttons, and controls. Applying a theme does not affect course content, and a course's theme can be changed again at any time.

Enhanced Grading

    • Negative marking:  Negative marking will allow for the application of negative point values for wrong answers on test questions. This allows faculty to prevent (by penalty) guessing on a multiple-choice quiz.  A student would not be rewarded, therefore, for correctly guessing the right answer.

  • Automated regrading:  Ambiguous or problematic questions in a Blackboard quiz or test will be much easier to correct by simply editing the question directly and having all necessary updates flow automatically to the Grade Center.  For any given question, there will be able to drop, give full credit, change point value, or change the correct answer. After the question has been updated, Blackboard will recalculate the score of all submitted assessments that included the updated question, reflect the update in the Grade Center, and provides notification to both the faculty and optionally to the student for all impacted submissions.

For more details about teaching with Blackboard at NIU, visit

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