What's New in Blackboard for Fall 2018?

Posted: 8/24/2018

Announcements – New Behavior

While this isn’t really a new “feature,” it is a change to how Announcements are sent via email. When you post an announcement and do not check the box to send it as an email immediately, it will be sent to students via email as a notification. The notification email has a link to log in and view the announcement as opposed to the text of the announcement. Unfortunately, in some email clients (including Microsoft Outlook), that link often directs the student to their browser home page, or appears as a broken link.

We recommend always clicking the checkbox to send the announcement as an email immediately, if you are posting the announcement in real-time (i.e. not pre-loading them to launch automatically). This will send the full text of the announcement in the email, and the email will come from you as opposed to a system email address, so students can easily reply with questions.


Blackboard now includes a new Attendance tool, which allows you to record whether students are present, late, absent, or excused. Using the Attendance tracker will automatically create a Grade Center column that will calculate an overall attendance score for each student. Students can review their attendance record in MyGrades.

There currently is no mechanism for students to check themselves in; you must manually record attendance. Attendance records can be exported as a .csv file for further analysis. 

Mobile Grading

The Blackboard Instructor mobile app now includes the ability to grade student submissions to Assignments, directly from the app! You can review, annotate, and grade submissions from anywhere, and quickly publish the grades back to students and the Grade Center. 

Respondus LockDown Browser

The Respondus LockDown Browser is a custom browser that locks down the testing environment for tests taken in Blackboard. If you enable LockDown Browser for a Blackboard tests, students will be unable to copy, print, access other applications, visit other websites, or close the test until it is submitted. 

Starting this fall, Respondus LockDown Browser is available in Blackboard for all courses, although it is hidden by default. To enable Respondus LockDown Browser in your course, go to Control Panel > Customization > Tool Availability. Once enabled in your course, you will be able to access the Respondus LockDown Browser settings in Control Panel > Course Tools, to set it to be required for a Blackboard Test.  Students will need to download and install the browser on their own computers; the link to do so is on the Respondus LockDown Browser documentation page and the student page on Taking a Test with Respondus LockDown Browser.

For installation in a computer lab or on any computer where the user does not have administrative privileges, the IT admin for your department will need to install a different version of the software, which we can provide and is packaged in SCCM. 


VoiceThread is a multimedia tool that encourages student engagement and community formation via audio and video. For example, you can use it to replace text-only discussions, to create interactive lectures, or annotate on videos. We are piloting it this fall, with training opportunities available later in the semester. Contact us at facdev@niu.edu if you are interested in trying out VoiceThread. 

Extended Grade Submission Window

Previously, the window to submit grades from Blackboard to MyNIU closed at midnight of the night before grades were due. Now, this has been extended to 11 a.m. on the morning that grades are due. This allows for more time to calculate final grades in Blacbkoard but still allows for 1 hour to ensure that the data transfers properly and for you to review and post the grades in MyNIU. 

Downloadable Annotations for Assignments – Available September 7

The ability to download a PDF of assignment submissions with inline grading annotations was available via the Crocodoc integration, but not in the replacement integration with Box.com that was added in January 2018. Blackboard has listened closely to client feedback on the importance of this feature, and has worked quickly to make it available again. After the update is rolled out on September 7, you will be able to download a PDF of assignments submitted as .doc, .docx, or .pdf files, with the grading annotations included.

Need Technical Assistance?

Call the IT Service Desk at 815.753.8100, email ServiceDesk@niu.edu, or submit a ticket at it.niu.edu

Need Assistance Teaching with Blackboard?

Call the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at 815.797.2477 or email citl@niu.edu

Keeping Current

Stay up-to-date with the latest news regarding teaching with Blackboard at NIU, by following @NIUBlackboard on Twitter