New Features in Blackboard Learn 9.1 April 2014 Release

Listed below is an overview of the primary new features that faculty and TAs will find in Blackboard 9.1 April 2014 Release. NIU upgraded from release 9.1 Service Pack 14 to the April 2014 Release in May 2015.

The written documentation on this page comes from the Blackboard Learn 9.1 April 2014 Release Feature Guide for End Users provided by Blackboard. Additional manuals and quick guides developed by Blackboard are also available in addition to workshops from the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.


New Feature for All Users

The Portfolio subsystem is intended primarily as a tool for students to reflect on their own learning or as a tool for assessing student learning. The new Portfolio framework will replaces the legacy Portfolio framework (Basic and Personal Portfolios) entirely. Legacy Portfolios will automatically be converted to the new framework.

Sample portfolio

Backward Compatibility

Portfolios created in either the Basic Portfolio tool or the Personal Portfolio tool in the legacy Portfolio framework will still be present in the new Portfolio framework, and will continue to be viewable, shareable, and editable. The backward compatibility of the new Portfolio framework assures that students will retain access to their existing Portfolios and be able to take advantage of the new functionality with those Portfolios in the new framework.

Accessing Portfolios

In the new Portfolio framework, the access to the My Portfolios area has been moved to the Global Navigation Menu under the “Tools” accordion. The Portfolios tool consists of three sub-sections: My Portfolios (where the student creates and manages their Portfolios), My Artifacts (where the student creates and manages their Artifacts), and Received Portfolios (where a student or faculty member accesses Portfolios that have been directly shared by other users).

Screenshot of accessing portfolios from the global navigation menu

Creating Portfolios

Creating a Portfolio is much cleaner, simpler, and effective with the new Portfolio framework. To begin creating a Portfolio the student clicks the Create Portfolio button in the My Portfolios sub-section.

Screenshot of My Portfolios page

The first time that a student creates a new Portfolio, the system will present the option to view a brief guided tour. The guided tour walks the student through the new authoring interface at a high level to orient the student to the new tools.

Screenshot of portfolio navigation tutorial for first time users

Creating Personal Artifacts and Assignment Artificats

Artifacts are evidence of learning, frequently accompanied by reflection by the student. Artifacts are managed independently in the My Artifacts repository of the Portfolio, as an Artifact may be used in more than one Portfolio. Artifacts can be created ahead of time or “on the fly” while the student is creating a Portfolio.

In the new Portfolio framework, there are two types of Artifacts: Personal Artifacts and Assignment Artifacts. Personal Artifacts consist of a Title, Description, and Content. The Content can be generated free-form using a Content Editor, or can be a file (or files) uploaded from the local computer or selected the Content Collection, or both (free-form content + files). Assignment Artifacts are artifacts that are generated by converting a graded submission to an Assignment in a Blackboard Learn Course into an Artifact. Assignment Artifacts not only include the submitted file/content, but they also include metadata about the assignment: the Assignment details, the grade the student received, and any feedback provided by the instructor.

Screenshot of selecting artifacts to add to the portfolio

Portfolio Design Options

To modify the layout and design of the Portfolio, the student clicks on the Preview & Customize button in the Portfolio authoring canvas. The preview of the Portfolio is displayed. The student can then click on the Customize button in the upper left to choose different layouts and color palettes. The new Portfolio framework requires the students to make far fewer decisions about design and more consistently will result in attractive Portfolio.

Portfolio Sharing

Students can share their Portfolios with individual internal Users (like faculty), external users (via email), Courses, Organizations, Institution Roles, or All System Accounts (which makes the shared Portfolio discoverable via the Search button in the Received Portfolios area). Whenever a student shares a Portfolio with others, each “sharing event” creates a static snapshot of that Portfolio at that point in time. What is shared is the static Portfolio Snapshot, so even if the student makes changes in his Portfolio, the recipient is still looking at the static Portfolio Snapshot of that Portfolio at that point in time.

Assigned Portfolios

The new Portfolio framework introduces a new feature for faculty: Assigned Portfolios. This new feature allows faculty to require a Portfolio as the submission in response to an Assignment in a Course. This is not a separate type of Assignment; it is simply a new option on the existing Assignment capability. With Assigned Portfolios, portfolios are easier to use and assess as part of authentic assessment practices in a Course.

screenshot of creating Assignment with portfolio submission

Anonymous & Delegated Grading

New Feature for Educators

Anonymous & Delegated Grading provides a more useful, robust option and best practice than has been implemented previously by the “Hide User Names” capability to enable anonymous grading and provide a mechanism for lead faculty to delegate grading.

This functionality is designed to meet stringent requirements and workflow needs for high-stakes assignments to ensure anonymous grading to avoid bias and to promote reliability by obtaining two or more grades from separate individuals from which a final grade can be established. However, faculty in any courses in which grading is a shared responsibility among teaching assistants or other graders, as common in large courses, will benefit from the capabilities.

For Anonymously Graded Attempts, student identifying information will be obfuscated. The student’s name is replaced with a unique identifier that can be used by the graders and instructors to identify a particular attempt for further discussion without discovering the identity of the student.

Creating and Editing Assignments

The interface for creating or editing an assignment has undergone a significant update to accommodate new Anonymous and Delegating Grading and to improve the workflow for the creation of all assignments. When creating or editing an assignment, faculty can enable Anonymous Grading and Delegated Grading within the Grading Options section. Enabling Delegated Grading permits a faculty member to assign specific teaching assistants or other graders in a course to grade particular groupings of student submissions.

screenshot of establishing delegated grading assignments

Student Experience

If an Assignment is set to be Anonymous, the student will be informed of this fact when submitting the assignment, when reviewing his grade with My Grades, and on the Review Submission History page.

Delegated Grader Experience

Teaching Assistants or others serving as delegated graders will only see the specific Assignment attempts for which they have been designated to grade within existing Learn workflows and interfaces such as the Needs Grading page.

Reconciling Grades

The Reconcile Grades page allows a faculty member to review provisional grades, feedback, and make a determination regarding the final grade.

Screenshot of reconciling delegated grades from multiple graders

Student Preview

New Feature for Educators

Previously, the Edit Mode On/Off control approximated what a student who had access to everything in a course might see. At NIU, faculty could request a pseudo-student account, which could be enrolled in a course to test the student experience. The new Student Preview feature provides the capability for a faculty member to see the course exactly how a student would see it. It accomplishes this by allowing faculty to easily transition into and out of a system-managed preview account that is automatically enrolled in the course as a Student. This provides all the advantages of a “dummy” account while absolving the faculty member and system administrator of the management overhead. The Student Preview creates efficiency for faculty by providing them the ability to confirm the design of their course content and course behaviors (e.g. grade calculations, adaptive release) from the perspective of a student. In particular this is useful for confirming behaviors such as time/date availability, adaptive release criteria, grade weighting, and other course behaviors that control what a student sees in the course or require some particular interaction from the student to be triggered.

Enter preview mode

The Student Preview feature provides a new button that appears in the breadcrumb bar next to the Course Themes and Edit Mode buttons and is shaped like an eye. Clicking on the Student Preview button moves the faculty member into Student Preview mode. While in Student Preview mode the faculty member can interact with the course as if he were a student, including taking quizzes/tests, submitting assignments, posting to forums, posting to blogs, etc.

View course in preview mode

While in Student Preview mode, the faculty member can control the settings related to how the data created as the preview student is handled upon exiting Student Preview mode by click the Settings button. By default, the faculty member is prompted upon exit as to whether the preview student and all of the data created as the preview student is deleted (the default) or kept.

choose how to handle data after leaving preview mode

A faculty member would keep the data to be able to check grade calculations, for example, or verify other behaviors that requires being able to view student activity -- in this case, the preview student's activity. After exiting Student Preview mode and keeping the data, the faculty member can navigate to areas of the course where they can view that preview student's activity, such as the Grade Center. The preview student is clearly identified by the appended "_previewuser" text on the username and last name.

To delete any retained data, the faculty member must re-enter Student Preview and exit again, this time choosing "Delete the data" at the prompt. Choosing to delete the data unenrolls the preview student from the course (and, if not in use in any other of the faculty member's courses, deletes it from the system). All activity conducted or created as the preview student is removed from the course permanently. This includes attempts, submissions, grades, posts, etc.

Assignment and SafeAssignment Integration

Feature Enhancement for All Users

Given the significant increased adoption and usage from Blackboard institutions, Blackboard decided to enhance the SafeAssign service to provide a more seamless integration with native Learn Assignments and updating the SafeAssign Originality Report interface. The new changes to the SafeAssign service are implemented through a new version of the SafeAssign Building Block. For the 4.0 Building Block, the SafeAssignment content type is removed and SafeAssign becomes an optional addition available when creating native Learn Assignments.

Learn Assignment SafeAssign Integration

By integrating the SafeAssign service with the native Learn Assignment content type, Blackboard is providing a more seamless and feature-rich workflow for faculty. Like other options on Learn Assignments, faculty can enable the SafeAssign service during Assignment creation and editing, under the “Submission Details” section

Screenshot of selecting SafeAssign submission during assignment creation

Faculty have the option to “Exclude Submissions” when creating a Learn Assignment. This option will allow faculty to create Learn Assignments that do not include any student submissions in the Institutional or Global Reference Databases, enabling students to “check their work” against SafeAssign sources prior to submitting a final version without subsequent revised drafts being flagged as matching the previous “draft” submissions. Like other options on Learn Assignments, this option will be point-in-time and editable after assignment creation. If the option were changed at a later date, new submissions would honor the new state of the setting.

Learn Assignments accept every possible file type as an attachment to a submission. SafeAssign will only process and create Originality Reports for attachments with compatible file types. SafeAssign is only able to support file types that are convertible to plain text including the following file types: .docx; .doc; .pdf; .txt; .odt; .rtf; .html; .htm; and .zip (processing files that match any of these file types within the .zip). However, Learn Assignment’s Inline Grading feature only supports the following subset of file types: .pptx; .ppt; .xlsx; .xls; .docx; .doc; and .pdf. SafeAssign will only process and create Originality Reports for attachments that match the above file types. For unsupported file types, the SafeAssign Originality Report will omit a matching score. This information is visible in the right-hand navigation bar of the new Originality Report.

These two lists of compatible file types means that there are only certain file types that can be displayed in the Inline Grading workflow and processed by SafeAssign. Below is a Venn diagram outlining which file types support both features:

Diagram of compatible file types for inline grading and SafeAssign

Any submitted files not supported by the Inline Grading feature but accepted by SafeAssign will still be processed through SafeAssign, and Originality Reports for these files will be available in the standard Learn Assignment grading workflow. The SafeAssign service integration with Learn

With the integration of SafeAssign in Learn Assignments, the separate grading interface for SafeAssignments is no longer necessary. In its place, SafeAssign will be visible directly within the Learn Assignment grading workflow. When faculty are able to use the Inline Grading workflow, SafeAssign is visible as a new section in the right hand menu bar.

Screenshot of SafeAssign Inline Grading view

With the integration between SafeAssign and Learn Assignments, almost all Learn Assignment features are available in tandem with SafeAssign services. The only feature that is not supported by the SafeAssign service at this time is Portfolio submissions to Learn Assignments.

SafeAssign Originality Report Improvements

In addition to improving the design and visual aesthetic of the SafeAssign Originality Report, several new features are introduced to the SafeAssign service (group submissions, multiple attachments, multiple submissions, etc.) as part of integrating the SafeAssign service into the Learn Assignment workflow.

Significant Figures in Calculated Formula Test Questions

Feature Enhancement for Educators

Faculty in STEM disciplines expect precision in the tools that support their pedagogical methods. For some time, Calculated Formula questions in Tests have been used by faculty in STEM disciplines to create quantitative questions using a formula & variables that can be dynamically generated, calculated, and scored. The automated grading of these questions, the correct answer to be calculated using the defined formula and variables, and the student’s response validated to award credit, has been improved to include calculation to significant figures. In addition, we have improved our existing support for scientific/exponential notation. The Test Canvas and the Item Analysis report have also been updated to include Significant Figures information.

Screenshot of indicating appropriate number of significant figures

The written documentation on this page comes from the Blackboard Learn 9.1 April 2014 Release Feature Guides for End Users provided by Blackboard. Additional manuals and quick guides developed by Blackboard are also available in addition to workshops from the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

Last Updated: 4/1/2016