Introducing Blackboard Learn 9.1 Q2 2018 Release

A Look At What's Next For Blackboard - May 2018 Upgrade to the Cloud and the Q2 2018 Release

See What's Better

Blackboard Learn, the course management system utilized by Northern Illinois University faculty, staff, teaching assistants, and students, continues to be an important platform for facilitating teaching at learning at NIU, with over 95% of students and 90% of teaching faculty using the system during Fall 2017. Over the past several years, there have been significant upgrades implemented to the system which have added many new features as well as an improved overall user experience.

The upcoming upgrade will occur in late May and will require two brief outages and a period when Blackboard is in read-only mode. In addition to new features to make Blackboard easier to use, this year's upgrade will include moving Blackboard from local servers which are maintained by DoIT to Blackboard's cloud-hosted service (SaaS). This move will reduce costs for the university and provide benefits typically associated with a more modern cloud architecture, such as zero or minimal downtime in future updates, and easy scalability during periods of high usage.

The following is a quick overview of the tools that will become available following the upgrade.

Blackboard Cloud Hosting (SaaS)

For as long as NIU has used Blackboard, we have been self-hosted. While DoIT has done an exceptional job developing a robust infrastructure to do so, there are a number of reasons for us to reconsider this approach. Overall, cloud hosting has become the standard in learning management systems, and DoIT has been trying to adopt cloud hosting whenever possible. It provides significant cost savings to the university in purchasing and maintaining equipment, is more reliable, and offers unique benefits like dynamically increasing server capacity based on usage to avoid performance issues. Blackboard is also able to update our software with no outages or downtime and to provide new features quicker.

For now, this change will be seamless, and you will not see very many differences. All course materials and student data will be available following the move

In the future, however, using Blackboard SaaS allows us to take advantage of new options like the Ultra experience, which is a completely redesigned interface with intuitive controls and a better mobile experience.

Single Sign On (SSO)

Blackboard will now utilize Single Sign On with Office 365. If you are already signed into Office 365, you will not have to enter your username and password again to access Blackboard. Similarly, once you have logged into Blackboard, you can access Office 365 without logging in again. In the future, as more NIU systems adopt Azure AD, there will be more single sign on integrations.

When logging out of Blackboard, you will have the option to also close your SSO session, which is recommended for security, particularly on a public or shared computer. 

end the single sign on session when logging out of Blackboard

Record Attendance in Blackboard Learn

Being able to record attendance has been a highly-requested feature. With the new Attendance tool, you can mark whether a student is present, late, absent, or excused for each class meeting. The attendance records for each student appear in a single column in the Grade Center, instead of having a column for each session. On the Attendance page, profile pictures appear so you can easily identify students (if they have added a photo to their Blackboard Profile). You can use attendance as part of calculating grades just as you can for an assignment grade column.

screenshot of blackboard attendance tool

Learn more about the Attendance tool »

Easily Check and Change Course Availability

Now it will be easier to determine if your course is available to students, and to change that with a single click. If you have the Instructor or teaching assistant role in a course, you will now see a lock icon in the upper right corner, near the Edit Mode and Student Preview icons. The lock icon is open when the course is available and closed when it isn’t. You can toggle the course availability by clicking the icon, instead of using the Course Properties.

screenshot of course availability icon on the home page

Learn more about course availability »

Submission Receipts Enhancements

Introduced in our 2017 upgrade, Submission Receipts provide students with a confirmation number when they have submitted an Assignment. Now these receipts will also be sent to students via email so that they can be confident that their assignment was successfully submitted, and as evidence of submission, if necessary.

screenshot of blackboard assignment displaying a submission receipt

You can verify a confirmation number in the Grade Center, under Reports.

Learn more about submission receipts »

Discussion Board Replies to Me

Keeping up with large Discussion Board forums is easier with a quick view of how many new and unread posts are replies to you for each discussion forum or thread. You can click the value to see the list of replies to your posts and stay up to date on the conversation.

screenshot of discussion forum list

Learn more about Discussion Threads »

Full Grade Center Column Names

More easily identify specific Grade Center columns by viewing the full name in the Grade Center. Now longer column names will wrap onto multiple lines, so that you can see the full column name. If your column headers are too tall, you can use the Grade Center name to override your view to a shorter column name, while students will still see the full name in My Grades.

grade center column names wrap onto multiple lines

Full Screen View of the Grade Center

See more columns and rows in the Grade Center with the new Full Screen View. This collapses the side navigation and the top banner of Blackboard, to help you focus just on the Grade Center.

view the grade center in full screen mode

Grade Center Cleanup

Quickly clean up multiple Grade Center columns at once on the Column Organization page. Simply select the columns using the checkbox and click the Delete button. Any manual or calculated columns you select will be removed completely. If you select any columns which are associated with a gradable item (such as an Assignment, Test, or Graded Discussion), any student submissions or posted grades will be deleted but the columns will remain in the Grade Center. You will need to delete the gradable item directly in the course to remove the columns. Naturally, you should use care when deleting columns in this way, as they cannot be recovered.

screenshot of column organization page

Learn more about deleting multiple Grade Center columns »

Additional Drag and Drop Files

You can now use drag and drop to add files in more areas of Blackboard, including the Content Collection, Content Editor, blank page content type, blogs, journals, and adding an artifact to Portfolios.

screenshot of file attachment drag and drop

Learn more about using drag and drop with files »

Mobile Grading in the Blackboard Instructor App

Several new features are planned for the Blackboard Instructor app to facilitate mobile grading. Following the June update to the Blackboard Instructor app, you will be able to view and grade student submissions from your mobile device, including using rubrics and adding comments. The initial workflow will be optimized for tablets, and subsequent updates later this year will offer options for multimedia feedback, offline support, and anonymous grading.

Keep an eye on your app store, and be sure to update the app when it becomes available!

Learn More

Quick guides, and tutorials developed by Blackboard are also available in addition to workshops from the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

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Last Updated: 4/26/2018