Introduction to Blackboard Next Generation

The following is a transcript of the "Introduction to Blackboard Next Generation " multimedia presentation available here.

Hello! My name is Stephanie Richter. I am the Instructional Technologies Coordinator with the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at Northern Illinois University. NIU will soon be upgrading to Blackboard Next Generation, in May of 2011. In this tutorial, I will introduce some of the new features included in Blackboard Next Generation. I will also explain the impact the upgrade will have and what the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center has planned to support you through the upgrade.

Until May 2011, we will continue to use Release 8.0 of Blackboard at NIU. This is what a default Blackboard course looks like now. The course navigation menu is on the left with links to various course tools and content locations. The Control Panel, which is not available to students, is on a separate screen where you configure and manage your course.

The Control Panel contains a series of modules with links to the various course tools that you may incorporate into your course. If you teach with Blackboard, you have become accustomed to the Control Panel interface. If you click one of the tool links from within the Control Panel, Blackboard takes you to yet another screen with the configuration options.

As mentioned earlier, NIU will be upgrading to Blackboard Next Generation in May 2011. This will be the most significant upgrade of Blackboard since it was introduced. Blackboard Next Generation has: a new interface designed to simplify the process of creating and editing your courses, new tools to facilitate collaboration between you and your students, new features that help you organize course materials and assignments, a new system to notify you and your students of updates to the course, and new ways for you to customize the course to meet your needs.


The first thing you will notice about the new version is the interface. Blackboard has redesigned the interface to make it easier for you to edit your course. Now Blackboard tasks take fewer clicks than before! For example, there is a single Edit Mode toggle in the upper right – this turns Edit Mode on and off throughout the entire course at once. Also, the Control Panel is now a small panel below the course menu that allows you to edit course settings from anywhere within the course, rather than the current standalone screen. You can even edit the course menu right within the menu, rather than going through several screens on the Control Panel, like you have to do in version 8.


Many of the new features in Blackboard Next Generation make Blackboard a much more effective tool for building and promoting collaboration. One of those is one of the most requested features in Blackboard, namely Blogs. The new Blackboard Blogs are social learning tools for students to express their thoughts and reflect on their learning with others in the course. Students can have individual blogs or can contribute to a single class blog.

Journals are similar to blogs, but they are private reflections by students which are viewable only by the instructor.

Wikis are collaborative work spaces where students can share resources and knowledge on topics related to the course. All three tools – Blogs, Journals, and Wikis, integrate with the Blackboard Grade Center to make assessment easy.


As part of an overall effort to streamline and simplify course development, many of the new features in Blackboard Next Generation are designed to allow you to organize and manage your content in meaningful ways. For example, the new Course Files area allows you to view and manage all files related to your course content.

Another way that Blackboard Next Generation promotes organization is by upgrading the existing Assignment tool and discontinuing the Digital Drop Box. The Digital Drop Box held all of the submitted files in a single list, which made it difficult to find a particular file. The Assignment tool organizes student submissions in the Grade Center and allows you to provide a grade, comments, and even a file with revisions or detailed comments. The upgraded Assignment feature also includes options for multiple attempts and Group Assignments.


In Blackboard Next Generation, each course can include a course Home Page, which contains modules to display notifications of course information customized for you. These timely and actionable notifications can include when new content becomes available, when students meet Early Warning System rules criteria, and when student-submitted assignments and tests are available for grading. For students, the Home Page can display notifications based on course announcements, assignment due dates, and content availability. Notifications can be viewed as modules in Blackboard Next Generation and can also be delivered by email.


Finally, Blackboard Next Generation makes it easier to customize your course. You can edit the menu from within the menu, rather than the Control Panel. The new menu even includes new dividers and sub-headers to help you customize the navigation of your course. There is also a new Mashup content type that allows you to seamlessly integrate existing web content from popular providers including YouTube, Flickr, and Slideshare.

Other New Features Available in Blackboard NG

Of course, that is only a small sample of the great new features included in Blackboard Next Generation. Other new features include improved accessibility controls that empower students to adjust font and other style elements to meet their needs, ePortfolios that can be shared with individuals at NIU or outside of NIU, new Lesson Plans that help you plan your class sessions, Learning Modules that organize and present content to students using a structured table of contents, and a simplified process for creating groups, to name a few. To see the full list of new features, go to

How the Blackboard Upgrade Will Impact NIU

Let’s take a look at how the Blackboard Next Generation Upgrade will impact faculty, teaching assistants, and students at Northern Illinois University.

NIU will complete the upgrade to Blackboard Next Generation over Memorial Day weekend, May 28 through May 30, 2011. During this time, Blackboard will be unavailable. Look for an official announcement about the outage from ITS later in the semester.

The upgrade will not impact existing course materials.

For students, the differences between the current version of Blackboard and Blackboard Next Generation will be fairly minor compared to those for faculty. Other than the change in colors to reflect NIU’s new branding, students won’t see drastic differences to existing features. However, they may require some assistance with the new features, like assignments, wikis and blogs.

As you have seen, for faculty, the interface will be very different.

Training and Support For Blackboard Next Generation

At the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, we understand that Blackboard is critical to teaching at NIU. We want to help you make the transition to Blackboard Next Generation, so we have a variety of resources to support your needs.

First, we have updated our workshops for the new version of Blackboard. We will offer these new workshops starting with Preview sessions in March, April and May, prior to the upgrade. Some of these previews will be face-to-face, but many will be online, so you can attend from the comfort of your office or home. After the upgrade, we will have in-depth hands-on workshops about the new Blackboard Next Generation. We will also have “Tune-up” workshops designed to get experienced users up to speed quickly with the new interface and features.

Every day of the first week of both the summer and fall 2011 semesters, we will be offering open lab sessions for individual assistance. These open-lab sessions are offered on a drop-in basis, so we won’t be able to cover all of the features then, but we can answer specific questions.

The existing Teaching with Blackboard website, at, has been a valuable resource for teaching with the current version of Blackboard. At the site, you can find detailed documentation, an FAQ, screencast tutorials, quick guides, and our Teaching with Blackboard podcast. When Blackboard is upgraded, we will also release our updated support site, at the same URL as the current site. The new website will include step-by-step instructions for key features in Blackboard Next Generation. Our other support materials, including the FAQ, online tutorials, and quick guides, will be updated gradually, as soon as possible.

We’re keenly aware of the need for training and support throughout the upgrade. We hope that you find time to attend at least one of our upcoming sessions! Look for the schedule soon!

More Information

So, in conclusion, we understand that transitioning to the new version of Blackboard may seem daunting, but the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center is here to assist you. Again, there is more information about the upgrade available at We look forward to seeing you at our upcoming workshops. Thank you.

Last Updated: 9/10/14