by George Rosa

The long-awaited upgrade of Blackboard (Bb), CUNY’s Learning Management System (LMS), from the current version 8 to 9.1, has finally been set for June 2012. Faculty who log into Blackboard at the start of the summer 2012 semester will see a whole new interface and have at their disposal some powerful new tools and capabilities to more effectively manage their online teaching/learning component. At first sight the difference

will appear huge and maybe a little daunting to those who have not experienced it previously. But once you start using it you will realize the advantages of Bb 9.1 over Bb 8 in navigation, document and rich media posting, and communicating and assessing student performance. The goal of Blackboard in building version 9.1 was to eliminate unnecessary “clicking” involved in managing the course. This was achieved mainly by making many of Bb’s present capabilities more accessible to users as well as implementing new innovations, which together, bring Blackboard closer to an environment that users accustomed to Web 2.0 take for granted.

The BIG question that many faculty will ask immediately is “Will my Bb 8 courses be lost after the migration to Bb 9.1?” which will logically lead to “How do I copy course content from Bb 8 into Bb 9.1 courses?” The answer is that you won’t need to worry about that. Nor do you need to be concerned when CUNY CIS transfers courses from Bb 8 to Bb 9.1, because course content will not be transferred manually. What will occur is an “in-place” upgrade. In other words, the CUNY Bb 8 environment will transform into Bb 9.1 through code installment with little impact on faculty. All previous coursecontent will be present in the new environment.
Here is a sample of some important changes and additions that makes managing a course in Blackboard 9.1 easier than in Blackboard 8:
The Control Panel: For instructors, the Control Panel in Bb 9.1 appears in the entry page of a course as a menu, significantly improving navigation among different tasks and areas.
Blackboard Collaborate: This is a collaborative platform with powerful capabilities such as web video conferencing, instant messaging and voice authoring, and, group discussions and debates—which is especially useful for language classes. To learn more and to try a demo version of Collaborate, visit https://www.blackboard.com/Platforms/Collaborate/Overview.aspx.
Test Lockdown Timer option: With Bb 9.1 you now have the option to have the test automatically end when the time limit has been reached. In Bb 8 a timer can be set for an online test but this will not automatically end the test at the set time. Instead, an alert in the form of an exclamation point appears in the test’s grade column in the Grade Center for students that exceeded the time limit.
Multiple File Upload: Now, when you have multipe documents that you wish to post, you can select a group of documents to upload into the content area simultaneously instead of tediously browsing and posting each one at a time
Content Management: In Bb 9.1, document and image files can be uploaded and stored in a content area, and then inserted into the desired locations in the course site. It is no longer necessary to copy or upload the same document multiple times in order to make it available in multiple locations. At a later date the Content Manager will come online, making it easier to share content among different course sections.
Needs Grading Page: Instructors can view student attempts ready for grading or review on the Needs Grading page.
Multiple Assignment Submission Attempts: In Blackboard 8, in order to allow a student to redo an assignment and submit it using the same assignment link, the instructor needs to delete the previous submission from the Grade Center. Blackboard 9.1 allows the option of letting an assignment accept multiple attempts.
Mashups: Mashups allow instructors to add content to a course from an external website, such as embedding a YouTube video and other rich media. With the Mashup tool you can search for, within Bb, and embed an item from YouTube, FLickR, and Slideshare.
Other powerful features include drag-and-drop of content placement, Assessment Rubic tool, Email Notification of Course Changes (pending approval from CUNY), What’s new/due viewed in one location (pending approval by CUNY), Group Random enroll, and many others. Also, Blackboard has greatly expanded its support in terms of online video and print tutorials and other online help and documentation, through its On Demand Center and “Ask Dr. C” forum, and CUNY itself is planning a centralized online support site.
Currently we at EdTech are making plans for the changeover in terms of developing training materials, scheduling workshops, and testing the new environment. We’ll be posting workshop schedules soon on our website. A Blackboard 9.1 training environment will be available to faculty where they can see their courses in the Bb 9.1 environment and practice using its tools. Make an appointment if you have any questions or are interested in trying some of these new features. Another good place to get a head start is to sign up at www.Coursesites.com, which is Blackboard’s free LMS site. This is available for anyone to create and develop courses using the Bb 9.1 platform. However, since it’s a Blackboard showcase, it has more bells and whistles than CUNY’s Bb 9.1 version. I’ll continue to keep you posted in my Educational Design blog on the Hostos Social Network.

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