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Blackboard Expands Consulting Services into Mobile Arena

Blackboard is expanding the parameters of its professional services beyond technical services and training. The company recently announced that it would offer its clients consulting help specifically in planning and deploying mobile solutions.

Blackboard said the new service offering is a response to requests from clients for more support and guidance in developing strategic plans for enhancing and customizing mobile platforms with applications.

One higher ed customer that has already tested the consulting business is the Medical College of Georgia. "We started with just an idea, and worked with Blackboard all the way from conceptualizing to creating and implementing in a very quick timeframe, which speaks to their ability to understand and deliver," said Michael Casdorph, the Augusta campus' director of instructional support and education design. "Blackboard's mobile apps offer a great start right out of the box, but when you add their expertise and insight, their open APIs and their software development kit, you can really create a custom mobile experience. It's a huge advantage."

Earlier this year the college launched MCG Mobile, with campus features such as a map, directory, events, course listings, and other features designed to keep the community connected. Eventually, the college expects to deliver instruction and content through mobile devices.

Consulting areas will include assessment work and evaluation of Web service capabilities, interface development, creation of implementation plans, integration of mobile with existing applications, and use of Blackboard's Mobile Software Development Kit to extend mobile apps.

"Mobile isn't just about apps, it's about a strategy for enhancing and enriching the overall campus experience," said Katie Blot, senior vice president of the consulting team.

In other Blackboard news, the company said version 9.x of Learn, launched in January 2009, has been more widely adopted than any other version of its learning management system in the history of the company. Currently, 1,000 clients are using a 9.x version of the application, according to the company. The latest edition, 9.1, came out in April 2010 and included features to help former WebCT clients upgrade. It has been adopted by at least 100 of those customers in the first six months of its release.

Version 9.1 features an updated interface, built-in social learning tools such as blogs and wikis, and the ability to integrate multimedia content from Web sources. For K-12 customers, the release also includes lesson planning and standards alignment.

To support schools' upgrades to release 9.1, Blackboard has posted a series of video tutorials intended to help new users learn how to work with the latest release. The company has also set up a cohort program that put clients in touch with each other as they go through the upgrade process.

The support additions may be having a positive impact. The company said it has seen an uptick in the number of tech help tickets that are closed, a metric that reflects increased support quality.

"We have had a very positive experience with Blackboard, and the resources that they've put together for the Release 9.1 upgrade go miles in making the case that we have chosen the right platform," said Gary Friesen, director of academic technology at Taylor University. The Upland, IN institution is currently participating in the cohort program and is planning an upgrade to 9.1 in December. When the university did a previous upgrade, to version 8.0, Friesen created 22 videos a few minutes long to teach users how to work with new features in the software. "I am very encouraged by what Blackboard has put together to help us in this transition and to support the upgrade experience."

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