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Northwestern U Creates Integration Utility To Link Blackboard and Google Apps

Users at Northwestern University will be able to log into both Blackboard Learn and Google Apps with a single signon thanks to the efforts of the institution's IT development team. The code created by the team as a Blackboard Building Block and named Bboogle has also been released as open source to let other institutions use or build on the technology at no cost.

Northwestern, based in Evanston, IL, deployed Blackboard as its primary course management system in 1999 and Google Apps in 2007. This fall it has about 30 faculty members and 1,000 students using the new integration. The technology, which eliminates the need to log in separately to Blackboard accounts to check grades or assignments, automatically enrolls individuals in courses as collaborators on Google's documents, calendars, and spreadsheets. As a result, instructors will be able to use Google Apps to enhance their ability to give collaborative assignments; students will more easily be able to organize group meetings, interactions, and presentations.

"Google's email and calendars have fast become the preferred way for our students to organize much of their academic and personal lives," said Mort Rahimi, VP and CTO for Northwestern. "Connecting Google's collaboration and communication tools with Blackboard services is a natural fit. It helps make the Blackboard environment more familiar and productive, and it brings together the innovative work of these two technology leaders for higher education."

"This integration has provided a perfect platform for class members to collaborate with one another and perform all of the tasks required to build a web site," said Geraldo Cadava, an assistant professor of history who is teaching a course at Northwestern that requires the creation of a collaborative web-based encyclopedia. "Students in the class write entries, edit them, and continuously modify the site's appearance and layout. They have truly taken ownership of the site, and have demonstrated much excitement about this tool's potential."

According to a presentation by Patricia Goldweic, a senior software engineer at the university, the Google Integration Server mediates all communication between the building block and Google to minimize building block requests with Google, to keep track of Google content publication and access in Blackboard courses, and to provide usage information that could later be used by reporting tools. The integration also uses technology from Blackboard that allows developers to create and share enhancements to the Blackboard learning environment.

The developers said they hope in the future to support single signon to Gmail and other Google Apps services and may create additional tools to facilitate the "publishing" of Google content to Blackboard courses.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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