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Blackboard Gets into School Bundling Business and Cuts Deal for Internet2 Members

During its annual conference, BbWorld 2014, taking place this week in Las Vegas, Blackboard has made several announcements regarding new forms of packaging and delivery for its multiple products. The company announced a software-as-a-service model for its flagship learning management system (LMS); it also is releasing "solution sets" of applications appropriate for a specific school need or environment; and it has bundled a set of products for Internet2 members.

The public cloud version of Blackboard Learn will be available later this summer to customers alongside an on-premises self-hosted edition and a Blackboard-hosted private cloud edition. The SaaS approach is intended to provide customers with automatic delivery of the environment's latest features.

The company's Open Education platform, which hosts massive open, online courses, is currently in beta testing through the SaaS approach.

"We are very excited to bring a broader cloud strategy to market that gives schools a wide variety of reliable and sustainable deployment options," said Mark Strassman, Blackboard's senior vice president of product management.

Blackboard's new solution sets feature bundles of products and technologies that cater to specific needs. All of them include the LMS and consulting services to assist with the technology adoption. From there, a number of bundles have been developed for higher education and K-12.

For example, a learning insights set includes the LMS, reporting and dashboard functionality and institutional assessment and accreditation support services. Another flavor of that adds Blackboard Collaborate, a collaboration platform, and retention-related services.

"The launch of our solutions is our way of making it easier for schools to work with us," explained Strassman. "By integrating disparate products we are able to create a more unified, consistent experience and simplify the workflow in order to create greater value to teachers and students."

Three months after the company became a member of the Internet2 NET+ initiative, Blackboard has put together a suite of products and services for members of the nonprofit education technology consortium. The company said in a statement that the bundle was developed with input from several institutions, including Cornell University, the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The suite includes the LMS, as well as Blackboard's collaboration software, data analytics and reporting tools, a content repository, and helpdesk and deployment services. Also included is explore, Blackboard's content sharing platform, for developing and sharing digital course materials within and across schools. The content can be tagged, rated and aligned to competencies and standards for searching and organizing. The company said that explore would be offered free of charge to all Internet2 members, even without a Blackboard NET+ license.

"Student success is critically important today in higher education and we need innovative, standards-based tools so when we identify approaches that work, they can be easily replicated in other institutions," said Jack Seuss, CIO and vice president of IT at U Maryland, Baltimore County. "Blackboard's innovative teaching and learning solutions are designed to do just that. By focusing on student outcomes, first and foremost, this unique offer won't just help individual Internet2 institutions like us, but it will also help foster a more collaborative industry."

Next month Blackboard and Internet2 will put together an advisory board to lay out the roadmap for the Blackboard offer, along with joint initiatives and research projects. A portion of the revenue generated from the suite will go to the Internet2 community for further development of content sharing among members.

"We are dedicated to reducing the complexity, cost and time for higher education to benefit from advanced cloud services," said Shelton Waggener, senior vice president at Internet2. "The collaborative benefits from utilizing these new tools both within the traditional classroom setting and beyond are impressive. I couldn't be more pleased with the great work of Blackboard in working with the community service validation process. They leveraged their industry expertise, innovative best practices and commitment to interoperability in a true partnership, resulting in a very welcome addition to the Internet2 services portfolio."

The two organizations will host a webinar on August 20, 2014 at 1 p.m. (Eastern) to provide additional details.

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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