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Blackboard Updates Student Interface in Learn Service Pack 10

Blackboard checked in with 600 students through focus groups and interviews, surveys, and usability testing to come up with a number of new features that appear in the latest service pack update of its learning management system. Likewise, the company said it also worked with 600 educators to refine Blackboard Learn SP10.

What students told Blackboard, according to Julie Kelleher, senior director of product marketing, was that they "have a lot to manage across their courses. They find that their instructors use Blackboard in different ways. They just need an easy way to keep track of everything--especially their grades. And lastly they really want to build relationship with their classmates and teachers and others across their institution."

The company turned those requests into a feature set that freshens up the user interface, puts an emphasis on social learning tweaks, and adds tactics for improving student retention.

One addition is My Blackboard, an area in the application that allows the user to access from a single screen important or frequently-used information. That includes a global navigation bar that shows all the courses the student is enrolled in and all the organizations he or she is involved with; a profile area that can be edited and personalized; and access to a post page, update page, grade page, and people page.

The Profile page allows the student to upload a picture; preview what others will see; change a user name to another preferred name, such as a nickname; update a major; and specify privacy settings (whether the profile should be visible to all users at the institution, only to classmates, or hidden completely).


Profile editing in Blackboard Learn Service Pack 10

The People page makes it easy for the user to find and connect with others; he or she can filter by a particular course; search through photos; and hover over a picture to get a major, name, and profile description.

The Posts page provides access to important information and conversations. Those can be filtered to all, to those just about the individual user, or to some custom mix. As the user moves through the list of posts, the one highlighted will load into a view on the right side of the screen, where the student can then comment directly in line.

The new Posts page provides access to news, information, and conversations.

The Updates page provides another way for the student to skim information to see what's new and what needs to be done and get quick access to grades.

The Grades page displays all the grades that have been recently posted for the student, who can filter on them by date or course.

"My Blackboard is going to help an institution deliver a student experience that is more personalized, more connected, and more immediate," Kelleher said.

Using the same set of features, instructors can check activity across their courses and interact with students too. They can also communicate with students via two-way text messaging and text-to-voice notifications.

The new release includes two features that deliver data to faculty and administrator that can be used to improve the course experience: assessment item analysis and course evaluations and surveys.

The item analysis allows an instructor to review data about the questions asked in tests to determine their effectiveness. A "discrimination" filter lets the instructor drill down on questions to understand why students performed so poorly on them. The last service pack introduced the ability for instructors to re-grade questions when the need arose and have the program auto-adjust student grades; with the new addition, finding and fixing a question can be done "in one simple workflow," Kelleher said.

Blackboard Learn SP10 adds new item analysis tools for assessments.

The course evaluations and survey feature allows the client institution to collect feedback on courses, departments, institutions, and external audiences, and gain visibility into performance by disaggregating data and analyzing outcomes by term or by year. The same feature set allows the school to remind students on every single Blackboard page they access that a survey is awaiting their attention, in order to increase the response rate. Also, results of the survey can be moved to SPSS or Excel.

The survey results view

Later this year the company will release additional new features for Blackboard Learn, including the ability of students to set up collaboration spaces on their own, major updates to the Blackboard calendar, and a change to the student profile page.

The collaboration space feature will let a student set up an area where multiple people can collaborate on projects or work together across one or multiple institutions; this can be done without instructor or administrator approval.

The new profile page will also be extensible in that future update to make the profile discoverable to anyone using Blackboard worldwide. "You can grow your network to users using Blackboard anywhere," said Brad Koch, the company's vice president of product management. That will surface as a new addition to the profile privacy options.

Calendar improvements will allow the user to drag and drop calendar items and have their due dates updated; export the calendar to other programs, such as Outlook or Google Apps; and have workday and personal calendars synchronize with the Blackboard calendar, each which can be filtered and designated with a unique color.

The same release will also include wider use of video, though details were sketchy. Likewise, the grade view will be tweaked to enable the user to hover over a button to expose the grade to maintain a degree of privacy when it's being viewed in a public setting.

"My Blackboard is my favorite feature," said Mark Radcliffe, director of Professional Development at "The first time I logged in as a teacher and saw that little red '1' in the top right hand corner of the screen, my interest was piqued. I found that without even making a click, Blackboard Learn had told me that one of my students had submitted something. Within two clicks I was grading that assessment. This same speed improvement affects students and is all achieved through a very contemporary look."

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