What’s New in Blackboard Learn Ultra April 2024 

The April update to Blackboard Learn Ultra includes a much-requested feature; Anonymous posts for discussions. Additionally, there are improvements to feedback and Gradebook calculations. 

Anonymous posts for Discussions  

Discussions play a pivotal role in nurturing peer-to-peer interaction and critical thinking. Students need to feel free to express their ideas and opinions without fear of judgement. To support this, Blackboard have added an option for instructors to allow anonymous posts in ungraded discussions. This feature provides flexibility for instructors. They can toggle anonymity on or off as the discussion progresses. Any existing anonymous posts keep their anonymity.  

Image below: Setting to turn on anonymous posts 

Note: When intending to post anonymously a student must tick Post anonymously. 

Image below: A student making an anonymous post with Post anonymously ticked (highlighted)

A student making an anonymous post with Post anonymously ticked (highlighted)

Image below: An anonymous post in a discussion 

An anonymous post in a discussion

Add question feedback when grading by student 

Instructors can now provide contextual feedback by student on all question types. Question level feedback promotes deeper understanding and personal growth among students. Question level feedback complements the existing capabilities of overall submission feedback and automated feedback for auto-graded questions. 

Note: Blackboard are targeting the May release for per-question feedback when grading tests by questions rather than by student. 

Image below: Instructor view of adding per question feedback 

Instructor view of adding per question feedback 

Image below: Instructor view of question with saved feedback   

Instructor view of question with saved feedback

Once students have submitted their tests and scores are posted, students can access the feedback. Students can access both overall feedback and question-specific feedback. 

Image below: Student view of feedback added to an essay question 

Student view of feedback added to an essay question 

Student feedback remains visible to students regardless of release condition settings 

Instructors may want to control access to course content using release conditions. This is helpful for providing custom learning paths through course content. The release conditions include an option to show or hide content to/from students before they meet release conditions. Blackboard have modified how these settings impact the students’ view of feedback from instructors. Now instructors can set release conditions without any impact to feedback to students.   

In the past, when an instructor selected the option to hide content, students could view associated grades but not the feedback. Blackboard have corrected this to ensure that students can always review feedback.   

Image below: Instructor view of release conditions settings with date/time release condition set in combination with Hide state in “When will content appear?” 

Instructor view of release conditions settings with date/time release condition set in combination with Hide state in “When will content appear?”

Image below: Student gradebook view with display of student’s feedback and grade regardless of the release condition setting in the above image. 

Student gradebook view with display of student’s feedback and grade regardless of the release condition setting in the above image.

Persistent navigation for Learning Modules 

To improve students’ navigation in a learning module, Blackboard have updated the navigation bar. Now the navigation bar is sticky and remains visible as students vertically scroll through content. Students no longer need to scroll back up to the top of content to access the navigation tools.  

Image below: The navigation bar is always visible 

The navigation bar is always visible

Calculations changed from using BigDecimal to BigFraction 

Instructors need a gradebook that supports diverse grading scenarios. Blackboard are changing the software library used to perform calculations in calculated columns and the overall course grade. 

Example: A course contains 3 assignments worth 22 points each. The student scores 13/22 on the first assignment, 14/22 on the second assignment, and 15/22 on the third assignment. An instructor creates a calculated column to calculate the average of these assignments.   

Using the new software library, BigFraction, the average will calculate as 14/22. 

With the former software library, BigDecimal, the average would incorrectly calculate to 13.99/22. The new software library ensures calculations compute as expected. 

December 2023 Blackboard Learn Ultra Update

This month there are three improvements in Blackboard Learn Ultra that the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit would like to highlight for Instructors.

Additional image insertion options

Images enhance comprehension of and engagement with course content. Instructors and students want to use high-quality images in content and submissions. To help with this, a new image button has been added in the content editor in the following places:

  • Announcements
  • Assessment Questions
  • Student answers on questions (local file upload only)
  • Submission feedback (standard view)
  • Journal entries and comments

Image below: Instructor view – image button on content editor for Announcements.

Flexible grading – sorting control on students tab

Grading large numbers of submissions without a way to organize them can be tedious. Now, instructors can apply various sorting options in flexible grading:

  • Submission date (oldest – newest) of latest attempt
  • Submission date (newest – oldest) of latest attempt
  • Last Name (A – Z)
  • Last Name (Z – A)
  • First Name (A – Z)
  • First Name (Z-A)
  • Student ID (ascending)
  • Student ID (descending)

The grading interface stores the most recently used sorting option. If an instructor stops grading an assessment and resumes grading later, the last sorting option is applied.

Also, if sorting the submissions by last name or grading status, the chosen sorting option carries over into the grading interface.

Image below: Sorting options as shown from Students tab in flexible grading.

Group assessment due date exceptions

Instructors may want to set different due dates for each group working on a group assessment.

In the past, there was no way to assign varying due dates for each group working on a group assessment. Now, instructors can assign a unique due date to each group using the exceptions workflow.

On the group assessment Submissions page, the instructor may add or edit exceptions for a group.

Image below: Instructor view – add or edit exceptions option on the group assessment Submissions page.

The Exceptions panel displays relevant information such as the assignment name and selected group name. This helps ensure the accuracy of an exception. Instructors can select a due date for the group using the date and time picker.

Image below: Instructor view – exceptions panel.

Image below: Instructor view – group assessment Submissions page displays the exceptions indicator for Project Group 1.

Creating Blackboard Tests for Online Exams in Ultra

Test settings have changed in Blackboard Ultra and the arrangements for conducting an exam have also been updated this year.

These are the main changes:

  • Only one random access code may be generated prior to the test. This code is automatically generated in the form of a 6-digit numerical code when you check the ‘Access code required’ option, which will be the case for ALL online in-person Exams using BB tests.
  • Module coordinators will attend the face-to-face examination for their module (for the first 30 minutes). If it is not possible to attend, arrange a substitute. Being physically present for the examination enables the Module coordinators to generate a second access code 30 minutes after the exams starts and to circulate this code with the exam team.
  • Module coordinators can liaise with the exams office via eosstaff@aber.ac.uk prior to exam day to discover which invigilating staff will be in attendance during their exam and collate their names and usernames.

We have prepared new guidance which explains these changes fully: Blackboard Tests for In-person Exams Guide. It’s an idea to set aside enough time to prepare the test and read the new guidance.

Due to these changes, the E-learning team will be offering additional training sessions on ‘Preparing for Online Exams’ on 5 and 11 December. Register for the training on: CPD Staff Training.

There is also an updated FAQ on Blackboard with more information on creating Blackboard tests for online exams. If you require further assistance with your test, the E-learning team are available on Teams Sessions. Contact to elearning@aber.ac.uk to arrange a session.

The E-learning team will be available to check yout test settings before the exam period between 4-20 December 2023. Remember, we are unable to check your test settings without a confirmed date or time.

Contact us if you have any queries regarding Blackboard tests on elearning@aber.ac.uk.

November 2023 Blackboard Learn Ultra Update

The Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit would like to highlight five enhancements for Instructors from the November Blackboard Learn Ultra Update. These enhancements are in three areas:

  • Making your content more visual using Images.
  • Updates to Tests.
  • Managing your Gradebook.

Making your content more visual using images:

1. Image insertion option for Ultra Documents, Journals, Discussions, Assessment attempts, and Courses 

Images play an important role in a student’s education experience. Images help to enhance comprehension of and engagement with course content. To help instructors more easily identify high-quality images, Blackboard have added a new image button in the content editor in the following places: 

  • Ultra Documents 
  • Journal prompts 
  • Discussions 
  • Course Messages 

Image below: Instructor view – New image button on content editor for Ultra Documents. 

Screenshot of an Ultra Document

When selected, the instructor has the following options: 

  • Upload an image through selection or drag and drop. 
  • Select a royalty-free, high-quality image from Unsplash. 

Image below: Instructor view – Image source options. 

screenshot of uploading an image

Students can also access the new image button on the content editor in the following areas: 

  • Discussion responses. 
  • Assessments and test question inputs. 
  • Course Messages. 

Image below: Student view – New image button on content editor for discussion response. 

Image below: Student view – Drag and drop or upload an image file. 

After selecting the image, instructors and students can reposition the focus and zoom of the image. There’s also an option to alter the aspect ratio of the image. 

Image below: Modify the zoom and focus of the image; set the aspect ratio. 

Users can rename the image. It is important always to consider the accessibility of course content. The user should mark the image as decorative or provide suitable alternative text. 

Instructors can also set the view and download file options for the image. After the image is inserted, the instructor can resize the image. 

Updates to Tests:

2. Edit/Regrade in Questions 

Instructors may spot a mistake in a test question when grading a test submission. For example, instructors may have found a typo, chosen a wrong answer, or wanted to adjust points. 

In the past, the “Edit/Regrade Questions” option was only available when grading submissions by “Student.”  Now, instructors can also access the Edit/Regrade workflow when grading by question. 

Image below: Instructor view – Edit/Regrade option when grading a test by question.

Image below: Instructor view – editing a question using the Edit/Regrade option. 

3. Matching question updates: partial credit auto-distribution and other updates 

Matching questions are useful for testing a student’s skill in making accurate connections between related concepts. This question type also checks students’ understanding in a structured format. 

To reward students who show partial understanding, some instructors wish to award partial and/or negative credit for matching questions. 

In the past, instructors selected a scoring option: 

  • allow partial credit. 
  • all or nothing. 
  • subtract points for incorrect matches, but question score can’t be negative. 
  • or allow negative question scores. 

These options were exclusive and, at times, created confusion for instructors.  

Now, partial and negative credit is turned on by default. Blackboard auto-distributes partial credit as a percentage across the matching pairs. The auto-distribution of credit saves instructors time. Instructors can edit the partial credit values if needed to grant some pairs more or less credit. Values for partial credit must sum to 100%. 

If desired, instructors may also specify a negative credit percentage to any pair. Negative credit is only assessed when applied and when a student mismatches a pair. If desired, instructors may choose to allow an overall negative score for the question. 

We also made a few other improvements to this question: 

  • Blackboard re-worded the question construction guidance and moved it to an info bubble. 
  • In the past, the “reuse an answer” and “delete pair” options were behind the three-dot menu. Now, these options appear on the right side of the answer for each pair. 
  • Before reused answers appeared as “Reused answer from pair #” in the answer field. Now, the answer itself is displayed in the answer field. “Reused answer” appears beneath the answer for the pair. 
  • “Additional answers” renamed to “Distractors.” 

Image below: New Matching question layout. 

Managing your Gradebook: 

4. Gradebook grid view performance improvements 

Some instructors prefer to work in the gradebook grid view. To improve the user experience, we made several improvements to this view. These improvements address overall performance and reduce the load time. 

Performance tested scenarios: 

  • 25K student enrolments and 400 gradable items: 
    Load time reduced from 108 s (about 2 minutes) to 14s (87% performance improvement) 
  • 2000 student enrolments and 400 gradable items: 
    Load time reduced from 19s to 8s (57% performance improvement) 
  • 40 students and 400 gradable items: 
    Load time reduced from 8s to 6.8s (14.75% performance improvement) 

5. Sorting controls for Student Name, Overall Grade, Assessments, and Manual Columns in grid view. 

To use the grid view click the toggle grid and list view button:

Sorting options in the gradebook provide a more efficient grading experience. 

Now instructors can sort the following gradebook grid view columns: 

  • Student Name 
  • Overall Grade 
  • Tests and Assignments 
  • Manual columns 

Instructors can sort records in ascending or descending and remove any applied sorting. A purple highlight in the column header helps instructors identify where sorting is applied. 

Any sorting applied yields a temporary change to the sort order of all columns in the gradebook grid view. 

Image below: Sorting an assessment in the grid view with filters applied. 

Blackboard Learn Ultra Gradebook

In this blogpost we’ll be taking a specific look at the Gradebook feature in Blackboard Learn Ultra. The Gradebook is the new name for Grade Centre.

It is used to hold all student marks on a Blackboard Course.

The Gradebook is located on every course from the top menu.

Ultra Course with Gradebook highlighted

Students enrolled on the module automatically appear in the Gradebook.

When you get into the gradebook, you can toggle your view.

Default is a list of markable items on one tab and students on another:

List view of the Gradebook

You can toggle your view so that you can see the markable items and the students in one view.

Grid view of Gradebook]

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Collaborative Documents available in Blackboard Ultra

Icon Blackboard Ultra

One of the great new enhancements that we’ve got in Blackboard Ultra is the ability to embed collaborative documents.

For those of us who did much of their teaching online during the Covid pandemic, you will recall us espousing the benefits of loading a collaborative document in the chat. We’ve now been working to enable this on our Blackboard Courses and we are pleased to say that they are available for you to use on your 2023-24 courses.

This means that your students will be able to collaborate together outside the classroom, on Blackboard in their own time. There are 3 types of document available for students to collaborate on:

  • Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint

We’re going to be using the collab docs for blog and wiki alternatives. But, if you want to maybe get your students to mind map, generate ideas, or build on each other’s notes, take a look at the collab docs. You could also use it to get students to sign up to groups. You can use the group feature in Ultra courses to limit the item to a specific student or group of students. 

Want to know how to do it? Take a look at Blackboard’s guidance on Microsoft OneDrive and collaborative documents.

Blackboard Ultra: Blog Alternatives Overview

Blackboard Ultra icon

This post outlines the solutions that the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit are working on for Blog activities in Blackboard Ultra. Once these solutions have been tried and tested, we will work on providing guidance for colleagues.


Blogs are a collaborative tool used for a number of assessed and unassessed activities at Aberystwyth University.

The tool is not currently available in Blackboard Ultra (despite our enhancement requests) and is not on Blackboard’s roadmap of development.

The unavailability of the Blog tool has been included in all parts of the decision-making process to highlight it as a risk in the move to Blackboard Ultra.

In their very nature blogs offer students the opportunity to reflect on their learning, organise their thoughts and ideas chronologically, and comment on each other’s posts.

Whilst there aren’t blogs in Ultra, there are two fully-integrated participation and engagement tools that will offer alternatives: Journals and Discussions.

Option 1: Use the Journal tool

Whilst blogs don’t exist in Blackboard Ultra, the journal tool does remain. Journals are used in a similar way to blogs but they are private between course tutors and students. If the activity can function without making student’s posts visible to all, we recommend using this tool.

You can get an overview of the journal tool by watching this Journal overview tutorial.

Option 2: Use the Discussions tool

If the activity requires an interactive element between students then we recommend using the discussion tool. Here you can create a thread, organise your discussions via folders, set the discussions to be graded, encourage student participation by not viewing the thread until students have completed their initial post.

For an idea as to how discussions work, take a look at this demonstration video.

Even though our discussion board tool has changed, our principles on discussion board design and engagement still remain the same. Take a look at our discussion board design blogpost for some tips and questions for you to ask yourselves in the design of the activity.

Option 3: Use WordPress blogging tool

Whilst we recommend that discussion board activity remains in Blackboard so that student engagement and assessment can take place, there is another blogging tool supported by the University: WordPress. If you think that WordPress is the only option for you then we recommend that you get in contact with us first to discuss your activity and so we can advise further (elearning@aber.ac.uk).

Blackboard Ultra: Wiki Alternatives Overview

Blackboard Ultra icon

This blogpost outlines the solutions that the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit are working on for Wiki activities. Once these solutions have been tried and tested, we will work on providing guidance for colleagues.


Wikis are a collaborative tool used for a number of assessed and unassessed activities at Aberystwyth University.

The tool is not currently available in Blackboard Ultra (despite our enhancement requests) and is not on Blackboard’s roadmap of development.

The unavailability of the Wiki tool has been included in all parts of the decision-making process to highlight it as a risk in the move to Blackboard Ultra.

In their very nature wikis are collaborative giving students the opportunity to contribute as part of a group. Students can produce media rich resources linking to external content, videos, and images. The content can be arranged over a number of pages, with a structure pre-given by the tutor.

This blogpost outlines a number of options for Wiki equivalences. The options are listed in order of LTEU preference.

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Interactive Blackboard Tools Case Studies – Wikis

Distance Learner Banner

This case study is based on and includes extracts from the Student-led Planning of Tourism and Hospitality Education: The Use of Wikis to Enhance Student Learning book chapter written by Dr Mandy Talbot (Aberystwyth Business School) and published in the Routledge Handbook of Tourism and Hospitality Education.

What tool do you use and how? 

Dr Mandy Talbot used Blackboard wikis to facilitate a student led, collaborative learning project (…) on the second year, bachelor degree module: international tourism development. (…) The module course work required students to work in small groups to identify and evaluate the tourism development strategies that were being followed in given tourist destinations and to compare these with approaches being taken elsewhere. Due to the collaborative and interactive nature of the assignment the most suitable web tool was the wiki.’

Why did you choose this tool? 

Before implementation of wikis ‘students undertook the exercise by creating and delivering a group PowerPoint presentation of 15 minutes to the class, with a further 10 minutes for questions.’ Dr Mandy Talbot changed the format of this assessment in order to:

  1. ‘Improve the cohesiveness of student group work: The wiki format provides a collaborative work space for students to develop their work’
  • ‘Provide students with more opportunity to interact with the work of other groups: The wiki format enables students to visit each other’s’ presentations over an extended time period. Wiki pages also have comment boxes which enable students to pose questions and engage in discussion on the other sites.’
  • ‘Develop student IT skills: Students will learn how to create and structure web pages’.

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Interactive Blackboard Tools Case Studies – Tests

The second case study on using interactive Blackboard tools showcases effective use of tests for summative and formative assessment by Dr Ruth Wonfor from IBERS.

  • What tool do you use and how?

I use Blackboard tests for either formative or summative tests in most of my modules.

  • Why did you choose this tool?

I’ve chosen to use Blackboard tests for a variety of reasons. For summative tests, I have used these in a first year module on anatomy and physiology. This module provides a lot of foundation knowledge on basic biology that is used by students in future modules, therefore I wanted to design an assessment that would enable me to test a wide variety of topics across the module that meets quite a broad learning outcome. The use of multiple choice tests has worked really well for this and it fits really nicely with the work I do in this module to try to get students to use flashcards in their learning. Students can really see the benefit of the flashcards through this test.

For the formative assessments, I have chosen to use Blackboard tests for quite a range of reasons. I have previously tended to use them to allow students to test their knowledge at the end of a topic. However, whilst we have been teaching online I have started to use them to ask questions that I would have asked in the lecture to check understanding. This has been great to help me to structure the learning and ensure that students aren’t rushing onto new sections without fully understanding what they needed to in the previous section.

  • How did you design the activity using this tool?

How I design the Blackboard tests very much depends on what I am using them for. The summative tests are quite rigid with only multiple-choice questions. I tend to use standard question formats, such as choose the correct answer to a question, choose the correct statement or what structure is the arrow pointing to on an image. Whilst students have been able to take this test at home during Covid-19, I have also introduced some short answer questions into the multiple-choice test. These have worked really well to prevent students just looking up every multiple-choice answer and giving a good marks distribution.  

For the formative tests I use a wider range of options in the questions to fit what I want the students to learn.  For example, I’ve used the matching questions after going through terminology, so that student have to match the terms with the correct description. I also try to use the feedback in these formative tests to get the students to direct their learning. So instead of telling students that they have answered a question incorrectly and what the correct answer should have been, I instead use the feedback to direct the students to the slide or section of the lecture where they can find the answer, hopefully encouraging students to structure their learning and revision further.

Finally, whilst we have been teaching online I have found adaptive release combined with the BB tests really useful for structuring topics. I often start some lectures with a bit of revision of information that they should have covered in previous modules that is the basis of the topic we are covering in that session. Therefore, I’ve used BB tests to cover this revision. I use the feedback to direct the students to further information if they need to brush up their knowledge and then use adaptive release to only release the topic to them once they have attempted the revision quiz. The students get clear instructions that they need to have a go at the quiz and then they will get access to the lecture topic. This seemed to work well and so it is something that I hope to keep in place for future years so that I can remove the revision from the lectures, allowing more time for application of the knowledge gained in the lectures.

  • What do your students think of this tool?

I’ve had pretty good feedback from students about the use of the BB tests, a lot have said that they have found them really useful to help them revise and go over topics to understand where they need to put more effort into their further study. I’ve also helped to reduce student anxiety about the final summative test by using formative tests throughout the module. As the summative test I use is on a first-year module in semester 1, students are often quite anxious about what to expect at university level. I can therefore direct them towards the formative tests as examples of the level of questions that they will be expected to answer in the exam.

  • Do you have any tips for people who want to use this tool?

My main tip would be to allow yourself a fair bit of time to construct the tests. The initial start up to write good questions and feedback for the students takes a while. However, once you have spent that time, you have the tests ready to roll out each year. It is well worth the time spent to help the students and get an idea of their understanding and where you may need to clarify topics again. Also make sure that you take the tests yourself! I’ve noticed a few mistakes or questions that need further clarification when taking the test myself and it’s really useful to see how the student will see the final question formatting in their view.

We would like to thank Dr Ruth Wonfor for sharing her experiences of using Blackboard tests.

If you like to learn more about tests please take a look at the Blackboard Tests – Creating Online Assessment Activities for your Students post and the FAQs.

If you are planning to use Blackboard tests for online examination, please get in touch with us at elearning@aber.ac.uk.