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. 

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).

Interactive Blackboard Tools Case Studies – Discussion Boards

We are pleased to present the first case study on using interactive Blackboard tools featuring the use of discussion boards by Dr Martine Garland from Aberystwyth Business School.

Discussion boards were thus a way of recreating the discussion we may have had in class, this led to over 900 posts during the semester.’

What tool do you use and how?

I use discussion boards on a core 1st year marketing module with 97 students. They are used in a very structured way to provide students with an opportunity to apply a theory, model or framework they have just learnt about. I found that with the blended approach adopted in response to Covid-19, students were studying recorded asynchronous content out of synch with the week in which it was intended they should study the topic. This meant that in live MS Teams sessions it was difficult to use that time to do topic specific exercises and create debate as many students had not yet covered the topic. Discussion boards were thus a way of recreating the discussion we may have had in class, this led to over 900 posts during the semester.

Why did you choose this tool?

I chose this tool as it was very straightforward to embed into the asynchronous learning structure and to signpost students to it at the relevant moment in their studies. Each recorded lecture had three ‘discussion points’ that were designed to meet learning outcomes related to application of learning. Having worked through online learning content on a topic, the discussion point asked them to share their experience or a relevant example, and to enter into deeper conversation about the real-world application of a theoretical construct.

How did you design the activity using this tool?

In the PowerPoint of the recorded lecture, I used a consistent icon to indicate discussion, then included directions that they should pause the video, make some notes, then when they have finished the lecture, go to the ‘discussion space’ and share their thinking.

I also used the discussion board functionality to set and receive ‘collaborative task’ activities. They could read the brief at the top of the thread, and they then posted their groups outputs in the thread. It was termed the ‘Collaboration site’ but was just using the discussion board tool.

What do your students think of this tool?

I think it was mixed, some students didn’t engage at all, although the majority did (bear in mind they were awarded marks for participation and engagement). Several students cited the discussion boards in their MEQ feedback:

“I absolutely loved this module. the teacher was exemplary, and she was very focused throughout the module. The discussion board was the best part of module as it gave us the space to apply the theories. overall, one of the best modules in my first year.”

“With everything going on, this module has been run very well this semester. Lots of online content to do and discussion forums for students to discuss the topics covered has made it a very engaging module.”

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

Make it very clear what you are asking them to do and where they can find it. Encourage students to upload an avatar so the discussion is not so faceless. Certainly for year 1 modules, consider awarding marks for participation an engagement in things like discussion boards, wikis etc. Blackboard reports provide you with a quick and easy way of seeing who is doing what, where and when.

A huge thank you to Dr Martine Garland for sharing this case study. If you like to learn more about discussion board please take a look at the Blackboard Tools for Group Work (Blogpost 4): Discussions post and the discussion boards FAQs.

Call for Case Studies – Blackboard Interactive Tools

We are looking for staff who would like to share their experiences of using Blackboard interactive features, e.g. blogs, journals, wikis, tests, discussion boards. We welcome case studies in any format, e.g. short text, a video, voice memo. These case studies would be included on our blog and used in future training sessions. Please sent your case studies to lteu@aber.ac.uk 

To learn more about different interactive Blackboard features:

Blogs & journals:

Interactive Blackboard Tools Series – Journals and Blogs (Part 1)

Blackboard Tools for Group Work (Blogpost 2): Blogs


Blackboard Tools for Group Work (Blogpost 3): Wikis


Blackboard Tests – Creating Online Assessment Activities for your Students

Discussion boards:

Blackboard Tools for Group Work (Blogpost 4): Discussions

E-learning Enhanced: Interactive Blackboard Tools Training Sessions

Distance Learner BannerThe Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit is pleased to be running our E-learning Enhanced training sessions again this semester.

We’ve got a session scheduled for each of Blackboard’s Interactive Tools: Discussion Boards, Wikis, Tests & Quizzes, and Journals & Blogs. In addition to this, we’ve got a number of Welsh Medium workshops on ‘What can I do in Blackboard?’ as well as some more CPD opportunities.

Blackboard Tools are incredibly versatile and can be adapted for a wide variety of different learning activities: from formative and summative assessment to peer and online learning community building, from reflective activities to the creation of resources. As with all technology enhanced learning, the key is the design of the activity and how that is linked to learning outcomes. Putting the teaching need first and choosing the most appropriate tool will result in meaningful engagements with the task.

These sessions have been designed in such a way to foreground the learning design of the activity as well as the technical creation. Participants will be given the opportunity in these sessions to design a learning activity using the relevant tool and will be provided with technical videos and tips for best embedding their tools in their teaching.

See below for dates and times:

22.02.2021Designing and Using Blackboard Discussion Boards
26.02.2021Beth allaf ei wneud gyda Blackboard?
03.03.2021Designing and Using Wikis for Online Collaborative Activities
11.03.2021Creating Blackboard Tests and Quizzes
17.03.2021Using Blackboard Journals and Blogs for Learning Activities
22.03.2021Beth allaf ei wneud gyda Blackboard?

You can see our full list of CPD and book your place online: https://stafftraining.aber.ac.uk/sd/list_courses.php. All our sessions are designed to be run online via Teams. You will be sent a calendar invitation with a link to the session beforehand.