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. 

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.

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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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.

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

Mini-Fest: Assessment – 17th May – 21st May

Distance Learner Banner

The Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit is pleased to announce its first mini-festival. The aim of the mini-fest is to bring together training sessions and workshops offered by LTEU around a particular topic with an external speaker. For this first mini-fest, we’ll be looking specifically at assessment. The mini fest will run from Monday 17th May until Friday 21st May and will be taking place online via Teams. Please book on the sessions that you wish to attend on our online booking system.

We are going to be joined by Professors Sally Brown and Kay Sambell to talk about assessment design post covid on Monday 17th May for a 2-hour workshop at 10.30am. Their paper Writing Better Assignments in the post Covid19 Era has been widely discussed across the sector since last summer:

Improving assessment and feedback processes post-pandemic: authentic approaches to improve student learning and engagement.

This workshop is designed to build on lessons learned during the complex transitions academics made last year when face-to-face on-campus assessment became impossible. A whole range of approaches were used by academics globally not only to cope with the contingency but also to streamline assessment and more fully align it with learning.

We now have an important opportunity to change assessment and feedback practices for good by boosting the authenticity of our designs to ensure they are future-fit.  Drawing on their work undertaken throughout 2020, https://sally-brown.net/kay-sambell-and-sally-brown-covid-19-assessment-collection/ the facilitators of this workshop Professor Kay Sambell and Professor Sally Brown will argue that we can’t ever go back to former ways of assessment and will propose practical, manageable approaches that fully integrate assessment and feedback with learning, leading to improved outcomes and longer-term learning for students.

Professor Kay Sambell is an Independent Consultant widely known internationally for her contributions to the Assessment for Learning (AfL) movement in higher education. A 2002 National Teaching Fellow (NTF) and Principal Fellow Higher Education Academy (PFHEA), she is President of the vibrant Assessment in Higher Education (AHE) conference series, ( https://ahenetwork.org/) and Visiting Professor of Assessment for Learning at the University of Sunderland and the University of Cumbria. Kay has held personal chairs in Learning and Teaching at Northumbria University, where she co-led one of the UK Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning which specialised in AfL, and, more recently, at Edinburgh Napier University.   


Website: https://kaysambell.wordpress.com

Professor Sally Brown is an Independent Consultant in Learning, Teaching and Assessment and Emerita Professor at Leeds Beckett University where she was, until 2010, Pro-Vice-Chancellor. She is also Visiting Professor at Edge Hill University and formerly at the Universities of Plymouth, Robert Gordon, South Wales and Liverpool John Moores and at Australian universities James Cook Central Queensland and the Sunshine Coast. She is a PFHEA, a Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) Senior Fellow and an NTF. She is widely published on learning, teaching and particularly assessment and enjoys working with institutions and teams on improving the student learning experience. 


Website: https://sally-brown.net

In addition to Sally’s and Kay’s workshop, LTEU will be offering sessions and workshops over the course of the week:

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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.