What’s New in Blackboard Learn Ultra May 2024 

Please find below some of the latest enhancements from the May update of Blackboard Learn Ultra that the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit would like to highlight to Instructors. 

Supporting multiple performance criteria in release conditions

Release conditions determine when students can view course content. Release conditions are on the content’s visibility setting on the course content page. Currently, you can set:

  • Which course members or groups have access;
  • When the course content is accessible, visible, and hidden;
  • When student performance is necessary for completing an assignment or scoring.

Instructors can now set more than one performance criteria per content item. 

Image below: Release condition panel with additional performance criteria selected.

Release condition panel with additional performance criteria selected.

Add question feedback when grading a test by question

When grading by student or by question, Instructors can now provide contextual feedback and can add this feedback to all question types. Question level feedback promotes deeper understanding and personal growth among students while also enhancing both overall submission feedback and automated feedback for auto-graded questions.

Image below: Instructor view of adding per-question feedback when grading by question.

Instructor view of adding per-question feedback when grading by question.

Image below: Instructor view of question with saved feedback.

 Instructor view of question with saved feedback.

After scores are posted, students can access their feedback in the Gradebook. 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.

Improved Gradebook navigation

To create a more intuitive navigation, Blackboard have replaced the grid and list view buttons with text links. The options are now: 

  • Gradable Items
  • Grades (grid view)
  • Students

The Gradebook will remember the last view you used in each course.

Image below: Instructor view of the new gradebook navigation menu

Instructor view of the new gradebook navigation menu

Proportionally and Equally weighted column calculations

Instructors have diverse grade calculation needs. Some instructors use weighted calculations to help with aggregating calculations like midterm or final grades.

Now instructors can assign equal weights to items in the same categories. The chosen calculation method, whether proportional or equal, applies to all categories. In the past, weighted items in the same category had proportional weights. These weighted items were based on the possible points of each item.

To better understand student performance, some instructors use drop rules to remove outliers. Because it’s important to know the weighting method when managing these settings, Blackboard now displays the instructor’s chosen weighting option in the calculation rules panel.

Image below: Instructor view of the new Proportionally weighted calculation options.

Instructor view of the new Proportionally weighted calculation options.

Image below: Instructor view of the new proportional weighted calculation option. Instructors can see what percentage each item in the category contributes to the overall category weighting.

 Instructor view of the new proportional weighted calculation option. Instructors can see what percentage each item in the category contributes to the overall category weighting.

Image below: Instructor view of the equally weighted calculation option; Instructors are informed of the equal percentage that items count towards the overall category weighting.

 Instructor view of the equally weighted calculation option; Instructors are informed of the equal percentage that items count towards the overall category weighting.

Image below. Instructor view of the updated Edit calculation rule panel confirming the selected category weighting option.

Instructor view of the updated Edit calculation rule panel confirming the selected category weighting option.

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. 

What’s New in Blackboard Learn Ultra – March 2024

This month Blackboard brings us the ability to see Gradebook item statistics, being able to set assessments with no due date and some tweaks to message notifications.

Gradebook item statistics 

Item statistics give insight to course members’ overall performance on a graded content. Now, instructors can select a column in the gradebook to access summary statistics for any graded item. The statistics page displays key metrics such as: 

  • Minimum and maximum value 
  • Range 
  • Average 
  • Median 
  • Standard deviation 
  • Variance 

The number of submissions requiring grading and the distribution of grades also displays. 

Image below: Access to item statistics from the Grid view. 

Access to item statistics from the grid view

Image below:  Access to item statistics from the Gradeable Items view.

Access to item statistics from the Gradable Items view

Image below: Item Statistics page.

Item statistics page

No Due Date assessment option

Due dates are an important aspect of the teaching and learning process. In some scenarios, such as self-paced learning, an instructor may not want to apply a due date. To make the option for not having a due date more evident, we’ve added a “No due date” option for Tests and Assignments. 

Image below: Test Settings panel showing the new “No due date” option. 

Test Settings panel showing the new “No due date” option

We also updated the default due date and time to tomorrow’s date at 11:59 pm. 

Image below: Test Settings panel displaying the new default due date and time. 

Test Settings panel displaying the new default due date and time

There may be cases when the “No due date” selection conflicts with the Assessment Results settings. When this occurs, the instructor is prompted to review the settings. 

Image below: A warning banner appears when the “No due date” selection conflicts with Assessment Results settings. 

A warning banner appears when the “No due date” selection conflicts with Assessment Results settings

Instructors can navigate to the Assessment Results section in the Settings via the link in the banner. 

Image below: Assessment results timing options when there is no due date. 

Assessment results timing options when there is no due date

Please note that for summative and high stakes assessment, we still advise having a due date and time. To discuss your requirements for test settings, please contact the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit (elearning@aber.ac.uk).  

Announcement indicators and mark announcements as read/unread

Announcements are an important communications channel within a course. It is important to help create awareness of new announcements and read/unread controls. 

Now, there is a number indicator next to the announcement tab in the course. The indicator signals the number of unread announcements available. 

Additionally, students can now mark announcements as read or unread. On the New Course Announcement pop-up, users have the option to mark the read state. Students can also mark announcements as read or unread from the Announcement page. 

Image below: Number of unread Announcements next to the Announcement tab 

Number of unread Announcements next to the Announcement tab

Image below: Announcements pop-up with the option to mark as read/unread 

Announcements pop-up with the option to mark as read/unread

Image below: Announcements page with the option to mark as read/unread. 

Announcements page with the option to mark as read/unread

Image below: Matching announcement and messages indicators for consistency 

Matching announcement and messages indicators for consistency

Reminder: Access the Course Activity Report and message students from within it. 

The Course Activity report helps you understand how well your students are performing and how much they are interacting with your course. The Course Activity Report enables Instructors to: 

  • Message students who are falling behind and encourage them to increase their course activity 
  • Identify struggling students based on their overall grade, missed due dates, the number of hours they spend in your course, and the number of days since their last access 
  • Congratulate students performing well in your course and ask them to be mentors 
  • Customize your course alerts to identify struggling students when their overall grade drops below a specific value, they’ve missed due dates, or they haven’t accessed the course for a certain number of days 
  • Download the table view to a CSV (comma-separated values) file to analyse the data with other tools 
  • Download the scatter plot as a PDF or image to share information with other instructors or mentors of the course 

To access the Course Activity Report select Course Activity in your course’s Analytics tab. 

Image below: Accessing the Course Activity Report from the Analytics tab 

The table view of the Course Activity report on the Analytics tab, with a blue box around Analytics and Course Activity.

Sending Messages 

Instructors can select students and send them messages from Course Activity by selecting the Send message button. When you send a message to multiple students, each student will receive an individual message and will not know which other students were included. 

Image below: A student selected to be contacted and the Send message button highlighted 

The table view of the Course Activity report on the Analytics tab, with a blue box around a student selection and Send message.

For more information on the Course Activity Report see the Blackboard Help Page on the Course Activity Report. 

Reminder: Grading Tests with Flexible Grading 

It is possible to grade tests either by student or by question —making it easy to compare answers across the course and ensure fairness and consistency in grading. Marking by student is currently limited to non-anonymous submissions. Marking anonymous submissions will be included in a future update 

For more information on Flexible Grading see the Blackboard Help Page on Flexible Grading. 

Blackboard Learn Ultra Course Creation 2024-25

The recent Academic Enhancement Committee approved some changes to the annual course creation process:

  • Courses will be created blank with the University approved template
  • Course creation will always take place on the first Monday in June (this will be Monday 3rd June this year).

Some staff have asked for more information about why courses will be created blank. This blog post is designed to help explain the reasons for this decision.

Previous years’ course copy process was done using Building Blocks. Building Blocks are no longer supported by Blackboard and can’t be used (you may remember that this was one of the reasons for moving to Ultra). The Blackboard course copy tool hasn’t been updated, so we don’t have a technical way of copying courses.

The course copy workflow is easier in Ultra than it was in Original. And as we will be copying from Ultra to Ultra courses, you’ll be able to copy larger blocks of content.

Blank courses means that template updates and additional settings can be applied to  courses. Blackboard has changed a lot since last summer, and there are new settings that will be useful for next year’s courses. To use these staff would need to add them to each courses manually.

Previous course copies included gradebook columns. After several years this started to get confusing for staff and made the gradebook difficult to navigate. Copying over the links for Turnitin, Panopto and Talis also has the potential for confusion – it isn’t easy to tell whether these links have been updated or not, and staff would need to check each one manually.

Some courses won’t have been created in Ultra (for example courses that only run every two years). These need to be created blank as Ultra courses anyway.

Blank course creation will also help to avoid out-of-date content being copied over as standard.

Information about how to copy content can be found on the Blackboard help site. Guidance and support will be available over the summer, but if you have any questions, please contact us on elearning@aber.ac.uk.

Blogpost: Blackboard Learn Ultra Organisations: Important Information

As part of the Blackboard Learn Ultra project, we are now turning our attention to Organisations ready for September 2024.

Organisations are Blackboard sites for non-academic purposes. They have the same functionality as a Blackboard Course and can be used to provide information, online training, and access to materials. Unlike Courses, Organisations are created with no template. Organisations have the same features and functionality as Courses.

There are 3 types of Organisations:

Departmental Organisations

Every department has got 3 departmental Organisations: 1 for Undergraduate students, 1 for Postgraduate students, and 1 for Departmental staff. These are automatically created.

Bespoke and Training Organisations

These are Organisations that have been requested by individuals. They can be created with automatic feeds, such as types of students, students on specific study schemes, or staff members in a particular department. Some of these Organisations hold training packages that we are asked to undertake.

Practice Organisations

These are individual for each staff member and have no students enrolled on them. As part of the move to Ultra, we created all staff their own Ultra practice Organisation.

As we move to Blackboard Learn Ultra for Organisations, we have worked on a new Organisation policy outlining the types of activities they can be used for as well as their retention period. This new policy was approved by Academic Enhancement Committee on 7 February and can be viewed on our webpages.

Departmental Organisations

New Ultra Departmental Organisations will be created shortly but  will not be made available to students until September 2024.

All departments will have a separate Organisation for UG, PG, and Staff in their department.  

These are in the form: 

DEPT-[departmental letter]-UG (e.g. DEPT-N-UG) 

New students and staff members will automatically feed onto the Organisation once they have activated their account. Once these Organisations are available, we will contact Departmental Directors of Learning and Teaching, Faculty Registrars, and Heads of Department to help facilitate the move to Ultra Organisations.

Bespoke and Training Organisations

These are Organisations that have been requested individually for a specific purpose. We have never removed or deleted Organisations before (unless this has been requested).

As part of this work, we will:

  1. Remove access to all bespoke Organisations that have not been accessed in 3 years with a view to retire the Organisation.
  2. Contact those who still have responsibility for an existing Organisation to see if they are required and facilitate the move to Ultra for these Organisations.

Practice Organisations

Staff members currently have access to two practice Organisations – one in Original and one in Ultra.

We will be retiring the Original Organisations in September 2024. Colleagues need to copy any materials they want to retain onto the Ultra version of the Organisation.

If you have any questions about Organisations, please contact the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit (elearning@aber.ac.uk).

What’s New in Blackboard Learn Ultra – February 2024 

The Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit is excited to share with you details of the new Forms and the new Linkert question type which were introduced in the February update. 

Forms 

Instructors frequently need to survey their class to gauge student interests or opinions on a range of topics from field excursions to course feedback. Now, instructors can create a Form for these use cases. 

The following items are supported in a Form: 

  • Essay question 
  • Likert question 
  • Multiple choice question 
  • True/false question 
  • Text 
  • Local file 
  • File from cloud storage 
  • Page break 

By default, a Form is not graded. Questions in a form don’t have correct or incorrect answers. Forms are currently not anonymous, this functionality will be included in a future update. 

Image below: An example ungraded Form used for a clinical teaching placement 

Example of ungraded Form used for clinical teaching placement

Some instructors may choose to grade a Form to encourage participation. When this is the case, instructors must manually enter a grade for each submission. 

Instructors may view Form submissions by student or by question in the new grading view. 

Image below: Ungraded Form submissions by question 

Ungraded Form submissions by question

Image below: Graded Form submission by student  

Graded Form submission by student

Instructors may download the Form results from the Gradebook and Submissions page as an Excel spreadsheet or CSV file. 

Image below: Download Form results from Gradable Items view 

Download Form results from Gradable Items view

Image below: Download Form results for Submissions page  

Download Form results for Submissions page

In the Gradebook grid view, student submissions for an ungraded Form appear as “Submitted.” Graded Forms display the manually entered grade or appropriate grading status. 

Likert question type 

Likert questions help provide a quantitative measure of opinions and attitudes. The responses often range from strongly disagree tostrongly agree. This question type is now available in the Form assessment type. 

Image below: Set up a Likert question

Set up a Likert question

The scale range defaults to three options, with suggested labelling for options one and three as strongly disagreeandstrongly agree. Instructors may select a range of three, five, or seven options and label the poles as desired. Instructors may also choose to include a “not applicable” option. 

Image below. Example Likert question in an end of unit survey  

Example Likert question in an end of unit survey

Note: A Likert question in a survey created in the Learn Original course view converts/copies to a Form in the Learn Ultra course view. The scale range default is three. 

Blackboard Learn Ultra: Project update

As we start the new year, we are planning for the next phase of our Blackboard Learn Ultra project.

Over the next 6 months, we will be looking at:

  • Enhancements to our course creation process
  • Course templates
  • Reviewing the Required Minimum Presence

Most of the work for the first part of the year, however, will involve Organisations.

Organisations offer the same functionality as Courses but aren’t used for taught modules.

Typical Organisations include:

  • Departmental Organisations which include information for staff and students
  • Training Organisations
  • Bespoke Organisations as requested

As part of this work, we are reviewing all existing Organisations to reduce their number and ensure they are still required.

We will also be developing a policy to ensure that we have a clear way to manage requests for new Organisations.

We will be contacting owners of Organisations in due course.

If you have any questions or feedback about using Ultra, contact the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit (elearning@aber.ac.uk).

Blackboard Learn Ultra Support Materials and Training

For colleagues who might be new to the University, colleagues who are returning from research leave and other periods of absence, and those who want a refresher, we are running our E-learning Essentials: Introduction to Blackboard Learn Ultra in January.

You can book your place online.

Unable to make our training sessions?

We’ve got our Blackboard Learn Ultra guide for staff on our webpages as well as a playlist to talk you through setting up your Blackboard Learn Ultra Module.

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.

Blackboard Learn Ultra Update: Building Blocks Retiring

On 31 December 2023, Blackboard is retiring Building Blocks as an integration solution for third party tools and they will no longer function in Blackboard. This will not affect Blackboard Learn Ultra Courses.

Whilst we made use of Building Blocks in Blackboard Learn Original (courses which ran before 2023-24), your Blackboard Learn Ultra Courses do not use them.

Building Blocks are installed software packages used to integrate tools such as Panopto and Turnitin (among many others) into Blackboard. Over the past two years we have upgraded these tools to LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) integrations. The retiring of Building Blocks was one of the drivers for moving to Blackboard Learn Ultra.

LTIs offer us access to regular updates, bugs fixes, and ongoing developments and enhancements designed for Blackboard Ultra. Building Blocks required manual upgrades and received infrequent updates as this form of integration approached retirement.

The Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit has done extensive testing to ensure that this change will have as minimal an impact as possible on current Blackboard Learn Ultra courses.

We will undertake the work of disabling Building Blocks on Tuesday 12 December during the regular IS Tuesday Morning Maintenance window in preparation for their final retirement.

If you come across any issues, please contact elearning@aber.ac.uk.