AI Design Assistant

The AI Design Assistant is an intuitive and efficient tool that gives you a head start on some of the more time-consuming aspects of building a course in Blackboard, while keeping you in control. It was developed in accordance with Anthology's Trustworthy AI Approach, and with privacy, security and inclusivity in mind and is built on Microsoft's Azure Open AI.

The AI Design Assistant uses context from within the course, like the course name, as well as content that you provide via a Description field and customizable settings, to generate its suggestions. As the instructor, you are responsible for reviewing and choosing to utilize any content generated by the AI Design Assistant.

Join the Spring 2024 Pilot


Based on feedback from the Fall 2023 focus groups, NIU will be piloting the AI Design Assistant starting on December 18, 2023, and throughout the Spring 2024 semester.

Sign up now!


The pilot is open to all faculty and staff who teach, including all ranks and classifications. Graduate Teaching Assistants may join the pilot with the permission of a supervising faculty member.


As part of the pilot, you should commit to reviewing a few short resources about AI provided by CITL, using at least two (2) of the AI Design Assistant capabilities (you do not need to accept the recommendations), and providing feedback about your use of the AI Design Assistant.

Resources on Generative Artificial Intelligence in Education

For those faculty who are participating in the Spring 2024 pilot, we recommend reviewing the resources below.


Hallucinations and Misinformation



As of January, 2024, the AI Design Assistant has 8 primary capabilities in the Blackboard Ultra Course View:

  1. Recommend royalty-free images from the Unsplash library, based on AI-generated keywords
  2. Generate new images to use as Learning Modules thumbnails or to place within an Ultra Document
  3. Propose test questions based on the content of an Ultra Document
  4. Propose test questions to be added to a Test
  5. Generate a rubric to use for assessing Assignment submissions
  6. Suggest Learning Modules to build a course structure
  7. Suggest authentic prompts for Discussions and Journals, aligned with appropriate cognitive levels from Bloom's Taxonomy
  8. Suggest authentic prompts for Assignments, aligned with appropriate cognitive levels from Bloom's Taxonomy and designed to prevent students from relying entirely on generative AI 

Fall 2023 Focus Groups

At NIU, we are taking a thoughtful and transparent approach to the implementation of the AI Design Assistant in Blackboard. During Fall 2023, we held a number of focus groups to demonstrate the AI Design Assistant for faculty and to collect feedback on whether some or all of these features should be enabled in our instance of Blackboard.

Feedback was generally positive. Participants were most excited about the ability to generate images and test questions to save time with building a course. Faculty also expressed general concerns about bias and accuracy that are inherent to using generative AI models, for now.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a way in Blackboard to check whether students used generative AI in their assignments?
No, there is not a way to check for use of generative AI in Blackboard. Recent studies into AI detection have found that the accuracy of tools to assess whether text was written by AI can be highly inaccurate. Anthology (the company that owns Blackboard) conducted their own test using a market-leading AI detection solution in May and June 2023, and found that the error rate was too high to be reliable. They concluded that relying on AI detection would be unethical at this stage and ended their plans to incorporate AI detection into SafeAssign. You can read more about their study and conclusions in the whitepaper AI, Academic Integrity, and Authentic Assessment.
What risks are there to using the Blackboard AI Design Assistant?

The Blackboard AI Design Assistant is susceptible to the same risks as any use of generative AI. In particular, you should be cautious about the accuracy of information generated by the AI Design Assistant and closely verify the content in rubrics, discussion and journal prompts, and test questions. It is possible for a test question generated by AI to have an incorrect answer marked as correct, as just one example. 

Generative AI models also tend to replicate human biases around gender, race, age, ability, and more. This is particularly apparent when generating images. For example, prompting AI for images of "scientists" tends to result more frequently in images of white men. These biases can harm marginalized populations and reinforce stereotypes.

If I accept a recommendation made by the AI Design Assistant, can I modify that content?

You can easily modify text-based content generated by the AI Design Assistant, such as Learning Module names and descriptions, rubrics, test questions, and prompts for Discussions and Journals. Once you have accepted the generated content, you can edit the content to modify it.

Images cannot be modified directly in Blackboard, but you can remove the image, generate a new image, or replace it with your own image. You can also download the generated image to edit it offline in an image-editing tool, such as Adobe Photoshop. 

Will my students know that I have used the Blackboard AI Design Assistant?

Once you have accepted a suggestion made by the AI Design Assistant, that content is not marked in any way to indicate to students that it was generated by AI. The notable exception is that a rubric generated by the AI Design Assistant will be named "Generated Rubric", which may provide students with an indication that the rubric was generated by AI. You can change the name before grading with the rubric.

Why should I use the Blackboard AI Design Assistant instead of an outside generative AI tool?

The Blackboard AI Design Assistant is built on Microsoft's OpenAI initiative, which incorporates the ChatGPT, GPT-3, GPT-4, and Dall-E 2 models that many outside generative AI tools use, so there is no technical advantage to using an outside tool. In addition, there are several benefits to the AI Design Assistant:

  • Privacy and Security: Because it is built on Microsoft's OpenAI and follows Anthology's Trustworthy AI framework, your data is never used to train the AI models, as it would be if you used an outside generative AI tool.
  • Better Results: The models and prompts have been tuned specifically for an education context, providing you with more relevant results. 
  • Save Time: The AI Design Assistant not only generates content, it also creates the structures needed for that tool type in Blackboard Ultra Course View. For example, when you use the AI Design Assistant to generate test questions, those are pre-built for you instead of requiring you to manually build the test questions in Blackboard.

There is no policy at NIU that would prevent you from using an outside generative AI tool, however, but you should be cautious about any use that might violate existing policies regarding data privacy and security, such as providing student work to an AI platform to ask for a critique, grade, or summary.

Who can use the AI Design Assistant in Blackboard?
If you'd like to try out the Blackboard AI Design Assistant, you can sign up for the pilot at any time during the spring 2024 semester by completing the survey at All faculty (including all ranks and classifications) and staff are eligible to participate in the pilot. Graduate Teaching Assistants may also participate with the permission of their supervising faculty member.
Who owns the intellectual property rights for content generated by the Blackboard AI Design Assistant?New

Intellectual property rights to content generated by or with support of artificial intelligence is a legal consideration that does not have a clear answer at this time. Recent U.S. course decisions have ruled that the content generated by AI cannot be copyrighted because it was not created by a person. 

As far as ownership of course content generated by AI, it is probably safe to assume for now that NIU, Blackboard/Anthology, and Microsoft OpenAI do not have any copyright claim to the content generated by the AI Design Assistant. Whether you can claim ownership is uncertain. 

Is it right or fair for me to use AI to develop my course if I don't allow students to use AI in their coursework?New

As a society and industry, we are still exploring when it is and isn't appropriate to use AI to generate content. This really is a personal decision based on your own values and the pedagogical goals of your course, but here are a few thoughts to guide your thinking. 

Your use of generative AI to develop course materials is substantively different from your student use of AI in their coursework. Faculty are experts in their fields who are developing materials in a professional context (i.e., course materials to support your teaching responsibilities). Faculty are ultimately responsible for the materials they use to teach and can use their expertise to judge the appropriateness and accuracy of those materials. Generative AI can be a tool to increase your productivity, provide inspiration, and help you be a more effective educator.

Students, on the other hand, are learning and still developing that expertise. Using AI in that process could be a valuable learning experience as they build the skills and knowledge that they are mastering in your course, particularly if they will be applying what they learn in a professional setting where AI will be an essential productivity tool. However, AI could also be used in a way that undermines their learning by allowing students to take shortcuts that decrease their mastery. Whether students should use generative AI in your course really depends on the type of learning they are engaging in and the content of the course. 


If I use the AI Design Assistant, am I ultimately helping to create a technology that will ultimately replace me as a faculty member?New

There is no denying that generative AI has transformed a number of industries, and will continue to do so. It is important that we explore the capabilities and limitations of generative AI as we all navigate when it is and isn't appropriate to use AI tools, to inform our conversations and policies.

It is important to note that the AI Design Assistant in Blackboard is not intended to replace your role as an educator but rather to assist you and help you be more efficient and effective. 

For example, it won't design an entire course for you; your expertise is and will remain essential for establishing learning objectives, selecting content, connecting with and supporting your students, and assessing student learning. The AI Design Assistant can shorten the time required for some of the more arduous tasks of developing course materials and provide inspiration for enhancing your course. 

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