Transition to Blackboard Ultra Course View

As a result of the 2020-2021 comprehensive Learning Management System (LMS) Review, Blackboard Learn was selected for renewal for another 5-year contract term, through August 2026. The review was predicated on the assumption that renewing with Blackboard would result in a transition to Blackboard Learn Ultra Course View.

Blackboard Learn Ultra Course View to Date

  • 2017: Blackboard Ultra Experience released
  • May 2018: NIU moves Blackboard to cloud-hosting
  • Spring 2019: NIU conducts pilot of Ultra Course View
  • Summer 2019: Ultra Course View available to all NIU faculty; Original Course View remains available
  • Spring 2020: Emergency pivot to remote teaching and ongoing support interrupt implementation plans
  • Fall 2021: Blackboard merges with Anthology and announced increased investment in development of Learn Ultra

In the rapid transition to remote teaching, many faculty chose to adopt the Ultra Course View. For fall 2021, 14.2% of all courses in Blackboard used the Ultra Course View and 23.4% of faculty teaching with Blackboard used the Ultra Course View for at least one course.

Original Course View End-of-Life

Blackboard has publicly announced support for self-hosted instances of Learn through the end of 2023. Self-hosting only offers the Original Course View, so we can confidently expect support for it to be available until December 2023. Blackboard has not yet announced a time frame for the end-of-life of Original Course View.

Feature Parity Between Original and Ultra Course View

When the Ultra Course View was first released, it had limited features available. Since that time, Blackboard has released over 50 additional features or enhancements in their monthly updates. This still leaves a number of notable gaps in functionality between Original and Ultra Course View. For many courses, these are not a limitation, but faculty who are power users of Blackboard Learn may find it difficult to manage the transition.

Some notable limitations and targets for availability (note that these are anticipated but subject to change):

Content & Collaboration

  • Copying materials within a course: April 2022
  • Additional level of folder depth: Summer 2022
  • Internal course links: End of 2022
  • Blogs: Fall 2022 or Spring 2023
  • Improvements to Messages: Fall 2022 or Spring 2023

Assessments

  • Display one question at a time: April 2022
  • Calculated numeric questions: April 2022
  • Download test results: April 2022
  • Create and edit question banks (currently import only): Summer 2022
  • Hotspot questions: Fall 2022 or Spring 2023
  • Surveys: Fall 2022 or Spring 2023

Grading & Analytics

  • Instructor view of submission receipts: April 2022
  • Point-based grade calculation: Summer 2022
  • Send assessment reminders from the Gradebook: End of 2022
  • Grade by question: Fall 2022 or Spring 2023 
  • Delegated grading by group: Fall 2022 or Spring 2023

Ultra Course View also includes a number of innovations not available in the Original Course View with additional features planned for development:

  • More accessible interface that is also fully-responsive for use on mobile devices
  • Integration with Microsoft OneDrive and Teams
  • Progress Tracking (currently available for students; instructor view of progress planned for Summer 2022)
  • Advanced test designs, such as pagination of questions
  • Student-defined pronouns and name pronunciation

Support for Faculty Adoption of Ultra Course View

The Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning provides extensive support for faculty looking to adopt the Ultra Course View, including:

NIU Timeline for Migration to Ultra Course View

Considering there is no guarantee of ongoing support from Blackboard for Original Course View beyond December 2023, and given the accelerating development for new features in the Ultra Course View as a result of the merger between Blackboard and Anthology, NIU will plan for full migration to Ultra Course View no later than December 31, 2023. It is recommended that faculty plan to teach their Fall 2023 courses in Blackboard Ultra.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we need to transition to the Ultra Course View?

The Ultra Course View is Blackboard's more modern, accessible, and mobile-friendly course experience. The Original Course View has not changed significantly since it was first adopted at NIU in 2011, and a lot has changed for web-based tools since then. 

In addition, while Blackboard has committed to supporting the Original Course View through the end of 2023, there is no guarantee that it will continue to be available beyond then. NIU needs to plan ahead to provide ample time for faculty to prepare for the transition.

I thought the LMS Review selected Blackboard as our learning management system going forward. Why do we still need to transition to the Ultra Course View?

The 2021 LMS Review resulted in selecting Blackboard Learn as NIU's learning management system for the next 5 years. The review, however, deliberately compared the Ultra Course View with the alternatives because we knew that renewing with Blackboard for that length of time would require a transition to the Ultra Course View during the duration of the contract.

Renewing with Blackboard as opposed to selecting a new learning management system did allow us to extend the transition process by over a year and a half compared with a full migration to a new system. We are also able to retain 5 years of course history, including student activity and assessment data, which would not have been possible with a migration to another system.

When I looked into using the Ultra Course View, it was missing a feature that I need to have for my courses. How can I transition to Ultra by the deadline?

Blackboard launched the Ultra Course View in 2018 with a limited set of core functionality. They have been adding to it since that time and have released a significant number of new features. It is possible that the feature(s) you need are now part of the Ultra Course View.

There are a few notable limitations still, as of Spring 2022. However, Blackboard has recently tripled the size of their development team to make a sizable investment in reducing the gaps between the Original and Ultra Course Views. There will be a noticeable increase in the pace of new feature development in the upcoming year. As a result, we are confident that there should be very few barriers for faculty to teach using the Ultra Course View by the Fall 2023 transition.

What about Blackboard Organizations/Communities? Do they also need to transition to the Ultra Course View?

Yes, Blackboard Organizations/Communities will also need to transition to the Ultra Course View by the end of 2023. However, this is also a good time to think about your use of the Blackboard Organization and consider switching to a Microsoft Team.

If you use the course-like features in your Blackboard Organization, such as grades, then we would recommend continuing to use a Blackboard Organization. If you are primarily using the space for sending announcements or sharing files, then a Microsoft Team may be a better choice. The text chat is more immediate and mobile-friendly, and the ease of sharing files in OneDrive may be more user-friendly.

If you have been using the Blackboard Organization for connecting with students, particularly related to academics, then a Blackboard Organization provides the additional benefit of easy access in Blackboard (particularly if your department is not using Microsoft Teams with students in other ways).

We would strongly recommend switching to Microsoft Teams for Blackboard Organizations that have been used primarily with faculty and staff, such as committees, searches, and task forces. Blackboard Organizations will probably still be better for online training courses where completion tracking is necessary.


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