Blackboard Learn ‘Roadmap’ Workshop – Report

New features and future developments – bug fixes and service packs  (Manchester – 15th November 2011)

A vertiginous experience, 24 storeys above Manchester city centre, the Blackboard Learn Product Management Workshop was a day-long event given by product managers and system developers at Blackboard (see link above for cast list). ‘Blackboard Learn’ is the principal software behind VITAL and there were three main elements to the day.

  • To highlight and discuss some of the main, new features being developed for future versions and service packs of Blackboard Learn and extension products.
  • To gather feedback from the workshop group (product ideas, priority bugs to fix, workflow improvements).
  • To discuss the new features in the next service pack being applied to VITAL.

First up was a run-through of the Service Pack 6 update which will be included in our December 2011 upgrade. As well as a range of bug fixes, some of the new features we can expect include:

  • Interactive Rubrics/Criteria grading facility in the Grade Centre.
  • Assessment tool improvements – negative marking, timer automatic submission, question regrade facility.
  • New SCORM player – resolving the current problems integrating SCORM materials in VITAL modules and range of new set-up options.

Subject to the usual legal disclaimers of Blackboard (not dissimilar to this one) that they reserve the right not to develop anything mentioned, we were next given a tour of some of the new features potentially in the mix for near- and mid-future versions of Blackboard Learn. These included (in no particular order): improvements to the Calendar tool (recurring dates, calendar options when creating content, import/export facilities), Assessment tool (better analysis tools for question discrimination) an overhaul of Adaptive Release rules, new module structures to choose from, improved ‘preview’ facilities (allowing complete testing of modules in different roles e.g. as a ‘student’) and a redevelopment of the portfolio tool.

The Blackboard team were particularly interested in the idea of offering ‘online social learning spaces’, student-created and curated collaborative online environments where they can work in independent, self-contained groups of their own making, and what these might look like (we saw a couple of mock-ups). This did not generate much discussion on the day, which was hard to read as to whether it was not part of the current planning/thinking landscape generally, or whether Blackboard would not be the ‘go-to’ provider for this kind of application, or whether institutions are happy for students to organise their learning in this way using the already-extant (and free) social networking sites. It would be useful to get the views of UoL staff about this – please do contact the eLearning Unit or use the comments facility below with any thoughts.

In the third part of the day, gathering a wide range of feedback on what people thought of the current state of Blackboard Learn 9.1 and where it should be headed, it was instructive to discover that many institutions have the same concerns and development requirements as Liverpool. All of these comments, ideas, bug reports, feature requests from this part of the day were documented and will count as 24 votes (representing the number of institutions attending) towards their prioritisation in the planning of future service packs. A collated version covering the whole day is to be circulated amongst those who attended and I will make this available to anyone who is interested as soon as I have it.

All of the Blackboard speakers stressed the value of the various feedback channels that they have put in place over the last couple of years as being the best way of influencing the development of the product (and so the future features and capabilities of VITAL). These feedback channels and how we are currently involved are fully detailed in this blog post.

Many thanks to Blackboard for their hospitality and the opportunity to meet up with learning technologists from many other institutions from all around the country. We’re looking forward to further updates from Blackboard on their promised actions on the many feature and enhancement requests and fixes which were taken from this meeting.

Dan Roberts

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