VITAL Summer Upgrade 2013

This summer’s upgrade to VITAL has seen quite a number of new features and improvements to some long-standing facilities, so no waffle – straight to details! (Full details on each in the main body of the blog).

  • A new Text Editor – which includes LaTeX notation support.
  • My Blackboard – top level menu with quick access to module calendars, notifications, Retention Centre alerts, discussion board posts and personal settings.
  • New Test settings – specify extra time etc for groups of students – specify what feedback should appear and when.
  • Item Analysis for tests – reports on discrimination, difficulty, graded attempts, average score, standard deviation and standard error.
  • New ‘Retention Centre’ – flags up potential problems such as students not having accessed a module for a number of days, missed due dates etc.
  • A new-look Discussion Board – much greater clarity and usability over the previous version.
  • A new Calendar tool – includes iCal export facility (no import though).

You can also now use Turnitin GradeMark on your iPad with a new free app which includes an offline facility. There is an FAQ in VITAL Self Service with details of how to use it at UoL and a blog post will follow.

The new Text Editor

A completely new editor means an end to sporadic problems with formatting text for content items. Watch the film below for a quick look.

The new editor is more fully-featured so that more sophisticated formatting of text and table layouts can be created. A ‘Full Screen’ option lets you work with the text editor fully expanded on screen. There is maths formula editing functionality built-in through the WIRIS maths editor (with some support for direct LaTeX notation). HTML and CSS editing options are also available.

My Blackboard – Global Navigation menu

A new top-level information panel for staff and students to get a cross-modular view of Grades (students only), Calendars, Discussion Board Posts, Notifications and Retention Centre alerts (staff only) as well as to access VITAL Self Service and to change some personal settings in VITAL. It is accessed from the icon in the upper-right of the VITAL page.


A complete guide to this is available to this feature in VITAL Self Service, though the FAQs section (type in ‘My Blackboard’).

New Test settings

  • Time extensions for specific students (as well as date availability, force completion, auto-submit and number of attempts settings).
  • Offer feedback at a) test completion and new b) a specified date after the test completion. Fine-tune what kinds of feedback is seen at which point.
  • Automated regrading for problem questions (update all grades when a problem question is identified and discounted from a test).
  • Close tests at a timer limit or allow tests continue. Allow tests to be taken after due dates.
  • Creating tests – workflow improvements – insert a new question anywhere, ‘submit and create a new question’ feature.
  • New algorithm for negative marking – specify deductions for specific MCQ answers for example.
  • Fill-in-the-blank question type – now allows ‘pattern matching’ and ‘contains’ for answers.

Item Analysis for test results

Generate and store test result reports on question discrimination, difficulty, graded attempts, average score, standard deviation and standard error. Watch this quick video for a good overview of how it works.

New Retention Centre

This feature replaces the Early Warning System and is a useful way of monitoring for potential problems with students not engaging with modules, not submitting assignments, missing test due dates etc. Watch the film below for a quick overview.

There is no set-up to do to start using this tool straightaway but you can also make your own ‘rules’ to trigger alerts for conditions that you set. As well as checking key data about students who are highlighted by the system you can keep an eye on activity levels in Blackboard blogs, wikis and journals that you set up in the module. Find the Retention Centre in a module in the Control Panel, under the Evaluation submenu or on the new ‘My Blackboard’ window.

Redesigned Discussion Board

A visual re-design makes the Discussion Board much more intuitive to navigate through the threads of discussions. All posts are now found on one page, instructor posts are highlighted, replies are created directly in position and a new optional ‘Post First’ feature requires students to post to a forum before they can see the other students’ posts. Below is an image of the redesigned layout.


New Calendar tool

The calendar tool is rebuilt and includes the following improvements:

  • choose from daily, weekly, monthly views of the calendar
  • select individual, module and institutional views of the calendar
  • colour-code your calendar eventsVITAL
  • calendar data can be exported as an iCal feed, to your Outlook calendar for instance
  • assignment due dates are automatically added to the calendar
  • due dates can be modified from the Calendar
  • recurring events can be entered

That’s a whistle-stop tour of some of the main, new features in this upgrade. If you would like to find out about some of the other upgrade features or have a query about something new in VITAL that you have seen and is not described here then please do get in touch with the eLearning Unit.


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