At the Lunch and Learn on April 27th, 2011, Dennis Hood spoke about what Blackboard users should expect from the latest version of Blackboard at Princeton. He demonstrated the cosmetic and functional changes that will come after the upgrade in June. Blackboard 2011 offers more straightforward navigation, tools for increased productivity with less clicks, and a cleaner look and feel.
A few changes were made in order to make the interface more friendly. In the new Blackboard, your name will again appear at the top of the page when you log in. Blackboard removed this feature in the previous release, but it reappears in this upgrade. The color of links in the page has been tweaked to improve legibility. Some people have reported confusion in the previous release about the menu-hide and menu-collapse features, and as a result, the handles for these features have been made more prominent. Other changes focused on functional changes.
You can now choose to keep announcements ordered by a priority that you set. There are times in which instructors might want to keep an announcement up all semester, and others which they might only want to keep up for a day, or a week. The changes to the announcements area allow you to more quickly arrange, prioritize, and dismiss announcements for students.
Hood showed that significant changes were made to the content creation tools. The links in the content creation areas, in which instructors can create links, documents, and file downloads for students, now has three links for that purpose instead of the previous five. The most basic function in the content areas allows instructors to choose to create an item or create a file. Creating an Item works similarly to the way it worked in previous releases. Instructors can create a title, body and attachment in an item, and it is immediately available to their students, or delayed if they wish. Creating a File allows you to simply add a file without getting the textbox that creating an Item presents. Any file you upload to an Item or File page uploaded to a local file to Blackboard’s file storage system. . When uploading content to courses, instructors can choose to browse your local desktop computer or from your course files that they have already uploaded.
Hood had a tip for Microsoft Office users. There is a particularly useful feature for people who use Microsoft Word to prepare their course content, such as their syllabus. In the past, copying and pasting content from a Word document often meant losing formatting, requiring a subsequent cleaning up of the document, and lost time and effort. There is now a Mashup button with a “Paste from Word” option in the toolbar that can help you to preserve line breaks and other formatting as you paste it in.
Hood told the audience to be aware of a misunderstanding in Blackboard that some people have reported to him. If an instructor wants to remove an item from a content area, it is important to click on the contextual menu next to the item itself. If you click on the remove command in the contextual menu for the content area at the top of a page, (e.g. Course Materials), you will remove the entire content area rather than simply an item within that area.
Hood said that Blackboard has greatly improved its ability to deliver files directly to users, rather than as an attachment to an Item. In the new version of Blackboard, you can add audio files and images as objects in content areas. Students can begin to use these files in one click, as opposed to having to click into a Blackboard item, then into the attachment. Blackboard’s mashups feature supports the use of various external media sites, such as Flickr and YouTube as a source for course content.
The new Course Files, found in the Control Panel menu, can be populated with various files such as documents and spreadsheets, then browsed, linked to and shared according to access rules you set up. For instructors who wish to upload a lot of files at once, they need only drag and drop a folder or series of selected files into the course files area. Even if an instructor deletes a link to a file in course files, the file remains in storage until it is specifically deleted from course files. Also when you rename or move a file in course files, all links to it stay intact. For instructors who wish for students to have a place where they can simply drop files that will be shared with other students,, they can recreate the functionality of a WebSpace Dropbox using course files by setting sharing permissions on a course files folder. This eliminates sending students to a different application (WebSpace) for using the shared files folder.
Grade Center now has its very own top-level Control Panel item. Links to Grade Center smart views, where faculty can see, for instance, a subset of all students, can now be placed under the Grade Center link in the Control Panel. Instructors can quickly see items that require action, such as assignments that need grading, with the Needs Grading link. It’s easier to grade blogs, wikis, and journals in Blackboard now. Course Blogs allow items to be posted for student review and comment, and Course Journals & Wikis allow students to individually or collectively write about course content, all of which can be used for assessment. Instructors can now create rubrics to serve as guidelines for grading assignments and essay questions. These rubrics can be associated in the Grade center with the items to which they apply. The Grade Center now allows instructors to grade assignments without knowing who the student who completed the assignment is. This can help to prevent a positive or negative bias that the instructor may have acquired about a student. Another new and interesting feature is that an instructor can color code Grade Center entries in order to highlight certain students, grades or activity.
Finally, there is a new tab labeled Book Bag that shows students which books they selected from their course sites to order from Labyrinth. The Book Bag feature is an inter-application relationship with Labyrinth Books, and allows students to order and purchase books in Blackboard, then simply walk over to pick them up at Labyrinth.
Dennis Hood explained the ways in which Blackboard 2011 at Princeton will improve instructor and student productivity, file management, and media consumption. The interface is a bit cleaner and easier to navigate. The Course Files feature allows for more direct management and control of files in Blackboard. The Grade Center allows users to stay better informed of their recorded progress in courses. Even buying textbooks is easier. For more information, or if you have questions about Blackboard at Princeton, please contact Dennis Hood at firstname.lastname@example.org.