The core technology underpinning our Virtual Learning Environment for campus-based courses, known as Blackboard Learn, is changing from September 2021.
What is Blackboard Ultra and why are we moving to it?
Blackboard Ultra is Blackboard’s new VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) which will replace our current VLE, Blackboard Learn.
In broad outline, Blackboard Ultra contains the same functionalities and tools as our existing VLE, although surrounded by a much improved and modernised interface.
Some of advantages can be summarised as:
- Incorporates a modern responsive web design, with an interface that works well on all types of device and screen size and meets student expectations of an “up to date” website.
- Cloud hosted and maintained by Blackboard, allowing software issues to be addressed quicker and more proactively by a much larger team.
- Quicker access to new features and functionalities.
- Software management by Blackboard frees up university resources to work on other projects and objectives.
We believe that Blackboard Ultra is the VLE that best suits and supports our students by allowing an expansion of our learning ecosystem for creativity, collaboration and a hub for academic learning.
Can I automatically convert my Learn course to an Ultra course?
Student Learning & Academic Registry will coordinate a managed transition process, allowing staff to access their materials from Learn and subsequently upload to Ultra.
Blackboard Ultra courses will be created afresh with a simple course templated structure (similar to the current Learn templates) and it will not be possible to convert or copy existing Learn courses directly into new Ultra courses.
Blackboard Ultra courses can be easily copied into other Ultra courses, so once you have populated your new Ultra course(s) with content and activities you will be able to copy them across into the following year’s Ultra course in a similar way to now using Blackboard Learn.
Does it take longer to build courses in Ultra than it did in Learn?
It won’t take any longer to build courses in Ultra than it did in Learn. Some workflows have changed and are now much more logical. It’s important to approach Ultra with a fresh pair of eyes (this will make it much quicker and easier to get to grips with) and to not try and simply replicate your previous practice(s) from Learn.
The simpler structure of Ultra and the drag-and-drop options to move content around may actually make the process easier.
What is the Ally accessibility tool?
You will find our recent communication around enabling Ally on your Blackboard modules as part of our drive towards digital teaching excellence through accessibility and inclusive academic practice.
A unique feature of the new VLE project is the introduction of Ally, a product the University purchased as part of Blackboard Ultra and the wider project to upgrade the institutional Virtual Learning Environment. Ally is a brand-new tool inside Blackboard Ultra which enables students to access alternative, accessible formats of documents and files uploaded to their modules.
This means that when Word documents, for example, are uploaded, Ally will automatically create accessible versions of the Word document in PDF, HTML, ePub, electronic braille, and audio (MP3) formats.
Integrating seamlessly with Blackboard Ultra, it:
- Assists academic colleagues in producing more accessible learning materials. This means that when Word documents, for example, are uploaded, Ally will automatically create accessible versions of the Word document in PDF, HTML, ePub, electronic Braille, and audio (MP3) formats.
- Gives students greater choice on how they consume course content, including “audiobook” and industry standard “accessible” formats.
- Supports the University in meeting its responsibilities under the Government Accessibility standards for public sector websites.
Ally also provides an accessibility score for the documents based on approved web guidelines and provides tips and tools to improve the accessibility of documents. The accessibility score is only available to staff. It also provides tips and support to staff who want to improve the accessibility of their documents, images and slide-decks.
How can I design my Ultra course?
The project is supported by a rigorous staff development CPD package to enable the delivery of digital teaching excellence through developing a solid foundation of understanding on which to base their course design, breaking down the barrier between physical and virtual learning spaces and leveraging the affordances of Blackboard Ultra and Ally to achieve a seamless learning ecosystem for our students.
We will cover four topics over four sessions:
Each session is one hour in duration followed by self-study.
The aim of the CPD sessions are:
- Equip colleagues with a solid foundation of understanding on which to base their course design, breaking down the barrier between physical and virtual learning spaces and leveraging the affordances of Blackboard Ultra to extend the areas of excellence in digital practice that already exist.
- Develop more inclusive provision for different learning needs to achieve a seamless learning ecosystem for our students using Ally.
The staff CPD on Blackboard Ultra commences in mid-May 2021.
This is a mandatory training for all teaching staff. We will provide flexibility to make it easy for staff to engage in the training.
The Digital Transformation team within SLAR can work with you to incorporate the use of Blackboard Ultra as an integral part of your module design. For coaching and mentoring around designing your Bb Ultra course modules and for the advice on digital teaching excellence and pedagogically led designs of your modules, you can contact the Digital Transformation team in SLAR by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I have a query about a particular feature, or something isn’t working how I’d expected – who can I ask for help?
For technical support using Ultra and other digital technologies:
Firstly, try the Help area in Ultra to see if we already have a video or written guide that answers your question.
Then, if that doesn’t supply the answer, please contact the IT Service Desk.
The IT Service Desk can deal with all the common technical problems as well as minor functionality questions. They will not advise on design (e.g. appropriateness of a proposed learning activity or suitability of a given tool for an intended purpose).
- Tel: 01642 342220 (ext)
- Tel: 2220 (int)
- Walk-in Service Desk Locations
- IT Service Desk Website
Anything outside of the IT Service Desk’s remit will be escalated as appropriate (inc. to Digital Transformation, Student Learning & Academic Registry).
For coaching and mentoring around designing your Bb Ultra course modules and for the advice on digital teaching excellence and pedagogically led designs of your modules, you can contact the Digital Transformation team in SLAR by email: email@example.com
Can I have my own Ultra course to try things out?
Yes, everyone will get a sandbox module as part of the staff training on Blackboard Ultra. You will use this module to work through the tasks/activities associated with the CPD.
A sandbox module on Teesside University’s instance of Blackboard Ultra will be available later this summer.
Will we still have access to the old E@T sites?
Yes, for one year until September 2022.
What is the new VLE going to be called at Teesside University?
The official name for the new VLE is “Blackboard Ultra”.
Can you still use Collaborate for teaching?
Yes. Collaborate is an integral part of Ultra. The Collaborate interface itself remains the same, however it is now accessible from more places across the platform, enabling students to quickly jump into a Collaborate room when they choose to do so.
Previously staff had to allow students to initiate a Collaborate room, which they could only access from a certain location (to which they then needed to navigate).
Does Ultra use/support ReView (powered by Panopto) in the same way?
Yes. In fact, in order to improve the student experience, all videos must be put on ReView.
ReView is a bespoke video streaming solution, which means it automatically tailors a video to the device and internet quality of the viewer.
I use an older iMac at home for my teaching. I am now at the maximum upgrade possible for my iMac model. Will the new VLE give me full functionality with this OS?
It’s a feature of all modern VLEs from all software vendors that they are designed to work effectively with the latest few versions of the common web browsers. Almost all home computers will be able to install the latest version of an appropriate browser (most likely Google Chrome), although there will inevitably be some exceptions.
Blackboard maintain a list of supported browsers:
In the first instance, the IT Service Desk will be able to support colleagues accessing appropriate hardware and software to access Blackboard Ultra.