Blackboard continues to improve! Since NIU’s major upgrade to Blackboard NG three years ago, there have been a number of feature improvements and additions, and this year will be no different. Service Pack 14 is currently planned to be deployed Memorial Day weekend, May 23, 2014 – May 26, 2014. Most of the changes are helpful refinements to existing tools, such as an easy method to create exceptions to test settings, an improved Inline Grading view for Assignments, simpler Groups management settings, and multiple Grade Center enhancements. This upgrade also includes a few new features: a new Quick Links button will make it easier to use a screen reader with Blackboard, the new Achievements allows faculty to award badges and certificates, and the Date Management tool can adjust dates when copying course materials.
Here are a few of the more important features for the NIU community:
Tests Exceptions and Feedback Controls
Test Availability Exceptions are available directly from the Test Options page, once the test is deployed to a content area. Select one or more students (or groups) and make a number of exceptions to the already established availability settings. Exceptions can be created for:
- Number of attempts
- Availability dates
- Force completion
- Auto submit
This means a single test can have multiple timers for students with accommodation requests and can automatically open at different times for students who may have scheduling conflicts.
Tests will also have the ability to schedule when students can receive different types of feedback.
The Inline Grading view for Assignments will now have a full screen mode to make it easier to read student work and to provide comments. In addition, Blogs, Journals, Discussions, and Wikis will present a side bar for grading that is consistent with Inline Grading for Assignments
Manage all course groups at once from the “All Groups” page, including deleting multiple groups at once, creating Grade Center Smart Views, and enabling or disabling Group Tools. Plus, on the Users page, group membership is now listed for each student.
New Grade Center enhancements make it easier to work in the Grade Center. For example, Grading Schemas can now reach past 100%, so students with over 100% can be automatically assigned a letter grade. My Grades has been redesigned to include comments directly on the page, so they are more visible, and to provide students with the option to view rows by “Course Order,” which is the order of the columns in the Grade Center.
Based on ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite), the Quick Links tool allows a user to swiftly locate any heading or section within any page in the Blackboard Learn application and jump directly to it. Any available keyboard shortcuts for the page are also displayed. This significantly reduces the time needed to navigate the page for individuals who use screen readers.
The Achievements tool allows faculty and instructors to designate criteria for issuing rewards to students in the form of both Badges and Certificates. Students can see which rewards they have earned and what is required of them to receive additional rewards. Furthermore, students have the option to publish badges to the Mozilla Open Backpack, which lets them display and promote their learning outside of Blackboard. Instructors can easily see which students have reached learning milestones.
Currently, the Course Copy tool duplicates dates (such as Availability and Due Dates) exactly, leaving it up to the professor or instructor to manually adjust them. The new Date Management tool will simplify this process by asking for the start date of the new semester, and automatically adjusting all previous dates accordingly. Some work may be necessary to update those dates, but the Date Management Review page provides a single interface for adjusting all dates on content and assessments in the course.
This is only a sample of the most significant enhancements and features. Learn more about upcoming features at www.niu.edu/blackboard/upgrade and look for preview and tune-up sessions starting in April, 2014.