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August 22, 2010

Blackboard Upgraded to Bb Learn 9.1; New Features and Known Issues

UMBC’s Blackboard Learning Management System was upgraded to Bb Learn 9.1 over Memorial Weekend. Approximately 300 faculty members successfully used this new system to teach their courses throughout summer, taking advantage of the many new features available. These enhancements include the accessibility of the Control Panel, the new Course homepage, the Course Files feature, and drag and drop ability. Highlights of these new features, as well as some of the known issues are detailed below.

New Features:

1. Control Panel - All course management tools are now immediately available upon course access for instructors, without having to open a separate page. The control panel is now permanently located at the lower left of the window (and is not seen by students). This area provides easy access to the Gradecenter, Group/ User Management, Course Tools, and Course Files. Instructors now have the ability to edit the Course Menu directly through the addition of content areas and tool links.

2. Course Home Page - The default course entry point is the new Course homepage, which contains a variety of modules such as “Course Announcements”, “What’s New”, “Calendar” and Tasks. The Course homepage provides “one stop shopping” for students by consolidating all relevant course information in one place.

3. Course Files - Bb Learn 9.1 now provides a Course Files area that allows instructors to view and manage all files related to their course content. Instructors can now upload a file once, and use it in multiple areas of the course. When a file is renamed or moved, any links to that file will remain intact. The new 360° View lets an instructor see all of the places that any given file has been used in a course.

4. Drag and Drop Function - Instructors are now able to use "drag and drop" to reorder Course Menu buttons, files, folders, and other content items.

Known Issues:

1. DoIT has received some anecdotal reports of Bb 9.1 system slowness. In some cases the issue was related to an older desktop machine, running IE 7.

2. When opening an Office 2007 document in Internet Explorer, the user is sometimes presented with an unnecessary authentication dialog. Canceling it allows the document to open normally.

3. If an instructor has created a Course Menu button to an external link, and set it to “open in a new window”, the URL is often appended with extra characters, making the URL unusable. The workaround for this is to set Course Menu buttons to external links to open in the existing browser window.

4. Documents that are added as “Content Items” do not have the ability to open in a new window. If a user clicks on the link, the item is downloaded directly to the local machine. There is a new “File” content type, which allows an instructor to attach a file, and also allows the option to open that file in a new window. The key differences between “Item” and “File” content types are that with the “File” type the instructor is limited to attaching a single file, and there is no ability to add a textual description to it.

5. When using discussion boards, if students post an attachment using the VTBE, the instructor will not be able to view it. Instead, the student should use the “attach file” button below the VTBE window.