Enhancing your module Blackboard site

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AQD ran a recent webinar session “preparing and enhancing your Blackboard site” which considered the use of the Blackboard Protocols when planning your course. The session also included a quick exemplar site walkthrough

Many of the protocol areas are straightforward to apply, and can have a positive impact on the site. AQD have put together a few “quick wins” for checking and applying some of these areas.

AQD have also produced a getting started with Blackboard guide and a module checklist which could also be useful.

AQD can help support teams with their use of learning technology to enable and support learning. Please contact AQD to discuss.

Module-Site Protocol Area “Quick Win”
There is an easily located introduction to the course and/or Blackboard site Add the module aims as an item within the Module Information section of the site. This text can be expanded to include other relevant information regarding the structure and running of the module.
Staff contact information is available in its own area Ensure that up-to-date contact information is available. Include contact details for relevant support services.
Announcements are being used effectively Add announcements to alert/remind students of new topics within the course.
There is a link to the programme site on the menu Add a link to the programme site on your module’s menu – ensuring that the programme site is active and up-to-date.
There is an Assessment menu item, with information and submission points Add assessment criteria and learning outcomes to the assessment area.
Learning Outcomes are being displayed around the site (outside of the module guide) Copy the learning outcomes from the module handbook and paste them as an item in the Module Information area, and also add them to other relevant sections, such as the assessment area.
The module handbook is available Ensure that the current module handbook is within the Module Information area of the site. The document needs to be in a format that students can easily open and access, such as PDF.
There is a working reading-list link Add the relevant reading list link to your site’s menu. Please contact Information Services Library staff if you need help with creating/managing your reading list
An appropriate use of .pdf Check the files that are located on the site; many file types (such as Word and PowerPoint) can easily be converted to PDF which can then be uploaded onto the site.

For the latest guidance for adding library resources to Blackboard, please see the “making sure that you comply with copyright for library resources and reading and resource lists” section of this page

iLead iLearn Webinar Series – Preparing and enhancing your Blackboard site. 29th January 2018

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The session started with a brief recap of how Blackboard usage has grown at the university, with the system now being classed as “mission critical”.  A move to module-site delivery and a consistent approach resulted in a set of protocols being developed, and these were shown during the webinar, along with other support available, such as a staff-facing knowledgebase.

Access to these resources can be found via the Staff tab on Blackboard, along with the route to accessing your Blackboard module site, which was demonstrated during the webinar.

The option to review and reuse existing content was highlighted, and a tour of an exemplar site showed how a course could be organised; following the protocols and making the most of the tools available.

A quick walkthrough of adding a profile picture to your site, and making a screen-recording introduction to your course then followed.

Finally, there was a quick update on some system changes that are being planned for 2018/19

A additional question asked outside of the recording was about creating a banner on Blackboard.

Click the image below to view the recording (university login required)…

View “preparing and enhancing your Blackboard site” webinar recording (university login required)




New Blackboard Developments for 2018/19

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There are some exciting  changes coming to Blackboard for 2018/19 academic year such as:

  • Course Creation and Automated Template Application
  • System Home Page Redesign and Responsive Theme
  • Summer Upgrade

Course Creation and Automated Template Application


The Blackboard course creation route has remained largely unchanged for a number of years. Although it has worked well, it is fairly inefficient and is not robust enough to support future developments and tighter integration with SITS.

Currently, apart from student enrolments, there is a lack of two-way communication between SITS and Blackboard for our module deliveries.  All modules created in SITS (via a MAV) and completed with the correct data are automatically created in Blackboard however if the course should subsequently be removed from SITS then this is not reflected on Blackboard which has caused issues of incorrect sites being used.

Students no longer associated with the MAV are not automatically removed from the Blackboard site.

To begin working on a site a tutor needs to select a course from within Blackboard (this relies on the module site creation process above), redesign or apply the correct template and, if required, copy any existing materials across from the previous instance of the course manually.

Proposed Development

The new system will:

  • Improve and increase updates in both frequency and capability of enrolments and course creation
  • Simplify the route to consistent Blackboard sites
  • Reduce the risk of incorrect Blackboard site selection
  • Limit the number of sites created to only the ones which are actually required
  • Establish the foundation for an enhanced dynamic link between SITS and Blackboard
  • Create more accurate SITS records

Once in place, Blackboard sites will only be created when the lead tutor is assigned to the MAV within SITS, this is critical as Blackboard sites will not be created without this data.  Once the data has been entered on the MAV in SITS the Module Blackboard sites will be available to a tutor within a few hours.  Requests for “non-module” Blackboard sites will be via a form request.

The identified tutor will automatically be attached to the newly created site and will find it listed under “My Courses”, or within the “Pending” category if the tutor has enabled “Terms”.

On selection of the site you will be taken through the two-step process of attaching a template and optionally, copying selected content from a previous instance.  The basic site is now ready to add/update content and attach other tutors as required.

If you plan to deliver a course where a number of modules are taught together then the system can help you create a combined site by prompting you to identify the modules (MAVs) to be included.

Only students who are on the MAV will appear on the Blackboard site.

The new system will be in place for all 2018/19 courses.

System Home Page Redesign and Responsive Theme


System analysis, sector trends and our experience tells us that students are increasingly accessing learning materials via alternative devices year on year.  Whilst analytical data from Blackboard confirms the traditional desktop is still top of the list for access, a significant proportion of logins are from mobile and tablet devices and has been increasing for a number of years.

With our current system, display response to this wide variety of devices is difficult to predict but we are aware it can sometime cause issues, unpredictable behaviour and, on the whole, results in an inconsistent user experience.

To help mitigate this frustrating user experience, we are developing a new interface using a Responsive Web Design approach.

Responsive Web Design will make the site mobile-friendly and improve the way it looks on devices with both large and small screens as it automatically scales, reorders and prioritises content and elements to match the screen size on which it is viewed.  It also keeps images from being larger than the screen width and prevents users on mobile devices from needing to do extra work to read content.

The Blackboard App is constantly being updated, and the responsive theme will work in conjunction with the App to provide a much more seamless experience when using a mobile device.

As part of this project theme functionality, the Homepage and other “non-course” areas will be reviewed to provide a much more engaging experience.

Summer upgrade

The annual system update will take place during summer. The date has yet to be arranged, but it is likely to be at a similar time to previous years – around the end of July / early August.  Please be aware that Blackboard will be unavailable for up to 24 hours during the upgrade.

Regular and timely upgrades are necessary to ensure we have;

  • Full system support for each academic year
  • Access to the latest features and updates
  • Support for current client software – operating systems, browsers, etc.
  • Up-to-date security and performance settings

We will publish further information regarding dates and any new features of interest as soon as they become available.

Details and descriptions are subject to change, and more information will be circulated as necessary and as it becomes available.






Summer System Updates

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The system updates highlighted in February are now in place. Early August has been a time for refreshing some of our core learning technology systems.

  • PebblePad has moved to Version 5
  • Blackboard has been updated
  • The Turnitin Document Viewer has changed to Feedback Studio
  • Medial has been updated to Version 5.

The PebblePad update replaces legacy Flash technology with HTML5, which, along with a redesigned interface, makes the system more intuitive and accessible. Find out more ….

PebblePad V5

As well as security enhancements, and ensuring that we maintain full system support for the next academic year, there are some new features with the Blackboard upgrade. Find out more …


Turnitin’s Feedback Studio has all the same features as the previous Document Viewer, however the interface makes better use of space, and is more accessible and responsive. Find out more ….


Like PebblePad, Medial has moved their interface to HTML5. They have also added a useful multispeed player option. Find out more …

Medial V5

CASE STUDIES SERIES: Emma Moore, BSc (Hons) Nursing Delivery

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What was the problem/challenge you were trying to address?

The Pre-Registration Undergraduate Nursing Programme used one large Blackboard site per cohort.

With multiple instructors across multiple locations, all modules (28) were within this one site. Announcements were often sent to all users when they should have been targeted to a specific group of students or a specific site.

For Instructors undertaking marking, the numerous Turnitin portals made it difficult to find work to mark, and this also applied to External Examiners reviewing work online. For students, there were a number of Turnitin portals for modules and this sometimes led them to submit to all portals they could see (just in case….) due to confusion.

What did you do/implement?

We adopted SITS-linked module sites initially for all first years starting in September 2015 (including the Working Together modules). The rationale for starting with the first years was so that this was accepted as the way they would see their modules, and not seen as a change half way through their teaching. It would become the new ‘norm’. The other programmes would continue on the old-style sites until completion.

In addition, we created a whole cohort Programme site for generic programme-level information that applied to all pathways. Information included External Examiner reports, student forum reports, job opportunities, programme overview (which included placement information, timetables and holidays) and PSRB specific information. This is a non-teaching site.

By using the module approach for teaching, communication was much more targeted and students were clear about where to look for module related information. We were also able to link to electronic reading lists.

What advice would you give to others looking to implement something similar? (positives, negatives, lessons learned

On the whole it has been a positive experience. Staff on each module know where they are posting information/resources. Marking is easier to access and the new External Examiners’ reviews have been easier to find. The module teams have reported that they enjoyed the freedom to develop their module specific sites based on the template applied, and some changed the look-and-feel of the site by changing the banner/colour schemes, etc.

Negatives: Staff needed to get used to having a long list of sites on their Blackboard My Institution page. We had to be careful about the naming of each site so that the cohort was clearly identified, as staff would be teaching the same module for both the September intake as well as the March intake.

Lessons learned: Use of groups when large numbers of students were involved was very helpful. Groups can be created which the students don’t see, but can be used for administration, for example, groups for each pathway or site of delivery. This then enables more targeted site or pathway specific information to be delivered. We could also use these groups for marking when multiple teams are working on the same module. We also discovered that a single submission portal for assignments means it is clearer for the students to submit to. Previously, we had made portals for each site and pathway and for extensions and students had submitted to more than portal when unsure which one to submit to. We were also using anonymous marking, so these errors were not immediately apparent.

Have you adapted/changed anything subsequently?

Since then, the subsequent intakes are all on SITS-module sites and staff are now used to this way of working.

What is the evidence on the impact of students and their learning?

The changes we made were not to the way that we delivered our teaching, but more to the administration and organisation of our delivery. Students just see this as the way we work, so it is difficult to measure impact. However, we are certain that students are now clear where to look for information and also, where to submit their assignments to.

What do you plan to do next?

We review the template each year to ensure that it reflects current information and is user friendly for both students and staff. Staff are being encouraged to implement further use of educational technology within their sites, such as podcasts, narrated PowerPoints and we hope to develop the use of PebblePad further within the programme.

Here is an example of one of our OLD Blackboard sites, with 27 separate Menu items:

As we used one Blackboard site for 3 years of study, the Turnitin submission points became very busy. At the end of the three years, this site had 95 separate submission points.


This is how things look now:

Programme site

All teaching delivered via separate Module sites following the same stucture:



CASE STUDY SERIES: Lisa Smith, Senior Lecturer in Emergency and Urgent Care

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health-practice-development-2Using Blackboard Blogs for structured learning activities

Lisa Smith recently took over the leadership of several modules on the Practice Development Framework. Some of the modules have some face to face elements but others are delivered totally online.

Structured materials and resources are provided via Blackboard with the main learning and interaction takes place through weekly ‘thread work’.

These are structured topics of research which the students need to post their findings on.

There is also the expectation that they will also read and respond to work posted by their peers and in this way they learn from each other.

What was the challenge you were trying to address?

As a distance learning module with a large number of students (60+) I was looking at a way to manage the Discussion Boards better. I give individual feedback to threads, and found it hard to keep track of the Discussion Board postings I had already marked.

I also wanted the students from all levels of study (5, 6 and 7) to work together as  I felt they would all benefit from seeing all the work submitted by their peers. The approach of putting them into smaller groups depending on their level, defeated this objective.

What did you do/implement?

I sought assistance from Sarah Ruston in AQD who suggested using Blackboard Blogs rather than a Discussion Board. The rationale for this suggestion is that:

  •  you can instantly see exactly what each student has posted
  • unread posts are ‘flagged’ so you quickly know which you have already read
  • whether anyone has commented on each blog posting

Essentially, students can post their thread work and easily choose another student’s work to read without having to scroll through large numbers of posts as was the practice on a discussion board.

What advice would you give to others looking to implement something similar?

Seek advice from the learning technologists!

The experience was excellent and well received by students, a number of points came to mind when considering this question:

Positive points:

  • With a large number of students it is easier to see who has submitted and who hasn’t Rather than having to scroll down through large numbers of threads you can just click on each student’s blog and read their work and the comments of other students.
  • The students themselves are still able to easily engage.
  • When marking thread work you can see who you have read and those who have submitted since the last time you accessed the blog.

Negative point

There was very little to be negative about but if I had to identify something, it would be the absence of an edit feature after feedback has been posted.  If you have written something and want to correct it after submitting it, you cannot simply go back and edit it.  You have to copy your original comment, delete it and then paste it into a new comment with the edits. This is only a very minor negative though.

Words of warning

If you are going to implement Blogs, make sure you do it from the outset. I  decided to introduce this approach after students had already engaged via a Discussion Board.

I quickly realised I would struggle with this particular module as I had so many students on it. So implemented the Blog for week 2 of the thread work. Some students got a little confused with the new process, however we gave them a lot of guidance on how to submit, but some still got a little lost.

Make sure that the ‘Group Blog’ feature is turned off (if you are using Groups in your Blackboard site) as this will give students two places to submit to and cause great confusion – learn from my mistake!

Have you adapted/changed anything subsequently?

All my modules now use Blogs for threadwork submissions.

What is the evidence on the impact of students and their learning?
At first the students need a little help to navigate the blogs but this settles down quickly.  Both the major’s and minor’s modules showed a high level of interaction between the students.  A recent student evaluation mentioned that they enjoyed using the blogs.

What do you plan to do next?

Use blogs for all thread work in the future.


How the blog looks to users:


An example blog posting and related comment:



Learning Technology: Coming Soon …

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There are a number of learning technology system changes expected to happen prior to the start of 2017/18;

  • PebblePad moving to version 5
  • Turnitin GradeMark moving to Turnitin Feedback Studio
  • Blackboard upgrade and theme change
  • Medial moving to version 5

Details and descriptions are subject to change, and more information will be circulated as necessary and as it becomes available.


  • Our current version of PebblePad is being moved to the latest version (V5) over the summer
  • The underlying technology moves from Flash to HTML5 – more accessible, and in-line with browsers that are phasing-out/removing Flash support
  • Accessible on all devices, such as smartphones and tablets
  • Redesigned, and simpler interface
  • ATLAS remains unchanged
  • All Assets move across
  • Our current version is no longer being developed, and will be phased-out shortly
PebblePad V5 Screenshot
PebblePad V5 home page

Support & communication
Workshops for staff will be delivered over the coming months. Some have already taken place.  Those who attend will have access to V5 via a temporary account that will remain available to them until the upgrade.

There are many “how-to” guides directly on the new home page. We will produce a transition guide, which will be applicable to staff and students.

Most users will move across on Monday 7th August, however, any reassessment students will be left on V3 (current system) until they have resubmitted, and will be moved at the end of August.


  • GradeMark interface is being updated to Feedback Studio
  • Same features, but improved use of space
  • Easier to add comments & Quick Marks
  • Can now add clickable URLs to feedback – support pages, documents etc.
Turnitin Feedback Studio Screenshot
Turnitin Feedback Studio

Support & communication
A transition guide will be produced to help staff move to marking via the updated interface.

Some of the features can be seen on Turnitin’s demonstration site.

We are able to switch-on this feature at any time, with a forced change to all users initially planned from Turnitin by July 2017. We are checking current timings for this forced switch; however, the current proposal is to make the move at around the same time as the Blackboard upgrade (i.e. late July / early August).


We will be looking to perform our annual upgrade of Blackboard over the summer. There is no licence-cost impact to upgrading to a newer version of the system. All upgrades bring security improvements, as well as support for newer versions of client software and systems (browsers etc.). However, an essential reason for needing to regularly upgrade is to ensure full support for the system for the up-coming academic year.

The upgrade will bring some new features and an updated colour scheme and theme change.

Regarding the theme, we are proposing to move incrementally towards the – desired – responsive web design theme as it develops. The proposal is a move towards the look-and-feel, but maintaining the course design options for a period of time (these themes need to be turned-off when we move totally onto the responsive design).

Blackboard potential theme change screenshot
One Blackboard potential theme change

The last two upgrades have happened towards the end of July / early August, and the proposal would be to do the same again (these upgrades didn’t appear to cause any major disruption issues). Blackboard should be on Managed Hosting by the time of the upgrade; this should offer more flexibility and options for upgrade timings.


  • System update to version 5
  • Updated and fully responsive interface redesign
  • HTML5 player by default (Flash fallback still an option)
  • Multispeed playback (i.e. 2x)
  • Multi-bitrate playback
  • Version 5 is required for MediaLecture (if we were to consider this option)
  • More customisation & branding options
  • Live-stream workflow improvements
Screenshot from Medial V5 demo server
Screenshot from Medial V5 demo server

Support & communication
Much of the current interaction with Medial is via the Blackboard building block, rather than directly through the interface. The main changes via this route will be the new options on the player, and the switch to HTML5. All the web interface features will still be there, just with an enhanced interface.

Support and upgrades of Medial is included in our annual licence. The upgrade is carried out remotely and is expected to take less than an hour (updates in the past have been around 15 minutes, with actual video playback disruption less than that). We just need to book an update “slot” with the vendors. As there isn’t a test system for Medial, updates always carry a slight risk, and we only see the changes at the same time as all system users (we rely on their demo server to view some of the potential feature changes ahead of the move).

CASE STUDY SERIES: Volker Deecke, Associate Professor, Centre for Wildlife Conservation

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Use of a common course-specific Blackboard template (all Conservation modules)

Traditionally each module leader on the Conservation provision had set up his/her own module Blackboard site. This had the effect that equivalent content was in different locations on different sites and caused considerable confusion for the students. The problem was exacerbated by the fact the many teaching staff did not have access to Blackboard sites other than the ones they were teaching on which provided limited opportunity for exchange of best practice. Sarah Ruston (AQD) helped design and share a common template for all Forestry and Conservation Blackboard sites to standardise the look and the navigation.


The template provided an effective way to standardise the layout of the module Blackboard sites while at the same time enabling module tutors to  customise their sites (e.g., by including custom banners and colour schemes). The latter was important so as to avoid students (and staff) getting confused as to which Blackboard site they were accessing at any given point. Student feedback about the standardisation was very positive and the new layouts were welcomed at the staff-student forums. The exercise also had the benefit that now course leaders and external examiners were now automatically enrolled on the relevant module Blackboard sites.


Blackboard World 2016: Conference Report

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Esther Jubb gives us the lowdown on the recent Blackboard World conference

In early 2016, without actually expecting to be accepted to the conference, I put in a presentation proposal to the Blackboard World 2016 Conference in Las Vegas.  The presentation planned to talk about the changes and developments that we have been working on in relation to our use of Blackboard during the last 18 months.  In the background, many of the changes that we have been working on is an Exemplary Course Programme and the presentation proposal was to discuss how we were using the rubric that supports this programme to identify and drive much of our work.  Having been accepted to the conference and being briefed on how the panel session would run I packed my suitcase and flew 10 hours to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas at night. Image by William Zain.

Blackboard World is a very large conference 3000 plus delegates, large expo hall with lots of learning technology vendors keen to talk to you about your learning technology needs (and to give you free gifts; caps, charging cables, t-shirts, bottle openers…) parallel sessions that start at 8:15am and finish at 6:00pm, additional workshops and keynote sessions and lots of opportunities to indulge the geeky side of your personality.

Despite some wicked jetlag I attended a whole variety of sessions.  My first session was an interesting presentation from Charles Darwin University on Developing an Integrated Student Learning Universe; putting students at the centre of all technology developments and taking a 3 layer approach:

  1. Learner engagement needs
  2. Learner facing systems
  3. Underlying technology architecture

I also attended a session from Johns Hopkins University on their approach to supporting staff new to teaching fully online distance learning programmes.  My favourite session, in terms of making me think about my role at the university and how we better make use of learning technology, was run by staff from IBM on design thinking.  Not only was this an introduction to something new….it was an interactive session where we started to engage with the approach of design thinking.

Youtube video quick overview Design Thinking:

Youtube video Tim Brown (creator of design thinking) talking about Design Thinking:

Part of the problem with such a large conference is that it is difficult to choose between 10 different sessions in any one parallel slot and not every session lives up to the description so you then feel that you’ve wasted a valuable session!  My overall reflections on the conference were, that although we do have plenty of work to do in our use of learning technology, we are heading in the right direction; ensuring that the student experience is consistent and what we promise them, using the affordances of the technology to support the learning that our students need to prepare them for their future aspirations, and getting the most out of our learning technologies.  Finally, how did my presentation go?  There were about 60 people the room, the feedback was excellent with all those who provided feedback saying that they thought the session was useful to them, which is what you want to achieve from talking about the interesting and exciting things that you’re doing.

Dr Esther Jubb, AQD