Faculty Experiences with Blackboard Ultra

Blackboard Ultra represents the latest iteration of the Blackboard learning management system. It has undergone a complete redesign with a focus on improved navigation, enhanced accessibility, and responsiveness across various devices. This revamped version offers several advantages over its predecessor, but it’s important to note that transitioning a course to Ultra requires more than a simple cut-and-paste process.

During the recent Spring semester, five faculty members at Lesley University taught their courses using the Blackboard Ultra Course View. These instructors covered diverse subjects at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, with one course even being self-paced to cater to K12 teachers seeking continuing education credits. The faculty members who embraced Ultra included Donna Owens, teaching Psychopathology and Clinical Practice in the Expressive Therapies department; Diana Direiter, teaching Trauma and Crisis in Psychology; Liv Cummins, teaching Comedy in Humanities; Jennine Tambio, teaching Enhancing Quality Early Childhood Programs and Transition Seminar: Lives in Context in Education and LCAL (Lives in Context and Learning) respectively; and Cindy Downend, teaching Comprehensive Phonics in Reading Recovery.

The Ultra instructors found the new format to be intuitive and user-friendly, requiring very little support during the transition. For instance, Donna Owens, who taught Psychopathology and Clinical Practice, appreciated the redesigned learning modules, which made it easier for her to share content and for students to understand course requirements. The progress tracking feature helped students stay on track throughout the course.

“From an instructor viewpoint it made everything smoother.”

Cindy Downend, who taught Comprehensive Phonics, only needed a brief orientation on uploading content. She also received assistance in setting up release conditions on modules, allowing students to unlock content based on their assessment performance. Jennine Tambio, who taught two Ultra courses, expressed her enthusiasm for the Ultra rubrics, finding them easy to create and grade with. This was a significant improvement compared to her experience with the Original version of Blackboard.

Overall, students responded positively to the Ultra experience. They found the course navigation, participation in discussions, and assignment submission to be easy and straightforward. While some students initially resisted the change, providing tutorials or course tours helped alleviate their concerns. Donna Owens noticed that her students were actively using the Ultra Course View during in-class activities, which eliminated the need for printing or online searching.

“It is very organized and easy to use.”

“It was a pretty easy switch”

“looks better, and is more clear and easy to access.”

Based on their experiences, the faculty members offered some advice to colleagues considering the switch to Ultra. They recommended spending time familiarizing oneself with the platform, utilizing the student preview feature, and providing tutorials for students who are new to Ultra. Diana suggested thinking creatively to achieve teaching goals, while Cindy emphasized reaching out to eLIS for any questions or support needed.

For those interested in adopting Blackboard Ultra, contact eLIS at eLIS@lesley.edu to schedule an appointment. eLIS offers course reviews, training, and guidance to assist in the transition to Ultra.

Piloting Blackboard Ultra

Jennine Tambio teaches the Research Capstone course for the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS) at Lesley University. In this fully online course, students develop a senior research project based on an area of interest in their major. They synthesize the knowledge and experiences they have gained from prior courses through research, discussion, peer review, and reflection.

This summer, Jennine taught her SU1 and SU2 courses in Ultra Course View. Ultra is Blackboard’s newest version, redesigned from the ground up. It has several advantages including a more modern look, consistent navigation, progress tracking for students, streamlined grading, and more.

eLearning and Instruction Support (eLIS) at Lesley approached Jennine about piloting Ultra courses due to her heavy use of peer review. Previously, she had been using an external tool called PeerGrade which provided a robust framework for students reviewing each other’s work using rubrics. While Jennine liked PeerGrade, it required purchasing a subscription and the company was beginning to phase out its use in favor of a newer product. The Ultra Course View includes the option for peer review directly in its assignment tool. No additional tools required. Jennine also thought it looked cleaner and easier to use.

To get started, eLIS set up and transitioned the first few weeks of the course. Jennine quickly took over creating the subsequent weeks with guidance from eLIS. She had a couple of minor questions that were quickly answered while learning the new environment, but nothing significant. As part of the transition, she consulted with eLIS on how to reorganize parts of her course to make it concise and easier to navigate. She also worked to turn the narrated Powerpoints she had previously created into Kaltura videos making them more accessible for her students and captioned.

The resulting Ultra courses were very successful. Jennine got a lot of compliments from her students who “thought I had just made a beautiful Blackboard course.” Her students “were all able to hop in and seamlessly navigate” the course.

“It’s much cleaner, fosters more collaboration because of the format. The peer review feature was really cool and I loved that part of the course.”

“I enjoyed how easy it was to see what was due each week and to check them off!”

“I like Ultra Course mode much better.”

– Student survey responses

The process of transitioning her course helped her to “improve the quality and delivery of the course.” The peer review tools in Ultra were easy to use and allowed her to see each student’s submission, their feedback to others, and the self-review of their own paper all in one space. The students didn’t need to navigate to another site and learn another tool. And Jennine didn’t need to pay for a subscription.

According to Jennine, “It’s not a stressful transition.” While recreating her course took a little time, she appreciated the opportunity to rethink, update, and finetune certain aspects of her course. She found the final result more visually appealing. Her students were very engaged and she discovered helpful tools and nuances for a better teaching experience.

Interested in learning more about the Ultra Course View and if it is right for you? Contact elis@lelsey.edu.