Blackboard 9.1 training (28-29/06/10)

The University of Manchester are currently in the process of planning the move from Blackboard Vista to Blackboard 9.1. It’s a massive project taking place over the next two years and while there are a lot of benefits using the new system, it is going to take a while for staff and students to adjust. It also poses a big challenge to University eLearning staff on how best to support the move to Blackboard 9.1.

Content Management

The content management system will make it easier to work efficiently with files – documents only have to be uploaded once and can then be used across a number of courses.

Course files can be managed from the Control Panel under File Management. There seems to be a lot more options available than Vista including the ability to lock files, enable versioning and tracking which user has edited a file and when. By default students won’t have access to this file manager.

Files can be uploaded via WebDav by going to the File Manager > Set up Web Folder > this will provide a web address for the course. When a package is uploaded it is automatically extracted. A “360 view” of a file will give you all the information on that particular file.

Supported browsers

Certified browsers to use with Bb 9.1 include Internet Explorer 8 and 7 (not 6) and Firefox 3.6. Further information is available from the Blackboard website. Although Chrome is not yet certified, the trainer said that he had been using it with Bb9.1 without any problems. Check for updates from the Blackboard Maintenance Centre. As stated on the website the only supported JRE is Java 6 update 13 – Sun Java Runtime Environnment 5 is not supported.

Unlike Vista, it is possible to have multiple tabs open in Blackboard, although to use different login details you need to use different browsers.


Instead of using the drag and drop tool, under ‘Personalise page’ there is the option to use the keyboard. Also using the options in a browser you can ignore colours and fonts (Options tool > Accessibility).

YouTube videos from the mashup tool include separate Blackboard player controls.

The Grade Centre has two views – interactive and screen reader views.


Only instructors can see the Control Panel, not students. The menu in Bb 9.1 is a very pivotal element, which allows you to link directly to tools, content and external links. You can also add dividers and subheaders to organise the menu.

Depending on the format of your course, there are a number of approaches you can take in terms of structure including chronological, subject area, type of content.


The homepage can be slightly customised by selecting the control panel > customization > style. This offers options such as having links as buttons and having icons and/or text.

The menu can be viewed as a list or folders – folders will show a more detailed view, but a list is a simple, cleaner look.

A banner image can be added to the starting page.


  • Announcements: A big advantage is the email alert option when creating announcements. Bb9.1 uses whatever external email address a student has registered in Campus Solutions.
  • Adaptive release: can be created to date, grade, membership and review status criteria.
  • Learning modules: Can be imported straight from Vista. Folders can be included for visual hierarchy, but unlike in Vista there is no indent/outdent tool to organise files. Annoyingly if any tools (such as a discussion forum) are added to a learning module, when selected the user will be taken out of the learning module. For example if an assignment tool is selected, the user will be taken to the Assignments tool area in a new tab or window. The user will then need to navigate back to the learning module and find their place again.


Assessments can be imported from Vista. Graders can bulk download all assignment submissions and the Grade Centre can show the average and median of class mark.

The assignment attachment and submission process is very smiliar to that of Vista, except the option to replace a file that they might have submitted by accident. They are allowed one attempt or unlimited attempts where they can upload a number of submissions. Unlike Vista where Instructors can submit assignments from the student view, this is not possible on Bb9.1 which makes it difficult to get a true understanding of how the process works for students. The Grade Centre for Instructors is accessible from the Control Panel.

Like Vista, assignments can be created from the Assignments tool and linked to on different pages. Unlike Vista however, anonymous grading is available.

Tests, surveys and polls can be created and deployed (two different activities). Questions can be uploadedĀ  in an Excel sheet and questions can be dragged and dropped. Questions can be randomised from deployment. As with other content and tool links, tests are by default not available when created unless the option to make them available is selected.

In a quiz there is the option of grading questions, separate to automatically marked questions.

Apparently when a timer is set for a test it will not end the test at the end of the time, the user is able to carry on and will be recorded as late in the Grade Centre.

Students can access their grades (and also check their submission has been successful) from a “My Grades” tool link in the course menu. If a grade is underlined students can click on it for more information, including feedback (not the ‘details’ tab which could cause some confusion!).

It is important to organise the Grade Centre and remove irrelevant information, as this will help students navigate around it (Grade Centre > Manage > Column Organization). Grades and feedback can be emailed to students externally using the email tool within Bb9.1. Most columns are automatically created and you can also manually add columns (eg. for classroom based assignments). You can hover across the column titles for further information and like with Vista you can click on column headings to sort information. The icon legend at the bottom of the columns explains the different symbols used.

By clicking on the action menu on each column you can find out column statistics and attempt statistics. It is also possible to view user statistics from the name column list. Remember that hiding a column only hides it for you – not the student! To hide it from students select the ‘show/hide to students’ option from the action menu.

The first few columns of the Grade Centre are classed as a ‘frozen area’ which is really useful when scrolling across the columns – you don’t lose track of which student you are marking. Column names can be edited from the ‘Edit column information’ in the action menu and it is possible to set rules to colour code grades. Unlike the other drag and drop dacilities, in the Grade Centre the submit button needs to be selected after dragging and dropping an item.

It is possible to do anonymous marking in Bb9.1 – this is something that has to be selected, however it seems that it is not possible to anonymise the class list in the Grade Centre.

Once an assignment is marked, that mark is automatically available to the student. Feedback attachments can be changed, even after they have been saved and viewed by the student.

The Instructor notes are only available to view by Instructors. All details of editing on grades are recoirded in the Grade History. All papers can be downloaded by going to column action menu > assignment file download > download as a zip. The assignments are automatically downloaded with student usernames as the file titles. Grades can also be exported as an Excel file from the ‘work offline’ option. Excel sheets can also be uploaded to the Grade Centre and it is possible to preview the information before finally uploading it. All changes in the Grade Centre are recorded in the history, which can also be downloaded as an Excel sheet.

For large student cohorts a useful option in the Grade Centre might be the ‘Smart view’ (Manage > smartview > create smart view). This allows you to build a query on what you want to see. Once created, this smart view can also be marked as a favourite and set as an option from the menu, under the Grade Centre. Smart Views can be edited by going to Smart Views and selecting the action menu.

External grades can be shown on the ‘module page’ by adding ‘Grades’ as a module.


The email tool in Bb9.1 enables communication to an external email address (whichever the student is registered to in Campus Solutions). Blackboard won’t keep a copy of email sent, but a copy will be emailed to the sender. The subject heading of emails helpfully includes the course ID. It is possible to add email as a tool in the course menu, but make sure you configure it for student use, which you can do in ‘Tool availability’ (under Customization).

There is also a message tool available, which is similar to the mail tool in Vista. This tool only communicates within Vista and never to external email addresses.

There are tools to capture student reflection, including discussion boards, blogs, journals and wikis. It is possible to subscribe to discussions and users will receive an email when a discussion board is updated. Posts can be moderated (even if a forum has already started) within Blackboard – external moderation (ie. by email) is not possible. Posts can also be graded and a column will automatically be added to the Grade Centre.

By default the journal tool is private – so if the option to ‘permit course users to view journal’ is selected all users can then view all journals!

Blogs are public and be can created for an individual or a group or a whole course.

Changes made to a wiki in Blakboard can be viewed through the History tab and it is also possible to compare the differences between two entries (from the action menu on the wiki homepage > history > compare versions).


There are a number of differences to Vista that will impact on how MBS has been using certain Blackboard tools so far, including:

  • There is no tracking tool on Bb9.1: Although certain files have the option to be tracked the information provided is a lot less detailed than the tracking tool on Vista: For example it won’t record specific timing of access.
  • Assignment tool: The option for replacing an assignment is not available, although the student can submit numerous times if this option is selected.
  • Viewing the Grade Centre: It’s not possible to see and use a student view of the Grade Centre.
  • Tests: The timer won’t end the test, the user will be able to continue after the timer has expired and will be recorded late in the Grade Centre.

Further support is available from the Blackboard On Demand Learning Center.

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