I’m proud to announce Blackboard’s newest innovation, Blackboard Planner!
Blackboard Planner helps students take control of their educational experience. With Blackboard Planner, students can identify their passions and interests to drive insightful academic decisions. It supports them as they analyze and compare different decisions to see impact on their course of study. They can calculate the potential salary of a future career path, and get help from friends, family, advisers and alumni. And they can select an educational plan that helps them recognize and achieve their dreams, so they can graduate on time and gain employment.
Click here to see a demo of how Blackboard Planner can transform student planning and advising for today’s mobile-driven world.
This new mobile app has been designed to help students better succeed in their academic journey. It’s the culmination of years of product experiments and qualitative research, and it presents a new direction for Blackboard in the realm of Student Success. I want to share the design intent and philosophy, some of our process in creating Blackboard Planner, and our initial road map for the product.
Our Design Process
In 2014, Blackboard acquired MyEdu, a startup focused on helping college students succeed in college and get a job. The product focused on a simple and approachable visual language and a comprehensive set of planning tools for students. These tools, including a schedule planner and degree tracker, were aimed at the tactical planning parts of the student journey. As we conducted research with students and developed these tools, we found that students take courses out of sequence, or courses that don’t count towards their major, and that leads to unhappiness and attrition.
Soon after the acquisition, the larger Blackboard team got together to learn how the newly merged organization could work together in the emergent student success landscape. We held a multi-day workshop in our San Francisco office, generating hundreds of ideas that all focused on great MyEdu and Learn integration points.
Here are some of the ideas that emerged from the workshop:
As you can see, the ideas are raw, but they have a trajectory. We summarized that trajectory as a framing statement: “We want students to feel confident in making decisions, while aware that change is not to be feared.” The ideas support students in exploring decisions, and tried to track their emotional well-being in order to minimize anxiety during the decision making process.
As a result of this exploration, we launched Job Genie, a labs experiment intended to explore the relationship between student interests and job trajectories. This product vignette was based on qualitative research with students related to identity and self-worth. We learned that not only do students struggle to articulate their skills and interests, many feel that they don’t even have any skills at all. We developed Job Genie in order to learn about the “self discovery to job exploration” connection. We realized that it’s silly to expect a college student to self-identify specific job placement skills.
In Job Genie, we asked students to identify aspirations in language they understand (power, money, impact), and we then proposed different career options they can explore. We designed the tool to be experiential rather than goal directed; students weren’t prescribe a particular path towards a job, but instead, they could explore linkages between jobs.
Northeast Wisconsin Technical College
Fast forward about a year, to when Blackboard established a partnership with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College to develop an academic planning tool. This product was intended to specifically address attrition and retention challenges faced by the college. It was a natural extension of MyEdu’s tactical capabilities, and we started to integrate some of the discovery learnings from Job Genie. This product extended generic planning capabilities to specific selections, driven by real university data.
We’ve also spent hours with students, advisors, and administrative staff, and synthesized those experiences into a series of insights. These insights help drive our new product development; they act as the container for identifying the “problem we are trying to solve.” These insights are:
- Students have no mental model of how a short-term lifestyle decision has long-term financial consequence, and make irresponsible and uninformed spending decisions that they later regret.
- Students view their academic journey as a linear path, and so they start thinking about their job prospects only when it is too late to make important changes to their course of study.
- Because students aren’t aware of their passions and interests, they don’t see a connection between their developing skills and a fulfilled life. As a result, they lose interest in their courses of study and either change majors or drop out of school entirely.
- Students, seeking an empathetic voice to help guide them on their journey, receive only general guidance from overloaded advisors. Without more personalized and specific support, they feel isolated, alone, and unsupported.
- Students have difficulty planning the sequencing of their courses. They select courses that don’t count for credit, take classes out of sequence, or fail to register in time, resulting in high anxiety, poor performance, and attrition.
Reframing the Problem
As we progress through the iterations I’ve described above, it’s clear that we’ve reframed the problem we were trying to solve. With MyEdu, we set out to solve the problem of personal identity by helping college students tell their personal stories. With Job Genie, we set out to solve the problem of helping college students learn about career paths. And in partnering with NWTC, we set out to help them help their students with planning a course of study – taking the right classes at the right time in order to graduate.
Our problem “reframe” happened through an iterative process of making things, critiquing them, trying them, and identifying new constraints for our solution. This is the design process, and it’s one that we’ve embraced at Blackboard in order to develop product strategy. Sometimes this is called design thinking, but it’s a larger product development shift than that – it actually changes the dynamic of product strategy. Instead of starting with a list of requirements, the problem space itself creates the constraints. Now, we’re able to leverage those years of experiences, those insights and product experiments, and the new constraints in order to build Blackboard Planner. With Blackboard Planner, we’ve set out to solve the problem of student success, which encapsulates a broader focus: giving students a clear path towards graduation. In all of our progressive iterations, the problem space was the same, but our lens on that problem shifted, and as it shifted, new solutions emerged.
Blackboard Planner combines the exploratory, experiential part of self discovery with specific courses of study. A student can learn a little about themselves through introspection, find out about a particular career path, and identify majors at their school that lead in that direction. If they are interested in learning more, they can watch videos – powered by our partner Roadtrip Nation – of people describing their own paths in a particular direction, so they can see the twists and turns of a non-linear career journey. We check in with students to see how they are feeling throughout the college career. And, they can see their progress towards completing a major, and identify the amount of time it would take to attain a credential that steers them in the right direction.
Along the way, they encounter academic planning tools like those in MyEdu, financial planning tools, and opportunities to engage with alumni in a mentorship capacity. And their major and course choices are consistently presented in the context of job opportunities, powered by our partner Burning Glass.
Planning is not a discrete activity at the beginning of the semester. It’s organic, and as the student experiences new courses and new educational experiences, they often change their minds and change their trajectory. Blackboard Planner lives inside of the Bb Student mobile app. Schools that license both products can provide their students with a seamless experience between planning capabilities and day to day classroom capabilities. This supports that organic and continual planning.
Blackboard Planner is paired with Blackboard Advise, a comprehensive product that presents academic advisers and career counselors with a unified view of the student experience.
With Blackboard Advise, they can see course selections, grade data, and most importantly, they can see how the student is engaging with Blackboard Planner. If a student explores careers in computer science and engineering, an adviser can be prepared to have conversations about job outlooks, potential salaries, and even cities where those fields flourish. They can gain visibility into which students are struggling the most, and can proactively support those students. And they can speak confidently about different course options in order to help students gain a line of sight to graduation.
Blackboard Planner is available in the fall, and you can learn more about it here. I’m proud of the work that the design, product and development teams have done over the last few years leading up to this product launch. I hope that your students, instructors and advisers benefit from this great new tool.