In a few short days, the impact these mobile devices have had on the students at Nangwanda Secondary School has been profound. 97% of these students never touched a mobile phone before this week, but now their mechanical functioning of the phones increases exponentially every day. And they just love using these devices! They are highly engaged and you can see their minds transforming right before your eyes as they attempt to solve new problems in new ways. The smartphones we are using have the Blackboard Mobile Learn application installed along with content developed by Stanford University and the Seeds of Empowerment team. The mobile learning exercises developed by the research team allow us to measure the cognitive functioning and technological aptitude of the students.
“Sweet looking theme, a vast improvement over the current Bb Learn Theme, the revision in look and feel makes it a lot smoother to use.” — overheard during usability testingEarly reactions to the new system theme in Service Pack 8 have been overwhelmingly positive. Users that have seen it love its clean and modern look. UI changes in the new System Theme, “Blackboard Learn 2012” offer a change in the look and feel, but the functionality of the system remains exactly the same. So, what does that change to the look and feel mean to the people that support teaching and learning on campus? Instructional Designers sometimes cringe when they see interface changes because it often means changing screenshots used throughout tutorials, tip sheets and other training materials. I lead a team of instructional designers at Blackboard, and like you, we spend a considerable amount of time ensuring that our training materials, help documentation, and video tutorials help people meet their teaching and learning objectives. Before you dive in, we want you to understand that the new theme is optional. The original 9.1 default theme will still be available and Administrators can make the switch when the time is right. Existing customizations are unaffected. The new theme can be applied on a timeline of your own. Trying out the new theme is low-risk since it has no functional changes. If your campus is excited about a new modern look for Blackboard Learn, read on to find out what we think the impact will be and our ideas for managing the transition to a new look and feel (hint: we don’t think it is as big an effort as it first appears).
Blackboard product teams works closely with clients to build and introduce new versions of our platforms, including Blackboard Learn(™), Blackboard Collaborate(™), and Blackboard Mobile(™). We independently launched major versions that offered improved user experiences and brought us closer to customers in the process. Recently, we came together to discuss what Blackboard offers as a whole – across all of our platforms and services – to address the problem of student engagement that can result in dropouts, poor test scores, and transfers to other institutions. We put aside talking about cool new features and instead talked about how to effectively break through to today’s “always on” students. We identified how Blackboard’s entire portfolio can help students get engaged and personally invested in their learning for solid outcomes, college readiness, and career success. We are convinced that Blackboard offers the widest variety of tools to connect and engage learners in a way that each prefers – regardless of time, place, device or learning style. It’s no surprise that this results in increased learning, retention, and institutional growth. One client, Ivy Tech Community College, an educator of over 120,000 students across in 75 locations across Indiana, solved their growing requirement for more robust and resourceful engagement tools by deploying Blackboard Collaborate and Blackboard Mobile after attaining a solid foundation with Blackboard Learn. Among the benefits of the combined solution are 24×7 service to students, onboarding of 25,000 new students each year, and steady growth in enrollment with a goal of 200,000 students by 2020. What exactly does Blackboard offer to engage students? First of all, a plethora of learning-focused features – customized online courses and vibrant communities in Blackboard Learn, access to coursework virtually anywhere with Blackboard Mobile, and live classes with breakouts and multi-user whiteboards in Blackboard Collaborate. We also have capabilities that reach these students 24/7 on their own terms, enticing responses and interaction – “anywhere” courses with Blackboard Mobile Learn, faculty messages to mobile devices with Blackboard Connect for Learn(™), and presence and instant messaging in Blackboard Collaborate. There are features for measuring engagement with Blackboard Analytics(™) and taking corrective action. And finally, we work with our clients to help ensure a seamless user experience and optimization for teaching and learning. As a company, we are quickly realizing that the sum is greater than the parts. That is, with a broad set of integrated platforms, professional services, and education expertise, Blackboard enables institutions to tailor learning to each individual student while reaching and growing the entire academic enterprise. That’s what enables institutions to excel and stay relevant in today’s changing education environment.
A few weeks back I blogged about our software beta programs for Blackboard Learn Release 9.1, Service Pack 8. Since then we wrapped up this program and made SP8 generally available to Blackboard clients. From that blog post, I received a number of inquiries about the Beta program from clients. Instead of just giving my perspective on the program I thought having one of our clients provide their experience would be helpful to any client thinking about joining future programs. I asked David Barrett from the University of York to provide his perspective on the SP8 Beta program and he kindly agreed. Thank you David!