Some have said that the sizzle has gone out of the franchise of the Virtual Learning Environment / Course Management System.  They’ve held funerals at conventions and proclaimed the death of the franchise; much like the sci-fi geeks said of Star Trek after Star Trek: Nemesis.   Yet these old franchises at their essence were powerful and by reconnecting to their original story and “re-booting” they have risen again.  If Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and Dr. Who can do it, why not the VLE and CMS.

A year ago I went out on a mission with a small fanatical team to reimagine the CMS/VLE and take us back to the start of our franchise – and the person who has the biggest impact on teaching and learning – the faculty member.  I present to you today the re-imaging of a classic part of the Blackboard story, CourseSites. CourseSites is all about making sure that every single instructor in K-12 and Higher Education can teach on our latest technologies – for free.

From this team’s imagination has come the idea that we can eliminate the barriers to online and hybrid learning using Blackboard Learn, Release 9.1, aspects of Blackboard Collaborate, Blackboard Managed Hosting and Building Blocks, including free, 24/7 support.  Using Blackboard Learn 9.1’s inherent open and flexible capabilities, and the support services of our Managed Hosting team, we have been able to create a number of innovative features for teaching and learning.  These include:

-Social Media Integration – Open up the so called “walled garden” a bit and share what’s going on in your classes easily over social media.  We’ve created not only a means to sign-on using an account from a social media service like Facebook and Twitter, but we are also creating tools to share materials out to these services.  Imagine being able to notify colleagues, mentors and others about things inside your course.

-Course Structures– Elevate your use of learning technology by choosing from one of 30 structures to organize the materials and activities in your course.  We’ve worked with instructional designers and Blackboard clients to develop structures that highlight key educational practices and make online and hybrid learning easy.  If you want to make your course more social, more interactive and use Blackboard tools to their full potential look over these structures and let them help you reorganize your course.

-Course Themes – We’ve created 50 themes that let you give your course some style.  This goes way beyond the old button styles and course menu options. You can now select from our growing library of professional themes to give your course some pizzazz and personality.

-Instructor HomePages and Blogs – come visit me at http://jfontaine.coursesites.com/ Here I have my profile, and a few sample classes I’m developing around Blackboard Building Blocks which I hope to deliver later this year.  Get your own CourseSites URL to provide a public gateway to your instruction.  From this URL you can link to your current blog, or start a new one using tools we’ve made available.

Keep in mind that what we’ve done with CourseSites is just an example of what’s possible with Blackboard Learn technology.   Every customer has access to the open SDK and power of Blackboard Building Blocks.   In less than a year we’ve been able to build these new innovative capabilities for our users with a very small group.  As you think about what’s possible on your campus, look at what we’ve done with CourseSites.  Imagine how you use these sample principles to create our own unique vision to re-brand and re-imagine your Course Management System / VLE.

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