This is the first in a series of posts drawn from a conversation with higher ed administrators that took part in the Beta program for Blackboard Learn, Release 9.1. Over the next few weeks, they’ll share their impressions of Release 9.1, their ideas for how it can enhance teaching and learning at their institutions, and where they think online learning is headed. 

Roundtable participants include:

Joel Johnson

Instructional Designer at the College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN. Currently running bothWebCT CE 8 and Blackboard Learn, Release 9.0. Has been using WebCT since 1997. Joel will be leading a poster session about 9.1 at BbWorld 2010.

Filip Seuntjens

Project Manager of Blackboard at the University of Antwerp in Belgium Europe. Currently on Release 9, Blackboard client since 2001.

Ira Strauss

Senior Systems Analyst at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Currently on Release 8, Blackboard client since 2000.  Ira will be leading a session on content systems at BbWorld 2010.


Blackboard Blogs: How many students and faculty are using the Blackboard system at your institution and how many courses do you have running in any given semester?

Ira: There are 65,000 accounts in the system and we have 25,000 that are active any given month.

Filip: And we serve almost 40,000 students in Blackboard right now, 90 percent of the students being really active users.

Joel: Well, our total college enrollment at this time is about 3,700 students. It’s a little difficult to know how many active students we have in our system, but I would say that since the end of last summer we’ve had at least 4,000 active student users. And we have roughly 160 full time and 325 adjunct faculty – of those I’d say half to two-thirds are regularly active on our system.

Bb Blogs: What are some of your first impressions of 9.1 since you’ve joined the Beta program?

Joel: We had high hopes for 9.1 because we had heard for quite some time that 9.0 was good but not as good as 9.1 was going to be. So the bar was kind of set high before we had even seen it. So, when we actually had access I would say by and large it met those expectations. The first impression was very positive, we knew going in that there were going to be some things from WebCT that didn’t transfer into Blackboard so we were prepared for those. But overall the first impression was this seems like a much better product and this is something that we can confidently move into.

Filip: For us, the user interface stays more or less the same (since we’re currently on Release 9.0). But I think there is new functionality that will be used very frequently by our professors. It’s just small things, but it’s going to make life for professors much easier to use. We’re happy with it.

Bb Blogs: And what are your plans for upgrading?

Ira: I’m just going to turn it on…No, we’ve had tremendous cooperation from Managed Hosting and we’re going live in May

Joel: We will plan to have all of our courses in 9.1 by January of 2011.

Filip: If we follow the timeline we set for ourselves we’ll be moving from 9.0 to 9.1 the first week of July.

Bb blogs: So Ira, how are you preparing your campus, specifically your faculty for the upgrade?

Ira: We don’t really have anything formally in place right now, it’s always been a little difficult for us to communicate with our faculty everywhere. But, I’m very pleased with the materials that Blackboard is finally coming out with – the getting started documents, the flash videos in the On-Demand Learning Center – they are finally beginning to fill what’s been a big void for us. We’ve lost resources and so the materials from Blackboard are just in time.

Bb blogs: Joel, Filip – are you accessing these resources?

Joel: Well, actually IT has already developed our upgrade plan and from that we created an easy-to-digest version highlighting major milestones that we’ve put into a multi-media timeline. It’s publicly available so people can check in to see where we’re at against the calendar year. We also have some alpha and beta testers on our campus to help give us feedback and kind of spread the word. We also have some “sneak peeks” or some previews of Blackboard slated for May.The sneak peaks will just be an open invitation to anybody who wants to come and see what’s happening. I’ll do that with another academic technology person here. So that’s one way that will help get the word out too. We’ll also be sending out regular emails and announcements through our email tool, just as major events are coming up. So those are some of the methods that we are using.

Filip: I have a question for Joel, because I’m really interested by the idea of sneak previews that you organize…How do you do that?

Joel: Because we’re part of the beta we kind of know what we’re going to be getting into so before people go away on a summer break we’ll have open sessions for people to come and see a demonstration of what a 9.1 course will look like.

So I’m creating some content along with another academic technology person here and it will be voluntary for people to attend, but we expect there will be a large turnout. And it will just be walking through a course site, what they’re used to seeing in a WebCT course and some of the main features that you’re going to now see in Blackboard 9.1. We’ll do some comparison but then also show off some of the new features that they haven’t been able to take advantage of yet. So that’s really the extent, just to kind of get them used to thinking of what’s coming, but it’s not training it’s just a preview.

Filip: That’s what I thought it was and I’m going to launch the idea here right now.

Bb blogs:  Would you have any
words of advice or any insight to offer other institutions that are in your position or on older versions of Blackboard software?

Filip: You can’t compare Release 9.1 to an older version. So I say go for Release 9.1 – it has all the good stuff from 9.0, but more and better, and as far as I can tell, more stable.

If I can quote one of our deans, he said in a meeting a week ago “Only the best is good enough for our students.”  And, right now, that’s Release 9.1, so we have to do it.

Ira:  I would tell anybody that was not on Release 9 that they really should be looking to make the move. It will take communication and training, but it’s going to be a tremendous shift for their faculty in terms of what control they have and what they will be able to do.

I think one of the best aspects of Release 9.1 is the intuitiveness. I’ve been telling a lot of our faculty and staff that if they just take a minute they are going to be really amazed at how easy it is and how intuitive it is.

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  • Najma

    We will be piloting Release 9.1 next semester (July 2010) at the University of Johannesburg. Can someone please share with me how they’ve used the community manager?