At BbWorld this summer in New Orleans, we shared our vision for Blackboard Learn:

First, our goal is to make Learn the most modern, responsive, and efficient LMS on the market to provide the most enjoyable experience for the millions of students and educators using it every day. We are also focused on providing powerful tools in a simple way that support a wide array of pedagogical practices and help instructors easily create engaging experiences for students. We place a premium on being deeply accessible to help students with disabilities as well as students who seek alternate ways of learning that better fit their preferences. We also seek to leverage our large, anonymized data set and our fantastic data science team to find new ways to provide insight to instructors, students, and administrators where it can help them most – right within their everyday workflows. And finally, we must ensure that workflows for instructors and students are seamless, both across our products and with 3rd party products, to provide the best experience.

We are committed to delivering on this vision across the entire Blackboard Learn product, which consists of our two user experiences – the Original experience and the Ultra experience – and three deployment options – self-hosted, managed-hosted, and SaaS. We will continue to provide our clients this flexibility to meet their unique needs, as our broad scope enables us to deliver on these varied needs in a way that is unmatched in the industry. You might remember that this message is consistent from last year, and that’s because the strategy hasn’t changed. Our focus now is to ensure we are executing against it effectively and delivering on the vision outlined above.

The Q4 2017 release for the Original experience is one step towards delivering on that vision. Combined with investments we’ve made over the past six months across the broader Teaching & Learning portfolio, we are ensuring that the Original experience for Learn will successfully support our clients around the world for many years to come. Highlights include:

    • Modern, responsive, streamlined design: To ensure that students and educators can have the same experience on their mobile devices as they do on their laptops, we are continuing our investment in making the Original experience responsive for mobile devices. With the Q4 2017 release, system and course level navigation as well as blogs and journals are optimized for mobile devices when using the Learn 2016 theme. Additionally, we are helping educators and students save time through streamlining common tasks. Instructors can now delete multiple gradebook columns at once as well as quickly see and change a course’s availability to students. Both students and instructors can also more easily engage in large Discussion Board forums with the addition of a “New Reply” count and filter for unread replies to their posts.

  • Powerful tools for engaging courses: We are focused on providing powerful tools that are simple to use, support diverse pedagogical needs, and help engage students. Recent enhancements to the Blackboard app for students are one example. The Blackboard app is updated with a new look, improved workflows, and simpler navigation. Plus, we made it easier for students to discover and download the Blackboard app through a new module available in Learn. Additionally, with the release of the Blackboard Instructor app this year, educators can easily connect with students right from their mobile device at a moment’s notice. This month we also partnered with OpenEd, a leading OER content repository, to provide instructors with over 450,000 standards-aligned educational resources right in Learn – through both the Content Market and Blackboard Open Content (formerly xpLor).
  • Deeply accessible: To improve accessibility in Learn, the Q4 release incorporates ARIA landmarks in the course menu and the content area to better define the page structure and assist users with screen readers in navigating page elements. We have also made enhancements to Blackboard Ally – a new tool that helps institutions with the accessibility of their course content – including adding support for Electronic Braille in the Braille-Ready File (.brf) file format and adding language support for French, Danish, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Finnish, Swedish, Welsh, Spanish, Dutch, and UK English.
  • Embedded insights: We continue to find new ways to provide insights to institutions. IMS Caliper events can now be emitted to a third-party Caliper-compliant record store for self-hosted environments located in the United States, with support planned for additional regions globally. This capability was previously released for SaaS and Managed Hosting institutions. With Learn, your data is free, it’s open, it’s unthrottled, and it’s standards compliant. Additionally, the latest release of Analytics for Learn brings rubric support and granular tool detail to what was already the most comprehensive LMS data model available, giving practitioners access to information in a way that was previously only available to researchers.
  • Seamless integrations: Last but not least, we are focused on blurring the lines between products to ensure a seamless teaching and learning experience. With Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) deep linking in the Q4 2017 release, the Content Item Message specification is now supported, enabling deeper integration for tool providers that support this standard. Instructors and course designers can now launch into the tool provider’s user experience, select resources to add to their Learn course, and the individual links are created in the correct place in the course. Students clicking the links will be taken directly to the specific resource rather than to a generic tool page for the tool provider. Another new feature in the Q4 2017 release deepens the Collaborate with the Ultra experience integration. Students can now jump into a session from Group pages for real-time, face to face collaboration when doing group work.

In addition to the areas above, we know that overall quality and the underlying infrastructure of Learn are of utmost importance to you. In the Q4 2017 release, we updated the SCORM player, Tomcat, and Java8. To improve the security related to outbound email, SMTP authentication is now supported and mail server configuration is handled completely in the admin panel. We have also made additional REST services available with this release.

We have been listening to your feedback and heavily investing in a multi-year roadmap for the Original experience.  Through our Blackboard Community site, we are staying closely connected to you and listening to what you want to see through the Blackboard Idea Exchange. For example, the top voted idea in the Spring of last year was the ability to delete multiple gradebook columns, which we have introduced in the Q4 release. If you aren’t already, we encourage you to provide your input and help shape our roadmap.

The Q4 2017 release for the Original experience is one step towards delivering on the vision for Learn. We have a lot more in development for the Original experience, as well as our supporting Teaching & Learning tools, that we look forward to making available to you over the next year (for example, attendance tracking, additional cloud storage integrations, integrated audio and video, and more). At the same time, we also continue to deliver on the Learn vision through the Ultra experience, and we will provide you an update on our Ultra progress here on the blog soon – so stay tuned!

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