The following is an interview with Terry Patterson on how he super-uses LMS, Blackboard Learn. Terry is the Blackboard Learn system administrator at the University of Missouri. As a seasoned Blackboard Learn veteran of nine years, he started a blog called Blackboardguru.com where he provides valuable insight to other Blackboard Learn system administrators.

What tools do you use that quickly improve the quality of Blackboard as an LMS?

Building blocks are essentially extensions of the Blackboard Learn environment and play an important part in Blackboard at the University of Missouri.  I use Building Blocks to connect Blackboard Learn to third party tools like Blackboard Collaborate, Tegrity, and Kaltura.  I also use administrative Building Blocks like the Admin Console, Impersonate, and BbStats in my daily work.

As a participant in the road-map presentation for the latest release of Blackboard Learn, you were able to be exposed to how Blackboard will release new features as Building Blocks in the near future. How do you foresee this change affecting your day-to-day activity?

I think this type of system really opens up the functionality of Blackboard Learn and helps institutions who want to add the functionality improvements.  As an administrator I spend about five to six months testing and planning for our institution’s annual Blackboard Learn upgrade.  This new functionality and modularization of adding new tools without major outages, will allow me to spend time testing each specific tool to make sure it will do what our users need.

It also shows the change in thinking within Blackboard.  The developer teams will be using many of the same APIs and interfaces that Building Blocks developers outside the company face.  I believe this will start to improve what APIs are available and what new tools will appear in coming releases.  It also signals the understanding of a separation between the Blackboard Learn framework and the tools that make up the product. The new Blackboard release premise makes functionality into a Lego-like style that will benefit admins in the long run.

How do you get up to speed with what’s new with Blackboard?

I learned about most Building Blocks and other exciting Blackboard news from vendors and third party companies, but quickly went to the Oscelot and Blackboard Extensions websites.  I just started looking at all the Building Blocks that were available, many for free from other institutions around the world.  I would test each one out and see what value it might give to my users.  I’d also show it off to other faculty and team members to get their feedback.  Just taking the time to look and trying these Building Blocks out educated me on the options that Blackboard administrators have with the Building Block APIs.

What value do you get from having additional features at your fingertips?

I don’t think I can go by one day where I’m not touching, supporting, or using a Building Block.  Building Blocks such as Impersonate and LoginAs give myself and the support team the ability to access a course  as a user without creating a security issue.  I always pull up Bbstats when I’m in meetings with managers and directors.  I can pull up real time stats on our system instantly from my iPad or Android device.  I’ve even gotten a few of them to install the Blackboard Mobile app and see our trends in real time.

Thank you, Terry for sharing your insight. We look forward to featuring Terry Patterson on the Blackboard Blog again soon!

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