Working with 1000 instructors, students and administrators to develop our last major release in November seemed hard to top, but I was humbled and proud to hear that more than 2000 have guided us in the development process since then as we hit another milestone with today’s release of a simply better Blackboard Learn.

Through our wide array of client programs, we empowered you to take ideas and work hand-in-hand with us through the development process, from the initial creation of the use case, to design and the field trials. And because we’ve invested heavily in these programs, I hope that when you see product videos, screenshots and ultimately get your hands on these features, you’ll say, “That’s exactly how I expected it to work.” Our goal is to let you focus on core teaching and learning tasks and not the technology support around those activities.

One of the first things that stands out to someone new to Blackboard Learn is the overall grading workflow. Starting with the Needs Grading View, you have an instant, streamlined view into what requires your attention.

This new release extends our inline (i.e. onscreen in the browser) grading capabilities from blogs, discussions, wikis and journals to assignments. Imagine the traditional workflow for scoring these. You would need to download the file, save it to your desktop, make edits, save again and then re-upload. Now you can make all those annotations (text edits, highlights, comments, strikethroughs) right on the screen. And it doesn’t stop there! Once you grade one student’s work, in just one click you can easily navigate to the next assignment – without having to go back to the GradeCenter to enter grades.

Assignments are one way to measure student learning, and of course, tests are another. You outlined certain scenarios that required us to change design, deployment and feedback options for tests, and today’s release delivers on those. You now have the ability to set different test availability rules for different users, or groups of users – for example, for students with disabilities who might need more time to complete a test. And on the feedback side, there is more granular control for what a student sees. So after submitting the online exam, a test-taker can immediately see the final grade but not the answers to prevent cheating.

I’m a numbers guy, so I would be remiss if I didn’t use this opening to mention my favorite feature that came out Blackboard Learn last fall – Test Item Analysis. I’m not going to get into the algorithms and backend calculations that were created by people far smarter than me, but in a nutshell, this feature measures the effectiveness of your assessments. Perhaps a question was worded poorly, or a student can justify an alternate answer, or maybe it was just a simple mistake and the wrong answer was put into the system. This feature helps you identify – and then automatically correct  – those issues.

Fear not, you don’t need to manually go in and regrade each affected test. Within this workflow itself, you can edit the offending test question and then hit “update and regrade.” Whether it’s five tests or 500, you just fixed it with one push of a button!

Now that you’ve scored assignments and tests, you need to analyze student performance in your courses. One option is to look at grades and the information in the Course Activity Reports, which track which students access your online materials and for how long.

Suppose we did that for you? In, let’s say a dashboard that measures student engagement and performance? That’s exactly what we built, and we call it the Retention Center. This automatically identifies students could be at-risk, and allows you to take action before it’s too late. Whether that’s scheduling office hours, providing more personalized instruction or assigning additional content, that’s up to you. Now you have the tool to help you do just that.

If conducting some virtual sessions or scheduling office hours is part of the plan for your at-risk students, you can do that on our revamped, modern calendar. It addresses one of, if not the most requested enhancement to Blackboard Learn. Those of you who are J’s on the Myers-Briggs indicator like me will love the ability to color code courses and activities on the calendar. And if you need to modify the due date, you can simply drag and drop to the new spot on the calendar –the date associated with the assignment in Blackboard will automatically update!

That’s just a quick peek into what we’ve done in this release for you. I could go on about the rebuilt Discussions and ways that we’ve incorporated assistive technology into the system, but I’ll let you see those in action on our YouTube Channel

And our support for you, the educators, doesn’t stop upon the release of the features. We’ve made a significant investment in empowering faculty members, as is evidenced by a new Faculty Resources page. There, you can find the most up-to-date information including feature videos, training programs, our MOOC catalogue, and on-demand tutorials.

We recognize that the time that we make new functionality available to you doesn’t always sync up with when your institution plans to adopt those features. In order to leverage these innovations and enhancements, I encourage you to test drive the latest version of Blackboard Learn yourself for free with a Guided Trial. Whether you want to see how we’ve addressed your concerns or if you just want to get a head start on rolling out these new tools to your students, the Guided Trial can be tremendous asset for you.

Do you have two minutes and want to see these in action before jumping in? Take a look at the video below, and you’ll see why Blackboard Learn is simply better for you.

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