The British University in Dubai Upgrades to Blackboard Ultra

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This blog is guest-authored by Dr. Tendai Charles. He is Director of the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the British University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The British University in Dubai (BUiD) is a unique Higher Education Institution (HEI) in the Middle East because its students are almost exclusively postgraduates. Many of whom work part-time, support families, and are expatriates. Due to the nature of their lives, these students need a cloud-based Learning Management System (LMS), which offers them the capacity to study independently, at their own pace, wherever they are in the world.

BUiD had been subscribed to Blackboard 9.0 for several years, however, data analytics revealed that faculty were not using it adequately. When questioned as to why this was the case, faculty responded by indicating that they were satisfied with the rich features of Blackboard 9.0 but thought that its User Interface (UI) wasn’t at its full potential. BUiD’s faculty desired an LMS with the capability of Blackboard 9.0, which had a simpler, modern, more intuitive UI. Consequently, Prof. Abdullah AlShamsi (Vice-Chancellor of BUiD) decided it was time for a change. It was time to upgrade to an LMS that met the needs of both faculty and postgraduate students in order to facilitate BUiD’s Blended Learning agenda.

In January 2020, the Blackboard team and representatives of a competitor LMS were invited to BUiD to deliver live-presentations. Both teams were given the same amount of time to describe their LMS products in-detail, and to give hands-on demonstrations to faculty. The team presented the Blackboard Ultra system. Thereafter, demo accounts for both LMS products were created for a period of 30 days. Throughout the month of February, faculty tested both systems, uploading content, creating assessments, and communicating with students who agreed to partake in this trial. Thereafter, a survey was distributed among all faculty members, that enquired about their personal experiences of the demo accounts and their preferences regarding which LMS was best. 90% of faculty believed that Blackboard Ultra was better for facilitating Blended Learning, better for supporting students with educational needs, and provided a simpler, easier to use UI compared to the competitor.

After reviewing the results of this survey, Prof. Abdullah AlShamsi decided BUiD would upgrade to Blackboard Ultra. Blackboard’s UK-based technical team and BUiD’s IT Department (led by Mr. Khaleelullah Ghourie) determined that this would be a 12 to 16 week process, meaning the upgrade would be completed by the Fall of 2020. However, due to the historic COVID-19 pandemic, in mid-March the UAE’s Ministry of Education instructed all HEIs to teach online. Consequently, BUiD’s and Blackboard’s technical teams rescheduled the upgrade, such that Blackboard Ultra could be live on 1st April. Both technical teams literally worked day and night for 2 consecutive weeks in order to make this unprecedented feat happen. Somehow, they were successful in this endeavour, and by 4th April some faculty were delivering live, synchronous online lessons via Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. 

Now, 2 weeks after the upgrade, BUiD is using Blackboard Ultra for the following:

  • Online teaching
  • Regular online faculty/departmental meeting
  • Building a virtual community amongst students online
  • Professional development training
  • Hosting conferences online
  • Webinars for community engagement
  • Provision of online exams
  • Hosting “Open Days” for prospective students
  • And more… 

Ultimately, BUiD is now conducting a large portion of its daily activities via the Blackboard Ultra platform, and we encourage other HEIs in the region to consider upgrading, too. We are proud partners of Blackboard and thank them for their support during this COVID-19 period.