It’s no secret that the development of our next generation user interface for Blackboard Learn, what we call the Ultra experience, took way longer than we (and you) anticipated. But today, with the expansion of the number of SaaS clients, and our increased development of Ultra features, we’re now seeing increased momentum of clients enabling the Ultra experience.
A Little History
At BbWorld 2016 we announced that Learn with the Ultra experience was “available now” for pilot and limited production use. And while we had a few clients begin moving to Ultra then, most didn’t feel it was feature rich and robust enough to meet their needs.
Since that time, we stepped up our development efforts to make it more applicable to a wider set of clients. We also reached a regular cadence of monthly releases and increased the velocity of feature development to close the gap with the Original experience (also known as Learn 9.1).
And, we haven’t just been adding functionality to Ultra, but we’ve been refactoring features and workflows so they are better than before. Here’s what that means.
We set out to build Learn Ultra to be the most modern and efficient LMS on the market. We do this every day by making each feature and capability in Ultra responsive, modern, and accessible. One thing that makes this possible is the design approach for Ultra. By using a layered interface for navigation, we were able to simplify workflows, reclaim more of the user interface for the task at hand, and improve the overall accessibility of each screen. This is what makes it Ultra.
But that isn’t enough. We also set out to improve upon each use case we introduce to Ultra that is in Original today. We do this by looking for ways to improve on good ideas and make them better. For example, with SafeAssign, we took the use case of plagiarism prevention and not only applied it to Assignments, just like in Original, but we also introduced it to essay questions in Tests. We are planning to introduce this originality checking to other free-form text areas like Discussions.
Finally, we are making Ultra different—different from Original and also different from other products we see in the market. For example, we are using our large, anonymized data set, and our data science team, to find new ways to provide insights to instructors and students right in their workflows where it can help them the most. No one else is able to do this at the same scale as Blackboard. We will continue to innovate in this area and also with our integrations to provide you and your campus capabilities that can be found nowhere else.
The Path to Ultra
The first step towards getting to the Ultra experience is to move to a SaaS deployment of Learn. We’ve achieved great momentum with clients moving to SaaS. 386 clients are in production and we have a growing pipeline of additional migrations planned through the end of the year. We now have Learn SaaS deployed on Amazon Web Services in the United States, Frankfurt, Sydney, Singapore and most recently China. This makes Learn SaaS—as well as the Ultra experience—available to a more global audience. We’ve seen growing interest from Europe, APAC, and Latin America, so the trend is expanding well beyond North America.
With the expansion of the number of SaaS clients, and our increased development of Ultra features, we’re now seeing an increase in clients enabling the Ultra experience. As of today, we have 61 clients who have turned on the Ultra experience and another 35 currently running their own pilots or involved in our Ultra Partnership Program. The growth is picking up dramatically and our summer Ultra cohort, a program that helps clients learn about and plan for the Ultra experience, has representation from 193 additional clients. (This, on top of the 117 we had in the spring cohort.) As the momentum has picked up, we’re also receiving lots of positive feedback on the design and workflows that the Ultra experience provides. Check out the perspective of Stetson University who enabled the Ultra Base Navigation last year.
Today, we’re excited to announce that the Educator Preview platform, our Learn Ultra trial site, is now the new CourseSites. CourseSite enables instructors to deliver live courses using our latest technology, for free, and currently serves thousands of instructors and tens of thousands of students. What does this all mean? Well it means our “try before you buy” site for Ultra now allows you to teach live courses to truly give it a run for the money. In addition, Blackboard Collaborate, Blackboard Ally and our mobile apps are also available through CourseSites – providing educators with access to our comprehensive digital learning environment. Check out the new CourseSites here.
So, the bottom line here is, if you haven’t looked at Learn with the Ultra experience for a while, it’s time to take a fresh look. You’ll find many of the features you need—like Attendance, SafeAssign, Discussion Analysis, Institution Page, Conditional Availability, Copy Content from other courses, Audio / Video Feedback, and Cloud Storage Integration to name a few— are now ready for you.
Keep in mind, enabling the Ultra experience is not an all or nothing proposition. Because of the way we’ve built Ultra, you can enable the Ultra Base Navigation and keep the same Original Courses your educators know and love. That way your students and educators can benefit from a modern, intuitive, and responsive environment, without their courses changing as seen at Stetson University. Ultra provides the flexibility to change at a pace that works best for your institution. And if you haven’t made the move to SaaS yet, have your early adopters run a class in CourseSites. It’s free and we think you’ll like what you see.
Check it out today.