Since I started working at Blackboard, I have met with hundreds of institutions and thousands of users of our software. Based on feedback I’ve directly received, we are integrating our products, streamlining and simplifying our user experiences, and providing more flexible deployments with SaaS options, both in the public cloud and in our own data centers.

I have also heard from many of you that you wish we supported more open standards and provided better access to development resources. This has always intrigued me as Blackboard has had a very long history of openness – it is a key component to our business model and a critical element to how we continually improve. This got me thinking: perhaps we aren’t telling our openness story well enough? It is important to me to share some of the ways we currently support openness and provide insight into the direction we are headed:

Open Standards

Our industry needs to evolve existing standards, identify new opportunities for collaboration, and prioritize efforts to focus on where we need to go. As a company, we are committed to supporting emerging and existing standards for interoperability between applications because that is what is best for the industry. Schools greatly benefit from using standards-compliant applications that build on best practices and the wisdom of a diverse group working toward common goals.

  • We have been long supporters of the IMS Global Learning Consortium, a leading organization that actively develops and supports open interoperability standards to promote collaboration among platforms. Back in 1997, Blackboard was actually a contractor to IMS and we’ve participated in nearly every IMS working group since. Our very own Gary Lang currently sits on the IMS board.
  • Blackboard Learn fully supports existing IMS specifications such as Learning Information Services (LIS) versions 1.0 through 2.0, Common Cartridge (CC) versions 1.0 through 1.2, and Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) versions 1.0 through 1.1 (including Basic LTI).

In particular, our work with LTI has been extensive. All of our teaching and learning solutions — Blackboard Learn, ANGEL, and Moodlerooms Joule — are LTI Tool Consumers that enable fast, easy, and secure integration of all sorts of tools and content through LTI. We also use LTI internally as the basis for integrating our own products, such as our Partner Cloud, with our teaching and learning solutions. And products like Blackboard Collaborate act as an LTI Tool Provider to integrate with LTI-compliant LMS’s from other vendors.

  • Something that I am particularly excited about is our participation in the IMS Caliper working group. It is a promising approach that could enable our customers to co-mingle Blackboard data with data provided by other applications and content providers to create a robust understanding of student behavior. This understanding enables customized learning experiences, targeted intervention approaches, and research into learning and teaching. I am excited to share more about this as the group progresses.
  • Outside of IMS, we also fully support the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) standard. The SCORM player is available in Blackboard Learn, supports the current versions of SCORM, and will play any SCORM-compliant package added to a course.

Developers Program

We have long provided individual developers with ways to create their own extensions to Blackboard Learn. We also provide commercial developer licenses, with support. Folks that join our developers program get access to a pre-built virtual machine and the ability to install a local development copy of Blackboard Learn for extension testing purposes.

  • Those in our developers program also have access to all public-facing documentation and provide “how-to” instructions for developing Blackboard Learn Building Block extensions.
  • The GitHub basic Building Block template project is configured to use the Gradle build tool. The Gradle configuration file links to our Maven repository, which provides development JAR access. Anyone can read how to use the APIs, other developer-based documentation, and the basic-Building Block-template project, available for free on GitHub, to begin development of Building Block extension solutions.
  • As we previewed at BbWorld, we are gearing up to roll out a new user interfaces for our learning environment. Not only does this represent a design focus on our end users and their workflows, but it also represents a new way we are delivering our environment. All of the functionality and business logic from our 15 years of experience are under the hood, but will soon be accessible via a new REST API. We look forward announcing more on this soon.

Open Education

Online ecosystems are expanding. Students and faculty are demanding access to environments that allow them to work collaboratively across institutions in an effort to generate the best learning outcomes. This is a necessary shift as the traditional path to a degree evolves and learners look for alternative models that best meet their needs.

  • xpLor is our open content repository that is standards-based, cloud-delivered and has a growing network of users across institutions and LMSs. Offered for free to all Internet2 members, xpLor is a successful, proven tool that is helping students and teachers across institutions create and search content that is tagged, rated, and aligned to competencies and standards such as Common Cartridge.
  • Since acquiring Moodlerooms and NetSpot over two years ago, we are one of the largest providers of code to the Moodle open source community, supporting the product evolution and its community. We are incredibly proud of the contributed code, bug fixes and quality assurance we have provided to Moodle and those contributions that we are in the process of submitting. And, perhaps most importantly, we are very pleased to contribute to the open source community through ongoing, substantive engagement.
  • OSCELOT (the Open Source Community for Educational Learning Objects and Tools) is a community that creates innovative open source solutions for the challenges facing the academic community. It was established as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation in 2007 having grown out of the Blackboard Open Source group, a community of developers interested in Blackboard Building Blocks.

We know we are not all the way there, but we’re making great progress and are deeply committed to doing more. I deeply value your feedback and urge you to share your ideas, concerns, and areas of openness that are important to you. Join our community at or contact me @markstrassman.

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