Blackboard has a long history of supporting development of integrations and customizations, a history that dates back to 2003. We started out by launching a Java-based API framework that allowed developers to create Blackboard Learn “Building Block” extensions. Over the course of time we added support for SOAP web services and the IMS Global Learning Consortium’s Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) standard. More recently we launched our own Partner Cloud Building Block that provides access to educational resources from our publishing and educational tool provider partners.

As a result of this support we now have a development community that is over 2,500 strong and an extensions and customization library of over 2,700 Building Blocks. 2016 is proving to be a very important year in our ongoing support of this community, and so far, it has been a very busy and productive year in that regard.

Re-Commitment for IMS Standards

We started out in mid-February by recertifying our products against IMS Global Learning Consortium standards. This was a large effort that further reinforces Blackboard’s ongoing commitment to IMS standards as part of our overall product strategy. Products certified include Blackboard Learn 9.1 and Learn SaaS for Common Cartridge and LTI, and Blackboard Collaborate v2, Blackboard Collaborate with the Ultra experience, and Blackboard Open Content (formerly known as Blackboard xpLor) for LTI. As a developer, this is your assurance that our products meet these IMS standards.

New Developer Platform and REST APIs

As we rolled into March, we launched a new Blackboard Developer Platform to support emerging integration and customization development for the SaaS deployment of Blackboard Learn. We did this via a SaaS Integrations Technical Preview program. This was really the beginning of the support for REST APIs for the SaaS deployment of Blackboard Learn, which we announced previously on our product roadmap.

This new Blackboard Developer Platform will allow any developer interested in writing REST-based integrations for Blackboard Learn to access open and interactive documentation on our REST APIs, register as a developer, manage their information, and manage their integrations via a new Blackboard Developer Portal. Another integral part of the Blackboard Developer Platform is the API Gateway that manages API access to individual customer SaaS installations and provides for analysis and reporting of API usage and deployment. The Blackboard Developer Platform also provides developers with access to a developer Virtual Machine to assist with integration and extension development. Finally, Blackboard’s new Community site also plays an integral part of our support for the developer community. (The Community site is replacing Edugarage as our developer community forum.) You can learn more about REST APIs at the Blackboard API Developer Portal.

Content Market Available for the SaaS deployment of Blackboard Learn

Later in March, we launched the Content Market for the Ultra experience in Blackboard Learn. The Content Market includes support for Partner Cloud services (see the description of the Partner Cloud Building Block above) and integration of 3rd-party content and tools through IMS LTI 1.1 support. With the Content Market, our partners can serve up content and tools, and instructors can provide them directly to students from within a Learn course in the Ultra experience. You can learn more about the Content Market here and watch a demonstration here.

Architectural Updates that Help Developers

In late April we launched the Learn 9.1 Q2 2016 Release and in early May the Learn SaaS v3000.1.0 Release. In addition to new features and functionality, these releases tout support for Java 8 and a shared code base. The Java 8 updates allow developers to leverage the latest features of Java 8. And the shared code base makes it possible for developers to create a single integration or customization that will work across Learn 9.1 for hosted and self-hosted clients and Learn SaaS. Moving forward, this means a developer can create a single application that will work across all three deployment methods.

Additional Building Block and REST API Support

And finally, in April we made two significant announcements that developers are sure to love. First, we announced that we’re adding support for Building Blocks in Learn SaaS with the Ultra experience. Previously we said that Building Blocks would only be supported in the Original experience and integrations would have to be refactored using REST APIs to work with the Ultra experience. Based on feedback from our customers, we’re now going to support deployment of a Building Block in the Ultra experience as well. This can be done by placing the Building Block in an LTI provided wrapper and using available LTI placement points. Today, placement points are limited, but we are adding additional placement points as part of our Ultra experience roadmap.

The other significant recent announcement is that we’re bringing REST APIs to Blackboard Learn 9.1 for hosted and self-hosted clients. Previously we said that REST APIs would only be available for SaaS deployments of Learn. Again, based on feedback from our customers, we’re extending REST API development to hosted and self-hosted implementations. This is made possible by the shared code base between Learn 9.1 and Learn SaaS outlined above. The initial set of REST APIs that are available for Learn SaaS are now available for Learn 9.1 customers via a Technical Preview.

Developer Love

As I said in the beginning, Blackboard has a long history of supporting developers. And our most recent product releases and announcements serve as an affirmation of how committed we are to our developer community. If you’re a Blackboard developer and not already part of the developer forum on the Blackboard Community site, I urge you to join at Blackboard Learn Developers Community site. This is where you can interact with Blackboard and fellow developers, and where you’ll find a wealth of information to help you with your development efforts. You also might consider joining us at our annual developer’s conference DevCon 2016 in July. With all of the great things happening, it promises to be an informative and worthwhile event. Happy coding.


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