Last month, the Blackboard Learn team laid out the latest roadmap for product enhancements to show how Anthology is supporting student and institution success through its teaching and learning solutions. Nicolaas Matthijs, Vice President of Product Management at Anthology, shared some highlights from the Q1 Blackboard Learn Ultra roadmap webinars and illustrated how client input and feedback channels play a big role in our development process.
Q: Nicolaas, what would you say are the main takeaways from this roadmap?
One of the main takeaways is that the Blackboard and Anthology merger has allowed us to make more significant investments in Learn Ultra with a goal of accelerating the roadmap. We have tripled the size of our product development team and are starting to see the results with the April and May releases being some of the largest Ultra releases ever.
The second key point is that we are significantly increasing opportunities for clients and users to provide feedback at all stages of the development process, making sure that we are focused on the right items, delivering the best possible quality, and using this additional investment in the best possible way. We’ve been excited to see how clients have jumped into these additional opportunities for feedback, and how this has helped us get better.
But the investment doesn’t stop at accelerating the roadmap. We’re also investing in other areas such as improving the support experience, help documentation, etc. The improvements we have already made in these areas are a big reason that we saw an 850% increase
in the number of Ultra Courses used by clients last year.
Q: Looking at the different items in the roadmap, it’s clear that there is a major focus on Assessment and Grading. What was the thinking behind that?
While significant development is going into areas such as the usability and efficiency of Ultra, richer course and content design, group collaboration, embedded insights and analytics and seamless integrations, there’s no denying that the focus of the roadmap is on assessment, feedback and grading.
We’ve introduced some powerful features in this area over the past few months, such as granular accommodations, points-based rubrics, preventing late submissions, etc., but the best is yet to come.
One theme throughout the roadmap is that we’re building towards providing what we consider the best student test-taking experience in the market. In the March release, we made it easier for students to understand their progress through a test. In the April release, we’re making it possible for test questions to be presented one at a time. And the May release will be enriched with different filters that align with common student test-taking strategies. This theme ultimately leads to allowing instructors to create multiple pages within a test, providing them with unparalleled flexibility in how they structure and present their tests.
But we’re also actively working on significantly improving the gradebook, how the overall grade can be configured, question banks, new question types such as calculated numeric and hotspots, due date exceptions, exemptions for individual students, per question point changes, downloading test results, and more.
Q: What else from the roadmap are you personally excited about?
Progress tracking is one that gets me excited. Progress tracking gives students an easy way to keep track of what they have done inside each one of the courses. This is a new level of personalization in Learn Ultra and helps students better understand progression through their courses.
Building on the initial implementation of Progress Tracking, we are currently working on providing instructors with more detailed information on student progress on assessments to help track engagement and ensure that instructors can support their students in a timely manner. As an example, instructors will be able to filter on student submission status, e.g. to find students who have submitted or not and will be able to easily reach out to those students.
Our next step will be to provide instructors with the insight they need to better understand activity in their course, like who may be falling behind and the ability to take action with that insight. This will make it possible for instructors to view progress information for any item in the course, including ungraded items such as course content. They’ll be able to see which students have not opened the content, which students have accessed the content and which students have marked the content as completed, and instructors will be able to take action on this information.
A second item that gets me excited is the upcoming release of inline file previews, which will allow uploaded PDFs and Office Documents to be viewed directly inside of Ultra. This will significantly improve how students access and interact with content in a course, and I know this is one that our clients have been excited about.
As a whole, I’m excited about the increasingly innovative things we’ll be able to do as we progress through our roadmap, allowing us as a community to solve important challenges students and instructors face.
Q: How are you getting more client input on development and the roadmap?
I am glad you asked this, especially on the heels of the roadmap webinars in March. To get input early in the development process, we launched the Ultra Insider program. The program is designed to gather client and user feedback on Learn Ultra through different stages of the product development process, all the way from early-stage concepts to working code. More than 200 clients are participating, all eager to jump into the process.
We are in the process of increasing other opportunities for feedback and input to be provided in the product development process. The goal is to increase the quality and relevance of what we release and be able to make changes and improvements in the process based on feedback. Stay tuned for more details on these pieces as we launch them into the community.
Q: How can clients catch up on the roadmap sessions?
We just had the highest attendance ever on our roadmap sessions, but we know that not everyone is able to attend and that many of you will want to share the information within your respective schools, institutions and organizations. That’s why you can watch the region-specific sessions in this one space. Everyone should check out the 60-minute sessions because we’re only scratched the surface of the many exciting things we have coming up.
Statements regarding our product development initiatives, including new products and future product upgrades, updates or enhancements represent our current intentions, but may be modified, delayed or abandoned without prior notice and there is no assurance that such offering, upgrades, updates or functionality will become available unless and until they have been made generally available to our customers.