The main changes in Blackboard 9.1 that affect staff revolve around making it easier for instructors to carry out tasks. A lot can now be done by drag and drop for example, meaning fewer clicks, and there is also a much improved notifications system that can alert both students and staff to tasks that need to be done or deadlines that are coming up or (for staff) which students have not completed a task or accessed some information.
Here is a sample of key changes in Blackboard 9.1 of significance to staff users. Note that a more complete guide to what is new in Blackboard 9.1, tailored to Westminster’s own installation, will be available mid-late June.
Edit mode – In Bb 9.1 there is a ‘toggle’ switch that allows the staff user to move from Edit mode to Display mode (the student view). This makes it much easier to see exactly how a page that you have been working on will look to a student
Drag and drop – Instructors can now re-arrange the course menu (site navigation used by students) by drag and drop and can create new areas for their site and change the name of menu items through a drop down associated with each menu item
Empty areas in a site – In Blackboard 9.1 empty Content areas automatically hidden. Content Areas that are hidden are excluded from the Student view; however, hidden content areas are displayed in the Instructor view with a “hidden” icon. Once content is added to a Course Menu item, Blackboard automatically makes that Menu item visible to students unless the instructor chooses to delay revealing the content area to students
Learning Module – In Blackboard 9.1 instructors can build content using the Learning Module feature. This generates collections (items) of content that are presented a little like a slideshow would be, with navigation buttons that the student can use to move through the different content items.
Mash ups – When building content in Blackboard 9.1 it is very straightforward to add external content from YouTube, Filckr and Slideshare. These items can be added at any chosen points during the construction of a learning module
Notifications - The notifications system in Blackboard 9.1 will display in the relevant modules on the homepage of a Blackboard site, information to help students and staff manage their time in Blackboard. For each module it is also possible for students or staff (depending on the module concerned, see below) to receive daily email digests of the information ‘fed’ to each module. The ‘What’s New’ module will show to both students and staff what has changed in the site since they last visited e.g. any new content added, any new posts to any discussion boards, any new blog posts etc.
The ‘To Do’ displays just to students and is populated with due dates entered by the instructor of a site e.g. when an assignment is set up the instructor enters the date that the assignment must be submitted by. This will then lead to the ‘To Do’ module displaying an alert to the student of the upcoming deadline.
The Needs Attention and Alerts modules are just displayed to staff. The ‘Needs Attention’ module will show the instructor at a glance what ‘things’ (e.g. tests completed, assignments/coursework submitted, discussion board contributions made) any students on the course have done. The ‘Alerts’ module sort of does the opposite – i.e. it displays at a glance details of students who have not done or completed something that they should have.
Email digests – Email notifications from Blackboard are an ‘opt-in’ feature. Each module (What’s New, To Do, Needs Attention, Alerts) has a button top left which when clicked opens a page in which the user can set notification settings via email. Essentially the user can choose to receive a daily digest of all information pushed to each of the 4 information modules or if they prefer they can receive one email for each item of information.
Control Panel – There is no separate page for the Control Panel in Blackboard 9.1. Its functionality has been either absorbed into other areas (for example, the ability to add announcements and edit the course menu directly from the course Home Page) or it is located right on the course Home Page, below the Course Menu, in the area entitled “Course Management.” All the tools that used to be on the Control Panel Page are located within a sub-menu, which can be accessed by clicking a chevron.