Upgraded Blackboard offers new features

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Over the winter break, Baldwin Wallace implemented an upgraded Blackboard software service providing a cloud software system and a new learning and collaborative methods for faculty and students.

Donna Gutschmidt, director of educational technology, said before the change, Blackboard operated on a self-hosted software where BW’s IT department dealt with all of the information, updates or technical support directly on campus.

“We opted to move Blackboard to the SaaS environment (software as a service),” said Gutschmidt. “When you host something yourself, then your staff is responsible for anything that goes wrong with that system. Whenever there are changes, problems, anything like that, that fell under the jurisdiction of our folks that work in network services. When you go to SaaS, that’s basically taking it off of our servers and putting it out in the cloud.”

Gutschmidt described the Blackboard cloud as a software storage system containing the university’s information managed by Blackboard itself.

Kingsley Magpoc, instructional designer, said with the new change, any issues that occur will be dealt with by Blackboard.

“If there was a problem before, we could ask one of our programmers, ‘can you go in and fix this?” said Magpoc, “Now, if something’s going wrong, we have to ask Blackboard to do it. Because it’s in the cloud, they can do a lot more things easier than we could do.”

Not only does switching to the new Blackboard software make tech support easier, but Magpoc said new technologies would benefit faculty and students.

“Moving to SaaS opens the door to other technologies that we did not currently have access to. It’s really the direction of the future,” said Magpoc.

Jacob Bowman, instructional designer, said the future would allow for many more technologies that will benefit students and faculty.

“Right now, we’re on Ultra-based navigation, which is kind of easing us into what the new learning management system,” said Bowman. “This will actually create a new user experience for instructors and teachers.”

Though not all of the features are ready yet, Gutschmidt said the future for faculty and students would provide many learning experiences.

“As we continue on through the system, you’ll have more and more options of things that you can use,” said Gutschmidt.

One of the implementations in the works is Ally, a program designed for visually impaired students and those who prefer to learn by technology reading out loud to the student, said Gutschmidt.

“Ally will add some accessibility features for students, especially for people with visual impairments or if you’re just the type that wants to digest information audibly instead of visually,” said Gutschmidt.

A new feature, Blackboard Collaborate, offers many advantages for faculty and students, said Gutschmidt.

“Blackboard Collaborate is a tool that any faculty can use to host an online class session or meeting. It’s being used right now mostly for online courses,” said Gutschmidt. “The business division is trying some new programs out in their graduate business courses where they can have students in the classroom, and some of them might be connecting virtually from home, or they have the option.”

Blackboard Collaborate not only can be used for an online class meeting, but Gutschmidt said it would give faculty the option to hold online office hours or advisor appointments.

“Advisees would have the link, and all you have to do is click on the link anytime you want, and you can just drop in,” said Gutschmidt.

Though the new Blackboard setup is only a few weeks old, Gutschmidt said there have been “absolutely zero complaints” about the new system.