Bb World ’06.006: Blackboard Academic Suite Roadmap

This session was Blackboard’s chance to tell us all about what’s coming. Lots of marketing, a little information, and not too much about a timeline. Let me start by saying that I’m getting a little tired of everyone piling onto the Web 2.0 concept. The session started by explaining that we were moving from eLearning 1.0 to 2.0.

eLearning 1.0 eLearning 2.0 Blackboard Beyond
Platform Adoption Extending the Platform Centralized learning objects repository
Courses Social Networks (beyond a single institution) Inter-institutional communication faculty and students by discipline via
Education Segments (i.e. features and functions) Lifelong Learning Centralized (hosted) portfolios
Inputs (uploading stuff) Outcomes Inter-institutional data repositories for anonymous benchmarking

The Blackboard Beyond Initiative is the company’s effort to build specific services to address the “2.0” features eLearning needs. To extend the platform, Blackboard plans to have a centrally hosted learning objects repository that can be accessed from the Learning system. Clients will be able to pull down learning objects into their Bb courses or to post learning objects so that other Bb courses can use them. For social networks, they plan to use the web site to allow faculty and students of a particular discipline to communicate with their counterparts from other Bb schools. To me, is the most compelling feature of the Beyond initiative – I think it has the most potential to transform learning. For lifelong learning, Bb plans to centrally host portfolios so lifelong learners can continue to build their portfolios as they move from institution to institution. Not bad, but since we don’t have the Bb Content system, this isn’t a service we’ll see. Finally the outcomes service will allow institutions to anonymously share institutional data so other schools can benchmark themselves. I suspect this will be a tie-in to the Caliper application whenever it is released, so again, this feature isn’t one I expect to use.

Matthew Pittinsky said these four efforts were only the beginning. The plan is to use Blackboard’s Idea Exchange, a gathering of 100-150 clients, to shape these future services and any others that might support eLearning 2.0. Just before I went to San Diego, I signed up for the Idea Exchange. So far all I’ve got is a neat little ribbon that I wore on my conference badge, but in time I hope to have an ear and a voice in the discussions for Blackboard’s future direction.

As for product highlights, here are some of the details:

  • A self-testing capability, where students can take assessments without impacting the gradebook. It’s possible for the instructor to know the score along with the student, but things can be configured so only the student sees the score.
  • New multiple time features that allow students to take assessments more than once. Scores can be average, highest, lowest, last…
  • The WYSIWYG editor will work in Safari. I may actually turn this feature on.
  • Blogs that can be published inside or outside of Blackboard. I’ll have to see the implementation of this. I hope RSS and enclosures are supported for external blogs.
  • Roles have been modified so that observers can be linked to more than one student. This could allow advisors to see how their advisees are doing in the online portions of their classes.
  • An early warning system that alerts instructors or system administrators, generating e-mail inside the system or out. Not really sure what triggers the warnings – if anyone reading this caught that part, please leave a comment to explain this feature.
  • Changes to the Content system include evaluation portfolios and customization within the portfolio system.
  • Blackboard is fully internationalized, comes with 10 languages and a language editor for anyone who wants to build more languages into the system. You can run multiple languages simultaneously on the system and there are three different modes for viewing each language.
  • Blackboard is now integrated into Sharepoint – the system connect to Sharepoint and Active Directory.
  • Blackboard’s new Backpack application will sync with the server to take content offline. Someday it will sync back up as well.
  • Caliper, yet to be released, is an evaluation and assessment system designed to link learning objectives to programs and even course content. You will be able to track how students are meeting objectives.
  • Blackboard now has an open beta process, where they release early copies of their upcoming versions for testing in real environments. Personally I will always wait for the first service pack before I consider installing a new version. Features are nice, stability is crucial.

As for Building Blocks, they talked about the Copyright Clearinghouse building block, which allows faculty to get copyright clearance for items they wish to post in the course. It’s not a bad Building Block, but it requires institutional roles so you have to have the Community system to use it. Blackboard also talked about LAMS, a graphical sequencer for course content. It looks good, but we don’t have many faculty who use Blackboard’s sequencing capabilities.

Blackboard wants to extend its certificate programs. Right now there’s a program whereby faculty can be “Blackboard Certified.” In the future Bb may have a System Administrator Certificate. There’s also a Blackboard for Dummies book coming next month.

The weekend approaches. Somewhere between creating a project web site and team evaluations, I hope to catch up with more entries from Bb World 06. If you're still reading, thanks for your patience.

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