The Daily Gamecock

Column: New Blackboard update will make learning more efficient, benefit students, faculty

Blackboard Learn is a useful tool that USC students and faculty use to access their courses and coursework. But the application has since developed an update, Blackboard Learn Ultra, that the university will adopt for all courses during the fall 2024 semester. 

Blackboard Ultra includes many new features that will aid students and faculty with their coursework, including modern learning tools and features as well as improved accessibility to course materials. 

One of the intentions of this new update is creating an enhanced user experience. Blackboard Ultra is made to make learning more manageable. It has a simple design that translates well on both phones and tablets, helping teachers focus on teaching and students focus on learning.

“It's a more modern, updated look and feel, but it's also standardizing the format so the students are able to go from course to course to course," said Rhiannon Mayer, the director of eLearning services at USC's Division of Information Technologies.

Renée Ittner-McManus, an instructor at USC's School of Journalism and Mass Communications who has been using Blackboard Ultra, said she prefers using a website that is simple and easy to navigate.

“In an era when we are inundated with too much information and too many visuals continually at our fingertips, I like a platform that doesn't demand our eyes dart around the page hunting menus and submenus. It's refreshing to open a Blackboard Ultra page to find it intuitively navigable," Ittner-McManus said in an email to The Daily Gamecock.

Blackboard Ultra will include new features that allow faculty to create interactive components on the platform. Features such as “customizable rubrics, improved grading interface, and multimedia capabilities” will be added, according to USC's Office of the Provost website.

These interactive elements will make the lessons more engaging for students, which will thus make it easier for them to learn.

The alert feature will also be refined to help students stay up to date with their coursework better. Mayer said that when there's an announcement from a course, a notification indicator resembling a text message will appear on the student's activity stream. The alerts will be used for discussions, grade updates and various other announcements.

The new website will provide a more user-friendly platform that is easier to navigate and meets the needs of teachers and students, Mayer said.

“It is a little easier to maneuver and it's easier to navigate,” Mayer said. "Blackboard Ultra will be easier to use because it has a simpler layout, making it easier to find things."

This upgrade will also be a cost-effective addition to the university, according to USC's Office of the Provost website. It will decrease the need for faculty to use costly supplemental software, as they will be able to use features similar to other third-party resources on the platform. For example, instead of using Packback discussion boards, instructors will have updated discussion board access through the Blackboard website.

Mayer said some members of USC's faculty don't use Blackboard in their classes, but use other websites to distribute their assignments instead. She hopes that with this upgrade, more instructors will switch back to using Blackboard as their primary learning management system, she said. 

“We've tried to address some of those concerns that have come through already from the faculty using Ultra, and the feedback and things like that and adapt our documentation, adapt our trainings to sort of address some of those concerns,” Mayer said.

Before the transition occurs, members of faculty will be strongly advised by the Center for Teaching Excellence to attend in-person or virtual training sessions to familiarize themselves with the program. This training will help ease the transition for both the students and faculty, making the entire process smoother.

Some faculty members are already incorporating Blackboard Ultra into their courses. Second-year nursing student Sarah Fetters said the transition has not been an issue for her, and the features actually make it easier for her to use.

"Two of my professors are already using it, and things look a little bit different, but its so much better labeled, and I like it a lot better," Fetters said.

While it may take some adjusting, these new intelligibility and functionality features on Blackboard Ultra will make learning more efficient and facilitate a more engaging learning experience for students and instructors alike.

Students who are curious about Blackboard Ultra can visit the Office of Provost on USC's website, which offers tutorials and resources on how to use the new format.


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