Blackboard update to add new features

GVL Photo Illustration / Eric Coulter

GVL Photo Illustration / Eric Coulter Blackboard

Jake Moerdyke

Grand Valley State University’s Blackboard website will shut down in order to update to the new Blackboard 9.1 system on Dec. 21. The system update will bring new multimedia features for students and faculty as well as improve on some of the lesser-known features of Blackboard that currently are available.

The biggest change that Bb 9.1 brings is that professors now have the ability to “mash-up” multimedia material from websites such as Youtube, Flickr and Slide-share. Mash-up simply means that professors can take videos, pictures and sideshows from different media websites and post them for students.

“It’s more of a seamless way for our faculty to get at these mash-up services, without having to know difficult HTML code,” said Kim Kenward, an instructional designer for GVSU who helps faculty integrate Blackboard and other technologies into their classrooms.

The other major enhancement in the new version of Blackboard is that professors will be able to upload many different files and full folders to their classes at once. Currently, they have to upload the files one at a time to each one of their classes.

“It’s going to be less of that housekeeping tedious work that it takes to set up a Blackboard course,” Kenward said.

John Klein, the head of the Information Technology Department said that Blackoard is not something that you pay for once.

“We get Blackboard for that year and all the updates come with it,” Klein said. GVSU simply pays for a license each year.

Kenward said the cost of Blackboard varies depending on the size of the institution, the number of users and whether the Blackboard serves are hosted with the main company.

Sue Korzinek, director of Academic Computing and Educational Technology, knows the total cost of Blackboard for GVSU but was unavailable for comment at time of print.

The new version of Blackboard won’t have a large effect on students. The interface of the website will remain, for the most part, the same. One difference might be that, depending on what professors have enabled, there will be a Youtube or Flickr box on the course interface. In addition, students will be able to post mash-ups in the discussion boards for their classes. When Blackboard is updated, students will also notice a more aesthetically pleasing interface as Blackboard will be more fluid and animated.

GVSU is not the first school to update to the new version of Blackboard. Other schools, such as Grand Rapids Community College, Central Michigan University and Ferris State University, have already upgraded the system earlier this year. Not being the first has helped the Technology Department of GVSU be aware of some of the potential bugs that the upgrade might contain.

The update also adds a few new tools to the Blackboard repertoire. One of these tools is called Wimba Pronto, a video chat program that aides students working in groups to complete projects and other activities.

“Think of Wimba Pronto like Skype, but it’s open only to Grand Valley students,” Kenward said.

With Wimba Pronto, students can also screen share, or see and control the same program file between multiple computers. There are many other features typically overlooked in Blackboard and, in most cases, the information for the features is on the “MyBB” page of Blackboard.

“We give you a lot of content on your portal, and I wonder how much you guys even take the time to read your Blackboard portal,” Kenward said, in reference to student users.

Lindsey Waddell, professor of geology, said she uses Blackboard to post lectures, e-mail and post grades. She said she doesn’t currently take advantage of the video feature or link to other websites.

“I guess I’m a little old-fashioned in liking to give assigned readings for additional information rather than go check out this website,” she said.

As far as the upgrade is concerned, Waddell said she knows they have the capability to record lectures, but she said she has just not taken that step yet.

“It’s another thing to worry about in terms of managing the course,” Waddell said. “I’ve been more worried about the existing problems in Blackboard.”

Eric Smith, a senior majoring in Finance and Economics, said his professors “use Blackboard for all the standard stuff.”

“It probably won’t be useful for my major, but i can see how it would be for others,” Smith said of the coming upgrade.

The update will take place at 5 p.m., and the site will be back up at 5 a.m. the next day. To preview the new version, go to the “New Bb Preview” tab on the right hand side of GVSU’s Blackboard website.

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