eLearning Frenzy

eLearning is like a sewer, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.


Jacob Spradlin

Associate Director, Instructional Technology Support Services for SHSU Online at Sam Houston State University.

SHSU Online Support Desk – Interim Hours

Beginning Monday, May 13, our Support Desk hours will be:

Monday – Friday: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Saturday – Sunday: Closed

We’ll resume regular hours after Memorial Day.

Support Desk Summer Interim Hours

Quickly Provide Audio/Video Feedback in the Blackboard Grade Center

Quickly Provide Audio and/or Video Feedback in the Blackboard Grade Center

Instructor presence in online courses is crucial for student success.  The instructor plays an important role in student satisfaction in online courses.  SHSU Online instructors interact with students in discussions, virtual office hours, feedback, and other important ways.  One facet of instructor presence in online courses is feedback for the student’s submitted activities/assessments.  Most of this instructor feedback has been textual in nature.  Instructors generally type in their comments and try to personalize the text they use when doing so.

For some time now, Instructors have had the ability to provide feedback with other tools (audio/video/etc.), but it has been a kluge.  Recording a video somewhere else, selecting a mash up, or pasting embedded code in the appropriate place was how more personalized feedback could be given.

Blackboard’s Insert Recording Feature

One of Blackboard’s latest feature releases allows instructors to record and insert an audio or a video recording right into the feedback area for a Blackboard gradable item.   Watch this short video to learn how to provide audio and/or video feedback to your students seamlessly with the Insert Recording tool.

Best Practice Alert

You don’t have to do a video/audio feedback recording for every grade!  Limit how many you do during the semester.  Here are a couple of strategies to get your started:

  • Make a list of your students and decide how many times you will leave video or audio feedback during the semester.  Use check-boxes to keep track.
  • Select a small number of activities where you will provide this more personalized feedback and use the tool on them.

Why I BbWorld – An eVolution


So Blackboard asked us to share #WhyIBbWorld via our twitter feeds as part of their lead up to Blackboard World in Austin #ATX this summer.  Being the eLearning eVangelist that I am, I have been posting multiple #WhyIBbWorld tweets that include everything from the obvious to the quirky (Me on the dance floor during the CAP, for example).

I have to admit it has been great being able to post my own #WhyIBbWorld’s and to read the tweets of others.  I have found many a kindred spirit in the reasons posted online.  Reading all these great #WhyIBbWorld tweets made me start to take a deeper look at why I attend Blackboard World.  I guess the reasons why I attend Blackboard World have evolved over time.  Let’s put them in three categories:

  • The Early Days
  • Getting Into the Groove
  • The Seasoned Vet


The Early Days

I attended my first Blackboard World some 20 years ago in Washington D.C.  In those days we were brand new to Blackboard version 5(the one right after CourseInfo).  I attended, so that we could see how to “use the darn thing”(Blackboard bought Web-Course-In-Box who we were using) and to maybe get a picture of the Lincoln Memorial.

I attended subsequent Blackboard Worlds because I was the only Blackboard guy on campus and I needed to plug into a community of folks like me.  On campus I was the Blackboard Wizard (there had to be twist) and I was looked to for knowledge, both technical and pedagogical, on how to use it. Blackboard World allowed me to connect to other people who were doing what I was doing and more.  In those days I was the Sys Admin, Faculty Development person and Instructional Designer, so I needed to “fill up” on everything I could, to improve things for faculty and students back at SHSU.

When you are on your own on campus, supporting a strategic system like Blackboard, it can be a scary situation. When you are wearing all the hats, you feel like you are always treading water and that you can’t make any progress.  Blackboard World was like a life preserver that allowed you to take stock of where you were and plan for where you needed to go.


Getting Into the Groove

As I got my first BbWorlds under my belt, my perspective as to why I was going changed.  I started to focus more on the connections I was making.  Connections with Bb Staff, Vendors at the conference and eLearing Guru’s from other institutions.  As Blackboard’s clientele grew, I was able to experience more cultures of learning (national and international) by attending.


As my use of Blackboard become more nuanced, so did the sessions I attended. I paid much more attention to the types of schools and programs the presenters were coming from, and that played a larger part in choosing the sessions I would attend.

Getting into the grove also changed part of what I would call the “overall feel” of Blackboard World. It became more than just a conference and networking event.  It also became what I lovingly refer to a “nerdy high school reunion”. Connections that you made in early BbWorlds were celebrated and renewed, all in an atmosphere of learning and sharing.  So besides just lining up your dance card for sessions, you might find yourself at Terry Patterson’s annual Birthday dinner or coordinating outfits for the client appreciation event.

At this point in my “Blackboard Evolution” I was leaving the “treading water” stage and starting to lift my head up to see what was coming next.  I began bringing my list of “I Wish Blackboard Coulds” so that when I spoke with Blackboard at the vendor fair or in meetings, I had ammunition for important conversations built upon the needs of my constituents back home.

Lastly, I started presenting about the things we were doing at our campus.  Not only did I present, but also I shared out some of the things we were doing for the community to use.  A prime example of this would be the Blackboard Support Orgs for students and faculty that we created and curated so that others could benefit.

Seasoned Vet (Where I Am Now)

The other title I chose for this section was A Little Rounder, A little Greyer.  

This year marks my 18th Blackboard World.  We had a year or two where we used another LMS who shall not be named, but whose name rhymed with Schmeeee Schmollege. Their conference made me really miss #BbWorld. One of the unmentioned LMS’s conference keynotes was Ben Stein…..anyone…..anyone.

I still look forward to many of the things that I experienced in my first two stages:

  • Talking to people who speak my language
  • Nerdy High School Reunions
  • Presenting/Sharing

I also pay much more attention to the more strategic or long-term elements of the conference. The product road-map sessions and the Bb Executive sessions come to mind. 

In my Veteran years at BbWorld, I:

  • became a VIP Blogger
  • earned my Bb Certified Trainer certification
  • was nominated and became a Bb MVP

As I look at those all of these aspects of my #WhyIBbWorld evolution, I realize that they are all really about one area….community.  I feel very fortunate to have spent much of my professional life in this community. Blackboard World has been there when I needed a lifeline, it allowed me to make important connections for me and my home institution, provided me with a nerdy high school reunion, gave me a platform to share out to the community, and allowed me to think much more strategically about eLearning at my campus.   I have taken so much from my attendance at BbWorlds and tried to give back at least as much as I have learned.

Thank you to Blackboard, the community and the universe for providing this outstanding conference.  I’m looking forward to #BbWorld19!

Connect with Larger Blackboard “Community”

Blackboard Community Logo

Have you heard about Blackboard Community? Blackboard Community is a community of instructors, instructional designers, admins, Blackboard staff, and educational leaders who interact in one place so that everyone involved can benefit. Becoming a member of allows instructors and others to:

  • Connect with Blackboard instructors, instructional designers, Bb administrators, & educational leaders around the world
  • Make suggestions and vote on product enhancements that matter to you
  • Contribute to a Teaching & Learning forum that allows you to ask questions, share ideas and be a part of the Blackboard Community
  • Have conversations that matter over topics that mean something to you
  • Learn from industry experts as well as colleagues in the field
  • Make your own mark in the Teaching & Learning community

This resource is for anyone that uses Blackboard, not just online instructors. I would encourage you to join this growing community and take part in the cognitive surplus of ideas, resources, and conversations around eLearning. Visit to join today!

BbWorld18 Session Post: Become a Bb Jedi: Move Students with Only Your Mind and UDL

Thomas J. Tobin
University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Star Wards universe is an accessible universe…a good metaphor for Universal Design for Learning.

Making an accommodation for one person is not universal design. Let us not talk first or only about people with disabilities when we want to address barriers.

Reframe the conversation. Unlearn what you have learned. Talk in a value neutral way about the benefits of an inclusive design.

What one strategy could he adopt to supplement-or even replace-her face-to-face message?

Texting, Short Video, Reminders, Online conferencing -> has to do with expanding learners options.

learner engagement representing info action choices.

Give time estimates it would take to read something.

Universal Design for Learning is “plus one” thinking. If there is one way for students to interact with an assignment, make 1 more way.

ULD = access (no matter why)

“We want a situation that is goof for everybody…part of it is thinking about what has to happen at the level of design that makes accommodation less necessary.” –Sam Johnson, CAST

5 Strategies for UDL

    Start with text…start with a script have some notes, you can provide it later when you create other media out of it.
    Make alternatives. (HTML version, pdf version etc..)
    Let ’em do it their way where you’d can – design assignments where students can choose how they respond (written, video, audio etc). Do it in a directed fashion
    Go step by step
    Set content free (accessible 24 hours a day) and from formatting. Put examples in video format rather than resident software…

Ask about the question they get all the time, problem on tests and quizzes and where did they want you to say it a different way. Train faculty, IT, everyone that supports faculty members.

BbWorld Session Post: Blackboard Learn Roadmap

Recent Ultra Enhancements and Some that are coming soon.

Mobile Experience – Login page shows branding.

Institution Pages show up via mobile (they are the new tabs and Modules)

Customizing labels for aka substituting “subjects” to “courses”.

Personalization: The Blackboard Stream:

  • Notifications, push, email, sms (set via mobile app)
  • Courses page: Courses are organized by timeline, but they can be searched and filtered and then you can favorite the filter so that it shows up first the next time.
  • Modules display newness indicators that refer to new activity
  • Nudges via messaging that even show individual student visualizations (analytics)
  • Context – providing pop ups with more info about assignment activity
  • Connectedness (group assignment) shows info, group members, indicators for communication with teammates. Collaborate presence shows up even before you jump in the room.
  • File submission – from cloud
  • Assessments – new question types
  • Accessibility –
  • Grade assignments anonymously to reduce bias. Building tests is easier
  • Turnitin is now available for ultra via the Content Market.
  • Recording audio/video is embedded right back into the feedback workflow.
  • Mobile Strategy:
    • Blackboard App
      Blackboard Instructor App
      Responsive Web

    Responsive web

    • Accessed via web browsing
    • No app needed
    • Grater breadth of functionality
  • Native app
    • Preferred by end users
      Faster performance
      Works with most smartphone tools
      More interactive user interface
      Available to use offline

    Responsive Design

    • Improvements for wikis (coming soon)
    • Content Add and Edit Workflows
    • Improvements for Rubric Viewing
  • Assignment Grading for B.B. Instructor
    • Review assignment submissions and attachments
      Provide comments and inline annotations
      Grade with rubrics
      Publish grades to students

    MH Q2 2018 CU Update – September Target

    Grading and feedback

    • Review student submissions and file attachments
    • Provide comments on the overall submission or highlight & annotate inline, adding voice to text dictation for inline commentary.
    • Grade using various grading types including rubrics
    • Publish grades back to students in just a few taps
  • Working on Enhanced assignment grading
    • Offline grading capabilities
      Audio and video feedback
      Integrating with apple files
      Improving partner integrations (due dates from other assessment providers for example)

    Blackboard Learn Original

    Platform Feature – Inline grading 9.1 Q4 2018 + CUs. In Early August CU Update will allow students to download assignments with annotations.

    Attendance Tracking – automatically flow through from collaborate (coming in 2018) students will be marked as present if they join the session

    Course roles enhancements – Facilitator Role and Quality Reviewer Course Roles 9.1 Q4 2018 or SaaS Q3 2018

    Delegated Grading – improvements TAs that live outside of the course

    Blackboard Data – learning tool adoption and use all the data across tools in a single framework. Completely free for core functionality

    Tool Integration: LTI Advantage

    Activity Events: Caliper 1.1

    SCORM: xAPI events to Learning Record Store

    performance: Completed Course: Learn won’t show notifications for course when it is finished.

    Feature Roadmap Ultra experience

    Learn ultra has three components:

    • Ultra Base Nan
    • Original Course View
    • Ultra Course View
  • Flexibility to change at your own pace
  • Turn on the Ultra Base Nav and choose:
    • All original courses
      Dual course mode
      All ultra courses

    Ultra Roadmap

    Ultra Experience Question Bank Support now available and more in Q3 2018

    coming soon importing whole banks and random blocks

    Anonymous grading for single and double-blind marking scenarios

    Self and Peer Assessment Q4 2018 – groups and group activity

    Assessment Un-submitted work counts as a zero Q3 2018

    SafeAssign for Discussions Q1 2019 Ultimately for all written student work (essay question)

    Video Recording for flipped classrooms – using collaborate recordings as course materials. Q1 2019+

    Ally in Ultra Courses Q4 2018

    Institution Page Available now, More in 2018

    Custom Locale Support Available 3400.9 More in 2019 – customizable

    SCORM Support Q3 2018

    Group Discussion Insights and Discussion Analysis – Understand contribution or lack of same in students in a discussion to understand how to help student or give a grade. (Also applies to group). Shows top down view of what’s happening in a discussion

    Additional Embedded analytics in discussions Q3 2018+


    Learn Integrations Overview

    Moving Integrations to SaaS and Ultra

    Scott Hurley, Mark O’Neil and Lynn Zingraf – Blackboard

    What is your Migration Strategy

    • Define long term goals
    • Prioritize integrations
    • Know your platform options
    • Know your API options
    • Seize the Opportunity
  • Define your Longterm Goals
  • What are your long terms goals? Defining your goals in context of what you know today and where you think you are headed has substantial impact on your migration path in both the short and long term.
    • Transition to SaaS
      Move to Ultra
      Adopt REST for ease of development/delivery?

    Prioritize Your Integrations

    • One reason you may be sitting here is that you already have an investment in using integrations to customize your faculty’s and student’s teaching & learning experience.
    • A key consideration for your migration path is the importance of each of your integrations and the feasibility of delivering them on the currently available architecture.
    • Knowing the importance of each integration, your options for delivery of that integration, and available APIs each help you to prioritize and schedule migration of your integrations as a project
  • 1 Learn, 2 Experiences (Original, Ultra), 3 Deployments (Self-hosted, Managed Hosted, SaaS)
  • Know your API Options
  • Bb offers a range of options for integrations – what you use depends on what your trying to accomplish.
  • Building Blocks => LTI / LTI+REST
  • Rest APIs <- ->
  • Partner Cloud
  • Seize the Opportunity
    • Redesign the user experience
      – no longer bound by Blackboard JSP constraints
      – Meet change in goals
      Use your untapped resources
      – REST and API language agnostic!
      – You no longer need Java Expertise
      Expand availability to non-Blackboard resources
      – REST and API integrations run external to your LEARN server
      – Make them available to additional portals and services

    Seize the opportunity to NOT migrate and integration.


    B.B. adopted REST as our forward architecture for providing APIs to integrate with Blackboard products

    Rest API Progress

    IMS Standards Support


    LTI provides a secure connection between a learning tool and a platform like Blackboard learn. It is http-based and provides a context on launch.

    LTI Differences

    How does Blackboard Support this in Original?

    LTI 1.3 (not supported yet)

    • Based on 1.1
    • Improved Security model
    • Separates the security model from the rest of the spec, allowing IMS to more easily keep the security model up to date
    • Designed specifically to align with the services of LTI Advantage
    • Includes improved documentation and around implementing and migration
  • LTI Advantage
    • Package of extensions that work with LTI
      All bout the usability of the standard
      Creates a dream work for new features
      Enables deeper integration with any tool

    Deep linking – Names and Roles – Assignments and Grades

    Q4 2017 Deep linking Q2 2018 Names and roles – assignments and grades are in development

    IMS Caliper

    Global standard that provides for learning data collection

    • Gather data from across systems
    • Define a common language for labeling learning data
    • Standard way of measure data
    • Leverage data
    • Make it useful
  • Support of Developer Community
    • – look for Bb development community – documentation on REST APIs etc..
      Open innovation initiative
      Hands on and onsite training

    BbWorld Devcon Session Post – Building Learning Tools for Blackboard Using the Tsugi Application Environment

    Dr. Charles Severance
    University of Michigan
    School of Information

    Tsugi Building Learning Applications

    Tsugi (Japanese for “next”) provides a way to develop and host “learning tools” in an Application Store. Tsugi tools can be seamlessly integrated into existing Learning Management Systems and Google Classroom. As part of its core architecture, Tsugi implements standards like IMS learning Interoperability, IMS Content ITem and Google Classroom.

    TsugiCloud – A Free App Store for Open Source Tools from the Apereo Foundation. Teachers and LMS Administrators can quickly and easily install the tools from TsugiCloud into their LMS or Google Classroom. Software Developers can participate in the development of new these tools through the Apereo project.

    …provides a free, scalable

    The learning ecosystem of future

    • We need a way to build learning tools quickly w/out waiting for LMS upgrade
    • IMS learning tools Interoperability (LTI) provides a way to integrate learning tools
    • The LTI family of standards is getting more robust (and complex) all the time
    • We need to move from building LMS tools to building better teaching tools
    • We need to enable LTI tool development at a campus or even a course level
  • Why Use Tsugi?
    • 100% open source project part of the Apereo foundation
      Increases learning tool developer productivity
      Supports IMS LTI Standards
      Provides a scalable privacy-aware tool hosting environment
      A community of tool builders and shares


    • Campus IT
      – Respond to local faculty needs
      – support both on campus and MOOC applications
      – Consistent development/training for learning apps
      – Scalable hosting environment
    • Campus Developers
      – Write once integrate everywhere
      – Standards support made easy
      – Common UI/UX features
      – Simple development in ornament
    • Instructional Designers
      – Quickly design &Y create unique tools based on faculty needs
      – Tools can be quite simple: Project checklist, weekly reflection, YouTube analytics
  • Free AppStore –
  • Exercise: Blackboard Learn
  • Why develop with Tsugi?
    It multiplies your capabilities.
    • LTI 1.0 1.1 2.0, caliper, common cartridge LTI advantage
      You did not use email as logical key in the user table. Correct length!
      Session Mgmt/extension/expiry
      Support offline grading – peer grading applications
      Coping with unreliable tools consumers – grade resent
      Build Thin Cartridges from LTI Links
      Handling settings on URL, custom parameters, etc.
      Support cross-LMS setting dialogs
      Make use of messages to resize frames

    Getting Started with Tsugi

    Developer Training –

    Developer Environment is also the AppStore environment

    As a test harness that allows you write code quickly and build application quickly.

    Https;// – Iframe Tool

    Summer Project: TBlocks

    • Tsugi PHP Tools in post-GDPR world
    • TBlock model
      – each tool is a container
      – no direct access to the db
      – Interacts with core Tsugi using a. Local API backed by a REST web services
      – Launch data – course/ user / link / result
      – Uses link /result scoped JSOn
      – accesses a link scoped scoped key /value store
      – Can support more than php easily (I.e. python / django / node)

    Big Idea – Building a Simple Tool – Look at Tsugi – Try it and give feedback. Mature enough to run a local App Store or use the cloud App Store.

    BbWorld Devcon Session Post: Easing Migration Tension with an Effective SaaS Testing Plan

    Access Blackboard Org for PDF handouts referred to in this post:

    ID: easing
    password: bbworld18


    • Explore your needs
    • Pertinent Gannon project mgmt steps
      – Project desc and scope
      – Business Obj.
      – Measure of Success
      – Stakeholders
    • Testing Plan
      – Mapping Key processes
      – Creating testing list and plan
      – Choosing a team
    • Coordinating Events
    • Pre and Post-testing
    • Questions
  • (Thursday afternoon – full workshop session @ BbWorld)
  • Gannon Project MGMT Approach
    • Choosing a Team
      – See the Gannon Charter (found in Blackboard Org – access credentials at start of post)
      Project Description
      – Scope
      Business Objectives
      Measures of Success


    • Define ‘key stakeholders’ who need to be aware of project (those doing the work and those affected by the work)
    • Notify and verify role
    • ID Replacements to represent key areas of university where needed
  • Examples: faculty, student, Instructional Designers, support desk, accessibility rep, LMS admin, IT
  • Implement a kickoff meeting with stakeholders (include gimmes, snacks, food)
  • Testing: Multi-phased (Planning to test)
  • Phase 1
    • Map Key Processes (single sign-on, flat file uploads from sis)
      Ask: What external entities will be affected?

    Phase 2

      Create testing list and plan
      – Review list and plan to ensure completeness

    Phase 3

    • Team Identification Process (Testing team)
      – ID Team members
      – Notify and verify
      – roles for testing
      – their responsibilities
  • Coordinating Events
    • Coordinate events for limited disruption
      Follow SaaS Testing plan (document in organization – link above)
      – Serves as communication plan

    Pre and Post Testing

    • Test your TEST instance
      – production will be identical
    • Keep a record of any changes

    Blog at

    Up ↑