Blackboard Upgrade – New Features in Service Pack 14

During the week 14th-18th July 2014 Blackboard Learn will be unavailable whilst the system is upgraded to Service Pack 14. This post will briefly highlight a selection of the main features included* in the upgrade (*subject to testing). Click on each feature title to find out more information:


The Achievements tool allows instructors and course designers to designate criteria for issuing rewards to students in the form of both Badges and Certificates.

Course Messages Notifications

The Course Message Notifications tool gives each course a private and secure system for communication that functions similar to email.

Date Management

Date Management gives instructors the ability to have the system automatically “shift” content and tool dates in a course in a highly efficient way.


Student Preview

With the Student Preview feature, instructors can see their courses and interact with them exactly how students do.

Explorance bluepulse

Bluepulse allows students the opportunity to make daily suggestions about what can be improved in the classroom.


Grade Centre Improvements

Improvements include: improved workflow for setting anonymous and delegated grading on assignments, the ‘My Grades’ page order of display matches the Grade Centre column order, improved workflow for Tests settings, & Grading Schemas can now go over 100%.

Groups Management 

The new Group Management page provides a single page to: manage tool access for all groups, sort columns, perform bulk actions for deleting groups, and create Grade Centre smart views for one or more groups.


Inline Grading 

Instructors can view student-submitted files “inline,” meaning in the web browser.  Annotations tools are available as part of the inline viewer, enabling instructors to provide [electronically written] feedback — comments, highlights, and drawing/annotation — directly on the inline view of the document.


Any staff interested in utilising some of these new features are welcome to contact the Learning Technology Team for further information and support.


Blackboard Learn Downtime: July 2014

The July upgrade to Blackboard Learn will be taking place between 14th – 18th July 2014. This means that the system will not be accessible during this period. As usual, the Learning Technology Team will aim to minimise the downtime as far as possible by working very hard to bring the system back to life quickly!

A notice will go up on IntraBrunel tomorrow. Key contacts from Schools and Central Services will be reminded in a separate email and students will also be informed.

We will soon post a follow up blog message to tell you more about the new features you can expect to see in this upgrade.

The “new” LTT

As we know there are many changes going on across the University at the moment, and our team has also been influenced by these.

Last week marked the beginning of the new Learning Technology Team structure (now located within the Brunel Educational Excellence Centre, headed up by Dr Fiona Denney). This has been reorganised to more closely meet the needs of the new colleges following TXP. So what does this mean for us?

We have a Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Team Manager (myself), with 3 TEL Advisers to liaise with each of the 3 Colleges (Alastair Gemmill, Natalie Parnis and currently a vacancy). Also part of the team is a TEL Developer (a technical role) covered by Alex Osmond and an administrator (yet to be appointed).

We are confident that these changes will help us to enhance learning and teaching at Brunel, by becoming more aligned with the Colleges, being better resourced and ultimately building closer relationships with our colleagues within BEEC to help drive educational excellence at Brunel.

Goodbye Phil!

It is with much sadness that we will be saying goodbye to Dr Phil Alberts, who is leaving Brunel at the end of this week. Many of you will know that Phil has been leading the Learning Technology Team in its many guises throughout the years since it was first established in 2002.


Over the years he has overseen not one, not two but three (!!!) changes in VLE here at Brunel. For those of you who have been here long enough to remember… we first had WebCT Campus Edition in 2002, followed by WebCT Vista/ u-Link in 2007 and finally Blackboard Learn in 2012.

Phil has led the team tirelessly throughout the years, supporting many projects and initiatives whilst raising the profile of e-Learning at Brunel, both internally and externally.

He has now decided to take early retirement.  We know that one thing he won’t miss for sure is the traffic on the dreaded M25 during his daily commute!

Thanks for all your hard work over the years, Phil – time to have your well-earned break now!

Have you ever wondered what students REALLY want to see in Blackboard Learn?

We recently asked Brunel students what they liked about the way their lecturers were using Blackboard Learn.

We received over 450 responses!

Here are just a few extracts…..


If you are interested to get inspired and to learn about how you can make your Bb Learn Courses more student friendly, why not drop by to the Tech Zone at this year’s Learning & Teaching Symposium?

You can find us in the Mead Room (Hamilton Building) on 1st May 2014.

Further details about the event are available here

Bb Learn and IE11


It has recently come to our attention that some of you may have experienced problems accessing Blackboard Learn when using Internet Explorer 11 from your own personal computers.

We are aware of this and we know that Blackboard Support are currently working on a solution, which we will implement as soon as it’s available. In the mean time we recommend that you use Firefox or Google Chrome (we have tested compatibility against Firefox 24 and Google Chrome 33).

Network computers on campus should not be affected by this issue, as we have tested these browsers.

Also, do you know that there is a browser checker in Bb Learn? After logging in, you can use this to check the compatibility of your browser if in any doubt…


 As always, let us know if you have any questions (

Blackboard Learn Upgrade Complete

I am pleased to let you know that the upgrade to Blackboard Learn Service Pack 13 was successfully completed this morning (a little ahead of schedule!)

As usual the other members of the Learning Technology Team and the Computer Centre have been working very hard to ensure that we can get this work completed with minimum disruption- so thanks to them and to you for your patience.

All the features we mentioned in our earlier blog post were implemented in Blackboard Learn, with the exception of “Inline Grading”. There was a small bug we discovered. However Blackboard Support are aware and are working on correcting this so that we can benefit from this feature soon!

We are currently busy working on some guides that will tell you more about how to make the most of the new features in Bb Learn. Watch this space for an update!!

Easier Marking in Bb Learn

Alex Osmond has recently been working with the LTT to take forward some work around marking and feedback in Bb Learn. Here is an update on what he has been up to…

“We know how much work marking assignments is! We also know that different Schools, teams, and individual members of staff want to handle assignments in different ways.

Many of you already take advantage of the tools that the Blackboard system offers – the Grade Centre, grading rubrics, assignment tools, and others.

There is definitely room for improvement in how the VLE handles assignments, and we’ve been working closely with Blackboard for quite a while now to see how we can best meet the varied requirements of Brunel’s staff and students. Some of you will have been in touch with us to discuss what these requirements are- particularly those already using online assignment tools (though more and more members of staff are doing this now!).

One of the things I’m working on, then – among a wide range of other projects! – is setting up some new functionality within the VLE that should make it easier to mark assignments anonymously, and to download assignment ‘packages’, which you can add feedback to, before uploading again- perfect for working with batches of work.

This is of course in addition to the enhanced reporting we’ve set up for students submitting online.

At the moment I’m working with Blackboard to test the new tools, and once the LTT is comfortable with them, we will determine how best to roll them out across Brunel.

If you have any questions, or are interested in these new tools, please email me ( As always, we want to make sure that you have the tools you need to make your work easier!”

Service Pack 13: What’s New?

Ahead of the upcoming December upgrade to Service Pack 13, we have cherry picked those features that will help you to get a flavour of what you can expect to see in the new version (obviously subject to approval!)

Quick Links: Allows a user to quickly locate any heading or section within any page in Blackboard Learn and jump directly to it


Test Availability Exceptions: When setting online tests, you can now select different availability rules for different users, or groups of users – for example, certain students with disabilities who might need more time to complete a test.

Calendar: The Calendar building block now replaces the old calendar tool. Staff and students can view institution level, course and personal events in a single calendar view. Calendar events are colour coded for ease of navigation.

Discussions: The thread detail page has been thoroughly redesigned while maintaining all of its current functionality. Staff can also now require students to post to a discussion before seeing other students’ posts.

Inline Grading for Assignments: Staff can view student-submitted files “inline” (i.e. in the web browser). Additionally, annotations tools are available as part of the inline viewer, enabling academics to provide feedback – comments, highlights, and even drawing/annotation – directly on the inline view of the document. To learn more about the tool, see Inline Assignment Grading.


Retention Centre: The Retention Centre enables staff to give focused attention to students who need it. Using this, you can communicate with struggling students and help them take immediate action for improvement. To learn more, see Using the Retention Centre.