Keeping pace with technology, especially when you have thousands relying on current systems, must be approached with caution as well as enthusiasm. Such has been the case as the College of Online and Continuing Education explored an upgrade of our learning management system (LMS) this year. Teams across COCE have been working to ensure a seamless, positive learning experience for students as they pursue an upgrade to Blackboard 9.1, the technology used to deliver the university’s online courses.
Blackboard 9.1 offers new features to enhance student learning, more tools for faculty and opportunities to upgrade course formats and modernize the student learning environment. “We really wanted to minimize disruption, so we are incrementally adopting new technologies that enable us to better deliver the curricula,” said Associate Vice President of eLearning Amy Stevens. Minimal disruption is key for our students as they rely on our courses being ready and available when they are able to complete their studies in the midst of their busy lives.
Benefits include the ability to support video and podcasts in faculty announcements, a color-coded grade alert system to help faculty identify struggling students quickly, more opportunities for immediate feedback and improved usability. The course feedback system, which enables a faculty member to report an issue with a course, such as a textbook problem or broken links, is being expanded to enable advisors to report issues. Faculty and advisors have been trained in Blackboard 9.1. Students have been notified and provided with tutorials as well.
“With the upgrade to Blackboard 9.1, SNHU will have greater opportunities to partner with providers of dynamic learning resources. These resources will enrich our courses and provide students with additional tools to enrich their learning,” said Director of Academic Technology Bill Harlow. “Blackboard 9.1 provides new opportunities to link course content to program outcomes along with additional grading tools to help measure student success.”
With the launch of the upgraded learning system comes an enhanced Help Desk. This includes more staff, extended hours (8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, noon to midnight weekends), a dedicated learning management system engineer, and a pledge that someone who submits a Help Desk form for assistance will get a response by phone, text or email based on his or her preference within 30 minutes.
Two Blackboard 9.1 courses were piloted successfully in January and 36 graduate courses launched in the April 1 term. The goal is to have all undergraduate and graduate courses in Blackboard 9.1 for the June terms. “The other part is that we continue to optimize the LMS to move students away from a model of time served to one of material learned,” Stevens said. “We really don’t want students to feel like the clock is ticking and that’s what they are being assessed on; we want them to be assessed on demonstrated learning because that will make them far more valuable in the workplace.”
The new LMS also provides opportunities to more accurately measure students’ mastery of course and program outcomes, said Associate Vice President of Academic Quality and Assessment Randall Case. “By collecting more data on individual course assessments, we will be able to track students’ mastery of program outcomes in real time rather than conducting periodic reviews every couple of years,” he said. “This initiative will greatly improve our ability to make agile adjustments to courses and programs to improve student learning.”