Blackboard 9 upgrade aims for efficiency

For months, the Information Technology Services department has been advertising the coming of the “new Blackboard.” While many students have seen this new addition advertised on their Blackboard home pages, many have probably not explored the full range of what this means after the switch takes place this summer.

As Blackboard is upgrades from Version 7.3 to Version 9, the overall look of the website will be overhauled, replacing the blue and gray color scheme with USC’s traditional cardinal and gold. More substantially speaking, Blackboard is making a number of logistical changes that is designed to make it a more useful and productive tool for teachers and students.

Professors will no longer have to access a separate control panel to make changes to their class page. All options for uploading files, creating assignments and posting links will be available to them on this new course page.

Furthermore, any updates posted by instructors will be transmitted to the students more efficiently in the new version. On each course home page there will be modules such as “My Announcements,” “What’s New” and “To Do.” Each page will provide students with information that has changed since the student last visited, and all students and teachers will receive a nightly e-mail if anything has been changed or updated in the course.

The “to do” feature of the course home page will allow students to include paper dates or test reminders to help them stay organized.

When turning in assignments on Blackboard, the new system will no longer use the drop-box design of the current version. With Blackboard 9, the new assignment tool allows instructors to create a separate box for each assignment. In addition, Blackboard will automatically rename each student’s file to include the assignment name, student’s username and the filename of the original submittal.

While the grade book, now termed the grade center, is commonly used by students to check their grades, the changes that have been made in Version 9 are primarily for instructors.

In the grade center, input of student grades will be similar to entering data in Microsoft Excel and will go directly into the grade center spreadsheet. Blackboard will keep a grade history where it will show the new grade, old grades, when the grade was changed, and who changed it, and instructors will also be able to create and print grade reports.

Some students said they did not believe the upgrade to Blackboard would directly affect their use of the website.

“It seems like the changes were made for the teachers. But I guess that will probably mean better Blackboard class pages for us,” said Buck Elkins, a junior majoring in civil engineering.

While new features are included in Blackboard 9, there will also be a few items missing. While students will be able to send e-mails to their class, the “send e-mail” link in the tools section will no longer be available. To increase communication between the student and the class, the website also features blogging and journal sections.

Many students said they would welcome the changes, and said the website was in need of improvements.

“Blackboard has been needing to be updated. Its format looks old and I hardly use it for anything other than checking my grades,” said Samantha Klein, junior majoring in fine arts.