The Blackboard upgrade was undertaken from 27 to 29 December, in the mid-Summer Semester recess. During this period the upgrade intended for July was applied along with some other changes required to maintain key functionality such as online assignment marking.

 Annual upgrades provide critical updates to back-end functionality and security that are required by our license agreement. This upgrade was to 'vQ4 2016' of Blackboard Learn.

What is in the new upgraded release?

View the Blackboard Help Feature Comparison Across Learn Releases page for a list of new features for vQ4 2016. Click on each item for more information on each feature.

Quick Summary of New Features

Dropbox Integration (Instructors and Students)

This building block integrates personal Dropbox accounts.  Instructors and students can link to their Dropbox content directly from UQ.Learn using the mashup menu found in most content creation workflows: content creation, tests, discussion boards, blogs, journals, wikis, announcements, feedback, and grading notes.

Drag and Drop Files (Instructors and Students)

Drag files from your computer to the "hot spot" in the Attach Files area. If your browser allows, you can also drag a folder of files. The files will upload individually. You can use the file name or provide another name for the file.

Submission Receipts (Students)

When students submit assignments successfully, the Review Submission History page appears with information about their submitted assignments and a success message with a confirmation number. Students can copy and save this number as proof of their submissions and evidence for academic disputes. For assignments with multiple attempts, students receive a different number for each submission.

Submission Receipts (Instructors)

Instructors and administrators have a retrievable record in the system even if an attempt, assignment, or student is later deleted from the course. These records are maintained in the course and also retrievable after the archive and restore process. Instructors can access all students' confirmation numbers from the Grade Centre. Group assignments are also logged and the Submitter column lists who submitted for the group.

Reminders (Instructors)

Instructors can send email reminders from Grade Centre columns to students and members of groups who have missing coursework. Students receive a system-generated email that lists the course, coursework, and the due date if one was assigned. Instructors receive a success message at the top of the screen when the email is sent.

Needs Grading Improvements (Instructors)

The Needs Grading page can help instructors determine what item to address first. Instructors can view all items ready for grading or review.  For courses with many enrolled students and gradable items, the Needs Grading page can be used to prioritise approach.

Course Activity Overview report (Instructors)

Several types of course reports to view information about course usage and activity will be available. Instructors can view summaries of course usage such as which course areas are used most frequently and course access patterns for specific students.

Preparation tips for Instructors

1. It can be useful to create a calendar event, with alert notifications for the week before, and a day or two before as well. If you are planning on doing any marking during the outage, add a reminder to download the Grade Centre one or two days before the outage.

2.  Students are notified of the upgrade outage, however if the upgrade occurs within your teaching period, you can also prepare your students by adding the outage dates to a notification in Blackboard.  Students can prepare by downloading any course materials they will need prior to the upgrade outage, or ensuring they have completed any necessary activities.

2. Download your Grade Centre as a spreadsheet a day or two before the upgrade in the case that you will need to access your course marks. You can record new marks in Excel, and upload back into Blackboard when the upgrade is complete. Please refer to the online guides for downloading and uploading the Grade Centre spreadsheet.

4. Read the information on new features to see if your workflow will be impacted.  If yes, access the staging area when available and test the changes. 

When will instructors have access to the upgraded version?

The Staging environment was made available early November to all staff Blackboard users.  Email notification was sent to all course instructors, members of ELOF, T&L chairs and heads of schools with instructions on accessing the staging site, and providing feedback regarding features, and issues.

When the upgrade is compllete the new features will be available in all courses on learn.uq.edu.au

When will training be offered?

From mid-May all scheduled training provided by the eLearning Systems and Support team will take place on the upgraded staging site, and will incorporate the new features.  All relevant user guides will be updated and will be available to staff during the testing phase, and following the upgrade.

Summer Semester impacts

Staff should order summer semester courses according to their usual preference. While some staff have already requested their courses, it is also an option to wait until the ECP is published, whereby you are automatically enrolled in your course and notified by email.

It is not expected that courses starting in Summer semester will experience any adverse impact.

Some courses running in unusual semesters may find some teaching impact where the outage clashes with specific teaching activity.  Please contact your Heads of Schools or School Managers for assistance in this case.

Rationale for the upgrade and timing

ITS and the eLearning Systems and Support team seek to upgrade the LMS in the least disruptive window available within the academic calendar.  For a full explanation of the considerations undertaken, please view the maintenance page published by Teaching and Learning Support.

The dates for the upgrade outage have been approved by Faculty AD(A)’s.  Although we have attempted to select a time that does not impact assessment during any of the usual or special teaching periods, there may be some instances where teaching activity has already been scheduled which is in conflict with the dates of the upgrade.  We recommend you seek the advice of your School Manager or AD(A) if this is the case.

The dates of the upgrade once published are unlikely to change. ITS collects feedback and lessons learnt from previous upgrades, incorporating feedback from instructors and senior staff on the suitability of the day, on the best way to prepare for the upgrade outage and to mitigate impacts. This information is used in the date selection and communications plan.  To provide feedback, please contact eLearning Systems and Support in Library Services.

When and how will testing be conducted?

ITS begins testing the upgrade process and the new release as soon as the version is released by the vendor, which in this case is expected to be the end of October. The testing process occurs over 3 testing environments, and involves system administrators, database administrators, servers and storage engineers, and the eLearning Systems and Support team. As we approach the upgrade date itself, a staging area is made available for end-users to test their own work-flows, and provide feedback to the eLearning support team.

Summary project communication and support plan

  • Webpage: This webpage was created in July 2017, notifying stakeholders of the approved date.  The Webpage is edited as a live communications asset, and updated as information becomes available.
  • Teaching and Learning Committee: Chair advised of and approved revised date on August 21. 
  • eLearning Newsletter: The upgrade is mentioned in most ITS eLearning newsletters.  This newsletter is sent to all staff enrolled as Course Instructors and Teaching Assistants in Blackboard. 
  • eLearning Operational Forum: The revised upgrade date was tabled at the August 2017 ELOF, and updates are included in the ITS reports which are verbally provided at the monthly meetings, and circulated to members as written reports. 
  • Heads of Schools: Heads of Schools receive direct email notification in November..
  • T&L Chairs: T&L Chairs receive direct email notification at the start of the UAT period (October 2017).
  • Teaching staff: Teaching staff all receive the eLearning newsletter.  All summer Course Instructors will receive additional notification regarding UAT and staging availability. A reminder eMail was sent to all Course Instructors and teaching assistants in Bb in November.
  • Students: An update was added to Blackboard Spotlight in Aug 2017 for staff and students. A notice was added to the my.UQ page in November.  Students received direct email notification of 2 weeks prior to the upgrade.  Some instructors added a notice to their Blackboard page in the weeks prior.
  • Learn.uq.edu.au: A notice was added to the Spotlight section in Blackboard in July 2017.
  • Teaching & Learning Events Calendar: Dec outage window added to calendar in October 2017.

Semester types and when they will be on the upgraded Learn.UQ

All active Blackboard courses will be on the upgraded version after Dec 29, 2017.

Stakeholder testing

Notifications were sent to all Faculty Ed designers, ITaLI staff and T&L chairs when the staging environment was ready for stakeholder testing.

Contacts: Elizabeth Wardrop