Picking up on last week’s communication, in this Part 2 of the discussion, I wanted to go into a little detail about how we’ve approached the upgrade process and what that means for you, which should be a much smoother and easier transition than you may currently be envisioning.
Along with this email, we’ve developed a presentation that illustrates the transition for users from WebCT CE and Vista to Blackboard Learn 9.x. Download a PDF copy of the presentation. You can also download a Powerpoint version.
There is a lot of important information in this email, so while I know it is long I ask that you carefully read it in its entirety.
As I stated in my last communication, I‘m excited about where Blackboard is with the development of our next generation teaching and learning platform – Project NG. Blackboard Learn 9.0, which was the first step in this process, was released in January 2009 and is the first version of the Blackboard product that incorporates a fully updated web 2.0 user interface and some of the key features and functionality of the WebCT product line. Blackboard Learn 9.1 will be available late this year or early next year. It will have a significant amount of additional WebCT functionality and should address outstanding questions about availability of key WebCT teaching and learning features.
That being said, it’s all well and good for Blackboard Learn 9.x and Project NG to represent a compelling destination, but the process of getting there has to be good for you too. On this question, the strategy I’ve seen underway here - avoiding the disruption of a major migration by really engineering this whole upgrade process to be as seamless as possible – is really encouraging. Let me explain how that strategy is playing out in terms of real results:
• A familiar user interface for educators and students
Because Blackboard Learn 9.x was written utilizing cascading style sheets, we have built the product with an optional WebCT CE and Vista look and feel which is very similar to the user interface that your educators and students are using now. So your users benefit from additional features, but still encounter the same look and feel they’ve come to know.
• Easy movement of existing course content
The process for moving course content and materials has been built to fit the unique characteristics of the WebCT CE and Vista database structure and architecture. We’ve leveraged that same in-depth understanding of, and access to, the WebCT CE and Vista solution architecture to make sure Blackboard Learn 9.x preserves valuable course materials. We are working diligently to continuously improve the conversion of this content and ensure that it displays in a way that you are accustomed to through many of the key WebCT features.
• The same key WebCT features
Any process setting out to leverage the best of two platforms should have the natural benefit of carrying forward familiar features and that’s the case here. With the result that when you upgrade your online courses, all of the content easily converts and you can still take advantage of the same key features and functionality your instructors and students have gotten to know. This feature move started in Blackboard Learn 9.0 which already has many of these key WebCT teaching and learning features. And it will continue in Blackboard Learn 9.1 (currently under development and scheduled for release later this year or early next) which will include remaining key teaching and learning features important to WebCT users.
Here are a few examples of the “make it like an upgrade” approach playing out at the feature level:
Content Types - The new Blackboard Learn is built to read and easily import all of the existing WebCT content types, including the rich course content I understand many of you have built with the powerful Learning Modules.
Assessment Questions - In the upgrade process, the thousands of assessment questions educators have painstakingly created or imported in their WebCT courses are safely moved to Blackboard Learn where they can also be delivered through the same question types. We mapped all the variables in each question type to accurately recreate WebCT questions in the Blackboard Learn courses from the simplest to the most complex.
Gradebook - The familiarity of grading within CE and Vista has also been extended to Blackboard Learn. There’s no need for instructors to change their grading habits. Smart Views, reports, weighting options and other CE/Vista grading functionality they’ve gotten to know will be there for them in the new platform.
File Manager Content - All course materials in the WebCT File Manager can be easily moved to Blackboard Learn while preserving links within content pieces (such as stored websites) and across all use of these materials within the course.
Third party content - Faculty using publisher ePacks will be able to continue doing so without changing text books or disrupting the students’ process for obtaining content keys.
Again, our goal with these and other system design efforts is not just easy movement of course content but also easy reuse and adaptation of that content through features and capabilities you and your users already know.
• A co-production model for easing into the upgrade by running old and new e-Learning systems at the same time, with a single URL and password
We know that institutions will make a move like this at different speeds. For those who want to do so over time, we’ve created co-production technology that allows you to continue running your existing WebCT system within the framework and environment of the new system. This way, with a single URL and log in, users can access the existing system and courses while they get used to the new platform and the courses getting built there.
• Maintaining existing integrations such as authentication and SIS
Integrations take time and investment. We’ve made sure you’ll be able to keep your existing authentication and SIS integrations in place while operating in co-production. In addition, we will provide easy user guides for the limited number of business processes that cannot be automatically bridged to both environments. This means your transition efforts can stay focused on end user training, not integration writing.
• Expanded functionality for WebCT Vista clients
Beyond content and features, upgrade continuity is also about core capabilities and making sure you maintain in the new platform what you had in the old one. WebCT Vista clients have historically had lightweight content management and campus portal capabilities as part of their Vista solution. So for all WebCT Vista clients we’re going to include, with no additional investment required, the Content Management and Community Engagement Modules for Blackboard Learn. There are two important benefits for WebCT Vista clients here. First, you’ll keep what you had and get some pretty significant enhancements in both the file management and portal feature-set areas of the product under your existing licenses. Second, you can take advantage of these additional Content Management and Community Engagement capabilities even before you’re ready to upgrade your courses – through our co-production approach. Again, the idea we’re working from here? Let’s make it as simple and straightforward as possible to upgrade to this new solution. So we can focus most on what the solution supports – teaching and learning.
Having come up the learning curve myself recently as well, I know this is a lot of information to consider. So thanks for hanging in there. But from my relatively new chair what I see in this upgrade process is an organization leveraging lessons learned and taking new levels of care to create a simpler, smoother onramp for you to the powerful new solution that is Project NG/9.x.
Now it’s time for us to deliver. Thank you again for your openness to some of our new directions and continuing improvement efforts. I look forward to your feedback along the way.
President of Blackboard Learn