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Blackboard gets easier

Monday, 8 May 2017 2:45pm

Blackboard contains everything from lecture notes to links to lecture recordings - and it has just got easier to use.

Setting up many of Otago’s 1,500 papers is now taking minutes instead of days, in Blackboard – which contains everything from lecture notes and assignments to links to course readings and lecture recordings.

Until this year, rolling a paper over from one year to the next in the University of Otago's Blackboard learning management system usually took one to two days – up to five at busy times - and could only be done in office hours.

The task involved a Blackboard administrator clicking a mouse at least 50 times, not to mention the mouse clicks by staff on the Ask IT Service Desk and the person who requested the rollover, University of Otago eLearning Manager Annemaree Senior says.

Clicking three times

Now, a standard, straight-forward rollover takes three clicks after logging in, then automatically completes within 15 minutes, and can be done outside office hours as well.

Information Technology Services (ITS) developed the application specifically to cut back the time and effort involved.

University lecturers and departmental administrators now just have to request their rollover online, and if the request is for a standard rollover, the rest of the process will happen automatically, with no more human input.

That means about 60 per cent of all rollovers now happen immediately - within 15 minutes – which includes copying tests and lecture overheads, while also adding the correct students to the paper.

Extra intelligence

Ms Senior says the new application has some extra “smarts” built into it as well.

For example, if someone asks for a new Geography paper to be created, the app “knows” if the person is actually a Geography staff member and the paper can be automatically approved.

If the person making the request is not from the department they are requesting the paper for, the app will flag that request for follow up by ITS staff.

The ITS Applications Team wrote the app, and during the design phase had a series of meetings with ITS eLearning staff to flesh out what the app needed to do.


eLearning staff tested the results until everything was working properly then sought volunteers from among the University’s wider staff who use the service to provide feedback.

Ms Senior says that feedback was an invaluable way to ensure the application was intuitive, so staff would find it easy to use.

Since the application was launched in February, only 40 per cent of papers have needed input from the ITS administration team, which has included checking the papers’ start or end dates, responding to special requests, or tidying up the papers’ codes.

The introduction of the app sparked some feedback about a few minor aspects that needed tweaking in the first fortnight, along with a couple of comments from lecturers pleased their paper rollovers turned around so quickly.

Peaceful silence

“For the most part though, our feedback is in the form of peaceful silence. If it’s working, and people are using it, they’re just getting on with their teaching,” Ms Senior says. 

“We’re really grateful for the other folks in Information Technology Services who helped us out. We had the idea, but it was the Applications Team who built it for us, our administration team who shaped some of the workflows, and our lovely and patient testers who gave us such useful feedback.

“It’s also really satisfying creating a new benchmark for service that challenges us to keep on finding ways to improve our processes and tools.

"Now, eLearning wants 70 per cent of papers to be processed automatically on request, “by making some improvements and refinements”.

ITS is part of the Operations Group, which has three top priorities:

Enable – the University to achieve its visions and mission
Engage – with our students, each other, our customers and externally
Experience – of our students, our customers, and externally to be outstanding