Greetings! It's been a busy Fall semester! Here are a few highlights from the past few months as well as updates on what's coming in the near future. Best wishes for a peaceful and happy holiday break.
--Justin Henry, UVM Blackboard Administrator
Just before Thanksgiving break, ETS applied configuration changes to address the performance and stability issues we experienced throughout this term. While we haven't heard reports of slowness or proxy errors since the changes were made, we continue to monitor for these issues. Recent updates have also fixed the problems of dropped sessions, where you may suddenly find yourself logged out. If you encounter any of these problems again, please contact us as soon as possible at email@example.com.
We are continuing to pilot the Respondus Lockdown Browser through May 2018. After the close of the Spring semester, we will be looking at instructor feedback as well as other factors to determine whether to continue licensing this product. If you are interested in using this tool for delivering high-stakes tests, this CTL how-to will help you get started.
If you use Blackboard's Assignment Tool, we'd like to make you aware of a change that Blackboard is making to the inline grading feature for assignments. On December 20th, you'll see that the "Crocodoc" tool has been replaced by a new grading tool called "Box View."
Box View supports over 100 different file types, far more than have been previously supported. However, the ability to draw on a document that you're grading or download PDFs of students' work that include your annotations will be discontinued.
Diversity and inclusion are deeply held values at UVM and we are committed to making all learning environments, including Blackboard, accessible to every student. To help advance these goals, the CTL is initiating a year-long pilot to test Blackboard Ally. This is a new toolthat provides feedback to instructors about file accessibility.
Blackboard Ally automatically runs all course materials through a checker and then provides a rating and feedback on what is needed (if anything) to improve the file's accessibility. At this time, Blackboard Ally only checks files that have been uploaded to a course site, but does not check anything created using the Blackboard HTML editor.
Students also have the option to download files in a number of accessible formats:
Blackboard Ally will also help the institute gauge accessibility on the system as a whole. This information is critical in establishing a feedback loop that will help UVM focus support for developing accessible content.
If you'd like to get an early start exploring Blackboard Ally this spring, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. It will be available to all instructors in May 2018.
In May 2018, we will also be updating to a newer Blackboard "theme" that is both mobile device-friendly and follows the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines for structure, color contrast, and navigation (e.g. compliant buttons and menus, and improved screen reader functionality in content areas).
Another aspect of the new theme is its clean design. However, instructors will no longer be able to choose a course theme or color palette, so all courses will have the same color scheme. Blackboard indicates that future releases may have the ability to set menu colors again, but in the meantime, customization of a course's appearance will be limited to course banner images. If you're interested in learning about creating and setting a course banner, see the CTL banner how-to page.