Posted by: Gene Shwalb | October 15, 2012

A New Teaching Platform: The Migration to Blackboard Learn

This semester, 4600 students taking 170 courses taught by 120 instructors are participating in the pilot of a new learning management system: Blackboard Learn 9.1. The UMass campuses did not choose to make a change from Blackboard Vista. Rather Blackboard, which had purchased its competitor WebCT and renamed it Blackboard Vista a few years ago, decided to end support for Blackboard Vista as of January 2014. The UMass system decided to select Blackboard’s own product, Blackboard Learn 9.1 (Bb Learn) as a replacement. So the change to Blackboard Learn is a migration not an upgrade. And one that we must make over the next couple of semesters.

The Migration Process

There is an automated process by which Blackboard Vista course content is migrated to a Blackboard Learn course. However, the result is not one that we consider suitable for instructor use. Our instructional design team has been performing an extensive post-migration “cleanup” before enrolling the instructor in a “development” version of their course that the instructor can then edit. That version of the course is then copied into the live version in which student enrollment is entered from Wiser.  It is the “cleanup” process that makes early adoption a necessity.

The Migration Schedule

Starting this fall, all new instructors are being trained in Bb Learn and all new courses are being developed in the new LMS, while courses that have been offered in Blackboard Vista will be migrated according to the following schedule:

  • Fall 2012—Pilot with faculty volunteers
  • Winter 2013—All courses that weren’t taught in Bb Learn in Fall 2012 and won’t be offered again in Spring 2013 or Fall 2013
  • Spring 2013—All courses that weren’t taught in Bb Learn in Fall 2012 and are offered only in the spring semester.
  • Summer 2013—All courses that haven’t yet been taught in Bb Learn and won’t be offered in Fall 2013.
  • Fall 2013—All remaining courses.

If you teach web-enhanced courses, you will receive an inquiry from your edtech liaison shortly about Spring 2013 courses to be migrated and will need to fill out a form for each course that should be part of the Spring 2013 migration.  Fully-online courses will generally be migrated on the same schedule, but I’ll handle the process separately.

Support for Faculty

Because of the number of instructors who need to be trained in the new system, we have developed online, self-paced migration training that emphasizes the differences between the two systems and provides practice exercises to help you gain experience with Bb Learn.  (To be  enrolled in this training, send an email with your request to We also offer workshops for instructors who want a hands-on experience and of course consultations with instructional design staff are always available. We especially encourage cohorts of faculty from a department or program to arrange for their own workshop by contacting their edtech liaison.

UMass Boston has also subscribed to Atomic Learning, a service which provides a series of instructional videos that will help both faculty and students learn how to use Blackboard Learn 9.1 (and 200 other software applications). Read the article below or see for more information about this great service!

New Features and Changes

Fortunately, there are good reasons to make the switch to Bb Learn. The grade center alone is so much better than the widely-despised Blackboard Vista grade book.  Drag and drop, a new HTML editor (with no Java), a very flexible course menu, subscriptions to discussion forums, new test question types, and enhanced rubrics are some of my favorites.  You also need no longer worry about which tools are on the teach or build tabs as these no longer exist. The integration of rich, interactive e-Book content from publishers such as McGraw Hill, Pearson, and Cengage is a great way to save time while giving instructors choices about which content to make available to students.

On the other hand, since Bb Learn is not an upgrade of Blackboard Vista, some functions that were part of WebCT are missing. There is no roster for students to upload their pictures to; there is no true student view, and the flexibility of the menu is a mixed blessing for some of the pilot users: not all menu items function as content repositories.

But the good news is that unlike Blackboard Vista, Bb Learn is not a static system. In the last year there have already been numerous upgrades to the system. In the next several months you should see a new social media interface, a course evaluation system, export of the calendar to Outlook and Google calendars, improved survey and test item analysis, and more. And very soon faculty and students will be able to access the Bb Learn system using a mobile app for their cell phones and tablets. Stay tuned for that!

For more information about Blackboard Learn 9.1, and  to arrange for training and consultations, please consult with your edtech liaison or you can contact  me at (for online courses) or Mark Lewis at (for web-enhanced courses).


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