Blackboard updates to a new aesthetic and social profile

Chris Suarez
Staff Writer

The way most students and faculty communicate outside of their classes will be changing this year as VCU rolls out a revamped version of the Blackboard learning system.

Building upon the concept of the “virtual classroom” and embracing the role of online social networking, VCU will be using an updated version of Blackboard, the learning management system which connects students and their instructors and hosts various virtual resources often used for classes.

“One of the main reasons was because Blackboard here at VCU was growing so much,” said director of learning systems Colleen Bishop. “We just needed more space to operate everything.”

Since January, VCU Technology Services has been using over 14 servers to accommodate the growing number of classes being offered at the university. With the need for so many servers, the decision to remotely host the servers through Blackboard at their own locations was made by Technology Services after receiving input from a council comprised of various departments and schools.

With the move of servers from the VCU Computer Center, the university also decided on upgrading to Blackboard Service Pack 14 from Service Pack 7, which has been used for the last two years.

Originally launched last October, the upgraded version of the application includes a new streamlined layout design, customizability and instructor options.

What may end up being one of the most noticeable differences for Blackboard users is the new social profiles aspect for students and teachers.

“Once a student logs into Blackboard, they’ll be given an opportunity to make a profile,” Bishop said. “They’ll be able to choose a profile picture and it’ll show up in your courses and elsewhere.”

In January, Blackboard purchased another learning management system business, MyEdu. Based in Austin, Texas, the three-year-old start-up specializes in helping students obtain their degree and find jobs after graduation.  Blackboard brought on the company in an attempt to jump-start their often-criticized presentation and aesthetic experience.

“MyEdu has created user-friendly tools that help students succeed and create a stronger connection between higher education and the workforce,” said Blackboard CEO Jay Bhatt in a press release about the buy.

Bhatt said MyEdu is complementary to their current solution set and will drive a higher-quality experience for learners and enable new paths to support student goals.

“This strengthens the focus we have on learner success, which is a big priority for us going forward,” he said.

In addition to student and faculty featured on VCU’s Blackboard, students will also be invited to make a MyEdu profile. Resembling networking site LinkedIn, users will be able to make a profile that highlights their education, skills, coursework, projects and professor recommendations. Businesses and employers will also be able to access MyEdu accounts to search for viable job candidates.

Students and faculty who have been here for the summer have already seen the changes on Blackboard, but Bishop says she and her team are still preparing the new design and changes for Blackboard before fall semester begins.

Currently, students who have made a MyEdu account through the VCU Blackboard are limited to only those within the VCU network, but once feedback has been given, that network could be opened to the over 800 institutions and one million students on the educational-social platform.

“Come fall, we’re going to have 30,000 to 40,000 people on there everyday,” Bishop said. “I don’t know what the feedback is going to be like. I’m sure people will voice their opinions and then we can go from there.”

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