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UMBC Blackboard Use Differs from Most Schools

Findings based on Bb's "course archetypes" research

December 11, 2018 11:23 PM

Earlier this year, Blackboard released a “course archetype” system administrator’s tool that allows institutions to see how the company’s Learning Management System (LMS) software is being used across campus. The “course archetype” tool was informed by Blackboard’s 2016 research on clients it hosts, including UMBC (since 2014). The primary reason DoIT was interested in the “course archetype” tool was to get a better understanding of the depth and complexity of our current Bb usage, as we gauge the work to be done to move to our Ultra migration in Fall 2019 (see

A few observations are worth noting:

  1. Blackboard’s course archetype research initially focused on more than 3M students, in 70k courses from 927 institutions hosted by Blackboard in Spring 2016. After extensive filtering for courses between 10 and 500 students, at least average student use of 60 minutes, and faculty use of the grade book, the resulting data set for analysis “included 601,544 learners (16.25%) in 18,810 (26.87%) courses” (p.2 of the study). When DoIT ran the course archetype tool on our 1,469 active FA18 Bb courses, only 464 (31%) did not meet the same enrollment size and usage criteria compared with 51,190 (73%) of the 70k courses hosted by Blackboard, but also filtered off for the study.
  2. Blackboard found the vast majority of courses it studied were "supplemental" (content-heavy, low interaction) or "complementary" (1-way, instructor-led, minimal communication) courses, or 53% and 24%, respectively (77% total). By contrast, DoIT found nearly 40% of UMBC’s remaining 991 FA18 courses are characterized at the top end of Blackboard's course design archetype: "evaluative" (heavy use of assessments) and "holistic" (high LMS activity with balanced use of assessments, content and discussion), or 21% and 18%, respectively (or 39% total).
  3. Except for students checking grades, Blackboard found that other high student LMS activity wasn't necessarily associated with better student outcomes. We've not looked at how our UMBC students' activity is associated with outcomes (yet), because the term isn't over, but we'll do so after Fall 2018 grades are submitted in early January. 

Special thanks to Mariann Hawken, DoIT’s Coordinator of eLearning and certified Blackboard MVP, and Tom Penniston, our Analytics Specialist in Instructional Technology, for this analysis.

DoIT needs to explore our own data further, but UMBC's Blackboard courses appear to represent a significantly different profile compared to most Bb client institutions hosted by the company. We’ve always had high adoption -- typically 95% of all students, 87% of all instructors and 82% of all PeopleSoft sections use Bb during any given term. But when we first started our own learning analytics research in 2007, just over 40% of all our Bb courses used the grade book, even though the annual "Undergraduates and IT" Educause national study has frequently found that students value checking grades more than any other LMS function. Typically, about 73% of all active UMBC Blackboard courses now use the grade book, a characteristic common to many of our most active Bb courses.

“DoIT has always wanted to use analytics to help inform and grow the depth and sophistication of our Bb LMS usage,” says John Fritz, Assoc. Vice President for Instructional Technology, who profiled UMBC's course design experience in a 2017 Educause article that also referenced Bb's course archetype research. “Our institutional Blackboard usage suggests UMBC may be helping higher ed better understand how good LMS course design could be one of the most scalable student success interventions any institution can pursue.”

By John Fritz and Tom Penniston
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