More than 70% of 606 student survey respondents who took a course that used Ultra during the FA2019 semester said they were satisfied with the experience. When asked, students described Ultra as easy to use and visually appealing. “It’s new and fun,” said one respondant. “I love the sleek format. Ultra is neat, colorful, and polished,” said another student. Many appreciate the aggregated calendar of due dates and seeing grades posted to their activity stream.
Ultra was initially piloted in SP2018 with four courses. Over the last 18 months, Ultra adoption has increased considerably, but student feedback was not recorded until a larger population of users was available in FA2019 to provide insight. Recent feedback from students is consistent with survey responses following the pilot and with feedback from faculty who have responded to surveys in SP2019 and FA2019.
Figure 1. Student satisfaction with Ultra
Both faculty and students like Ultra for its interface and usability. Faculty find the streamlined tools easier to use in a clean and modern interface. Students generally like the look of Ultra and the ease of finding instructional materials, especially in a well-designed and organized course. About 79% of students were able to find course content and files, and more than 82% said their courses flowed in a logical way.
About 61% of students who completed the survey said they wished more of their courses were using Ultra, citing the flexible environment and convenient structure brought by the redesigned infrastructure. These students may be happy to hear that more than 80% of faculty who have used Ultra over the past year indicated they might or would use Ultra again for their courses.
Despite this insight, qualitative feedback from student surveys suggests a challenging paradox for faculty. Wherever students were concerned about potential lag when opening folders or perpetual scrolling, they generally observed it was due to poor course organization and excessive file load or links in the course. Students who enjoyed opening several folders on the page at one time said consistent course design helped identify where content was located.
In observing how Ultra courses were organized, students wondered if faculty had access to or participated in sufficient training and support for Ultra. Poor organization in a course “makes the exchange of information more difficult,” said one student. DoIT offers multiple training options to faculty who are teaching with or preparing to use Ultra -- boot camps, webinars, customized department workshops, and more. More than 52% of faculty, however, prefer to teach themselves, and more than 47% request support via RT.
Figure 2. Faculty preference for training (purple) compared to preference for support (orange). Click to enlarge.
While FAQs and videos offer the “button-ology” of how an application works, facilitated training (in person and virtual) provided by instructional technology staff includes both technical and pedagogical perspectives to ensure faculty have essential information about how Ultra works and what best practices may optimize a course design.
As DoIT extends its support model for Ultra into SP2021, its instructional technology staff will continue to offer many of these resources while also introducing new options including 30-minute Coffee Break webinars, half-day boot camps on Ultra and supporting technologies, and more self-paced resources focused on best practices. The FA2029 end of semester sprint, an exciting and popular support model, will be repeated at the beginning of SP2020.
The FA2019 surveys provided reasonable and justified criticisms of Ultra, which DoIT has provided to Blackboard and the Ultra developers. Groups, gradebook, and tests are our top priorities for continued enhancement. In an ongoing effort to maintain transparency and momentum for innovation, UMBC has accepted Blackboard’s offer to meet quarterly with Ultra product managers, and continues to meet monthly with Ultra designers and weekly with other Ultra early adopters. Such communication is critical to ensuring Ultra meets the needs of UMBC faculty and students.
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