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UMBC Makes Major Investment in Instructional Technology

Phased rollout of Bb Ultra better supports campus e-Learning

Earlier this week the Provost and Deans agreed to a DoIT proposal to go forward with a broad investment in instructional technology support staff, software tools and training stipends for faculty. As part of this effort, DoIT will also be delaying the date for moving all courses to Blackboard Ultra, originally announced and planned for the start of Fall 2019, and extending to Fall 2021.

Specifically, DoIT and the Division of Professional Studies (DPS) are investing in four instructional technology positions to be on board by the start of summer, and recently purchased Blackboard’s Ally software for improving accessibility. Also, DoIT will increase the number of Blackboard Ultra ambassadors from 15 to 32, and provide more opportunities for on-site and online training workshops, including “lessons learned” from colleagues who’ve already switched. Finally, DoIT and the Provost’s Office are partnering to offer one-time, $100 stipends to all faculty who 1) attend or participate in any Ultra training, and 2) complete the process of migrating their existing course(s) by the new phased rollout summarized below, based on the “Blackboard Use by College” report (requires myUMBC login with ad\ before username):

Term Start


SP19 Bb Courses *

Fall 2019

DPS, Erickson, SOWK, UAA

37, 22, 31, 28, respectively

Spring 2020



Fall 2020



Spring 2021



To be clear, any faculty member from any college, school, department or division can switch to Ultra now -- as 145 courses have done this term already and since we piloted Ultra in Spring 2018. But within each organization above, DoIT will also focus on supporting each instructor based on a course’s “archetype” of prior Blackboard usage at UMBC, which we’ve seen is different from most institutions Blackboard hosts on its “cloud” or Software as a Service (SaaS) system. Note: UMBC moved to the Blackboard cloud in 2017.

“The move to Blackboard Ultra presents a real opportunity for DoIT to work with faculty to improve overall course design, accessibility and effective practice,” says Jack Suess, Vice President for IT and Chief Information Officer. “In some departments, this is working with faculty to provide training to develop online or hybrid courses, especially in collaboration with applied graduate programs. In other departments, faculty may be interested in deepening student engagement or outcomes.”

As part of the broader e-Learning strategy, DoIT will continue or expand support for the following:

Course Design: DoIT first introduced Quality Matters and online/blended teaching workshops to the campus through the DPS-supported Alternate Delivery Program (ADP) for summer & winter programs. Drawing on more than a dozen years of experience working with over 75 faculty, DoIT refined the ADP model in 2015 to include skill builder, course designer and quality booster workshops (and stipends) to participating faculty teaching in Fall and Spring courses, too.

Accessibility: DoIT is now supporting Ally, a new tool by Blackboard designed to identify and help address inaccessible course content. Currently, it is only available for Ultra courses.

Assessment & Academic Integrity: We’ll continue to offer training and support in effective practices with Adaptive Release, which DoIT has found is associated with higher use of course content by students, as well as SafeAssign and Respondus Lockdown Browser.

Learning Analytics & Student Success: We’ll continue to leverage analytics to help identify historically high-enrollment courses that have also reduced high DFW rates, to perhaps reverse-engineer effective practices that could be used in other courses.

Academic Continuity: We’ll encourage all faculty to become familiar with and use core Bb functions (e.g., announcements, gradebook, discussions, Collaborate video conferencing) that can support academic continuity in the event campus is closed for an extended period of time.

While there have been delays in some functionality not yet available in Blackboard Ultra (e.g., group management, specific publisher integrations, some gradebook calculation options, etc.), recent reviews by UMBC faculty also suggest Blackboard is heading in the right direction overall. For many reasons, including a more streamlined user interface, responsive design to support mobile device usage, and enhancements to improve content accessibility, Ultra is an improvement over the core 9.1 version release of Blackboard we’ve been using since 2012.

DoIT appreciates all of the good will and effort by faculty who have switched to Ultra as well as the feedback we’ve received over the last year. In addition to contacting anyone on the DoIT Instructional Technology staff, if there are questions, concerns or suggestions, we encourage people to also contact UMBC’s Bb Ultra Ambassadors, the Bb Faculty Advisory Group or Faculty Senate Computer Policy Committee (CPC).

For more information, visit umbc.edu/go/ultra.

* Includes “combined” courses with more than one PeopleSoft section. Typically, DoIT sees about 82% of all course sections using Bb each Fall and Spring semester.

Posted: April 4, 2019, 8:06 AM