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UMBC to Complete Bb Ultra Migration by Start of SP2025

FA2024 to be last term DoIT supports Bb Original

In support of a common learning experience for students and faculty, and in consultation with the Faculty Senate Computer Policy Committee (CPC) last semester, UMBC will complete the Blackboard Ultra migration by the start of the Spring 2025 term. Since Winter and Spring courses are typically auto-created by early December, this means Fall 2024 will be the last term in which DoIT plans to support Blackboard Original.

Also, given its current Ultra adoption of 70%, the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CAHSS) has agreed to migrate all courses by the start of Fall 2024. DoIT will also seek feedback on our "last mile" Ultra migration efforts from CoEIT and CNMS (for Spring 2025). The Erickson School is already using Ultra. But migrating our remaining Bb courses will give all students the same learning management system (LMS) since our first Ultra pilot in Spring 2018, a common request from student surveys in the past (see below).

Increasingly, as Ultra is used by more UMBC Blackboard courses (50% as of Fall 2022), this two-year plan is based on four criteria:

1. Students should have a common learning experience.

Currently, students must juggle two separate course views: Ultra and Original, depending on what their instructors have selected. Ultra also provides a mobile friendly and accessible course environment for students as well as better tools to track their progress while fostering self-expression with name pronunciation. Ultra provides tools to support diverse pedagogical and assessment practices, which supports the student learning experience.

2. Students like and want more Ultra courses. 

In three separate surveys, students said they were satisfied with Ultra and indicated a preference for Ultra courses (FA2022, SP2021, FA2019). Students consistently praise Ultra's clean interface, aggregated calendar of due dates, and easy discovery of graded activities. Increased exposure to Ultra through IHU and ENGL 100 courses provides students with a strong foundation in using the platform. Also, combined with Ally, Ultra is designed to improve accessibility.

3. Ultra is compatible with Original in key areas.

Within the last year, more than 150 updates brought Ultra up to feature parity with additional updates expected to reach up to 95% by the end of SP2023. A deep focus on assessment and grading aligned to UMBC faculty needs, addressing key areas in assessment & grading, engagement & content, and user & course management. Ultra now supports extensive gradebook tools and rubrics, question banks, robust groups management, with exclusive features not available in Original. Still, for faculty who tried Ultra before the Pandemic and found it missing key features, DoIT is eager and willing to consult on any questions or concerns.

4. Original courses will be retired eventually by the vendor.

Anthology, the parent company that now owns Blackboard, has already retired Original courses in self-hosted and managed hosted environments. All major development occurs for Ultra courses, not Original, in part because Anthology has invested three times the resources for Ultra. Original may receive minor tweaks and patches, but it is an aging platform.

Training & Support

To complete the migration to Ultra, DoIT is available to work with each college to tailor our training and support plan. However, DoIT's Instructional Technology team already provides Ultra training from an extensive catalog and updates Ultra support documentation frequently. Monthly drop-in support sessions will be provided, and DoIT staff will offer instructional design training and support for departments through workshops and Design Clinics throughout the academic year.

Finally, to promote effective practices, identify areas for improved resources, strengthen opportunities for professional development, and partner in outreach and support for faculty and students, DoIT will announce ways faculty can offer feedback or request help, including a survey and/or virtual town halls.


Mariann Hawken
Director, Instructional Technology

John Fritz
Associate Vice President
Instructional Technology & New Media

Posted: February 17, 2023, 12:20 PM