Blackboard course preparation – what you said, what we are doing

In December we invited staff to complete a survey ‘Preparing your Blackboard course for the next academic year’. We received 108 responses, predominantly from academics, from across the University. We’d like to thank all those that took the time to complete the survey, and for the detailed additional comments that many respondents also provided.

The CQSD TEL and IT TEL Support teams are using the results of the survey to inform detailed plans for the creation of new Blackboard courses at the start of the 2017-18 academic year, but thought it would be useful to pull together some of the key themes to emerge from the survey, and to share our response to these.

Course Rollover

A clear majority of respondents (79%) wished to retain the current practice of copying forward course materials from one year to the next as the default position. Automatic course copying, but with the ability to opt out, was the single most preferred option (47%).

However, there was also a desire for more flexibility. In all, 64% voted for  options which would provide staff with more choice about what is copied.

Staff preference for course rollover

We have taken these views on board when planning for the Summer 2017 rollover.

The default position will remain that any RISIS module or programme which was used in Blackboard in the current academic year, and is scheduled to run again in 2017-18, will be copied forward.

For staff who do not want their course to be copied, or who want only some of their course content to be copied, we will provide additional options. We are still working on the technical details of these, but will provide full information when this is ready.

We will also provide guidance for staff whose courses differ from the standard set up pattern e.g.

  • modules which last ran two years ago,
  • modules where the RISIS code is changing,
  • modules which don’t start until next summer,
  • modules which run twice a year,

as well as those using Shared Courses or Non-RISIS courses in Blackboard.

This year Course Rollover will take place on Saturday 8th July 2017

Saturday 15th July is being held in reserve in case of technical issues, or further work needing to be done. We anticipate that Blackboard will be unavailable during the morning on 8th July (and 15th July if required), but Blackboard should be considered “at risk” for the whole of the day.


Improvement to Staff enrolments

As part of the rollover process – and regardless of whether a course is copied forward or not – we plan to extract Module Convenor data from RISIS, and automatically enrol Module Convenors on their corresponding Blackboard course (subject to this data being present in RISIS).


Student enrolments

Over 70% of respondents were satisfied with when students get access to their Blackboard courses. But we’re looking at ways of enabling student enrolment where earlier access is required.

Access to Blackboard for new students is dictated by when they complete the enrolment process and there is probably not anything we can do to change this for the coming year.

However, we anticipate that returning students who have completed their RISIS re-enrolment for the coming year will be enrolled on their 2017 courses in Blackboard earlier than last year. This is likely to take place early in August, at the official start of the new academic year; but we will also be suggesting workarounds for lecturers who, for example, want to use Blackboard before and during the summer break to engage with second year students starting work on their final year project. Further details to follow.

Note: Some staff were concerned that courses should not be made available to students too early. The ability to make courses available remains with in the course teams – all new courses in Blackboard are created as ‘unavailable’ by default, and it is up to the lead instructor on the course to make it visible to students at the most appropriate time.

Talis reading lists

A number of staff indicated that they wanted to make reading lists for the coming year available to students over the summer. In fact, the Talis reading lists are freely available online, independent of Blackboard, so students can access them before being enrolled on the relevant Blackboard course. Module Descriptions for 2017-18 modules will be published in a few weeks’ time and these will include a link to the relevant Talis list, where one exists – so there will be a mechanism to flag up summer reading to your students, regardless of when Blackboard enrolment takes place.


Allocating students to Groups

Several respondents commented that – particularly with large cohorts – creating Groups in a Blackboard course can be very time-consuming. We do not think that, in the short term at least, it will be possible to populate Blackboard Groups automatically from RISIS. However it is possible to set up Groups, and populate them with members, from an Excel file. So if you are able to export the required data from RISIS to Excel, it should be possible to set up your Groups, and choose the students for each Group, without having to manually enrol them one at a time. Students will need to be enrolled on the course in order to populate the groups in this way.

Please see Importing Group members from an Excel list on the Course Management page of this support site.


Availability of course content

Several staff commented that they would prefer that all content items copied forward were, by default, set to be unavailable to students. This is not something that is technically possible to achieve at the moment and, without the ability to provide a choice for staff, would potentially introduce additional workload for those staff who do want all content to be visible to students.

However, Blackboard does already have a Date Management tool which could address this issue where content is time-released. This tool allows you to collectively adjust all dates on course content by a certain number of days. So if you have set course content to be released on a certain date in 2016-17, it is a fairly straightforward process to adjust dates as appropriate for the next academic year. You’ll find guidance on the use of this tool on using the Blackboard Date Management tool on the Content Delivery page of this support site.

Date Management tool


Making courses available

Every year I have to remind myself about how to make courses available. The process is not very intuitive

Several staff made similar comments, and it’s a fair criticism. To make a Blackboard course available you have to go to Control Panel > Customisation > Properties – it’s far from intuitive.

But you could also use the Qwickly (sic) tool on the Enrolments tab, where courses can be made available with a single mouse-click.


Other issues raised

Clearing out your courses list

A common complaint was the difficulty of removing oneself, or colleagues, from courses with which you, or they, are no longer involved. We have deliberately restricted the ability to delete users from a Blackboard course, because of the dangers of accidentally deleting a student (thereby deleting all of their assessment records on that course) and there isn’t the ability to just allow the removal of staff enrolments. Senior staff in the Student Support Centres do have the ability to delete staff enrolments in Blackboard.

Set staff as Unavailable in courses

However, it is also possible for any Instructor or Teaching Assistant to set Blackboard users as ‘Unavailable’ – this immediately removes the course from that person’s courses list, and means that they will not be added to the course next year.

What you may not realise, is that you can also set your own enrolment to be ‘Unavailable’ on courses which you no longer wish to see. We have amended our user guide to reflect this – see How to remove yourself and other staff from a Blackboard course.

Make user unavailable

And if you simply want to hide courses from a previous year on your Course list but need to still be enrolled on it, there are ways of doing this – see Customise your list of courses.

Customise your courses list



A number of staff raised issues relating to the way enrolments and other data are recorded in RISIS (the student management system), and how RISIS data integrates with Blackboard. Course creation, and Blackboard student enrolments, are driven entirely by RISIS – this is clearly the right way round as RISIS is, as the jargon has it, the “single source of truth”. But inevitably any issues with RISIS data then has a knock-on effect for Blackboard users. We have passed all of these comments on to the RISIS team for review. Questions regarding RISIS-Blackboard integration will also be discussed at the regular meetings held between CQSD TEL, IT TEL Support and RISIS, and addressed where possible.

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