Info Tech Tips and Trends

September 2005

The Emerging Technologies in Instruction Committee would like to introduce you to a new technology that you might find useful, or a familiar technology you may not have used in library instruction.

This edition of Emerging Technologies " Tips and Trends" features the Blackboard course management system.

Blackboard: New and Improved
Courtney Greene

Blackboard is one of a growing number of electronic course management systems (CMS) that encourage interaction between faculty and students, and within each class, among the students themselves. Blackboard incorporates web pages, email, discussion boards, chat rooms, small group areas, online quizzes, an online grade book, document sharing, and more to create an online learning environment. With tools and applications this flexible and extensive in scope, numerous opportunities exist for its use within academic libraries.

Two separate applications are available: the Blackboard Academic Suite, comprised of the Blackboard Learning System, Community System and Content System, the functions of which were briefly described above; and the Blackboard Commerce Suite, which can be used to manage transactions and financial data. At the end of 2004, approximately 2,225 clients in over sixty countries held licenses to various software applications offered by the company. According to a recent report by Standard & Poor’s, the U.S. postsecondary education market accounted for 63% of Blackboard’s total revenues in 2004.

The latest version of the Blackboard Learning System (the available supplement Application Pack 3 is not discussed in this article) offers both improved functionality and new features. Some highlights:

  • Greater Customization of Course Navigation & Organization Functions
    • The primary navigation menu for courses previously supported only limited customization; some buttons could be suppressed from the display, though some were mandatory, and their appearance could not be changed. A criticism of Blackboard and other CMS applications has been their omission of a place for library resources in their organizational structure, which up to now was quite rigid. Happily, in the new version instructors have much more extensive control: navigation elements can now be renamed, deleted, or created, and can be used to provide access to any content items (e.g., readings, assignments), tools (e.g., discussion board, gradebook), or even external URLs. Hopefully this flexibility will facilitate the inclusion of library resources in course content.
    • Content can be copied and/or moved anywhere within a course, or between courses.
  • Improved ‘Test Manager’ Features
    • The test manager allows instructors to build and deploy assessments in any content area. Some features include the ability to set default point values for each question, to include images and URLs in questions and in feedback, to format text using the math & science notation editor, and to set delivery options (question-by-question or all-at-once). Also, assessments already deployed may be edited without clearing existing grades.
  • New Communications & Chat Functions
    • Virtual Classroom & Lightweight Chat – Similar in function, these tools allow users to send private messages, form break-out discussion groups, and are Section 508 compatible. In addition, the Virtual Classroom has whiteboard capabilities – course materials can be viewed through the whiteboard, and snapshots of whiteboard content can be added to the session archives.
    • Discussion Forums – Added features include spell checking, basic formatting including bulleted lists, etc., ability to use mathematical formulas & equations, and easy addition of hyperlinked text.

This increased flexibility and expanded capability augments the potential for effective uses of Blackboard outside the realm of the traditional for-credit class. At DePaul University Libraries, both the Reference and Instruction Departments, as well as cross-functional teams such as the Web Group and Marketing Group, maintain ‘portal’ sites on Blackboard, which are used as a sort of intranet to facilitate group work, share files, and support discussion. These sites are also useful for part-time staff, especially those who work only at remote locations, making it easier for them to keep updated on day-to-day happenings within the department.

In conjunction with the staff of the Instructional Technology Development unit, which maintains Blackboard at DePaul, librarians have developed faculty workshops to facilitate the use of technology in the classroom, including sessions on integrating library resources into Blackboard at various levels, from database level links to facilitate student browsing or searching, to stable, direct article-level links to course readings. Though library research instruction is not delivered using Blackboard at DePaul, many other institutions do use it for this purpose.

Suggestions for further reading:

  • Bhavnagri, N., and V. Bielat. 2005. “Faculty-Librarian Collaboration to Teach Research Skills: Electronic Symbiosis.” Reference Librarian 89/90: 121- 138.
  • Costello, B., R. Lenholt, and J. Stryker. 2004. “Using Blackboard in Library Instruction: Addressing the Learning Styles of Generations X and Y.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 30(6): 452-460.
  • Weigel, V. 2005. “From Course Management to Curricular Capabilities: A Capabilities Approach for the Next-Generation.” Educause Review 40(3): 54-67. Freely available online at:

Works cited:
“Blackboard: Business Summary.” Aug 24 2005. Accessed online via Standard & Poor’s NetAdvantage.
“Blackboard Learning System: What’s New and Different.” Instructional Technology Development, DePaul University. Aug 22 2005. Available online at:


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