eCoaching Tip 91 Getting Excited about Bb 9.1 — What Works Well and What Do Faculty Like?

August 18 2011
(This tip will probably be deleted or revised to address more generic changes in tools.)

eCoaching Tip 91 Getting Excited about Bb 9.1 — What Works Well and What Do Faculty Like?

After many months of planning, the new Bb 9.1 is now in place. Have you completed your certification? Are you wondering how everyone is doing and what they like/don’t like about it?

Moving to a new system always takes time and energy; and it can be frustrating because we need to discard old ways of working and develop new automated behaviors. In the short run, we often want to say passionately, “ I want the old system back, and now!” However, after a few days — or maybe a little longer, we often find that, “I think I will like this new Bb 9.1” or “Wow, this really is better.”

Late in July, I had a chance to interview Ruth Newberry, Director of Educational Technology, who has been in the forefront of getting us all ready to use Bb 9.1. In that interview Ruth shared some of the feedback that she has had from faculty who have successfully navigated through the transition process and are now – mostly happily — working and teaching with the new Bb 9.1.

Here are a few of the top reasons you will probably enjoy and treasure the new Bb 9.1.

Best New Capability — Preparing and Managing Your Course is Faster, Easier and More “Natural”

The best news about Bb 9.1 is that it is much easier to prepare your course initially and also easier to manage your course content and grading while teaching. Why is this so? Because Bb 9.1 has an up-to-date, web 2.0 interface. This means no more multiple click-click-submit-click-submit sequences to add content or make a small edit. The interface — how we work with the system — now requires much less ‘refreshing” of the screen. Making decisions and navigating the system is simply much more direct.  The most obvious example of this direct access is that the course menu and management panels and its options are “right there” on your course site home page.

Here are more examples of the easier, more natural interface:

  • Simple EDIT on/off Button. Turning on the editing process is a simple click— at the upper right hand corner of your course site —and you are ready to go.  No waiting for the screen to replot. This simple button quickly turns our course sites into quickly accessible actions such as adding announcements, content, or forums.
  • Customizable Course Menus. Faculty generally like the new interface because preparing and customizing the course menu to fit one’s particular course content and design is so easy and powerful. For myself, I particularly liked the fact that I could really customize the SLPA Webinar site. Since this is a gathering place for resources and events, it is not really a course. Thus the previous menu was awkward; now I can customize the menu to name areas that really fit the organization’s purpose such as “Webinars” and “e-Coaching Tips.” Here is a snapshot of that new menu below.  It is so welcoming that I hope we will be using the SLPA Webinar site more for resources and collegial support.


  • Ruth observed that the customizable course menus are really at the top of the list of features liked by faculty. Customizable menus mean that we all have more choices on how we name and organize course content and tools. For example, if desired, the menu can list each of the main sections or modules of a course. Such a list can make the framework of the course, the tools, and content resources much more obvious for everyone.

The course menu section also makes it easy to customize the course tool area. Now we can make only the tools that we will be using visible to our students.  This reduces clutter and removes those misleading and confusing “grey” areas.

Other favorite new course menu features include the following:

  • Subheaders and divider lines are great visual organizing tools. These features make it easy to separate and highlight the different types of the course site, separating content areas such as modules and resources from active learner areas such as discussion forums, wikis and blogs. The SLPA template takes advantage of these features, providing structural clarity for learners and faculty alike.
  • The Drag and drop option — to the left of your course menu items — makes for dynamic reordering of course menu items
  • Contextual Menus. You are probably very familiar with contextual menus from your work on preparing your courses, but you may be wondering what “contextual” means and why contextual menus are so useful? First of all, contextual means that the possible actions for any menu item are customized, or dependent on, the particular item that you click on. For example, this means that when you click and hold the course menu button that options such as creating, changing, or reorganizing the menu are available right on the spot. There is no need to go anywhere else. Here is the contextual menu that appears when the “+” sign is held down for the course menu.  Similar contextual menus appear with the tabs, “Build content,” “Create Assessment,”  “Add Interactive Tool,” and “Assign Textbook” for each “Content Area” you create.

Summary on Web 2.0 Interface

The bottom line on Bb 9.1’s new web 2.0 interface means the following:

  • Many fewer clicks
  • Less time wasted waiting for a screen to refresh
  • Simply a more natural feel
  • Easier, more direct access to tools and resources

Unfortunately the new interface does mean a small and occasionally painful learning curve, but it is well worth it. And you will likely soon wonder why you had any difficulty getting used to it.

Managing Your Course Announcements

First of all, I believe that the announcement tool is one of the least understood, least well-used tools that we have.  The announcement tool is an easy, quick way to let students know that you are thinking of them, thinking about how the course content and knowledge and their ideas have immediate relevance and for reminding, guiding and encouraging students.

Since it can be used for so many important messages, it is also easy for an announcements area to become as cluttered as most of our refrigerators! So here are two hints from Ruth on how to make great use of the announcement tool.

  • Be sure to use the Date Restricted option. This means passing by the default “Not Date Restricted” button, clicking the “Date Restricted” button and then specifying the day/time that the announcement will be visible and the day/time when it will no longer be displayed.
  • The next best hint about announcements is to keep announcements short. Many students are now sending alerts and announcements to their smart phones and other mobile devices, and long announcements can be unwieldy on these mobile tools and small screens. If the announcement refers to a longer message or resource, providing a link to that resource is the way to create a welcoming, useful announcement.
  • Another feature that faculty like is the ability to re-arrange the announcements in any order that might make sense at a particular time.

 Don’t Miss These Tabs  — Academic and Student Resources and Help Desk

Do you wonder what happened to some of the basic information that used to be in your course template?  Many of these items are now in the top-level tabs — also referred to as the blue buttons — that appear at the top of each course site. The most important of the tabs are these three:

  • Help desk. This tab links users, students and faculty, to current help desk contact information. This tab has up-to-date hours and phone numbers that you can point learners to.
  • Academic Resources. This tab opens up to a series of tabs for the Gumberg Library, Writing Center, Learning Skills Center, DU Bookstore, etc. Again these are resources that you can alert your users to as needed.
  • Blackboard Help. This tab opens up a series of topics, such as Bb Known Issues, Bb Issues, Grade Center and tabs on almost all major tools, such as discussion boards, blogs, wikis, groups, tests/surveys, and Wimba live classroom and Wimba voice tools. Both you and your students will find this area a great place to start with many questions. A Blackboard Student Manual is also accessible from this area. Here is a direct link –
  • Really Important Note: The course menu in the SLPA template includes a button labeled that links students directly to an FAQ for students.  And the menu in the course management section of the SLPA template has a button that links directly to a Bb 9.1 manual and on-demand videos for learning almost anything on which you may have a question.  It looks like this:

“There is so much more”

Many faculty taught courses this summer using Bb 9.1 and discovered many more features that made their teaching and learning more effective and easier. The list of features is quite long, but just as a heads-up, the list includes the following:

  • Use of the new integrated tools, such as Wimba Voice and Wimba Classroom
  • Other tools, such as wikis, journals and blogs, that are now accessible through the “Add Interactive Tool” feature
  • More tools for managing students and student assignments
  • Grade center features — no more unwieldy spreadsheet views!
  • More direct links to the Gumberg library — as noted above — with many additional online resources

Be Patient and Give Yourself the Gift of Time

New habits and automated behaviors take time to develop. Just learn what is essential for your course in the short term and take it one step at a time.  Also take time to share exciting discoveries with your colleagues. We are all learning as we go.


Most of the very useful references for this tip are in the Blackboard help area mentioned above under the tabs. Also check for this tip and other resources at the SLPA Faculty Webinars community site.

Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright by Judith V. Boettcher