May 2021 Blackboard News

Cow with flower crown with a green field background

We’re in the home stretch!

This month’s Blackboard News includes information about Upcoming Important Dates, Support for Instructors, IDEAS Webinars, Blackboard in the Cloud, Requesting your Summer Blackboard course, Requesting your Summer Echo360 courses, Blackboard tip of the month, Planned Downtimes, and Blackboard help and resources.

Upcoming Important Dates

There are a number of important dates for this semester that are a bit different than in a normal semester. Some of the highlights related to instruction are:

Spring 2021:

  • Last day of classes – May, 4, 2021
  • Grade rosters open in SPIRE – May 5, 2021
  • Final grades due midnight – May 17, 2021

Summer 2021:

  • First day of classes, Summer 1 – May 17, 2021
  • First day of classes, University Summer – May 17, 2021

Blackboard has a new home for Fall 2021

In support of flexible learning at UMass Amherst, an upgraded, cloud-based version of Blackboard, one of the campus learning management systems is transitioning to software as a service cloud architecture (SaaS) and will be available for Fall UWW & University courses.

UMass Amherst Instructional Design, Engagement and Support (IDEAS) group is making this change with the goal of improving our teaching and learning experience and expanding the reach of UMass Amherst education.

While we’ll be hosted in the cloud, Blackboard Learn will appear the same. Most changes are largely transparent to current users. Notable improvements include faster performance, just-in-time bug fixes along with a few subtle tool enhancements (like a streamlined content editor).

Blackboard Learn courses for Summer 2021 will remain in the current managed hosting environment.

What does this mean for students and instructors?

  • For students there will be no change. They will login using the same URL they use now. Blackboard Learn will look as it always has.
  • Faculty teaching online in Blackboard Learn for the Fall 2021 term may start developing their courses April 20th in anticipation of the switchover. Instructions for accessing the new environment will be sent after Fall course requests are made.
  • All courses offered for Fall 2021 and after will be hosted in the new cloud environment.
  • Faculty should expect to see courses taught up to two years previously restored to the new environment.
  • The shift to the new cloud environment will occur just prior to Preview Week, Fall 2021. Our login page and url will remain the same but point to the new cloud environment then.

More information will follow.  For questions, please contact the Instructional Media Lab at instruct@umass.edu.

IDEAS Webinars

We’re gearing up for a summer full of learning, engaging, and connecting. We’ll be offering a number of webinars around teaching technologies, lecture capture, building courses in an LMS, using technology to facilitate communication and engagement, and more.

Check out our IDEAS Webinars list often for the latest offerings.

Can’t decide which workshops to take? Have questions? Don’t hesitate to contact the IDEAS Team for help in deciding which workshops are right for you. Contact us at instruct@umass.edu.

Support for Instructors

Even though we’re not on campus, we’re still here to help you with your courses and teaching technology. We have 3 avenues for support, in addition to the webinars we are currently running. Please read carefully since there will be some changes on our available hours of support.

  • Support through email. Send an email to instruct@umass.edu with your course information and a description of how we can help.
  • Schedule an appointment with us. Please send an email to instruct@umass.edu with a brief description of your goals/needs, and suggest a few times you are available between 9am and 4pm, Monday – Friday.
  • Join our Instructor Support Zoom meeting between 10am and 3pm, Monday – Friday to meet with a staff member. Please note that wait times depend on the volume of requests.

Request your Summer Blackboard Courses

Summer Blackboard courses are available for request through SPIRE. Don’t forget that each semester you will need to request Blackboard for the courses you are teaching.

For detailed instructions, see:

Request your Spring Echo360 Courses

Echo360 allows you to create recordings of your lectures to deliver to students. Students can access recordings to learn new content or review content to reinforce the information. The system also allows you to add interactive content and measure student engagement.

Echo360 Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) uses speech to text algorithms to create an interactive transcript for your recordings. After you do a little editing for accuracy, your students will be able to study for exams, find relevant information in recordings, and even turn on Closed Captioning for your media.

Echo360 course requests for Summer 2021 are available in SPIRE. Just like Blackboard, each semester you will need to request Echo360 for the courses you want to use it in.

For step by step instructions, see Request Lecture Capture. Once your Echo360 courses are ready, it’s easy to give students access to Echo360 recordings through Blackboard.

Automatically copy your Zoom cloud recordings to Echo360

You can connect your Zoom and Echo360 accounts, and have all cloud recordings copied into Echo360. If you enable this, you can even have a recurring Zoom meeting publish directly to an Echo360 course. Unlike Zoom recordings, which are kept for 120 days, Echo360 does not have a storage limit on your recordings.

Blackboard Tip of the Month: Import Grades from Blackboard to SPIRE

Did you know you can import your grades directly from Blackboard into SPIRE? The grades will come over as they correspond to letter grades, and you can always make changes to grades in SPIRE before you submit them.

Planned Downtimes

There are no planned downtimes for Blackboard for April 2021.

You can check the status of Blackboard, Zoom, and other supported teaching technologies on the IT Services Status for Remote Teaching and Learning page.

Blackboard Help and Resources for Instructors

To learn more about Blackboard or to get help, you can: