Accessing Learning Materials in the Current VLE

Rationale for the Managed Transition Approach

The managed transition approach is driven primarily by putting the learning experience of students at the heart of module design and the learning experience.

This article covers how best to access your existing learning materials so you can use them in creating your Blackboard Ultra module. Before reading this article, we strongly recommend you review our best practice guide for creating effective learning materials in Blackboard Ultra.

Driven by the need to make best use of the features and functionalities that Blackboard Ultra offers us, we can’t create a method for colleagues to copy their modules and their learning materials wholesale from our current Blackboard to Blackboard Ultra

There are two principal reasons for this:

  • A Step Change in VLE Usage by Teesside University

    A principal aim of the VLE Implementation Strategic Project is to enable a step change in VLE usage by the institution, with a focus on the VLE becoming an extension of a campus learning experience and environment to enable an outstanding digital learning experience.

    The absence of a “copy what happened last year” option, is a powerful intervention point which allows colleagues to reassess and renew their digital learning materials in light of new infrastructures and functionalities. It enables changes to the ways in which the VLE will be utilised and in affording enhancement to staff knowledge around the understanding and appreciation for the change drawing upon sound pedagogic rationale, drawing on the Blackboard Ultra CPD and self-study materials associated with the CPD.

  • A Different Design Methodology in Blackboard Ultra

    Our current Blackboard and Blackboard Ultra have quite different design methodologies. Current Blackboard has a very traditional “filing cabinet” hierarchical design, i.e. folders which you click “into”, each of which contain a collection of content items. Whilst Blackboard Ultra still has a “folder” concept, content is presented much more as a linear stream of material. This design could be seen as being influenced by popular sites such as twitter or facebook, but either way this is the direction in which all commercial VLE designs are moving.

    Additionally, Blackboard Ultra is designed as an interface which can move seamlessly between traditional monitor and small screen devices such as tablets and mobiles.

    The consequence of these factors is that any attempt to automatically copy content into Blackboard Ultra ends up with content which looks “confused” and is difficult for students to navigate. More importantly, it would take staff significant time to understand and rearrange into an appropriate layout.

Types of Blackboard Content

There are broadly four types of Blackboard learning materials that you may want to transition to Blackboard Ultra.

  • Native content (i.e. material typed into a text box editor, and appearing “on the web page” rather than downloadable as a file)
  • Files (i.e. Word documents, spreadsheets, images etc)
  • Tests, including sets of multiple choice or short answer questions
  • Video material (i.e. content hosted on ReView)

There are of course, other features such as assignments (both standard and Turnitin), or discussion boards which continue to be supported. However, as a rule, these are the kinds of content that would be created from scratch every year.

We recommend colleagues use the following methods to access this content from their old modules (and then re-create them in Blackboard Ultra using the skills acquired in the CPD training and refering to the best practice guide).

  • Native Content

    We looked at a number of options for transferring native content. However, we’ve come to the conclusion that the simplest answer is also the best one. We recommend colleagues simply cut and paste native content from their existing module into their new Blackboard Ultra space.

    Blackboard Ultra has a number of automatic filters which will make sure cut and pasted content will format correctly in the new VLE (although it’s not guaranteed in all situations, and very complex content may need to be “tidied up” by the module leader).

  • Files

    We will be making the files from each module available to module leaders and tutors on a shared network drive, along the same lines as the well known “S” drive. In August, every member of staff received a personalised email telling them where they can find their existing Blackboard files.

    Certainly, there is much content which can only be presented in file format (for example, a spreadsheet). However, presenting content to students as part of web page is always a much more accessible experience than asking them to download a file.

    There are lots of (say) Word documents in Blackboard which could be much better presented to students by cut and pasting the content directly into a text box editor within the VLE, rather than asking them to download a Word or PDF document. We strongly recommend colleagues consider the option for doing this when they recreate their modules in Blackboard Ultra.

  • Tests

    Multiple choice Tests (for example) will often have taken colleagues considerable time to create. It is possible to download Tests from our current Blackboard and import them into Blackboard Ultra, vastly simplifying the re-creation process.

    We have produced a guide explaining this in more detail.

  • Video Material

    All video content must now be uploaded to ReView, rather than into Blackboard.

    This will dramatically improve the viewing experience for students. As a specialist video streaming solution, ReView will automatically compensate for students viewing on small screen devices, or on slow or intermittent network connections.

    We also strongly advise against the use of “narrated PowerPoints” in Blackboard. For students on small screen devices or slow network connections, these provide a particularly poor experience. Fortunately, ReView supports a concept very similar to “narrated PowerPoints”, and we recommend using this alternative. More information is available by contacting

    We have produced a guide detailing how videos can be copied from your old Blackboard modules into Blackboard Ultra.

What else do I need to do?

Every current Blackboard module contains key items of information for students, and this will continue to be the case in Blackboard Ultra. As now, module leaders are asked to populate their module with:

  • The module guide
  • Contact information for module leaders and tutors
  • Regular announcements keeping students up to date with module activities

In addition, module leaders are asked to populate their module with a link to:

  • The module Reading List
  • The module (or perhaps, course) Lib Guide

We aim to automate these last two features (in a similar way to now) during the course of the academic year.