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Transitioning to Blackboard Learn Ultra Courses


William & Mary will be transitioning from Blackboard's Original Courses to Ultra Courses. This view is a more modern and adaptable learning management design and will establish a more contemporary and student-friendly learning environment.

Full Description
What is Blackboard Ultra Courses?

Blackboard is an integral component of William & Mary's existing digital learning environment. At present, we are using Blackboard Original Courses. Beginning in Fall 2024 we will transition to Ultra CoursesUltra Courses offer a streamlined workflow, enhanced accessibility, and more convenient viewing across various devices. It features simplified navigation, a mobile-friendly experience, intuitive workflows, and data-driven learning analytics, making it easier for you to keep students engaged in their learning.  

Watch a brief overview of Ultra Courses

Current VersionClick to view largerBlackboard Ultra VersionClick to view larger
Why transition?

William & Mary is using Original Courses, which have not changed significantly since adoption in 1999. In 2018, we shifted to Ultra Base Navigation, which provided students with a modern entry point, granting access to the Activity Stream and Courses tab. As the next step in modernizing our learning management system, William & Mary will transition to Ultra Courses. This transition provides enhancements in course design and software updates.  

Highlights of the Ultra Courses  
table with collapsible drop-downs
Enhanced User Experience
Blackboard Ultra Courses have a streamlined design that is accessible across mobile devices. Instructors have access to drag and drop features for adding content within the course. Students have access to progress tracking when turned on by the instructor.  
Progress Tracking
Seamless Integration with Existing External Tools
Blackboard Ultra integrates with a variety of compliant tools that are currently in our system. Some of the tools include Panopto, Gradescope, Accessibility Report, Name Coach, Poll Everywhere, SafeAssign, and Zoom.  
Robust Analytics and Reporting

Blackboard Ultra Courses provide insights into student engagement and performance with robust reporting capabilities.

Blackboard analytics

Simplified Workflows
Blackboard Ultra Courses allow for easier course creation of content through drag-and-drop navigation, batch editing, and management of updates. Accommodations for students can be set at the roster level instead of for each assignment or test. Batch edits are available within the course content to make release conditions easier. 
Support for Faculty Adoption of Ultra Courses 

William & Mary Information Technology will provide resources for faculty leading up to the transition to Blackboard Ultra. Below are some of the ways we will support this transition. 

  • Spring Demo Days with Blackboard  
  • Optional and Editable Course templates 
  • Documentation on Teaching & Learning with Blackboard website, written instructions, and video tutorials 
  • Regularly scheduled workshops for moving to Ultra Courses 
  • Pedagogical assistance provided by the Studio for Teaching and Learning Innovation (STLI) 
list with dropdown
After the transition, what will happen to the Original Courses from previous semesters?   

Original Courses will be retained in accordance with William & Mary’s course retention policy. Instructors can access their Original Courses for copying course content into their new Ultra Courses format. 

Starting with the Fall 2024 semester, all new courses will be created in the Ultra Courses format. Instructors will have access to the Blackboard Course Generator to create courses in the Ultra Courses format for the Fall 2024 term. We strongly recommend that faculty build their Fall 2024 courses rather than converting old courses. New course creation in Ultra Courses is made easier through the new content copy workflow. 

What features are available in Ultra Courses?  

Blackboard launched Ultra Courses in 2018 with a very limited set of core features. Since that time, Blackboard has tripled the size of their development team, added many new features, and concentrated their efforts on improving the Ultra Courses format. For more information on navigating inside a Ultra Course, please visit the Blackboard website.  

Blackboard Ultra Courses features below are available as of November 2023.  

table with collapsible drop-downs
Original Course Feature Ultra Course Feature Availability Notes
Adaptive Release Release Conditions Available Items can be made available based on date and time, performance (such as a grade on another item), and by individual or group membership. For Learning Modules, Release Conditions can also enforce sequential viewing of materials.

Anonymous Grading
Anonymous Grading- Hide Student Names Available You must choose this option for each individual Assignment, Test and Discussion during creation. You cannot grade anonymously if scores are posted automatically.


Announcements Available Announcements are now located in the top navigation bar of Ultra Courses. Announcements appear in a pop-up box when students enter the course. You can send Announcements to students via email. New feature includes a video announcement icon in the text editor.


Assignments Available Assignments include advanced features like group submission, rubrics, audio/video feedback, inline annotation and more. Feature Loss: Group assignment submissions cannot be downloaded in bulk.  
Attendance  Attendance  Available Attendance is accessed in Ultra Courses through the Details and Actions menu.  
Banner Image  Course Image  Available Course banners can be uploaded from a file or selected from the royalty-free Unsplash library. The minimum size for the banner image is 1200 x 240 pixels. 
Blogs  TBD  In Research Not yet developed, but under consideration for Ultra Courses. Alternatives-Use Discussion Board or an external blogging platform.  
Calendar  Calendar  Available Calendar is located in the top navigation bar within Ultra Courses 
Content Collection  Content Collection  Available Content Collection can be accessed from the main entry point page under Tools. When adding content collection files in your Ultra Course, you would click on the plus symbol under Course Content.  
Content Editor  Content Editor  Available The content (text) editor in Ultra includes the ability to format text, add images, embed YouTube videos, and build equations. It does not include the ability to directly edit the HTML code which ensures the text is accessible and mobile-compatible. You can create HTML content blocks in a Document. 
Course Link  Course Link  Available

You can create course links on the Course Content page by clicking on the + icon and select Create from the menu. 

Feature Loss- you cannot link to discussions or link to a folder or learning module. You cannot add course links via the text editor, such as on an Ultra Document or in an Announcement (this is planned as future functionality).   

Course Menu  Discontinued

All content is listed on a single page in Ultra Courses, to make it easier for navigation. Course Tools are in Details and Actions and along the top of the page. Future releases will allow you to hide some elements not being used in the Details and Actions panel.  

Course Reports Student Activity Available with Limitations

Ultra Courses do not include the same course reports as the Original Courses. Student Activity reports summarize student activity on Assignments and Tests. To find time spent in a course and student grade distribution the Class Performance/Course Activity can be accessed. If you have enabled Progress Tracking, you can view student progress and get individualized reports on whether students have opened content.  

Date Management  Batch Edit  Available

Date Management has been replaced with the Batch Edit tool. You can delete multiple course items and set due dates and visibility.  

Delegated Grading  Delegated Grading  Available

Delegated Grading allows you to assign grading responsibilities to Instructors, Teaching Assistants, and Graders by group membership; assigned graders can only see student submissions in their assigned group. 

Discussions  Discussions  Available

Discussions within Ultra Courses can be created on the content page and added into a folder, learning module, or Discussion page (located at the top navigation bar). When grading is enabled, you will have a detailed Discussion Analysis feature. Discussions can require students to post before reviewing classmates' submissions 

Edit Mode  Discontinued

Not available in Ultra Courses. You are always in Edit Mode unless you are in student preview mode.  

Embed Media or Mashup  Embed Media  Available with Limitations

Images and web-based videos can be embedded within a Document (page).  

Feature Loss- Video can only be embedded from select sources, including YouTube and Vimeo. For other platforms, you will need to create a link to the media or paste embed into an HTML block in a Document. 

Files  Upload/Cloud Storage/Content Collection  Available

Clicking on the plus symbol and selecting Upload/ Cloud Storage (OneDrive) or Content Collection allows you to select files to add. In addition, files can be dragged and dropped into your course or the text editor.  

Folders  Folders  Available with Limitations

Gradebook is located in the top navigation bar of Ultra Courses. The default view is a list of graded items, but you can switch to a grid view that is similar to Original Courses.  
Feature Loss: The Needs Grading view is discontinued but can be viewed in the list view of the Gradebook. Feedback added via the work offline process is not visible to students. Assessment submissions cannot be viewed chronologically.  

GradeScope  GradeScope  Available

Can be added to the Ultra Courses through the Details and Actions panel by clicking on Books and Tools. 

Groups  Groups  Available

Groups are available in Ultra Courses at the top navigation bar. You can import groups and create custom sets and allow self-enrollment 

Item  Document Available

Document in Ultra Courses refers to a page that resembles a web page. Documents can include images, text, uploaded files, and HTML content. If you only need to add a file, use the upload feature instead.  

Item Analysis  Question Analysis  Available

Located in Ultra Courses in the top navigation bar under Analytics.  

Journal  Journal  Available

Journals can be found in Ultra Courses by using the plus symbol and selecting create. 

Learning Module  Learning Module  Available

Learning Modules in Ultra Courses are created by clicking the plus symbol and clicking create. You can add files, documents, assignments, tests, or discussions. You can force students to view the content in a Learning Module sequentially by selecting a Forced Sequence.   

Oscelot Photo Roster  Discountinued

Photos of students can be added individually by the student using the profile information on the main entry page in Blackboard by clicking on the student’s name and clicking on the edit icon over the image. Images will appear in the Roster and Grade Center.   

Panopto  Panopto  Available

Can be added to the Ultra Courses through the Details and Actions panel by clicking on Books and Tools. 

Performance Dashboard  Class Performance/Course Activity  Available with Limitations

You can view analytics in Ultra Courses within the Gradebook and on the Analytics tab in the top navigation bar.  

PollEverywhere  PollEverywhere  Available

Can be added to the Ultra Courses through the Details and Actions panel by clicking on Books and Tools. 

Publisher Integrations  Content Market  Available

Only approved publisher integrations that have been through a security review from IT are available within Blackboard. You should contact your publisher representative for more information about integrating with Ultra Courses 

Retention Center  Discontinued

Alternatives can be found in Ultra Courses under the Class Performance/Course Activity area.  

Roster   Roster   Available

Roster is available under Details and Actions in Ultra CoursesYou can turn the Roster on or off for students to view.  

Rubrics  Rubrics  Available

Rubrics are available for all assessment types in Ultra Courses. Additional capabilities are planned.

Feature Loss- Rubrics are limited to a maximum of fifteen rows and columns. You can’t download a summary rubric report from an item in the Gradebook.  

SafeAssign  SafeAssign  Available SafeAssign is available for Assignments and Essay questions on Tests. You can do a Direct Submit via the Books & Tools area in the Action panel in Ultra Courses 
SCORM SCORM Available SCORM packages can be added to Ultra Courses through the plus symbol and clicking on create and select SCORM package.  
Self and Peer Assessment  Peer Review  Available with Limitation

Peer Review can be selected when creating Assignments in the settings.  

Feature Loss- Currently only allows qualitative feedback and does not include self-assessment. Additional capabilities are planned.  

Send Email Messages  Available

In Ultra Courses the Messages tool allows you to communicate with students via email. Messages retain a copy of the conversation within Blackboard and include the option to send the contents to the student via email. Messages can be seen on the main Blackboard page under Messages and within the Ultra Courses in the top navigation barYou will see a red circle on the Messages area when new ones are posted from students. In addition, when in the Gradebook under the students name you can click on the three dots to send messages.  

Student Preview  Student Preview  Available

Located at the top navigation bar in the far-right corner.  

Survey  TBD  Available

 Planned for future Ultra Courses. Some external alternatives include Microsoft Forms or Qualtrics.  

Tasks  Discontinued

Not available in Ultra Courses and not planned. 

Test and Pools  Test and Question Banks  Available with Limitations

Tests in Ultra Courses can be added by clicking on the plus icon and selecting create.  Tests can include Calculated Formula, Essay, Fill-in-the-Blank, Hot Spot, Matching, Multiple Choice, and True/False.  

Feature Loss- Some question types are not available such as Either/Or and File Response. Tests cannot be printed for students to take offline, but a solution is planned for future release.  

Wiki  Discontinued

Not Available in Ultra Courses and not planned.  

Alternatives- Use Microsoft OneDrive for collaboration and editing or try Microsoft OneNote for a shared space.  

Zoom  Zoom  Available

Can be added to the Ultra Courses through the Details and Actions panel by clicking on Books and Tools. 

How can I try out Ultra Courses

In Spring 2024, IT will update the Blackboard Course Generator to allow for the creation of Non-Academic Ultra Courses.  We strongly encourage all faculty to create a Non-Academic Ultra Course as a place to test and learn the new Ultra platform and to build a test of their courses from a blank template.  Within the blank template, you will be able to copy course materials from your previous Blackboard courses to assist with course creation. 

If you are interested in running your Spring 2024 courses in Ultra Courses as an early adopter, please fill out this form.  

Why was Blackboard selected and not a new LMS solution? 

Although migrating to a new Learning Management System is appealing, the costs (both financial and the impact) of such a migration exceed the potential benefits.  The following points highlight some of the rationale to upgrade to Blackboard Ultra Courses. 

  • External 3rd party consultants' recommendation to stay with Blackboard and upgrade to Ultra Courses 
  • Upgrading to Ultra Courses involves less change and saves faculty time compared to switching to a new LMS  
  • Additional cost associated with switching LMS platforms and having to run two LMS systems during the transition period
  • Institutional knowledge of Blackboard products throughout the university remains 
What happens to courses that are part of the Everspring Online Course programs and   

Courses that are being taught as part of Everspring Online Courses in Canvas and using D2L will not be impacted. This change only impacts academic courses taught in Blackboard.   

What will happen to my Non-Academic Courses in Blackboard? 

Starting in Spring 2024, all new Non-Academic Courses (with an ‘NA’ designation) other than “Faculty Eminent Professorship” and “Dossier” courses will be created in the new Ultra Courses format.  Existing Non-Academic Courses will remain in their current Original Courses format.  Non-Academic Courses that might benefit from Ultra Courses will be updated at a later date with IT communicating with those course owners on an individual basis.  


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