BbWorld: Product Development on Grade Center and Vista

I exchanged business cards with Blackboard’s Warren Tanabe and JoAnna Hall after joining with others in an Exhibit Hall meeting room (horrible terrible venu, what were they thinking?)…

We compared the Blackboard Academic Suite 8’s new and shiney GradeCenter with what changes these would make in the Vista users’ experience, a necessary task because Vista/CE 8 still has the old GradeBook, but the NG 9’s GradeCenter will be based on the GradeCenter now living in Blackboard Academic Suite version 8.

This is what I learned:

  • There are 2 Add a Column buttons, one for non-calculated Grade Columns and one for the kinds of columns an Instructor would add if they were adding an external assignment grade or if they take attendance and so forth.
  • The Add A Calculated column takes the place of Vista’s kludgey Calculated Expression column. After seeing this, I breathed a sigh of relief. It is soooo simple, and yet powerful too, including the ability to add a running total so that students can see their standing in the class.
  • PowerLink technology, including the one used by SunGard’s Grade Adapter, will be replaced in the NG 9 product. New API’s and new webservices based on the Bb Academic Suite “BuildingBlock” technology is the replacement. Since SunGard has never built a grade adapter BuildingBlock for the Bb Academic Suite product, we realize they’ll be building from scratch.
  • Blackboard SunGard conversations are still in progress relative to their partnership on this new product and its new integration.
  • As a User Community, if we want to influence the user experience for a grade exchange integration, communicating with Blackboard (Warren and JoAnna are a good start) about its importance and about what requirements we have for various features is a must.

Features important to Notre Dame:

  • Immediate feedback from Banner concerning whether grades were accepted. The current screen refresh method is less than ideal.
  • A user interface with a minimum of clicks and a maximum of information.
  • Language which is understood by Instructors (the new Language Pack Editor hopefully would allow us to customize whether Banner is called “SIS” or “Banner” or something else.
  • Ease of upload/download of grades in the spreadsheet in a variety of formats without the need for the Instructor to choose their spreadsheet app’s “Save As” function.