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New ITaP Web page helps guide faculty considering Blackboard add-ons

As textbook publishers continue to expand their digital offerings, instructors are increasingly faced with the decision of whether to request that a third-party resource be implemented for their Blackboard Learn course.  

Blackboard extensions, also known as “building blocks,” allow tools from outside vendors to function within the Blackboard Learn environment and give students a one-stop shop to access online course materials. To help faculty leverage third-party extensions and add-ons not currently installed in Purdue’s Blackboard environment, ITaP has created a Web page outlining factors to consider before submitting a request for adoption.

“Third-party resources can be useful tools to enhance online course content, but there are several factors faculty should consider before adoption, such as how easy the add-on software is to use, whether the software poses security concerns, and who is responsible for technical support,” says Donalee Attardo, director of ITaP’s Instructional Development Center. “The guidelines on this new Web page can assist faculty and ITaP staff in identifying potential integration problems before an add-on is used in a course, helping to ensure a positive experience during the academic year.”

Most building blocks synchronize student data between vendor servers and Purdue’s Blackboard environment. Because sensitive information is involved, ITaP must work with vendors to ensure end-user agreements, security issues and support responsibilities comply with University policy. Thorough testing of newly requested add-ons is also necessary to confirm full Blackboard integration and functionality of the tool or service.

“Before we decide whether to install, testing must be done to ensure the add-on is secure, works as advertised and doesn’t cause system problems for other Blackboard users,” Attardo says.

Faculty members who would like to implement a new building block or add-on are asked to submit an online request form, which requires the following information:

  • The name of the tool or service
  • The purpose of the tool or service and how it will enhance teaching and learning
  • Course(s) and instructor(s) that will use this tool or service and approximate number of students in the course(s)
  • The vendor name and website
  • The contact information of a vendor representative
  • Cost (if known)
  • The date and semester of proposed implementation

To allow adequate time to test the outside software, it is recommended request forms be submitted a semester in advance of planned implementation.

“Vendors oftentimes claim ‘seamless integration’ between add-on applications and an institution’s Blackboard environment, but past experience has shown that technical issues must be worked out before the product works as designed,” Attardo says.

A list of building blocks and vendor integrations currently installed in Purdue’s Blackboard environment is available at this URL: http://www.itap.purdue.edu/learning/tools/blackboard/buildingblocks.html.

For more information on third-party add-ons or for support on this topic, contact ITaP’s teaching and learning group at tlt-consulting@purdue.edu.

Writer: Jonathan Hines, technology writer, ITaP, 765-496-7998, hines18@purdue.edu

Sources: Suzanne Ahlersmeyer, instructional designer, ITaP, 765-496-7403, smahlers@purdue.edu

Donalee Attardo, Instructional Development Center director, ITaP, 765-494-2696, dattardo@purdue.edu

Last updated: Dec. 3, 2013