University Of Bristol Blackboard
Blackboard is the University of Bristol’s centrally-supported online learning environment. It has a range of tools for communication, collaboration, assessment, feedback, reflection and content management, as well as providing an online space for activities to support student learning. Blackboard is an example of a virtual learning environment, or VLE:
“…a ‘Virtual Learning Environment’ (VLE) [is] designed to act as a focus for students’ learning activities and their management and facilitation, along with the provision of content and resources required to help make the activities successful.” 
In recent years, the University has invested in additional elements of Blackboard, including the Mobile Learn app, the Content System, the Community System and assignment receipts for online submssions. Additional tools including Mediasite (lecture capture), Turnitin (plagiarism detection) and the library reading list tool (TALIS) integrate with Blackboard. The Community system allows spaces for social or non-teaching activities, which are called organisations.
The vast majority of taught units use automatically created sites in Blackboard, on which registered students are automatically enrolled. There are a small number of exceptions, for example where teaching resources are organised by year rather than unit. In these cases manually created sites are used.
Each Summer, Blackboard is upgraded in order to add new features, enhance existing functionality, and fix bugs and issues.
Why use it?
- To provide students with improved access to course activities and materials – Blackboard courses, organisations, and materials can be accessed at any time of the day, from any location that is web-enabled.
- To enhance opportunities for student-to-student and student-to-faculty communication.
- To enable student-centred teaching approaches, eg by allowing the provision of learning materials in a range of media that support different learning preferences.
- To reduce time spent on administrative support for learning, for example through re-use of key administrative materials like forms or handbooks.
“The benefits [of using Blackboard] are independence of location, one point of access, peer and tutor communication, self-paced learning, and informed learning…” 
Many of the examples of best practice in technology-enhanced learning on this web site use the suite of tools available in Blackboard, eg:
- Flipping lectures – increasing effectiveness and value of face-to-face time, using Blackboard learning modules to create content
- Using wikis for group projects in Dentistry, scaffolding and structuring collaborative report writing in Dentistry using wikis
- Self and peer assessment in Medical and Veterinary Sciences
- e-Submission and e-marking
- Blackboard is used to support distance learning – the Masters-level translation course is one excellent example of how a well-designed course can positively impact on the student learning experience – see this coverage from the Bristol Evening Post (PDF, 162kB)
- Content system for group projects in Aerospace
- More effective management of administrative documents using the Content System
What support is available?
- The Help tab in Blackboard has a range of support materials, including FAQs and guides.
- Join our Blackboard Help organisation, which contains examples of the use of Blackboard.
- To do this, log in to Blackboard, and click on the Courses tab at the top
- In the Organisations search box type “help” and click Go
- You should then see an Organisation with the ID “help_Blackboard”
- Hover your mouse over this ID until you see an arrow appear, then click on this arrow and select ‘Enrol’, followed by ‘Submit’ and ‘OK’.
- Request a Blackboard test course (email firstname.lastname@example.org) and then use it to practice editing, following the instructions in our staff guide.
- Our blog contains useful information for both students and staff, including service announcements. The blog allows you to sign up to receive email summaries of new posts.
- We offer Blackboard workshops, that can be modified or amended to align with discipline or practice requirements. If there is not a workshop scheduled, please contact us and we will try to arrange something for you.
- Email our helpdesk: email@example.com.
- Follow us on Twitter: @BristolDigiEd
Further information and useful links
- Content System
- Community System
- Blackboard Policies
- Essential Service Announcements – from the Blackboard Blog
-  Styles, 2000, Effective Learning and the Virtual Learning Environment, http://www.staffs.ac.uk/COSE/cose10/posnan.html, accessed 15/06/2015.
-  Feedback from a University of Bristol Masters student, October 2010.