Mariann Hawken

Planning an Ultra Migration

Blog Post created by Mariann Hawken on Apr 12, 2018

My campus started planning its Ultra migration more than a year ago, even before we moved to SaaS. Most of these plans were internal discussions to determine if/when we were ready for Ultra. We recognized that SaaS was a critical component of the transition so last summer, we made the switch. This pre-requisite step put us in position for Ultra -- when we were ready.


After we migrated to SaaS, we began to scaffold our Ultra migration plan, which consisted of several key steps:


1. Coordinating an Ultra pilot with 3-5 faculty

At Bb World 2017, I had an opportunity to chat with Misty Cobb about the Blackboard Ultra Partnership Program, which offers several tiers within this program to support an institutional pilot of the Ultra Experience. We knew we wanted a measured approach and Misty was a great help in identifying the best solution for our campus and timeframe. We opted for the spring and recruited four faculty from our Blackboard advisory group.


2. Identifying feature parity including tools we feel are dealbreakers for adopting Ultra

We look at both high level tools and granular workflows, classifying some as dealbreakers if not in Ultra. For example, we knew a test engine was essential, and Ultra had it. However, Ultra did yet not have all question types currently in the original course view.  we needed to get a sense of which question types would be a barrier to adoption if they were not available to our faculty. We don't have many faculty using Quiz Bowl or Hot Spot, but we would want to see matching and ordering at some point. Were these dealbreakers? I suppose it depended on who you talked to and how dependent the course and pedagogy was on those question formats.


3. Preparing for training, support, and outreach for the overall migration

As easy as it is to use, Ultra can be a bit of a shock when you first log in and we'd like to make sure our late adopters and laggards do not abandon or reject Bb outright because of perceived barriers. The TSO plan covers extensive details for training solutions, types of support, and overall engagement. We looked at traditional workshops, lunch & learn sessions, boot camps, licensed materials, hybrid and online, and multi-day options. For support, we knew our extensive FAQ collection would need to be updated so rather than rewrite everything, we would focus on institutional customizations and workflows and reference Blackboard's help site to identify resources and videos. Outreach, marketing, and communication are, by far, the biggest component of our plan since we want to make sure everyone -- especially faculty -- is prepared for the change.


4. Hosting roadmap sessions and demos to engage the campus community and shared governance

Our version of the roadmap focuses more on the timeline and benefits, with a review of basic workflows, and less on what tools are in development. Although much of the content is essentially the same, we prepared three versions for different stakeholder groups -- students, faculty, and managers -- to hone in on specific messages.


5. Sharing a timeline

Including our pilot, we're allowing about 18 months to transition to Ultra. Not only does this give plenty of time to our faculty to explore the new interface and adapt their courses, but it also builds in the necessary development padding for tools and features to be released. We opted not to go-live in the middle of an academic year, which would require more aggressive outreach to make sure everyone was aware of the change and mostly prepared for the interface by the start of summer.


Our initial timeline is currently:

  • SP2018 - Ultra pilot / roadmaps & demos for end users
  • SU2018 - Enable Ultra base navigation on production / sandbox access for early adopters
  • FA2018 - Training & outreach / sandbox access / course redesign
  • WT2019 - Ultra boot camp / Ultra course redesign workshop
  • SP2019 - Training & outreach / course redesign
  • SU2019 - Soft launch / Ultra boot camp / Ultra course redesign workshop / course redesign
  • FA2019 - Official go-live / courses are created by default with UX


Now, this timeline may evolve based on feedback from our pilot participants (both faculty and students) and the ongoing feature parity list, but the overall distribution and pacing seem like it will work well. As we approach the end of the spring semester, and collecting that feedback, it's time to assess where we are.


Since Ultra is so new and different, but still Blackboard, expectations will be high... this migration plan was designed to  think through potential challenges and barriers to adoption, identify early adopters and champions, allow plenty of time for users to explore and redesign, and engage the campus community and Bb developers.