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Last week, the Blackboard Analytics Symposium brought together nearly 450 Blackboard clients from all over the world, both in person and via the live stream, to share emerging and high impact practices involving the use of analytics to drive teaching, learning, student success, and institutional performance. A client-focused event, we also used the symposium as an opportunity to share some exciting news:

  1. Blackboard is committed to a product strategy that leverages our extensive data science capability to solve core challenges facing global higher education in the 21st century
  2. Researchers at Blackboard announced the development of a readiness assessment for predictive modelling using LMS data
  3. We announced our increased commitment to Blackboard Intelligence, through the launch of the Innovative Partnership Program
  4. Based on research and feedback from instructors about how we can best help them with grading, we are planning to release discussion board analytics in Q2 2018.

Commitment to analytics as central to the Blackboard Vision

Opening remarks at the Blackboard Analytics Symposium were delivered by Blackboard Chairman, CEO, and President Bill Ballhaus.  He used this opportunity to lay out a new strategic product vision.Today, an LMS is simply not enough to solve your most critical challenges.  As we look to the future, we are focused on the development of a comprehensive, digital learning environment focused on helping institutions to solve their core challenges. Instead of building products separately and integrating them into an LMS, we are taking a much more holistic approach helping institutions solve challenges related to educator empowerment, educational integrity, accessibility, student retention, and student success. Through providing educational insight, we are driven to help improve learner engagement and drive academic effectiveness.

Predictive model readiness assessment

There are huge advantages to building a predictive model of student risk that only uses LMS data.  In addition to being quicker to implement, it is beneficial from a teaching, learning, and ethical perspective because it relies on behavioral factors that can be changed instead of demographic and dispositional features that cannot.  In some contexts, we have been able to build models for X-Ray Learning Analytics that are over 90% accurate.  But in other contexts, accuracy has been so low that we have recommended against implementing a predictive model.At the Blackboard Analytics Symposium, John Whitmer discussed new research that has led to the development of a readiness assessment for predictive analytics using LMS data.  What is incredibly exciting about the approach that we have taken is that it is not specific to any one LMS, and we have tried to document our process in a way that would encourage its use across the industry.  Even more exciting, however, is our finding that the patterns of LMS use that must be present in order to build a predictive model are also high impact instructional practices.  What this means, is that in readying itself for predictive analytics, an institution must adopt practices that, in themselves, will help have a measurable impact on student engagement academic performance.

Introducing the Innovative Partnership Program for Blackboard Intelligence

Last year, we released the National Clearinghouse Data Extension for the Student Management module of Blackboard Intelligence.  A feature that was widely requested by our customers, we worked closely with two client partners to develop and implement it before making it a part of our core product in July 2017.Following the success of this approach, and as a way of demonstrating our long-term commitment to our market-leading ERP data warehousing products for Student Management, Finance, HR, and Advancement, we have launched the Innovative Partnership Program for Blackboard Intelligence. The program invites existing Blackboard Intelligence customers to submit ideas for enhancements and features that they would like us to develop with them and make available to the broader Blackboard Intelligence community upon completion.  Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis, with the first round of partnerships to be announced on March 15, 2018.

Analytics for discussion grading in Blackboard Learn

Considering research findings and feedback from instructors, we’re revising our product strategy around discussion board grading.A central theme from main stage at the Blackboard Analytics Symposium was the importance of experimentation and the value of client feedback.  VP for Teaching and Learning at Blackboard, Phill Miller, used a recent high-profile example to illustrate the point.  We recently embarked on a project to automate discussion board grading and found that the way that discussion boards are graded today makes it impossible to responsibly do so. As a consequence, we are developing tools to help instructors to grade better.Discussion forums have huge benefits for students. If well-run, they increase engagement, self-reflection, and critical thinking.  And yet, especially in large classes, many faculty do not make use of them.  We have been told that a significant reason for this is that they lack a method for grading that is both efficient and pedagogically sound.  We asked ourselves whether it might be possible for us to provide suggested grades to faculty in a way that would relieve the grading burden so that more instructors would include discussion forums as a pedagogically robust part of their overall teaching and learning practice.Results were promising when we conducted a preliminary analysis using Moodle data.  But when we scaled our approach to include data from Blackboard Learn we discovered two things:


  • only 0.2% of instructors who use discussion forums actually grade them, and
  • when grades are assigned, they are poorly distributed.


The most common grade is 100%, suggesting that in most cases discussion boards are merely used to assign a participation score.  Even when we applied techniques to stretch out the distribution, the model we developed did not produce results that were consistent with actual grading.

We came out of this process with a better understanding of the problem. Consequently, we do not plan to release an automated grading feature in Blackboard Learn. Instead, on the roadmap for Q2 2018 are discussion board analytics that empower educators to grade discussion boards in a way that promotes their pedagogical benefits to the fullest.  In providing educators with information like post counts, word counts, lexical complexity scores, and a critical thinking coefficient, this is just one of many examples of how we are surfacing educational insights to drive academic effectiveness and learner engagement at scale.


Originally published to

Please note, any statements regarding our product development initiatives, including new products and future product upgrades, updates or enhancements represent our current intentions, but may be modified, delayed or abandoned without prior notice and there is no assurance that such offering, upgrades, updates or functionality will become available unless and until they have been made generally available to our customers.

At Blackboard, we want to make educational data science accessible to those who are in a position to put its results into practice. It is therefore with great excitement that we announce the latest release of Analytics for Learn (A4L).  With the addition of rubric support on the one hand, and more granular tool detail on the other, A4L has become more than an industry-leading LMS reporting environment. With the ability to correlate specific tool use to well-defined learning outcomes, A4L has become the first true learning analytics workbench for higher education.



Congratulations to our customers, who are making headlines this week as they work to use data in support of their students.



Georgia State University

State Farm is providing $20 million to bring this partnership to life. With $14.5 million in support, Georgia State’s Learning, Income and Family Transformation (LIFT) program will bring the university’s pioneering data analytics work to students enrolled in two-year degree programs at the university’s Decatur campus. The remaining $5.5 million will go to non-profits and local schools to provide additional services to help students succeed. This puts the focus for the first time on students at the entry point of their college careers. READ MORE >>

Fort Lewis College

As Fort Lewis College anticipates an enrollment decrease again next year, staff and faculty are intensifying recruiting efforts to turn the slide around. READ MORE >>


Fort Lewis College has looked at the numbers in higher education and come to a conclusion: emphasizing its science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines should be the engine that brings in more students. READ MORE >>

Grand Rapids Community College

Students who enroll in developmental courses through the Academic Foundations Program at Grand Rapids Community College are trending up with higher rates of success in 2016. READ MORE >>

California State University - East Bay According to Linda Dobb, associate provost, Cal State East Bay's goal is for students to have access to the courses, services and support they need to graduate, with an overall goal of improving the four-year graduation rate from 10 percent to 35 percent, and the six-year rate from 45 percent to 62 percent. For transfer students, the goal is to increase the two-year graduation rate from 37 percent to 49 percent, and the four-year rate from 73 percent to 83 percent. READ MORE >>

The Blackboard Analytics Community site is an important resource exclusively for current Blackboard Analytics customers.  This site features announcements, information about upcoming events, and links to helpful content curated by the product management team for Blackboard Analytics. The most exciting set of features of the community website allow customers to interact with their peers, ask technical questions, get feedback on implementation issues, engage in discussions about a variety of topics related to implementation, adoption, customization, data science, and more.  The site also serves as the primary vehicle for submitting ideas and feature requests.


Feature Overview


discussion.jpg1. Start a Discussion

Have you discovered an interesting piece of content that has helped you to increase the impact of your analytics-related efforts?  Do you have news to share about your campus that you would like the community to know about?  Would you like to praise someone within the community that you think is doing excellent work?  Post a comment here!  Think about a discussion like a Facebook post.  Each discussion allows for threaded comments and replies, in addition to images, multimedia embedding and yes even emoticons!


By checking the “Mark this discussion as a question” box, you can flag your post as a question so that community members see it immediately when they log in and are more likely to respond.  You can also ask a questions directly from the front-page of the community site.  Make sure you tag your post to make your post easier to find, and categorize it so we can develop a strong archive of community-generated help content.


idea.jpg2. Share an Idea

Is there a feature that you wish was on our product roadmap?  Submit it here!


This is now the primary vehicle for the Blackboard Analytics product team to track feature requests.  Watch your ideas move from review through to fruition.


Up-vote good ideas and inform our development priorities.


help.jpg3. Get Help

A direct link to available resources available through  This is a new public-facing resource.  Check back regularly for help material for administrators, instructors, and students alike


Other Features

New community features will be added regularly in response to user feedback and in order to optimize the community experience.  Stay tuned!


Tips & Tricks

  1. Bookmark we are ‘piggy-backing’ as a private group on the larger Blackboard Community website, it is very easy to navigate away from the Blackboard Analytics Community group and ‘get lost.’  We are working with the community site to optimize navigation, but in the meantime, we understand this as a ‘known issue,’ and encourage you to create your own ‘home button’ as a link on your toolbar.


Within the analytics group at Blackboard, our mission is to help institutions of higher education to extract value from data. It is easy to think that this is all about products. It’s not.

We hobble ourselves if we think about ‘extracting value from data’ only in terms of product. As a vendor, if we limit our thinking to the things we make and sell, then we actually undermine our ability to fulfill our core mission. Analytics take place at the intersection of information and human wisdom. If we ignore the human side of analytics, the side that makes information meaningful and puts it into action, then we are not engaged in analytics at all. If we develop the most amazing and ‘delightful’ algorithms and visualizations, but ignore problems like technology adoption and data literacy, then we fail before we begin.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the first annual Blackboard Analytics Symposium. In so far as it is for existing Blackboard Analytics customers only, it is a user conference. Too often, however, user conferences are not about users at all. They are product conferences. Where the Blackboard Analytics Symposium is unique is that it is born out a recognition that supporting community is as important as the products we create. If we are truly motivated by a desire to help people to extract value from data, then working with customers to ensure that they are effective in the adoption and use of our products is as important as the products themselves.