Product enhancements : Notifications

Blog Post created by yoleneors on Mar 7, 2016

Here is a recap of the product ideas submitted on "Community"  related to Notifications. After using Blackboard for a bit less than a year, with Faculty from 5 campuses in Europe and about 8 000 students from different levels, some aspects of the notification system standed out as unpractical or improvable. Here is what I've identified, thanks to close work with users and my own experience in product management. This list is kind of ordered : at the top : changes which seem possible without huge development/re-design work and which would have impact.


Set default notification at the System level which are different for different types of roles in a course (courses I'm teaching vs courses I'm taking at the System default level)

Description :

     Currently : At the Admin level, you can set default notification options (System Admin > Courses > Course settings > Default notification settings), which is a great starting point. Then users get to set their personal notification preferences, either course per course, or on one hand for "all courses I teach" and on the other hand "all courses I take" (and they can then even fine tune at the individual course level afterwards). Unfortunately, the default system level notification settings don't let the Admin differenciate between Instructor's notifications and Student's notifications.

    The issue : Most users, although instructed to do so, don't actually pesonalize their notification settings, then they complain they don't like what they get and they stop reading the notifications all together. At the System level, it's hard to find a setting which is relevant for both Professors and Students. Ex: we want notifications for new content item added, so that students know they should visit their course and check it out ; if we don't set this type of notification by default then Professors will spam students making an announcement sent by email saying "hey there's a new document in the course". But of course professors don't want to be notified there's a new content item, they don't need to, they're the ones who added it. Actually there are many things Professors don't want to be notified about but they want students to be notified . And I guess that's why the BB team developped the "courses I'm taking" vs. "courses I'm teaching" approach, but it's crucially missing at the default system level.

     Preferably : At System Admin > Courses > Course settings > Default notification settings have different settings for "Users with Student or student-like role" and "Users with Instructor or Instructor-like role". Even better would be to have a 3rd category "Users with other roles" (which would enable to define Course  roles not as copy of "Student" or "Instructor", for parents, or client's project manager, etc ... for which we could set different notifications, possibly less exhaustive (this also has been asked for by our corporate programmes client managers)

Why does it matter ? What's the impact ? Default settings are crucial on many aspects to foster adoption of the platform. It's already a tough call to find a compromise that would suit most ; but not being able to set something relevant for at least the two main user personas (student / instructor) makes it even harder and often dooms the feature for users, even though they're explained they can set their very own preference. (we put it in messages, in their homepage with a shortcut, etc ...)

Comment, agree, disagree, develop : [NOTIFICATIONS] Set defaults at the System level for different course roles (courses I'm teaching vs courses I'm taking at the System default level)


Notification settings : Enable to "boost" some events/items  out of the daily digest into an individual email

Description :

     Currently : The user can choose between different types of notifications for each event : email, dashboard, mobile. In my experience, most of them tend to really manage their course activity using "email". For email they can decide if they want individual emails or a daily digest.

    The issue : As soon as a Professor wants to really manage his course as much "real time" as possible in order to be reactive, which is typically crucial in a blended learning approach, they need to we notified or some things "in the flow" and some others less immediately. For example : they may want to have everything in a daily digest, except for "course messages" and "needs grading" : this would be individual emails so they can answer faster, and it's visible to them a a priority task (as opposed to checking in the daily digest what's information and what's priority tasks).

     Preferably : In the notifications settings page, there would be 2 columns for emails instead of 1 : "individual email" and "daily digest", and no need to choose between both options at a higher level : if you want daily digest you just tick boxes in this column.

Why does it matter ? What's the impact ?  Being able to differenciate between priority task and information is important and depends on how each professor manages his course, but typically if we want to tell students course messages should replace emails, for example, then we should be able to set "course messages" notified as individual emails so that it's as convienient as email (except it goes through the platform and thus has context info). The best Professors are managing their course very attentively and quickly identified this need as a feature request.

Comment, agree, disagree, develop : [NOTIFICATIONS] User settings : Enable to "boost" some events/items  out of the daily digest into an individual email


When adding content : be able to NOT notify about it (notification collection blacklist)

Description :

     Currently : If you have notifications set to warn students when there is new content posted (which is what most Professors want) then any time you add content , and if this content is visibile/available for students then it's collected in the notification list and sent out (individual mail or daily digest or dashboard or mobile)

    The issue : It's quite common for Professors to work on their course, add documents or a new way to show a document which was already there (ex: it was a File, but they decide it's better as a Item so he creates an Item and deletes the File ), or put documents which are bonus but not crucial, etc ... then the Professor is unhappy with the facts that students get notified and confused about what's going on in their course (whereas their goal in reorganizing/re-designing was to make it clearer)

     Preferably : It would be great when you add a content item (or even any type of content in a course content zone) to be able to tick a box to exclude from the notifications collection.

Why does it matter ? What's the impact ?  It avoid having students feeling spammed when a Professor is reworking on the course. It avoid detering Professors from improving their course design.

Comment, agree, disagree, develop : [NOTIFICATIONS] When adding content : be able to NOT notify about it (notification collection blacklist)