Executive Listening Session – Additional and follow-up questions

Discussion created by sherynanthes on Jul 27, 2018
Latest reply on Jul 30, 2018 by tp36301

For those that attended the Executive Listening Session at BbWorld, thank you for attending and for asking so many great questions both in advance and during the session itself. While we were able to answer your most significant and frequently asked questions, there were a number of specific questions we did not get to in the time allotted. As promised, we wanted to make sure that we followed up with answers to those questions. 


  1. Has there been any discussion on rebranding parts of Ultra? Some naming conversions could help clarify, especially for users.


We’re always working on ways to help institutions (and their faculty and students) understand the components and steps involved in the transition to the Ultra Experience. We may look to rebrand down the road when a majority of institutions are using the Ultra Course, but we don’t want to rebrand/rename anything right now to add another layer of change management for schools. People have leveraged parts of this blog to help communicate with their users. We’re open to your feedback on additional tools and resources that might be helpful.


2.  Blackboard is currently committed to self-hosting, but changing architecture and moving paradigms that depreciate B2s and Stats.  How many years until these changes make self-hosting unrecognizable?


It is true that we are on a path to, over time, replace the B2 framework with our expanded REST APIs for Learn SaaS and Ultra. We have no plans to deprecate the B2 framework for self-hosted and managed-hosting deployments. As we make other architectural changes, such as deployment of micro services, we are leveraging these services across all deployment options where it makes sense, as with the new Attendance feature. Other changes, such as the Learn Data Pipeline, are only being applied to Learn SaaS, as they do not fit well with the other deployment models.  We will continue to make these distinctions in order to maintain the integrity of the existing architecture for self- and managed-hosting deployments.


          3.  When will a self-identification (PIN) be implement, if at all, for online only students?


We are exploring this as part of MFA support for a planned Universal Authentication Service as part of our long-term roadmap.


4. When will you please upgrade/fix the frustrating and overly complex Bb SaaS logfile atrocity known as the Kibana logfile indexer?  As a system admin occasionally involved in student content access/activity investigations my job is severely hampered by this tool.


We recognize the service quality issues that the Kibana Log Visualizer feature had for some Learn SaaS clients in the past year and have made a number of changes to infrastructure and configuration of this service that have greatly improved reliability. We’re also looking at better ways of getting log file data into the hands of system administrators that we hope to bring to Learn SaaS in the near future.


5.  I didn’t get a chance to visit the UX Lab to help Blackboard shape the future of its products and services. How can I get involved?


To get involved with the Blackboard Portfolio Enhancement Project and give feedback to help shape the future of Blackboard’s products and services, please sign up for the Blackboard Portfolio Enhancement Client Panel. Members of the panel will be invited to participate in occasional feedback opportunities such as surveys, remote interviews, and remote focus groups. Each feedback request will detail the time commitment and expectations for participation. To learn more about the Product Design team and other opportunities for involvement please visit


6.  Why can’t Managed Hosting and SaaS clients have access to run simple and complex queries of real- time data in the Learn database to update data and create reports? 


There are other options available for clients to access data other than the Analytics products. Managed Hosting clients have the option of an OpenDB Reporting Server which is a mirrored copy of the production database, updated daily, and accessible via industry standard SQL tools for reporting. For SaaS clients we offer Direct Data Access which is updated in near real-time and also allows for reporting using standard SQL tools. We do not provide client access to the production database because it would impact our ability to offer and meet our committed SLAs. We believe in best practices related to using a replica of the production database for reporting, and using only APIs for programmatic data updates. APIs like Caliper can also be used for collecting data for reporting.


        7.  Do you profit from your sales of Ally?


First, we want to assure everyone that all of our products adhere to accessibility standards and we take pride and achieving industry standard certifications for accessibility. This has been our practice for many years and there are no additional fees associated with the accessibility of our products. Our Ally product is focused on helping institutions to make their digital content more accessible and to create a more inclusive learning experience. We use the profits from Ally to continue to make ongoing investments in the product. This includes offering alternative accessible formats, improving machine learning algorithms, and the most recent addition of Ally for Websites.


          8. Why purse Bb Data when Ultra isn’t fully developed yet?


At Blackboard, we are always innovating in multiple areas in order to better meet the current and future needs of the broad user community. We feel that Blackboard Data will fill an important gap in our portfolio and will add tremendous value to our clients. The base experience for Blackboard Data will provide reporting for Blackboard clients beyond just Ultra institutions, beginning with Learn SaaS and Blackboard Collaborate, with additional integrations to follow.


          9. Does my institution ever have a chance to see self-hosted Ultra before the end of the decade? 


Our current focus in on offering Ultra for SaaS clients. We believe SaaS and Ultra will be the future destination for our clients and encourage everyone who has not looked at Ultra lately to take another look via CourseSites ( And remember, you can run Original Courses with the Ultra Base Navigation. Additionally, we’ve done a tremendous amount to improve the look and feel of the original experience, from things like a more modern theme that improves the experience for mobile users. 


10. What’s the plan to solicit feedback on Mobile, particularly on the Instructor app, from current clients and  users on features and functionality?


We continuously solicit feedback from clients and users through the entire software development lifecycle for our mobile apps. Areas of feedback generation include in-app feedback, app store reviews, usability testing, feedback sessions, the community site, and beta testing.  With the release of assignment grading capabilities in Blackboard Instructor we had over 250 participants from 50 institutions representing 25 countries that participated and provided feedback / testing.  We encourage all clients that are interested in providing feedback to engage through our community site where new feedback opportunities will be promoted.


11. Would Blackboard consider changing the upgrade cycle for Blackboard Learn 9.1 to offset with the times  most universities upgrade?  (i.e. Dec and May are frequent upgrade times, target releases for early Mar and Oct giving uses time to test.)


We are exploring ways to adjust our release cycle to more closely align with your testing and upgrade windows. We’ll share more information as we consider options.


12. Thank you for releasing Grading for the Instructor App a year after it was announced.  Why was the App update related without the supporting CU out, available for our own testing, and read to turn on for self and managed hosting clients?


Development of new capabilities in the mobile apps is sometimes contingent on updates to your Learn environment.  Assignment grading in particular required various updates to APIs and Learn to ensure the capabilities functioned as intended in order to meet client expectations and a high bar of quality. With our SaaS delivery option we were able to release the changes in a more rapid succession in coordination with the app update in July.  For our Self-Hosted and Managed Hosted clients additional work and testing was required to bring the changes into a cumulative update.  We recognize the timing of the cumulative update (targeted for September) and the app-store update has created friction for many clients whose Summer upgrade window is fixed before the start of the Fall term.  As a result of the feedback from SH/MH clients we will be exploring different avenues of communication to end users for app updates that more closely align to their institutions upgrade cycle and better set expectations on new feature functionality availability.


We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate the feedback.


    13. What are the plans to maintain the ability to use Outcomes with Ultra?


Outcomes is supported in Ultra today.


    14. Can we get training for the Ultra environment but Original course view? 


Yes. All of our training (asynchronous online or synchronous onsite/remote) through Blackboard  Consulting Services for Original courses includes navigation overview for either Original or Ultra Base Navigation. The course training itself is identical as Original courses look and function exactly the same in either base navigation.



    15.  When do we receive SaaS update notifications and how are they pushed out? 

The SaaS release schedule can be found here.  We also publish release notes in advance of these releases so you can prepare for the new features and functionality. 

System administrators  are able to subscribe to notifications within Behind the Blackboard to receive SaaS update announcements.


Additionally, there are monthly product update emails that serve as a roundup of new releases of our products. Please sign up here if you are interested.