By Sean O'Malley
Ohio University faculty and students soon will have more options to connect with one another as the Office of Information Technology moves forward with plans to upgrade its Blackboard course management software from version 6.3 to version 7.3.
Beginning in winter 2009, any faculty member who wishes to do so can begin using Blackboard 7.3; full conversion will not occur until summer 2009. During both winter and spring, Blackboard 6.3 will remain available for individuals who need to continue using it.
"Communication will be key in the coming months," said OIT Director of Academic Technologies Dave Matthews. "To that end, OIT will contact Blackboard 6.3 instructors directly with information on the change."
OIT also will offer transition workshops through the Faculty Commons, and departments that express an interest can have an OIT representative give a short overview presentation at their faculty meetings.
Matthews said version 7.3 is similar in look and feel to version 6.3, and as a result, faculty and students should have few problems transitioning to the new system.
Blackboard 7.3 offers a number of enhancements, including communication tools such as blogs, wikis and multimedia podcasts, and an "early warning" system that helps identify students at risk of failing. The system also promises to be more reliable than its predecessor, Matthews said.
The system already has a sizable presence at the university. After a successful pilot of the new version involving all Ohio University campuses last spring, OIT expanded version 7.3's availability in anticipation of the conversion later in the year. In addition, newly hired faculty were encouraged to create their fall courses in Blackboard 7.3, and individuals who had expressed interest in the pilot were given the opportunity to begin using the system.
As a result of those measures, Blackboard 7.3 currently contains 87 courses with about 3,400 students, up from 22 courses with 900 students in the spring.