Best Practice: Interactive Tools in Blackboard

Available tools in Blackboard

To build a successful online community, students need the tools to interact and have conversations. Through conversation, we learn about each other, ourselves, the topic, how to get along, and make group decisions. Though time and geography limit some of our conversations, the power of the connection using varied conversation technologies build community.

Students report that their satisfaction with online courses relates to instructor presence and the collaboration and sense of community they experience. In a successful online learning community, students support one another and help each other accomplish what they might not have on their own. When the students interact, and direct their efforts toward a common goal, collaboration exists.

Blackboard Learn offers four communication tools for self-reflection, collaboration, and communication. The discussion board, blogs, journals, and wikis tools allow you to provide rich assignments and evaluate students in authentic ways where students can share and create knowledge.

Each of the four interactive tools can serve distinct purposes. You can use one or all of them in your course, and they can work well in combination. Select the tools that meet your course goals and allow students to interact in the most efficient ways. These tools may appear on the Tools list of the left panel menu:

  • Blogs: A Blackboard Blog functions much like any other blog: a user posts an entry, which may Blackboard Text Editor. Files may also be attached. Other users can then leave comments that appear below the entry.
  • Discussion Board: The Discussion Board tool can be used to create Forums, which in turn may contain multiple Threads on different topics. Media may also be embedded in discussion board posts.
  • Journals: Journals are for making periodic postings, which can be grouped by week or by month. They can be set as private, so that only the instructor(s) can see a student’s entries, or public, in which case all students may view other students’ entries.
  • Wikis: Wikis allow multiple users to collaborate on the same document, though only one may do so at a time. All users in a course can edit a wiki in the main tools area, while the wiki option for groups, if enabled, is only editable by groups members.


Left Menu Tools Available in Blackboard


  • Achievements: You can use Blackboard achievements to create opportunities for students to earn recognition for their work. You designate criteria for issuing achievements to students in the form of both badges and certificates.
  • Announcements: Announcements may show up on a user’s Blackboard landing page, and users may receive an email notification of new announcements, depending on that individual user’s notifications settings. Sending an announcement is an alternative to email; since users can decide for themselves how and where to view announcements, they can serve as a less obtrusive means of disseminating information.
  • Attendance: Many instructors use attendance data as part of their students’ overall grades. For attendance records for each student appear in a single column next to other grades.
  • Blackboard Collaborate Ultra: The Collaboration tool is an area for managing and accessing Blackboard Collaborate (synchronous) sessions.
  • Contacts: The Contacts tool enables users to create a profile with a variety of contact information, including name, email, phone number, office location, office hours, website, and more. All fields are optional except email. If set to be viewable, profiles appears to other users in the style of contact cards.
  • Course Calendar: Displays events that your instructors have added. You can also post private, personal events. The Calendar displays events such as due dates and scheduled tasks, as well as custom, user-defined events. The calendar view allows users to show or hide events from each course in which he or she is enrolled.
  • Course Messages: Course messages work very similar to email, but they are only visible within Blackboard, so users will not receive notification of receiving a message unless they log in.
  • Course Portfolio: Medium for users to efficiently collect and organize artifacts representative of work completed over time, offering a means to demonstrate formative and/or summative progress and achievement.
  • Date Management: The Date Management tool enables instructors to shift due dates, availability dates, date rules for adaptive release items, and other dates associated with course content all at once, rather than having to change them individually. Dates can be shifted for an entire course or for selected portions of a course. This can be especially useful for course materials copied from a previous semester or for mid-semester syllabus changes.
  • Email: This feature has options for sending email to all users, individual users, or a subset defined. Send email messages to other course members’ external email addresses.
  • Glossary: The Glossary tool allows instructors to enter or upload terms and associate a definition with each. These are displayed in alphabetical order. The Glossary could be useful in a course involving specialized vocabulary.
  • Goals: If enabled by your institution, you can access the Goal Performance Dashboard from the Tools panel.
  • Mobile Compatible Test List: The Mobile Compatible Test Building Block offers a route to test creation other than the regular test tool in Blackboard. Standard tests can only be taken on a mobile device if they do not contain a question type or setting that is mobile-incompatible, which is difficult to avoid. The mobile test creator limits the question types to those that are supported. Mobile Compatible Tests display just like regular Blackboard tests when taken on desktop platforms. The Mobile Compatible Test List shows up as a course tool; it enables instructors to quickly see all Mobile Compatible Tests in a course along with their location. This can be helpful since this type of test does not exist as a master copy under “Tests, Surveys, and Assessments” and thus cannot be located through that page.
  • My Grades: Displays the status of gradable items such as tests, assignments, journal and blog entries, and discussion board posts. When you access your My Grades page from the Tools panel, you see grades and have access to feedback on submitted work for all the courses you’re enrolled in.
  • Rubrics: This tool enables instructors to create a rubric with a custom number of rows and columns. Labels and cell text can be changed, and point or percentage values can be assigned in whatever configuration the instructor needs. A rubric can be attached to an Assignment, Blog, Discussion Board, or other gradable item, or to a Grade Center column in order to give feedback on work not submitted through Blackboard. Rubrics show up in the Inline Grading view, and scores from a completed rubric are automatically input into the grade field.
  • SafeAssign: SafeAssign is a tool that can help with plagiarism detection, compares student submissions against an institutional database, a Global Reference Database of student papers from other institutions, a ProQuest ABI/Inform database, and the broader Internet. Text passages suspected to be a close or exact match are highlighted in the SafeAssign report so that instructors can review them to see if they are properly cited. SafeAssignment provides integrated SafeAssign settings that are enabled directly from the options page when setting up an Assignment.
  • Self and Peer Assessment: This tool allows instructors to create questions to be used for evaluation and, optionally, to assign criteria and point values to each question. These assessments may be used for self-evaluation only or for evaluating some number of peers. Peer evaluations may be anonymous or not.
  • Tasks: Instructors can create Course Tasks and add a description; students can then mark a task as “Not Started,” “In Progress,” or “Completed.” Providing a place for students to keep track of work with tasks the instructor has added. You can also add personal tasks. If the tool is enabled for groups, then groups may also set tasks that only appear for their members. Any member of a group may change the status of a group task.
  • Tests, Surveys, and Pools: With the Test, Surveys, and Pools tool, instructors can create assessments that include numerous question types. They can set point values for questions, determine the availability of a test, set a timer, control when and how much feedback to display to students after completion, and select various other settings. Existing test questions can be grouped into pools that can then be quickly imported into a new test.

Additional Tools Available in Blackboard


  • Adaptive Release: Adaptive Release allows an instructor to set conditions that must be met before an item will appear to a user. Rules may be set that restrict items based on dates, the review status of other items in the course, and/or grades or attempts registered in a Grade Center column. In addition, items may be set to appear only to certain users and/or groups.
  • Address Book: Store contact information in the address book. The address book is empty until you create contacts. You must create a profile for anyone you want to add to your address book even if the contact is a Blackboard Learn user.
  • Assignment: Assignments are the basic tool used to have students upload work. More than one file may be included in the same submission. Numerous file types can be uploaded, though only Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and PDF formats can be graded using the Inline Grading feature.
  • Blackboard Help (Instructor/Student): This link allows an instructor to place within a content area a tool link that will redirect students to the help section of the Blackboard website.
  • Blank Page: A Blank Page is an option for displaying content directly without the accompanying icons that go along with, for example, Items. This could be particularly useful for creating an aesthetically pleasing landing page for a course or module. Anything that could be entered in the standard text fields in Blackboard—including formatted text and Mashups—can be displayed on a Blank Page.
  • Check Course Links: This tool appears under the Packages and Utilities section of the Control Panel. Running it will identify and Course Links that no longer point to anything. Sometimes links become broken when content is moved or deleted, or when a course is exported or copied.
  • Content Area: Content Areas are the basic units for presenting content in Blackboard. They show up as links in the left-hand sidebar in the course. New course shells are automatically equipped with a standard set of Content Areas, but these can be renamed or deleted as needed, or new content areas can be added.
  • Course Link: Course Links, when clicked, will take a user directly to another area of piece of content within the same course. This can be useful if you anticipate students needing to jump from a specific place in a content area to another piece of content that is buried several folders deep inside a learning module in some other content area, for example.
  • Error in Grade Center: Error occurs when an Assessment is adjusted after it is deployed and taken by students.
  • Flickr Photo: Flickr Photo allows instructors to search Flickr’s database for photos and then embed them in a Content Area. Flickr is also available in the “Text Editor” tool, allowing for photos to be embedded as Mashups in any of the numerous items that have a Text Editor—including blogs, wikis, journals, discussion board posts, and both the instructions and the submission portions of assignments, just to name a few.
  • Grade Center: The Grade Center, which is only accessible to Instructors and TAs, can record grades for assignments and assessments, whether they have been submitted through Blackboard or not. Calculated columns allow common mathematical operations such as averaging and weighting to be performed automatically and for all participants.
  • Groups: Students can be put into groups that are generated automatically, using parameters input by the instructor, or manually, in which case the instructors chooses exactly which students to include. Each group has a ‘group page’ with a number of optional tools (that can be enabled or disabled by the instructor), such as a wiki, blog, journal, and discussion board. These items, unlike versions embedded in the course as a whole, are only accessible to the group. One tool, the File Exchange, allows users to upload documents to be shared with other members. Assignments, Tests, and Adaptive Release items can be set to be only available to certain groups.
  • Image: The image tool displays an image file uploaded from an instructor’s computer within a content area—in other words, not as an attachment. Several options for adding a description and formatting the image are included.
  • Item: Items are the basic workhorse for posting content; they can include text (with Mashups, if applicable) and/or attachment(s).
  • Learning Module: A Learning Module is a self-contained area within a course that gathers together related information. It has its own table of contents for ease of organization and navigation, and may be composed of many other types of Blackboard content, such as Files, Content Folders, Assignments,
  • Manual Entry Textbook: Select Partner Content to access the menu and select Manual Entry Textbook. You can provide the textbook details and image, and select the appropriate options for availability, tracking, and display dates.
  • Math Editor: This tool is accessible from the menu of any of the text entry fields in a course. The editor opens in a new window and contains a wide variety of symbols that can be customized to create well-formatted mathematical formulas.
  • Mobile Compatible Test/Mobile Compatible Test List
  • Module Page: A Module Page is analogous to the Home Page of a course. It can be customized with a number of widgets like the ones available to be displayed on the Home Page of a course
  • Panopto: Panopto is a recording tool that can facilitate lecture capture, screen casting, video streaming, and video content management.
    • Panopto Course Tool: Course Tool Application allows for an integration with the Panopto media repository.
    • Panopto Video Button enables the option to embed a Panopto video as a Mashup.
    • Panopto Video Link is used to link directly to a Panopto video from within a Content Area.
    • Panopto Video Submission is for student’s video assignments via Panopto
    • Panopto Quiz is for quizzes inside Panopto videos to push quiz results from Panopto to Blackboard Grade Center.
  • Performance Dashboard: The Performance Dashboard provides information on when students last accessed a course, as well as specific areas within the course.
  • Respondus: This tool is for creating and managing exams that can be printed to paper or published directly to Blackboard.
  • Retention Center: The Retention Center identifies students who may be at risk in a course based on criteria such as grades, assignment completion, and frequency of access to the course.
  • Review Status: Enabling Review Status adds a checkbox to an item. This can be ticked by the user as a means of keeping track of which items in a course have been viewed. It can also be used to activate other items in the course when used in conjunction with the Adaptive Release tool.
  • Roster: A searchable list of users enrolled in your course. Access the roster on the Tools page in your course.
  • Search for Textbook: Create items for each textbook used in your course. You can search an external source or add textbook information manually.
  • SlideShare Presentation: SlideShare is used to embed a presentation (PowerPoint, PDF, Keynote, or OpenDocument) in a course. The “in Text Editor” feature enables presentations to be embedded in text boxes as Mashups.
  • Spell Check: If the Spell Check feature is enabled, it appears as an option in any Text Editor (text box) throughout a Blackboard course.
  • Survey (NOT RECOMMENDED): It is recommended to use Qualtrics for surveys instead of the tool available in Blackboard for more robust options and report options.
  • Syllabus: This item provides a template for presenting content in a typical syllabus format. There are shortcuts for creating new sections corresponding to lessons, and some simple design options allow for quick reformatting while maintaining the look of a syllabus.
  • Test: With the Test tool, instructors can create assessments that include numerous question types. They can set point values for questions, determine the availability of a test, set a timer, control when and how much feedback to display to students after completion, and select various other settings. Existing test questions can be grouped into pools that can then be quickly imported into a new test
  • Tools Area: Place where you can access all tools available to your course in Blackboard.
  • User Directory: Lists users within Blackboard Learn. Users only appear if they indicate that they want to be included on the Set Privacy Options page.
  • Video: (NOT RECOMMENDED) WCU recommends using Panopto to add video to courses in Blackboard. This tool enables a video to be embedded within a Content Area. The source can be a file that is uploaded from a local machine or one that has been uploaded to a different part of the course; YouTube videos can also be embedded with this tool.
  • Web Link: The Web Link tool is used to link to a web page from within a Content Area.
  • YouTube Video: A YouTube video can be embedded in a Content Area. YouTube is also available in the “Text Editor” tool, enabling instructors and students to embed videos as a Mashup anywhere there is a text box.

Sharing a folder or video in Panopto

Find the folder you would like to share and hover over it, then click the option that says Share.
Now you will see the share dialogue. If this is a sub-folder, you will see “Inherit permissions from parent folder: Parent Folder Name”. If this is a top level folder, you will see “Specific people”.
If you click the drop-down below “Who has access” you will see a variety of options to choose from. Click the one that corresponds to who you’d like to share with:
  • Inherit permissions from parent folder: Parent Folder Name. This will inherit whatever permissions are set on the parent folder.
  • Specific people: This option allows you to share the folder with specific people as publishers, creators, or viewers.
  • Anyone at your organization with the link: Choosing this option will enable viewing access for anyone who can log into your Panopto site. This will unlist the session from all other videos on your site. Unlisted means that the session won’t be discovered by anyone browsing the site. It can only be accessed by having the direct link.
  • Anyone at your organization: This option will enable viewing access for anyone who can log into your Panopto site.
  • Anyone with the link: Choosing this option will enable viewing access for anyone on the Internet, no sign-in is required. This will unlist the session from all other videos on your site. Unlisted means that the session won’t be discovered by anyone browsing the site. It can only be accessed by having the direct link.
  • Public on the web: This option will allow anyone on the Internet to find and access. No sign-in required.


Enjoy the video for more info about settings

Blackboard Moving to the Cloud

Special Warning:


Systems/Tools that will not be available during this migration period: May 28 – May 31, 2019

  • Blackboard Learn
  • Panopto – Users cannot view existing sessions or upload new recordings, but users can still record offline.
  • Respondus – Users cannot upload to Blackboard Learn, but can still create/edit tests

Learn about new features following the upgrade to SaaS:

WCU will be migrating the Blackboard Learning Management System (LMS) from being managed hosted to Blackboard Inc.’s cloud based offering known as SaaS (Software as a Service). The decision to move to the cloud during the next Blackboard upgrade was based on a recommendation of the WCU LMS team and the changing needs of faculty, staff, and students that use the Blackboard Learn system at WCU.

This upgrade is the same Blackboard Learn you already know and use, delivered on a modern cloud computing technology stack. With this upgrade to SaaS, you get all the benefits of a cloud architecture combined with the power of the Original experience that is already familiar to you as faculty and students from Blackboard Learn 9.1.

For this migration, we will be doing a full migration of data, meaning all the existing content and entire database records will be moved to SaaS.


  • Zero impact to faculty and students during updates: With a cloud-computing environment, you benefit from continuous updates (new features, enhancements, fixes, etc.) with zero or minimal downtime.
  • Higher quality: A SaaS model allows us to deliver maintenance, updates, and fixes to production faster than ever before, and the cloud platform easily scales during periods of high usage.
  • Fast access to new features: A SaaS model allows us to deliver enhancements and new features faster than ever before, so WCU can have the latest and greatest features versus having to wait longer periods of time.
  • Experienced Blackboard staff manages server operations 24x7x365, so WCU can focus on other strategic, mission-critical projects.
  • Supports WCU’s Continuity of Operations Plan
  • To learn more, please visit this Blackboard SaaS help page.

Please contact the Coulter Faculty Commons, LMS team if you have any questions or concerns.