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Bye Bye Blackboard, Hello NYU Classes

photo: nyu classroom

At noon on August 15, Chief Digital Officer David Ackerman powered down the server that had housed Blackboard, the longtime online hub for NYU academics—marking with a ceremonial gesture the end to a transition that had taken place over a span of nearly two years.

NYU Classes, the learning management system that has gradually replaced Blackboard throughout the University, will be the online home to all of NYU’s estimated 7,500 course sections this fall, with more than 38,000 students and 4,000 faculty members logging in to customizable homepages. In addition, content from more than 26,000 Blackboard sites, from courses offered from Summer 2011 to Summer 2013, has been transferred to NYU Classes for faculty reuse.

The start of the semester marks the culmination of a process that began, following an initial announcement in November 2011, with an intrepid group of about 15 representative faculty members who agreed to test out NYU Classes in Spring 2012. When those faculty—and others in advisory groups that continued to gather feedback as NYU Classes was later adopted by whole departments and schools—requested tweaks to particular features, they got them. Indeed, the system is designed to accommodate new ideas and allow for evolution.

“NYU Classes is based on the open source Sakai software used by a higher-ed community of hundreds of universities around the world,” Ackerman says. “We have the ability to respond to faculty needs. Even as we are finishing the final phase of the NYU rollout, we are working on a half dozen enhancements requested by the Faculty Learning Management System (LMS) Committee, and these will be shared with the Sakai community.”

Among the first to test out NYU Classes was Donna Quadri, an associate clinical professor at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, who volunteered to incorporate the program into an undergraduate course on distribution and internet marketing for hospitality and tourism industry professions.

Quadri was struck by the system’s interactive features, which she said allowed for “amplification of content” and fostered debate. When students found a perceptual map in a marketing textbook lacking, for example, Quadri encouraged them to research and post alternatives on an NYU Classes forum. Then she conducted an online poll of which one was most effective. “The levels of engagement, the levels of community NYU Classes can build, around content, debate, and ideas—that’s the fun part,” she says.

In response to faculty recommendations for NYU classes, the ITS team introduced enhancements such as a multimedia “lessons” tool that can guide students through a topic sequentially and quiz them as they learn, simplified methods for including YouTube and NYU Stream videos on course sites, and “clicker” technology that allows an instructor to conduct a live classroom poll.

When it was Alison Aldrich’s turn to test drive NYU Classes, in Fall 2012, the assistant clinical professor at the Silver School of Social Work seized the opportunity to try out something new—a fully “blended” course that mixed traditional classroom meetings with online-only sessions. The busy social workers enrolled in the course, a seminar in field instruction, appreciated the flexibility to participate in online sessions from home or work. And Aldrich was surprised by the strength of bonds forged primarily online: In the days and weeks after Hurricane Sandy, as her students regained internet access, they checked in with one another through the course’s online forum. “They were struggling, their clients were struggling, and they really reached out to each other and supported each other throughout the month of November,” Aldrich said. “It was extraordinary that we were really able to stay in contact.”

For faculty members eager to learn more about how make the most of NYU Classes in their courses, ITS offers a variety of training opportunities, including online modules, hands-on workshops, individual and small group consultations, and webinars accessible to instructors both in New York and throughout the Global Network University. And even though the transition to NYU Classes is complete, the window for offering feedback is far from closed. “The user advisory group is open to any faculty member,” says NYU Classes Support Lead Francesca Socolick, “and we’re always trying to recruit new members.”

 

—Eileen Reynolds

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