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Learning Technology Team

NILE Design, Analytics, AI, and More

Information for Staff

Why are we moving to Ultra?

1. The majority of our students now access NILE from a mobile device. In fact, since mid-2019 more than half of all page views in NILE have consistently come from students using mobile devices. Blackboard Ultra is a modern, responsive VLE that has been designed to to work seamlessly across all devices, which is what our students expect of modern web technologies; Blackboard Original simply does not have the same ability to do this. Because it has been designed and built with mobile devices in mind, Ultra flows and responds well on all screen sizes, while giving users a similar experience regardless of whether it is accessed on a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

2. From a design point of view, Ultra has a simpler, more modern and less cluttered look-and-feel than Original. Feedback from staff and students often referred to Original as being 'clunky' or looking more like a twentieth century technology, rather than a twenty-first century one. While an improved look-and-feel does not (and would never) trump the more important factors such as pedagogical suitability and functionality, Ultra scores well in these areas too, as well as having a better appearance than Original. Course tools in Ultra are now much easier for students to find and access than they were in Original because they are immediately accessible from the main course page. And Ultra's restriction on multiple nested folders means that all course content is never more than three clicks away from the top level. Thus, Ultra's improved look-and-feel is not simply window dressing, but genuinely makes Ultra courses easier for our students to use and navigate.

3. Our current VLE, Blackboard Original, was, and in many respects still is, a highly functional and well-engineered product. It is still supported by Blackboard, and will continue to be for several years; however, it is no longer being developed or improved, and Blackboard's main commitment to Original is simply maintaining it and keeping it up-and-running. All of Blackboard's development expertise is now being put into Ultra, which has recently become functional enough to support teaching and learning. While Ultra is receiving regular updates and new features, Original is essentially a static product, and it is only a matter of time before Blackboard discontinue support for Original and announce its end of life.

4. During the most recent procurement event, Blackboard was shown to be the VLE which best met our needs at Northampton. Given that we know that we will need to move away from Original at some point in the not-too-distant future (for the reasons given above), it is very fortunate that we have been able to continue our relationship with Blackboard, not least because the migration path from Original to Ultra is considerably easier because we are able to run both Original and Ultra courses simultaneously in NILE. If we were moving to a VLE other than Ultra, we would not have been able to adopt our three-year phased approach, and staff would have been expected to recreate all of their courses in the new VLE within a considerably shorter timeframe.

When will my NILE modules and programme courses be updated to Ultra courses?

NILE module-level and programme-level courses will be created as Original or Ultra courses according to the following UMT approved timeline:

NILE Module and Programme Ultra Timescales
  Undergraduate NILE Sites Postgraduate NILE Sites Programme NILE Sites
For delivery to students in: Level 4,
Foundation, and Zero Credit Modules
Level 5 Modules Level 6 Modules Level 7 Modules Level 8 Modules Programme Sites
2020/21 Academic Year Original Original Original Original Original Original
2021/22 Academic Year Ultra Original Original Original Original Original
2022/23 Academic Year Ultra Ultra Original Original Original Original
2023/24 Academic Year Ultra Ultra Ultra Ultra Ultra Ultra

Can I automatically convert my Original course to an Ultra course?

No, this will not be possible. Ultra courses will be created afresh with a simple templated structure (similar to the current Original templates) and it will not be possible to convert or copy existing Original courses directly into new Ultra courses.

Ultra courses can, however, be easily copied into other Ultra courses, so once you have populated your new Ultra course(s) with content and activities you will be able to copy them across into the following year's Ultra course.

How long will I have to put my new NILE Ultra course(s) together?

Because it won't be possible to automatically convert Original courses to Ultra, Ultra development courses will be available for all modules at least six months before they are required for first teaching.

Foundation and Level 4 Ultra courses for first teaching in September 2021 will be available from the beginning of February, 2021.

To enrol on the Ultra development course for your module, please use the Enrol as a Tutor on your Modules tool in NILE.

The ID and name of your module will be in the format: Course ID = ABC1234_ULTRA, Course Name = ABC1234 Ultra Development Course.


Please note that these Ultra development courses are not the final versions of the courses that you will be using for teaching. The actual courses that your students will be enrolled on and which are synchronised with the Student Records System will be created later in the year (usually late May, early June). These Ultra development courses are intended for staff who would like to spend time slowly building their courses over many months, rather than waiting until June to begin the process. If you build your module using an Ultra development course you will need to copy it across later in the year into the course that your students are enrolled on; however, this is a quick and easy process. Our suggestion is that these Ultra development courses are best used as a place to structure, develop and build your module content and activities. Once this is complete, you can add assessment submission points, etc., into the final version of your course later in the year.

Does it take longer to build courses in Ultra than it did in Original?

No, it won't take any longer to build courses in Ultra than it did in Original. Of course, it will take a little time to get used to Ultra, but once this is done there is no reason to suspect that Ultra makes the course building process any slower or more difficult. In fact, the simpler structure of Ultra and the drag-and-drop options to move content around may actually make the process easier.

For more information about this subject, please see our blog post, How long does it take to build an Ultra course?

Where staff are transferring extant Original courses to Ultra, rather than working on a brand new module, this may be a good opportunity to consider a redesign of the NILE site. Some staff have reported that the Original to Ultra process presented a good opportunity to do this. Additionally, these staff also reported that incorporating a redesign made the task of rebuilding their Original courses in Ultra a more worthwhile experience, and that subsequently their Ultra courses were better than their Original courses. Support for a NILE site redesign is available from the Learning Designers (

Do I have to do anything to update my Original courses to Ultra courses?

No, you don't need to do anything. NILE module-level and programme-level courses will be created as Original or Ultra courses automatically based on the timeline approved by UMT.

How should I design my Ultra course? Do you have an example that I could look at?

The Learning Technology Team have designed and built a complete Ultra course as an example of what your Ultra course could look like.

All staff have been enrolled on this course, and you will be able to find it in the Organisations section of the NILE main menu. If you have a lot of NILE organisations you can find it quickly by typing CRIT101 into the Organisations search box.

If for any reason you have not been enrolled on the Ultra demonstration course and would like to be, please use the following form to request this.

Can I have my own Ultra course to try things out in?

Yes. All academic staff have access to their own Ultra organisation that can be used to try out Ultra and learn more about it. Your personal Ultra organisation can be found by logging into NILE, and selecting 'Organisations'. If you have a lot of NILE organisations you can find it quickly by using the search box. The full title of your personal Ultra organisation will be 'yourNILEusername_ULTRA: 'Your Name's Ultra Development Organisation'.

Ultra Development Organisation

If for a reason you do not have a personal Ultra development organisation, please use the following form to request one.

NILE modules and programme courses currently follow a standard template. Is there also a template for Ultra courses?

Yes, there is a template for Ultra module-level NILE courses. The Ultra demonstration organisations use the template so that you can see what it looks like, how it might be used in practice.

I have a staff-facing NILE organisation. Do I have to move it to Ultra?

Many professional services department have staff-facing NILE organisations. Examples of these include Staff Development's SD101 and Waterside Teaching Room Training sites, and APO's various Partner Resource Centres. While we are happy to provide and support and training to any professional services department, etc., to help them recreate their Original organisations as Ultra organisations, there is no immediate need for any of these organisations to become Ultra organisation.

I have an idea about how Ultra could be better. How can I raise this with Blackboard?

You can make product feedback suggestions about Ultra directly with Blackboard. In order to do this, you will need to join the Blackboard Community at:

Once you are registered with the Blackboard Community and logged into their site, simply go to and complete their form.

When completing the form, under 'Select Product' choose 'Learn', and under 'Learn Version' choose 'Ultra'.

Where can I get help and support with Ultra?

Please use the link below to find out more about the training and support available to help you learn more about Ultra.

If you require assistance with NILE, please contact LearnTech Support using the NILE Enquiry Form

If you require assistance with PebblePad, please contact PebblePad Support using the PebblePad Contact Form