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Learning Technology Team

NILE & Other Technology Guides

Information for Staff

Blackboard Ultra

UON Ultra Project - News & Updates

For additional news and updates about the UON Ultra project, see the LearnTech Blog: https://blogs.northampton.ac.uk/learntech/category/uon-ultra-project/

NILE is Changing! Blackboard Ultra is Coming!

The core technology underpinning NILE, known as Blackboard, is changing. This will have a major impact across the University as NILE courses are updated to Blackboard Ultra over the next three academic years, starting with Level 4 and Foundation courses for teaching beginning in the 2021/22 academic year.

Key Points

What is Blackboard Ultra, and why are we moving to it?

Blackboard Ultra is Blackboard's new VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) which will, over the coming years, replace our current VLE, Blackboard Original (NILE). Blackboard Ultra is a modern, responsive VLE, that has been designed to work across the widest range of devices. While Blackboard Original was, and in many respects still is, a highly functional and well-engineered VLE, it does not have the same ability to work seamlessly across the full range of devices that our students now expect. Blackboard Ultra is Blackboard's answer to the challenges posed by today's students, the majority of whom now access the VLE from a mobile device.

The Ultra experience is very different to the Original experience. From a design point of view it has a simpler, more modern and less cluttered look-and-feel. And because it has been designed with mobile devices in mind, it flows and responds well on smaller screens, whilst giving users a similar experience regardless of whether it is accessed on a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

You can find out more about why were are moving to Blackboard Ultra on our FAQ, 'Why are we moving to Ultra?'

We have titled the project to move NILE from Blackboard Original to Blackboard Ultra 'UON Ultra', and you can find out more about the project and the timescales below. 

The UON Ultra Project

What is UON Ultra?

UON Ultra is a four-year project to migrate the University’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), NILE, from Blackboard Original (hereafter Original) to Blackboard Ultra (hereafter Ultra). The purpose of moving from Original to Ultra is to ensure that the University is using a modern VLE that is intuitive, mobile friendly, device agnostic, responsive, and accessible; i.e., a VLE that best suits and supports our students and our mode of teaching, and which works equally well regardless of whether it is accessed via a desktop, laptop, iPad, smartphone, etc.

Who will the project impact?

Original is the University’s digital campus; it is the technology that underpins NILE, and has been used at Northampton since 2002. NILE is embedded in all aspects of teaching and learning at the University: it is where online teaching and learning takes place; where online learning activities are engaged in; where teaching and learning materials are made available to students; and, since 2012, is where almost all students’ assignments are submitted, and where students receive most of their assignment grades and feedback. The project will therefore impact all UON students, all UON academic staff with teaching responsibilities, and all students and teaching staff at the University's UK and international partner institutions.

Who are the project delivery team?

UON Ultra is being delivered by the Learning Technology Team, in conjunction with UON academic staff from across the faculties, and with NILE champions at our UK and international partner institutions.

What are the key dates and milestones for the project?

UON Ultra will be delivered in four discrete phases over four years, starting in October 2019 and ending in September 2023. The delivery timescale has been chosen and approved by UMT (University Management Team) to ensure minimal impact to students who are used to Original, and to allow staff as much time as possible to get used to working with Ultra.

  • Phase one – Academic Year 2019/20
    • Migration of Blackboard from Managed Hosting (MH) to Software as a Service (SaaS).
    • Upgrade of Blackboard Original to include Ultra Base Navigation (UBN).
    • Ultra pilot #1: First Ultra pilot course designed and delivered to staff.
    • Ultra pilot #2: UON early adopters design Ultra courses for delivery to students in 2020/21 academic year. 
  • Phase two – Academic Year 2020/21
    • Ultra pilot #2 (cont.): First teaching of Ultra pilot modules to UON students.
    • Ultra training in subject goups for all academic staff teaching Foundation and Level 4 modules in 2021/22.
    • Creation and design of Foundation and Level 4 Ultra courses by academic staff (with training and support from the Learning Technology Team).
  • Phase three – Academic Year 2021/22
    • First teaching of all Foundation and Level 4 modules via Ultra.
    • Continuation of Ultra training in subject groups for academic staff.
    • Creation and design of Level 5 Ultra courses by academic staff (with support from the Learning Technology Team).
  • Phase four – Academic Year 2022/23
    • First teaching of all Level 5 modules via Ultra.
    • Continuation of Ultra training for academic staff.
    • Creation and design of Level 6/7/8 Ultra courses, and all programme-level courses by academic staff (with support from the Learning Technology Team).

Should you require urgent assistance with NILE, please contact the LearnTech Support Helpdesk via the online contact form