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Learning Technology Team

NILE & Other Technology Guides

Information for Staff

Blackboard Learn Ultra

NILE is Changing! Blackboard Learn Ultra is Coming!

The core technology underpinning NILE, known as Blackboard Learn, is changing. This will have a major impact across the University as NILE courses are updated to Blackboard Learn 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
  • UON are in the process of moving our core NILE technology from its current version, Blackboard Learn, to Blackboard's new VLE (Virtual Learning Environment), Blackboard Learn Ultra.
  • Blackboard Learn Ultra is a completely new VLE and is very different to its predecessor, therefore staff are encouraged to take some time to become familiar with Ultra. Training is available from the learning technology team, and all staff have their own Ultra organisations to try out Ultra. In addition, we have created a fully working example of what an Ultra course might look like, and have enrolled all staff on it.
  • There is no effective method to automatically convert current NILE module and programme courses to Ultra. Therefore, academic staff leading and teaching on modules will need to spend time recreating/rebuilding their existing NILE courses in Ultra. For this reason, Ultra development courses will be available in January for modules being delivered using Ultra in the following September. Once rebuilt in Ultra, courses can be easily copied into other Ultra courses.
  • Because Ultra courses will not be automatically converted from existing (i.e. non-Ultra) courses, in order to make the transition to Ultra as manageable as possible, NILE module and programme courses will transition to Ultra over three academic years, starting with Foundation and Level 4 modules in September 2021. Level 5 modules will become Ultra from September 2022, and modules at levels 6, 7, and 8, and programme level courses from September 2023.

What is Blackboard Learn Ultra?

Blackboard Learn Ultra is Blackboard's new VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) which will, over the coming years, replace our current VLE, Blackboard Learn Original (NILE). Blackboard Learn Ultra is a modern, responsive VLE, that has been designed to work across the widest range of devices. While Blackboard Learn 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 Learn 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.

We have titled the project to move NILE from Blackboard Learn Original to Blackboard Learn 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 Learn Original (hereafter Original) to Blackboard Learn 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 Learn from Managed Hosting (MH) to Software as a Service (SaaS).
    • Upgrade of Blackboard Learn Original to Learn Original with 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 for all academic staff teaching level 4 modules in 2021/22.
    • Creation and design of 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 Level 4 modules via Ultra.
    • Continuation of Ultra training 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