Comparing Ultra-Style Course Sites to Classic

Blackboard course sites come in two styles -- the older original or "classic" style and the more modern ultra-style. Though the two styles serve the same role and contain many of the same tools, there is a dramatic difference in how they serve these roles and present these tools.

If you're new to Blackboard, we recommend starting out with an ultra-style course site. Generally, ultra-style course sites are easier for faculty to get started with and for students to use. 

Course sites default to classic-style. If you would like your course site switched from classic to ultra, please contact the Office of Digital Education for assistance. Note that once a course has been switched from ultra to classic, it cannot be converted back. The only option is to delete the ultra-style course and let it be re-created via the Blackboard-Banner integration.

How is Ultra Different?

If you're already comfortable with Blackboard but are interested in possibly making a switch, the following outlines some of the more significant differences between ultra and classic.

This is NOT a comprehensive list of the differences between the two platforms. If you have a specific concern -- something make or break that you MUST have for your course to run -- please contact the Office of Digital Education so we can address your specifics. 

COURSE NAVIGATION is significantly streamlined in ultra when compared to classic. Where classic-style courses have a navigation area that faculty can populate with any number of tools and content areas, ultra-style courses are limited to a fixed tool list and a single content space. 

This can often lead to a better experience for students -- simpler navigation that is relatively consistent across different courses can make course sites easier to use. 

COURSE CREATION is also much more streamlined in ultra-style course sites. The tools for adding items and assessments are easier to find and more sensibly organized. Ultra makes it easier for you to some common tasks, like upload several files at once, and harder to make what previously were pretty easy mistakes, like putting a folder's contents into its description.

SEND EMAIL is gone in ultra-style courses. Instead, faculty need to use Blackboard's Messages tool to communicate with students. Blackboard messages can be emailed, but copies are also stored in Blackboard, which means a record of these communications continues to be accessible, should it be necessary.

SOME TEST QUESTION TYPES are not present in ultra-style sites. Currently, the only question types available are Calculated Formula, Calculated Numeric, Essay, Fill in the Blank, Hotspot, Matching, Multiple Choice, and True/False.

GRADEBOOK SET UP is easier. Ultra-style sites have one "Overall Grade" column rather than separate Total and Weighted Total columns and it does a decent job walking you through its set up. There are some new options (e.g., in ultra you can choose to "post" grades to students when you're ready, rather than having students see their grades as you put them in) and some weird quirks (if an assignment is hidden from students in the content area, the item is hidden from their grades page and vice versa).

MAKING CONTENT AVAILABLE isn't quite as flexible in ultra-style courses. Items (assessments, etc.) currently get ONE set of release conditions (e.g., "make this available to x from this date/time to this date/time"). This means if we want to make an exam available 1-2 for most of the class and 3-4 for an individual student, we'll need to re-set the item's release conditions after it becomes unavailable to the class at 2. In classic, this problem is much more easily solved by setting the adjusted availability window as an accommodation for the individual student.  

TIME LIMIT ACCOMMODATIONS are applied to the student, rather than the assessment. This means we can mark a student as getting 150% time, and they'll be given the extra time on ALL their timed online tests automatically (they'll even see "You have 150 minutes to take this exam" where others see "You have 100 minutes to take this exam"). 

LOCKDOWN BROWSER launches automatically when a student clicks on a test link, if it's been enabled. In the old style, students have to open Lockdown, log in, navigate to the course, navigate to the test. In ultra-style courses, LockDown browser launches automatically when they start a test that has LockDown Browser enabled. Students then take their test, and when they submit, LockDown Browser closes and the student is back on Blackboard where they were before they started. 

ASSESSMENT ANALYTICS are both better and worse in Ultra. If you're looking for information about student time in course or question analysis reports, Ultra makes the content more readily available. But ultra-style courses do not have the detailed test attempt logs that show when exactly a test was launched, when each response auto-saved, etc. We just have SUBMITTED date / time.

ATTENDANCE TRACKING is the same tool in both classic and ultra style sites, but it's a little better integrated (and easier to find) in ultra.

GROUPS are entirely geared toward discussion, assignment submission, and item release conditions in ultra-style courses. Classic's dedicated GROUPS section with a task list, file share, wiki, blog, etc, has been discarded in favor of the functionality most courses use it for: discussion. Rather than providing a general group-based Collaborate room, group Collaborate can be enabled as part of a group-based assignment.