Integrated eLearning Systems Project


In September 2009, we agreed to extend the current functionality of Blackboard from the basic 'Learning System' to the full suite ('Blackboard Learn') which consists of a Content System, Community System and an additional assignment submission tool - the Assignment Handler. Blackboard Learn represents a significant extension of our current provision of technology to support teaching, learning and research. The project to deploy the new modules (the Integrated e-Learning Services project or IELS) is scheduled to run for three years from September 2009.

Why did we invest in the additional modules?

Blackboard Learn will provide both a wider range of tools to support teaching and learning, and an online educational toolset standardised at a higher level. The enhanced functionality will offer all staff more opportunities to use technology to support and enhance teaching and learning, as well as scope to make teaching-related administration more efficient and effective.

What are the key features of the enhanced Blackboard suite?

Content System  

The Content System has a range of functions to streamline the management of and access to files and folders including: document version control, metadata description of objects and the option to apply multilevel access and permissions to items. The Content System is a digital repository which can be configured to contain personal, course, departmental and institutional areas. The Content System offers a learning object repository and 'e Reserves' functionality which aims to extend the range of digitised teaching materials available to students. The Content System also contains a workflow management tool and basic ePortfolio.

The Content System functionality was made available to all users from August 2011.

Community System

The Community System provides easy ways to deliver tailored information to specific groups of Blackboard users (e.g. induction for students, personal tutors). The Community System functionality has also allowed us to improve the look of the VLE, and develop embedded, personalised staff and student support areas. The Community System's 'Organisations' functionality will further extend the possible uses of Blackboard by offering online working spaces that do not need to correspond to formal taught modules or units (and could be used by Student Representatives or societies).

The Community System functionality was made available to all users from August 2011.

What has the project achieved to date?

Currently the project has:

  • provided personal repository functionality to all students and staff
  • piloted, evaluated and deployed an institutional teaching and learning respository
  • migrated the Blackboard course materials for over 2,500 courses into the Content System
  • deployed an eReserves pilot service to Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies, Historical Studies, History of Art, Politics, Russian Studies, Sociology, Translation Services, School of Economics, Finance and Management, Archaeology and Anthropology, Music, French, German, Italian and Theology.   Law, Classics and Ancient History, Philosophy and International Studies.
  • migrated the WebCT VLE
  • evaluated the additional functionality of the Assignment Handler
  • identified best practice re e-submission and developed support materials and best practice advice (through the ESU web site, an online tutorial, and a workshop for staff)
  • created a structure and metadata schema for the medical repository.

More information on specific elements

eReserves pilot service

The e-Reserves project aims to gauge the feasibility of rolling out a University wide scanning service to academics, where scanned documents (e.g. book chapters and journal articles) are made available to relevant cohorts of students within the Blackboard virtual learning environment (VLE) and in line with the scanning licence purchased by the University from the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA).  The pilot service commenced in August 2010, and  rapidly expanded to include 21 schools. The deployment of e-Reserves uses functionality from both the Content and Community modules, as well as a small local IT development. Current focus of the e-Reserves service has been on developing appropriate processes and tools to support the first annual renewal requests, which is now complete.


WebCT was a virtual learning environment solution that merged with Blackboard in 2006. In light of this merger the Faculty of Engineering decided to evaluate the possibility of moving from WebCT to Blackboard, with a view to moving the course materials and activities in 2010-11.

The WebCT migration is now complete.

Assignment Handler

The Assignment Handler was piloted from Spring 2010- Summer 2011.

The Assignment Handler pilot is now complete, however significant work to develop and support e-submission using a range of Blackboard-based tools is ongoing.

The Medical Repository

The Centre for Medical Education has a range of learning materials that are currently stored on a web server and displayed through the Hippocrates learning materials web site. This is not a scalable or permanent solution and does not offer the functionality needed to manage a growing bank of resources. The Medical Repository pilot will utilise the document management functionality of the Content System, specifically the ability to store, tag, search for and display multimedia materials on a range of web based locations (e.g. the University's web pages and within Blackboard.)

Project contact

Note: some of the documents on this page are in PDF format. In order to view a PDF you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader