Case study: Moving a School to online submission of assignments


Graduate School of Arts
Faculty of Arts
University of Bristol

Part of the IeLS Project

Tools used

See also: Online submission



  1. To support centralisation of the submission process
  2. To provide consistency for students
  3. To simplify the move from isolated pockets of online submission carried out by individual lecturers, to a situation where online submission is a consistent process that is embedded across the School
  4. To reduce the amount of time needed to set up online submission by automatically copying the setup across multiple Blackboard courses
  5. To use the Blackboard Content System to allow files, e.g. instructions, to be updated once and have all the courses point to the current version


The Graduate School of Arts pilot examined the effectiveness of an automated package containing files and an activity (submission point) to over 150 Blackboard courses. The pilot identified both the potential for significant staff time savings and the ability to quickly and easily deploy consistent information in Blackboard via a process that can be managed at Faculty, School or Programme level.

The use of the Content System meant that it was possible to change the support materials once and have the changes cascaded to all 150 courses automatically. In practice we changed the “Coursework submission guide” 3 times to make it clearer to students.

What was done

The TEL team worked with staff in the School to identify and document the requirements of the package. A prototype package was put together and tested to ensure it met requirements. Then a reusable script was employed to automatically add the package (containing an assignment and links to supporting documents held on the Content System) to multiple courses.


Adding a submission point with supporting information manually to 150 Blackboard courses takes between 7 and 9 hours. Using the new automated process, script and additional functionality of the Content System this now takes 15 minutes. In this example the supporting information was changed at least three times  to make it clearer for students and hence reduce administrative support time troubleshooting problems. In the Content System this is a simple upload (2 minutes for all submission points), the old way would take 1.5 hours of staff time per change.

Each Graduate School of Arts Blackboard course had a link to the appropriate files which were stored on the Content System.  This meant that it was possible to change the files afterward on the Content System and have all the courses point to the current version.

The School of Modern Languages was also deploying online submission to a number of their Blackboard courses and we used this to try a slight variation on the main pilot and run an “on demand” service for the School. Staff wishing to do online submission simply had to tell the administrator.  Again the use of the content system proved useful with the Modern Languages administrator several times updating their instructions to students to ensure students didn’t make the same mistakes as some others that submitted first.

Due to having centralised control and support the few problems which occured with the submission process were resolved rapidly.  It also only required training a few central admin staff rather than all of the academics in the School.

Since this pilot, the approach of using Blackboard packages in multiple courses has been successfully adopted in a range of other contexts, including the Faculty of Arts move to online submission in 2012-13.