How about fixing Blackboard?

One of the more popular online learning (and training) management systems for high schools and universities in the United States is Blackboard. However, despite the fact that it has a lot to offer, many of it’s features are hidden deep in the interface.

We all came across it [ or at least most of us 😉 ]. You come to a new school or university and for sure, every single one of them uses a different learning platform like MoodleOpenOLAT or Blackboard. These applications offer different ways for managing classes/courses, knowledge, vary greatly in features. They do have a few infamously commonalities, such as lacking simplicity, focus and consistency. However, in this particular post I would like to take a look at Grand Valley State Universities’s Blackboard (myBB) solution. As part of the CIS 623 class I am taking I received an assignment to design an improved version of it.

Why are online learning

platforms so frustrating?

In order to work on a new design I tried to locate a few of the major problem areas. There are several platform-external and -internal reasons why they might fail from my very personal opinion, such as:

  • Bad user experience
    Example: unresponsive and inconsistent user interface. Furthermore does the Blackboard I am familiar with, have a very unnatural way of how to navigate to classes. There are redundant ways and many different ways of how to present menus. Sometimes there is a sidebar, sometimes a dropdown the top right, then another sidebar.
  • Lacking focus on target audience
    Example: It does  not feel like the student or the professor has been properly kept in mind. There is a lot of everything – independently on who is logged in.
  • Lacking support by staff which is not using the platform consistently, only partially or not at all.
  • Encourage collaboration
    • Many of the features are not properly configured or hidden
      Example: The help or even collaboration features are hidden within a menu of a particular class instead being globally accessible.
    • Forums need to be turned on a per-class basis
      Why are forums not globally offered to encourage positive collaboration class-, degree-, department- or even university-wide? I think this is a missed opportunity. I agree that there are reasons against a forum maintained by the school, but I think the benefits are totally worth it.



The goals of the assignment are

  • support mobile devices
  • highlight the core-functionalities
  • alert users on updates

I tried to create a mix of simplification, with a focus on classes and GVSU’s design guidelines. With fellow students I did a card-sorting exercise, where we went through all the existing features and tried to evaluate, which ones do we use most – which should be backed up with statistical data in a more throughout redesign. –Then we did a card-sort and grouped the features in core functionalities such as:

  • Basic
  • Classes
  • Collaboration
  • Help

Blackboard redesign - Card-Sort.001

I used this as a guideline for my organization, but added a “Dashboard”– and a “Notification”-section. Furthermore I created two scenarios, in which a student wanted to look up notifications and a second one, submit assignment 2 in CIS 623 – Graphical User Interface Design.



I created the following prototype using my sketchbook, ideas from friends, the web and myself, Sketch 3, UIPin and InVision. Please feel free to tinker around with it and let me know what you think! Use the comment section or comment directly on InVision’s Website.

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