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Feature Request Process

This page describes the process by which individuals and groups at Vanderbilt University may request additional features for Blackboard, Vanderbilt’s course management system.  This process covers requests to turn on existing Blackboard features currently turned off; requests for new features via Blackboard building blocks; and inquiries about hypothetical features (“Is there a building block that does X?”).  This process is also used for new features recommended by the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching, Blackboard’s administrative home, based on informal or formal needs assessment.

The following diagram shows the steps in the feature request process and identifies the campus units responsible for aspects of the process.  Some abbreviations: CFT = Center for Teaching, EMOS = Enrollment Management Operation Services, FAC = Blackboard Faculty Advisory Committee.

Input

Faculty, students, and staff interested in new Blackboard features should make their requests to the Center for Teaching, via blackboard@vanderbilt.edu.  The CFT will see that requests are shepherded through the approval process, with appropriate documentation.

Additionally, the CFT regularly conducts informal needs assessment, drawing on its interactions with faculty across campus.  Occasionally, the CFT will conduct more formal needs assessment, through surveys or focus groups with faculty, administrators, or students.  Concurrently, CFT staff stay up-to-date on Blackboard features and building blocks to identify tools that would serve teaching and learning needs and objectives at Vanderbilt.

Vetting

Feature requests will receive consideration from several angles.

  • EMOS will examine the proposed feature or building block in terms of its technical requirements and compatibility with the Vanderbilt Blackboard system.  Integration with student record systems, single sign-on, and other Vanderbilt systems will be considered.  Some amount of testing will be done at this stage.
  • The CFT will consider the pedagogical utility of the proposed feature.  How is the feature likely to support teaching and learning?  How many instructors are likely to be interested in the feature?  CFT staff will prepare a short brief on the proposed feature, focusing on its pedagogical use, to be shared with others involved in the vetting process and integrated into outreach for the new feature, should it be approved.
  • The Provost’s Office will consider whether use of the feature would be consistent with Vanderbilt’s policies, particularly student privacy and copyright policies, and whether the feature will require new policies be put into place.  The Provost’s Office will also consider funding options for feature or building blocks not funded by those requesting them.
  • The Blackboard Faculty Advisory Committee will provide feedback on the proposed feature, with a  focus on its possible use across campus.  This leverages the structure of the FAC, which includes representatives from all of Vanderbilt’s colleges and schools.

Approval

Based on feedback from these groups, the CFT will make a recommendation for adoption of the new feature or building block.  Possible recommendations include:

  • No / Always Off.  While the CFT will try to accommodate all requests, cost issues or technical incompatibility may occasionally result in a request being denied.
  • Default Off.  In this case, the new feature will be available to all Vanderbilt instructors, but not visible to individual instructors unless they turn it on.  This recommendation will be made when the feature is worth approving, but not likely to be useful across campus.
  • Default On.  In this case, the new feature will be available and visible to all Vanderbilt instructors.  This recommendation will be made when the new feature is likely to have broad applicability.
  • Always On.  This recommendation is reserved for core Blackboard features, such as the grade center, which must always be available within courses.

The CFT will submit the recommendation to the Provost’s Office (specially, Vice Provost for Learning and Residential Affairs Cynthia Cyrus) for final approval.

Implementation

Once the new feature or building is approved, EMOS will move ahead with installation, configuration, and testing.  Once testing is completed, the new feature or building block will be made available in the Blackboard production environment, and thus available to the campus.  The individuals or units requesting the feature will be expected to assist in the testing stage, as well as to provide feedback on the new tool once they have used it in their teaching.

Meanwhile, the CFT will develop online materials to support effective use of the new feature, taking the new feature brief written during the vetting stage and supplementing it as appropriate with other resources.  The CFT will also prepare to handle inquiries about the new feature made through Blackboard support mechanisms.

Finally, the CFT will announce the new tool to the campus, as part of its ongoing communication and outreach to faculty regarding Blackboard and its tools and features.

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