Ultra: Self-Starter Guide

What’s New in Ultra?

Its modern, contextual design houses content on a single page, allowing learners to explore content through expanding and collapsing modules rather than clicking through menus and folders.


Documents function as pages mixing files, texts, images, and videos. Instructors can now build dynamic content with ease. Simply select the plus sign wherever you want to add content.  Create new content, upload something you already have, or embed content from external sources like YouTube and other social media. To reorganize, just drag and drop. 



Students experience consistency in design across all of their courses, which they can readily access from a central dashboard. They can also manage their online profile and modify notification settings. Calendars and organizations are fully integrated, providing a global view at a glimpse. With Base Navigation, basic information is always one click away.


All content is now mobile friendly. Instructors can easily view student profiles with photos. The Conversations feature allows students to question, discuss, or share resources in direct response to content such as documents, assignments, or tests. And in addition to email alerts, students see new Announcements as pop-ups front and center the next time they enter the course. The Activity Stream provides up-to-the-minute updates, giving students their own educational news feed.




Basic Components of Ultra

Base Navigation Menu


Learn More About Base Navigation


The left-menu provides you with quick access to institutional and course-level tools, all in one convenient location. As you navigate Blackboard, this menu will remain easily accessible. Your Blackboard content will open in layers in the foreground. You can return to the menu by clicking the X at the top left corner. The number in red next to each icon on the menu indicates the presence of new information from that tool, such as new messages and new posts. This configuration, much like a “dashboard,” is called Base Navigation. It consists of  of the following areas:

  • The Institution page contains links to important information and messages.
  • The Profile page gives you access to some of your personal information and settings.  From here you are able to upload a profile photo.  The profile photo will show in the class register and in discussions, conversations, and messages next to your activity.
  • The Activity Stream page will display notifications from your courses or items that need attention. This will include posted announcements,  new content items, grades and due assignments. Notifications are shown on the website, through email and via push notifications if you have installed the Blackboard app. You can change which notifications you receive by clicking on the “gear” icon at the top right corner of the screen, and then following the on-screen prompts.
  • The Courses page gives you access to all your current, previous and future modules.  Your courses will be divided into sections according the semester in which they started. You have the option of viewing courses in list view or grid view.
  • The Organizations page contains all the school and department organizations you are enrolled on.  Organizations can also be viewed in List View or Grid View.
  • The Calendar displays the calendar items within all your courses.  This is also your own personal Calendar area any events added here are only viewable by yourself.
  • The Messages page displays a list of all your courses and number of any unread messages within a course. You can reply to messages from this page. The number of unread messages are indicated on the base navigation menu.
  • The Grades page provides an overview of all your current gradable items status and tasks including submissions to grade and post. Instructors can begin to grade from this page.


The Course Tools Menu



Learn More About Ultra Grading

This menu, located along the top of your course view, consists of six components:

  • In the Content tab, you’ll see your course content displayed as a continuous stream of modules that expand and collapse.
  • The Calendar inside your course will show you actions associated within the course only, while the Base Navigation calendar will show you a global view of actions associated across all courses.
  • The Discussions page will display all of the Discussion threads you’ve created in a list view. With drag-and-drop capability, you can instantly reorder threads.
  • The appearance of the Gradebook content has been dramatically streamlined. When you open the gradebook, content will appear in list view, labeled with icons indicating item type. You will clearly see due dates, grading status, and submission dates at a glance. You can easily toggle to a grid view as well, which displays gradable content by student.
  • In the course Messages tab, you’ll see only course specific messages.
  • Under the Analytics tab, you can access a variety of reports on student progress as it relates to their activity in the course and even how it compares across courses in the same department.



The Details and Actions Menu


Learn More About Announcements

Located in the left margin of your course view, this menu contains several global tools including:

  • The Course Roster allows you to view all students, displaying a profile page for each. From the ellipsis menu next to each student, you can see individual student information and set any accommodations for students. Any accommodations set from the register page will filter through to all applicable assessment items. Accommodations can be set as either a due date accommodation – never marking submissions late – or a time limit accommodation – allowing more time for submissions during timed assessments.
  • The Course Groups feature allows you to create and manage groups into reusable sets.
  • The Progress Tracking feature allows you to give your students an easy way to keep track coursework. You can turn progress tracking on at any time.
  • The Course Image feature gives you the option of easily uploading a picture that will be displayed on the course tile that will show in the grid view of your students’ Courses page.
  • The Course Privacy feature allows you to regulate the availability of the course to students.
  • The Attendance feature gives you the option to enable tracking and associate grading.
  • The Announcements feature allows you post time-sensitive information for immediate or scheduled release. New announcements will appear as pop-ups when students enter their courses and then as recent events in their activity stream. Students can also view the full history of announcements by via the Announcements page available in the Details and Actions menu.
  • The Books and Tools link will show you the authorized tools for your institution, such as Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. Select the plus sign to use a tool in your course.
  • The Question Banks page allows you to create a searchable database of re-useable questions.
  • With the Conversion Exceptions preview, instructors can track how features will be impacted by Ultra conversion.
  • The Microsoft Teams link will allow you to sync your courses with Teams.

Best Practices for Ultra Course Conversion

The Ultra course view provides a streamlined design, allowing students to access content on mobile devices with fewer clicks. But faculty who used the original version of Blackboard extensively may ask, “Where should I start with course conversion?” Or perhaps, you’ve never used Blackboard. Either way, we’ve got answers.

Course Building Basics

The Design Team is happy to create a Course Shell for Ultra Course Development. It is strongly recommended so you don’t lose any valuable course content that may not copy over smoothly during the conversion process.

Request an Ultra shell, allowing you to transfer content incrementally. Best option if your existing courses have complex structures with deeply “nested folders” – folders inside of folders. This option gives you the opportunity to streamline your course as you rebuild.

*Under no circumstances should you attempt to convert Blackboard Original Courses to Ultra View once a course has begun. It is possible to lose data, particularly student submissions, during the conversion process.

Request a Development Shell

When transitioning from the Original Course View to the Ultra Course View, building content within Ultra will produce better results than simply converting. The most efficient means of rebuilding is copying content in chunks. We call this approach: “little copy.” In Ultra, this means pulling content inward.

Consider starting your build with one module. Fill that module with basic building blocks – (A) Unit Overview Document, (B) Folders and Subfolders containing Readings, Videos, Powerpoints, Lectures and Assessments, (C) Discussion Placeholders. Then, simply duplicate that module for each unit of your course.

Effective curriculum design works to reduce (extraneous) cognitive load – the processing required to navigate sensory data that is peripheral to the actual learning task. Too often, students navigating courses online spend more energy searching for content than processing it. Providing a simple, consistent structure organized into modular units will allow students to focus on course content. The most common choices for module structures are: (A) Chronological/Sequential  (B) Topic or Concept (C) Content Type, (e.g. lectures, tests, assignments).

Take this opportunity to streamline your content. How can you reduce or eliminate documents? How can you combine folders?

The Ultra View promotes a streamlined design with its “Two-Deep” nesting structure. Whereas the Original Blackboard design allowed unlimited folders, subfolders, and floating documents, Ultra uses ONLY modules and folders as organizational units. Think of modules as “buckets” or “umbrellas” that provide an overarching structure. Within each module, folders provide another layer of organization, with contents that might include documents, links, or assessments.

Two-Deep Structure in Ultra

At Marshall, we are committed to providing a sense of belongingness to our students. This starts with a warm welcome to the classroom – including our online classrooms!

An Introductory Module is a great way to engage students, even if the course meets in person. Being enrolled in a course is much like riding on a tour bus in which the instructor is acting as the driver. You know what’s coming around every curve on the journey. Just as traveling without guidance would produce anxiety, our students become frustrated when they navigate courses with poor signposts. Be a good tour guide.

In addition, you might consider including a community building activity in your introductory module.  Having students post a short introduction starts to build connectedness and a sense of belonging, which promotes student success. It will also ensure they know how to access Blackboard from the beginning of the course.


You can post content from storage spaces (like MU OneDrive or Google Drive) to Blackboard without downloading content to your local computer or mobile device. This allows you to work entirely in the cloud.

Simply select “Add Content” to open the editor and select “Insert from Cloud Storage.”


Make It Personal

Your profile lets you add a photo, adjust your notification settings, and link a cloud storage account.

Once you have added a profile photo, it will be visible on your Course Content page and your interactions in Messages, Discussions, and Conversations. This will help your students connect with you.

Where Your Profile Appears

Adding a Profile Photo

  1. Click your name in the left navigation menu (prior to entering a course)
  2. Move your mouse over the profile photo (it will initially appear as  a grey silhouette)
  3. Click the pencil icon
  4. Click the Upload a New Profile Picture button
  5. Find the photo you want to use on your computer and click Open

You can create a personalized course banner that will help students to readily identify themes associated with your course. Choose an image that has the important content in the center of the image, because the edges will be cropped – especially on mobile devices.  Banners must be at least 1200 x 240 pixels. We recommend 4800 x 960 to ensure your image is crisp.

To manage your banner image, you can either go to the left Details and Actions menu or the “Three-Dot” menu on your course tile in your Base Navigation course listings.

Banner in Details and Actions Menu


Banner in Three-Dot Menu

Adding thumbnail images to your modules helps students to make connections regarding major themes in course content. It’s also a simple way to provide visual signposts that help to break up content into more manageable chunks.

To add, go to the three-dot menu in the upper-right corner of the module. Click “edit” and then click “image.”

Creating and Managing Assessments

You have the option of creating two types of rubrics in a course:

  • Percentage/ Percentage-Range Rubrics
  • Point/ Point-Range Rubrics

The Settings panel will appear when you create or edit an item such as an assignment, test, or discussion. Only one rubric can be associated with an item. However, you can easily view all of your course rubrics in Gradebook settings.  From the Settings panel, you can also change out the associated rubric for any other rubric you have created in the course.


















Tagging your assessments to University and Program outcomes not only helps your institution to maintain its standards, but also helps your students understand how each component in your course is a building block toward larger goals.

Easily tag items by going to Assignment settings and clicking on Goals and Standards.











Providing feedback has never been simpler. Options include:

  • comment boxes: allowing you to post comments directly within the document.
  • sidebar feedback box: providing you text editor capability and even quick video feedback.
  • sidebar rubric: with collapsible criteria descriptions.
  • content library: allowing you to store and reuse frequent comments.
Store and Reuse Comments




Setting up Overall Grading helps you and your students track progress. Blackboard provides a report that shows student activity in relation to grade as well as a report showing activity and grade over time in comparison to classmates.

If you don’t have the overall grade configured yet, you’ll see this banner prompting you to set it up.  On the page that appears, you can configure how the overall grade is calculated.


Don’t want to use the overall grade? Select “Hide” this message to remove this prompt from your screen. If you change your mind, you can always add the overall grade via the Gradebook Settings.

Already have overall grade, and need to edit? Select the gear icon to display the Gradebook Settings and then select “Manage overall grade settings.”

There are three options for the Overall Grade Calculation:

  • Points. A points-based grade calculation may aid transparency as it makes clear to students what’s worth more in a course and what’s worth less. You can select which categories and items you want to include in the calculation. The max total points available in the course will be decided by the items and categories you include in the calculation.
  • Weighted. The weighted overall calculates grade items as a percentage of a final grade worth 100%. You can assign percentage values to any course items and categories you prefer. Note that any weighting applied to a category applies to the category as a whole. The items within the category will be proportionally weighted based on their underlying max points values. If you want the assessments within the category to be equally weighted, they need to have the same max points value.
  • Advanced. Use a custom formula to calculate the overall grade.

Choose how you want the overall grade to display in Overall Grade Settings. You can display the overall grade as a letter grade, percentage, points or any grading schema created in the course.

Select “Save” when you’re finished.  The overall grade column appears in the gradebook next to the student’s names so you can quickly see how each student is performing.


I'm an Ultra Self-Starter!

As part of Marshall's strategic vision for digital transformation, the Design Center is tracking the conversion to Blackboard Ultra courses. If you've prepared yourself for the updates using this self-starter page, will you take a moment to submit your name?

Please let us know what's on your mind. Have a question for us? Ask away.

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