The new features in Blackboard’s September upgrade will be available from the morning of Friday 8th September. This month’s upgrade includes the following new features to Ultra courses:

Email non-submitters: anonymous marking improvement to Turnitin in Ultra courses

Currently, when marking students’ anonymous Turnitin submissions, it is not possible to precisely determine who has and who has not submitted, which makes it difficult for staff to contact and support non-submitters.

With Turnitin assignments, the student progress indicator in Ultra courses displays one of three states, the current meaning of which is:

  • Unopened (student has not submitted)
  • Started (student has opened the assignment, and may or may not have submitted)
  • Completed (student has opened the assignment, and may or may not have submitted)

At present, when a student opens a Turnitin assignment, the student progress indicator automatically changes from ‘Unopened’ to ‘Started’. (It is not possible for a student to manually change the student progress indicator from ‘Unopened’ to ‘Started’; this can only be done by opening the assignment.) However, in order to display ‘Completed’, each student who submitted the assignment has to manually change the progress tracking state from ‘Started’ to ‘Completed’. This means that while staff know that a student whose student progress indicator shows ‘Unopened’ has definitely not submitted, it is not possible to determine whether students whose student progress indicator shows ‘Started’ have submitted the assignment or only opened the submission but not submitted. Additionally, as a student can change the status from ‘Started’ to ‘Completed’ without submitting an assignment, the ‘Completed’ indicator does not provide a sufficient guarantee that a submission was actually made.

Following the September update, the way that the student progress indicator works will change, and will allow staff to know with certainty which students have and have not submitted. These progress states will effectively become locked to the submission status in Turnitin and will not be modifiable by students. Therefore, after the September update the meaning of the statuses will be:

  • Unopened (student has not submitted)
  • Started (student has opened the assignment, but has not submitted)
  • Completed (student has submitted)

For staff, this is a considerable improvement over Turnitin’s ‘Email non-submitters’ feature (which was withdrawn by Turnitin for assignment submission points set up after February 2022), as staff will now be able to see which students have submitted and which have not, and will be able to filter and sort the Gradebook and quickly send a message to all non-submitters. And, crucially, this will all be possible to do while not disclosing the identities of the individual authors when marking their work in Turnitin.

Following the September upgrade, staff will continue to see anonymised Turnitin submissions as normal in the Turnitin assignment inbox:

• View of the Turnitin assignment inbox with anonymous marking enabled

However, when looking at the progress summary for the assignment in the Ultra course, staff will be able to see the submission status for each student, and can use filtering and sorting to quickly select and message non-submitters. When using this feature to select and simultaneously message multiple students, each student will receive a private message which will not disclose the identities of the other recipients. As well as being able to read the message in NILE, students are also automatically emailed a copy of the message. Following the changes to University policy regarding student email addresses, from the 13th of September onward, copies of announcements and messages emailed from NILE courses will go to students UON email addresses (i.e., those ending and not to their personal email addresses, e.g., addresses ending,,, etc.

• View of the Ultra progress summary for a Turnitin assignment with anonymous marking enabled

You can find out more about setting up and marking Turnitin assignments in Ultra courses, and about messaging non-submitters at: NILE Assessment Workflows – Ultra Workflow 1: Turnitin

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Progress tracking – automatically enabled in Ultra courses

Progress tracking is a helpful feature for students, as it lets them view their progress in Ultra courses. Progress tracking also provides useful insights for staff about how content in their Ultra courses is being used, and how students are getting on in their courses. When considered alongside other information, progress tracking can provide clues to staff about which students might be struggling and might benefit from additional support.

At present, progress tracking is default off in Ultra courses and needs to be switched on manually in each course. In the days following the September upgrade, progress tracking will be automatically and permanently enabled in all new and existing Ultra courses.

Progress tracking in Ultra courses is a considerable improvement over what was available in Original courses, both in its scope and ease of access. Plus, unlike Original courses, which only provided data about students who had accessed the course using a laptop or desktop computer, the data provided about student progress in Ultra courses takes account of access via laptops/desktops, mobile devices using a mobile browser, and mobile devices using the Blackboard Learn app.

You can find out more about progress tracking at: Blackboard Help – Progress Tracking

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NILE Ultra Course Awards 22/23 & 23/24

Did you put together a great NILE Ultra course in 2022/23? Do you know someone who did? Or, have you recently put together a great NILE Ultra course for 2023/24? If so, please consider making a nomination for the next round of Ultra Course Awards. Nominations are open until the 31st of December, 2023, and winners of Ultra Course Awards for their 2022/2023 and 2023/2024 courses will be formally announced at the University of Northampton Learning and Teaching Awards 2024:
Ultra Course Awards 22/23 & 23/24 – Make a nomination

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Online NILE induction for new students

If your students are looking for some information about logging in to NILE, finding their way around, and understanding a bit more about how NILE works, you’ll be pleased to know that we’ve refreshed the student section of the Learning Technology Team website, which now includes an online induction to NILE for students.

The online NILE induction covers the following:

  • What is NILE?
  • Logging in to NILE
  • Finding your way around NILE
  • Personalising your NILE profile
  • Accessing your NILE courses
  • Understanding how a NILE course works
  • Accessing content in NILE in alternative formats
  • Submitting your assignments on NILE
  • Improving your digital skills
  • More information, help and support with NILE

You can view the online NILE induction pages at: NILE Introduction, Help & Support

And, of course, do feel free to add a link to this page in your NILE courses.

More information

As ever, please get in touch with your learning technologist if you would like any more information about the new features available in this month’s upgrade: Who is my learning technologist?