Opening the Gateway to Innovation

The term ‘openness’ means different things to different people. Blackboard developers and staff want our clients to know that just because a platform is proprietary, it doesn’t mean that it’s closed. To demonstrate this idea, here are a just a few stories about how our customers are utilizing Blackboard Learn’s open functionality:

Building Blocks

Find Building Blocks by visiting the Blackboard Extensions Catalog.

Through the use of Blackboard Building Blocks™, Blackboard has provided a “plugin” model for its Blackboard Learn platform since 2001. Blackboard developers have created hundreds of Building Blocks which allow institutions to customize their instance of the software to meet their needs.

Blackboard has a variety of technologies to support integration with the Blackboard Learn platform. The popular Blackboard Building Blocks™ set of APIs makes it easy to develop plug-ins and extend functionality. APIs for authentication, SIS integration, and web services ensure that the platform will integrate with all of your other systems.

In 2009 Blackboard and Northwestern University partnered on an integration to make Google Apps for Education available to students within the Blackboard Learn platform with a single sign on. Developed by Northwestern's Information Technology development team, the Bboogle Building Block provides an easy way to integrate licensed Google Apps with Blackboard Learn. Bboogle initiates a single sign-on request to Google Apps so that users can link to any Google App tool from inside their Blackboard Learn courses.

Open Standards

Blackboard recently added support for IMS Common Cartridge and Basic LTI standards to the Blackboard Learn platform. We continue to work closely with organizations including IMS Global and InCommon, supporters of federated Shibboleth authentication, to expand standards support in our software and lead in the establishment of other industry standards.

Using the recently implemented Student Information System Integration Framework and its support for the IMS Enterprise 1.1 standard Travis Patterson of University of New Mexico's Department of New Media and Extended Learning (manages the LMS) created and deployed a Building Block that helps share data between Learn and their student information system.

Open Database

Eric Kunnen
We are excited about the opportunities the Open Database initiative will offer us and other Blackboard clients. This initiative will empower the community to share and develop more robust Building Blocks that better meet institutional needs.

— Eric Kunnen,
Director of Distance Learning and
Instructional Technologies
Grand Rapids Community College

Read more from Eric's blog post >

After being awarded Blackboard’s Greenhouse Grant in 2007, Santo Nucifora of Seneca College and Eric Kunnen of Grand Rapids Community College set out to create an advanced reporting tool that would allow institutions to create detailed reports about Blackboard Learn usage in teaching and learning. Using technology very similar to that available with Open DB, they created Project ASTRO, a system that now helps institutions track Blackboard Learn usage. This helps provide accountability, aids in system planning and helps monitor return on investment.

Szymon Machajewski of Grand Rapids Community College with Garret Brand and Eric Kunnen also utilized Open DB to create the BbStats Building Block. BbStats provides its users with a dashboard to monitor system activity. In addition, they developed a mobile app client for the iPhone and Android, allowing Blackboard Learn administrators to assess system performance from anywhere.

Branding and Themes

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Through support for Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and documented page structures, institutions can develop custom themes for Blackboard Learn. This helps you personalize the software for your organization, making sure it reflects your colors and branding.

The new features available to system administrators for customizing the themes has really made the Kettering Blackboard system look like an application owned and maintained by Kettering. Users think Kettering University first when using our Blackboard system.

— Donna Wicks,
Systems Administrator for Blackboard
Kettering University