Classes moving from in-person to online is hard enough, but finding an operating system capable of handling the switch adds more pressure. Kent State already had an operating system that was ready to go at a moment’s notice.

“Blackboard and Ultra have been a very stable part of our learning environment for many years,” said John Rathje, the vice president for information technology and chief information officer. “There is a high adoption rate on campus and Collaborate Ultra seamlessly integrates in with our course offerings, which makes the process of getting into remote course delivery pretty simple.”

It helped that Kent State already had history with Blackboard Learn. 

“We began using a product back in the year 2000 called WebCT,” Rathje said. “We converted to Learn in the year 2006. Collaborate Ultra was launched in the year 2010, so we’ve been using the product for quite some time now.”

At its core, Blackboard Learn is an operating system that is “open, flexible, and centered on student achievement” according to the official website

Blackboard Learn allows professors and students to stay in contact and up to date with any changes happening to classes through discussion boards and announcements. 

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra was added in 2010 which allowed video conferencing. 

When the pandemic shut down face-to-face classes, the easiest and quickest choice was to move those classes to Blackboard. 

Danielle Coombs, a professor in the School of Media and Journalism, conducted research with her spring semester students as well as a survey over the summer to see what students wanted out of online learning. 

“They [Coombs’s spring semester students] wanted this to be as easy as possible,” Coombs said. “Having to find external links and passwords outside of CU [Collaborate Ultra] can be frustrating, whereas CU keeps you inside of the Blackboard system.”

Other systems were looked at for the job as well, such as Zoom and other video conferencing systems, but most of them did not match up to what the university was looking for. 

“In order for us to implement something for the university and for the enterprise needs of the university, we want to make sure that the contracting language is appropriate, and it meets the requirements of our regulatory and state position of proper procurement,” Rathje said. “We also want to make sure the product itself adheres to our privacy, our security, our accessibility standards.” 

As Kent State searched for more ways to help make online classes run smoothly, they found another system that met all of their requirements. 

Microsoft Teams, included with the Microsoft Office bundle, is being explored by the university as another platform to hold classes and meetings.

According to its website, Teams has features such as video conferencing, screen sharing, file sharing, certain apps to sync up with Teams to help with workflow, and others.  

Microsoft Teams also works on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, allowing for a wider range of connections for students, faculty, and staff. 

Kim Fisher covers technology. Contact her at kfishe48@kent.edu.

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