Introducing Grading for Blackboard Instructor

We listened
The team at Blackboard is pleased to debut grading functionality of the Blackboard Instructor app. This update reflects both ongoing requests from instructors and our emphasis on building products that fulfill the needs of our users. We know that to truly develop great products, we need to ask the right questions, listen intently, and be willing to change course when our intuition does not align with what we heard. Learning is a continuous process and so is our research. During every step of the design process we listened—through field research, usability tests, and feedback sessions. This is what we learned.

We learned
We know instructors are busy. Having dedicated time to sit behind a desk and grade is a luxury to many. Sometimes, that 30-minute lunch break is the best and only opportunity to get grading done, which is why grading from a mobile device is so valuable and why the ability to grade quickly is crucial. We made interactions within grading simple and quick. Assigning grades are a single tap away; cycling through submissions can be done with a simple swipe, and everything can be accessed on a single page. While we can’t change the workload, we can certainly make grading faster and easier.

Giving instructors the freedom to grade outside the confines of an office introduces additional distractions of the outside world. That’s why throughout the app there are moments highlighting what needs attention, allowing instructors to make quicker, more informed decisions about what is critical and what can wait. We also provide an easy to read grade curve for each assessment, providing an at-a-glance insight into how students are performing. We know instructors rarely have time to grade all of their submissions in a single sitting so we allow instructors to grade submissions without posting grades to the student, so that instructors can grade in short bursts and post when they are ready.

When we spoke with instructors, we heard time and again that rubrics are core to grading workflows and we considered them a core feature when designing mobile grading. We made sure that rubrics are easy to reference. For larger screen formats, they can be seen in line with the submission, because nothing is more frustrating than having to shuffle back and forth between the criteria and the submission to grade.

We want to know more
The design team at Blackboard is a curious bunch. We are always eager to learn more. Want give us your feedback on the instructor app or thoughts on what we should focus on next? Drop us a line at

Grading on Blackboard Instructor

A Design Language’s Continued Growth & Adaptation — An Introduction 

This is the first installment of a series on the New School Design Language System and UI Pattern Libraries. In this post, we reflect on the learning experiences of growing and evolving our DLS and components while simultaneously building products. Subsequently, we will feature various efforts around iterating a DLS to support the Blackboard organization.

In the early days of the New School design language, the Blackboard Design team developed a set of foundational design principles — abstract anchors that drive all of our design work. We knew that, fundamentally, New School and this new era of redefined product experiences should be intuitive, delightful, and approachably simple. Along with these guiding principles, we defined some lightweight visual design standards. Alongside our counterparts on the development team, we set out to create some of the first Ultra Experience based applications in Blackboard’s portfolio.

While these initial principles remain sound, abstract principles alone can be subjective, ambiguous, and open to interpretation when they take form as user interfaces. As a result, the number of styles, components, and patterns that make up our design language ballooned and we incurred an overabundance of design debt.

In hindsight, one could argue that we could have mitigated the amount of design debt we were incurring had we defined more rigid guidelines at the outset. However, there is a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum at play: how could we know what elements and rules to establish without the process of experimentation that taught us which elements would be the most naturally scalable?

As our team grew, it became clear that we needed to audit, cull, and standardize our UI components in order to reduce complexity, drive consistency, better collaborate with our development partners, and most importantly provide a simpler and reliable experience for our users. In late 2016, we established a set of reusable UI component tear sheets for web and native mobile interfaces. While it was a significant win for our design team to be able to design at repeatable scale with the assistance of these tear sheets, we still lacked written logic, usage standards, and the general “why” of these elements. Even without formalizing these standards in writing, our small team maintained a collective understanding of these components—for a time. As our team and our products continue to grow and change shape we are once again asking ourselves how we can better support designers, developers, and our partners who live outside of the walls of our Austin Design studio.

I’m excited to introduce the newest phase of the New School Design Language system—a single library that documents our foundational UI standards, our visual assets and guidelines, as well as reusable web and native mobile components to quickly visualize product workflows. In this phase, we are focusing significant efforts towards articulating guidelines that address the needs of Blackboard’s international markets, improving accessibility and inclusion, and maintaining a quality experience in all breakpoints with an appropriate responsive strategy. We’ll be sharing our progress in the coming months!

A preview of what’s to come!