Ultra Course Format is Here!


Holistic Support for Students and Instructors

Guest Column: Dr. Shirley Lefever

Supporting students is perhaps the single most important thing we do as an institution of higher education. The emphasis Wichita State University places on this can be seen in the strategic goals we Shirley Lefeverespouse. Student-centeredness, the first among the strategic goals, specifically articulates our intent to promote holistic student success by providing a supportive learning environment in which all our students thrive and grow. Further, the first among the three 2021 campus priorities is to help Kansas families by making higher education accessible and affordable.

To that end, we are relentless in pursuing and promoting need-based aid. However, scholarships alone are not sufficient. We are also constantly pursuing more opportunities for paid applied learning experiences. We know that our students benefit greatly when they have frequent opportunities to apply what they are learning in real-world settings, such as those afforded by our Innovation Campus partners as well as the numerous community partners who employ our students as interns.

However, holistic support is more than financial. We also strive to support our students’ well-being by providing a range of support services, including mental and physical health care and numerous options for student engagement. Soon, you will see Clinton Hall transformed into the new Shocker Support Center, which will house almost all the offices currently serving students. Centralizing these services under one roof will increase our students’ ability to take advantage of the many resources available to them. We also know that student success is impacted by establishing a sense of belonging and engagement. We strive to provide a range of experiences that match student interests and backgrounds, including campus offices such as the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, as well as student organizations, events and activities.  

Finally, above everything else, I want to personally thank you for everything YOU do to support our students. Your role as an instructor is at the heart of everything we do to ensure our students are successful. I know the past two years have been difficult. On top of all the changes that occurred as we responded to the pandemic, you are now also transitioning to the Ultra Blackboard platform. I recognize this is an additional strain, and I deeply appreciate your commitment to our students by engaging in this work. Please know, your work and your perspectives matter. Please reach out and let us know how we can support you!

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Early Survey Results

As you read in last month's Teaching Today, the Media Resources Center asked instructors and staff to complete a survey about educational technology at WSU.  The survey is now closed, and we are working on going through the data.  Here are some early results:

  • We had 159 participants, and 56 of them gave us their name. If you did provide your name, you will be receiving a communication from the MRC addressing the concerns you listed in the survey.
  • 60 of our participants were full-time tenured or tenure-track instructors. 70 participants were mostly instructors of various ranks, and the rest were staff and administration. We are very happy we were able to reach so many part-time instructors and GTAs as their experience of technology tends to be distinct.
  • A LOT of our instructors and staff (94!) get at least some of their training from YouTube! That tells us that we need to continue to develop and promote purpose-built training for everyone. If you would like to suggest some training that we should develop, please email us at OIR@wichita.edu
  • We noticed two things about technologies that folks provide for themselves and their classes: first, there are some people who are using technologies that might have accessibility issues.  Prezi, Doodly, and Top Hat can cause problems. If you are unsure about whether a technology you use is acccessible, you can email us at OIR@wichita.edu, and we can let you know or request an accessibility review on your behalf. The second thing we noticed is how many people bring thumb drives to class. If OneDrive is not serving your needs and you rely on thumb drives, let us know at OIR@wichita.edu and we can send you a fresh, 5 gig thumb drive.  You might also sign up for Microsoft OneDrive training through the MyWSU portal and start using your free cloud storage.


Course "Tiles" Double as Course Banners

When you login to Blackboard and go to the "Courses" area, you may have noticed that you have two options for browsing: as a list of course names or as series of course "tile" images. When we first went to Ultra navigation, those images were automatically-generated or fed from the course banner image in your "old" Blackboard course. But as of the Blackboard updates from November 4, you now have more options for uploading images for your course tiles. You ALSO have the choice to use the course tile image as a "course banner" image inside your Ultra Course. This is a cool upgrade that will give courses a more unified and professional look. If you have questions about how this tool works, please send us an email: OIR@wichita.edu

Try Ultra Course Format for Spring 2022

Wichita State adopted the Ultra "Base Navigation" format in May, 2021. At that time we saw some significant cosmetic changes in the way Blackboard looks before going to class, but for most classes, the changes stopped there. Most classes at Wichita State are still in the "old" Blackboard format.  Over the course of 2022, however, that will start changing.  Wichita State has one year to convert all of our Blackboard courses and organizations to the Ultra Course format. After 2022, the "old" Blackboard course format will be gone.

Now is the time to consider converting ONE of your Blackboard courses to the Ultra Course format for Spring, 2022. The Office of Instructional Resources makes that recommendation in response to our Ultra Course format pilots' experiences in the new course format.  The Ultra Course format has both design/layout differences and grading interface differences. It's good to allow yourself time to learn about and adjust to these changes before making the decision to put all courses in the Ultra Course format.

We here in OIR know this is a big ask: many WSU instructors have only recently become comfortable in Blackboard and now things are changing again. We are here to help you and support you throughout the process. To get you started, we've compiled many of our support materials on a single webpage so you don't have to hunt through the WSU website to find the information you need to get started. You can find Getting Started with Ultra here.

Spring Course Shells are Coming Soon

Blackboard course shells for Spring, 2022 will be generated on Friday, December 3. What this means for instructors:

  • If you are hoping to start working on the Blackboard portion of your Spring, 2022 courses before December 3, you will need to request a development shell from the Office of Instructional Resources: OIR@wichita.edu
  • If you would like to teach in the Ultra Course format during the Spring, 2022 semester, now is the time to get familiar with your options.  OIR has created a new webpage to help instructors understand the options and to get started in Ultra Course format.


Moving to Ultra Courses? Bring your Panopto Videos!

WSU has had Panopto for several years, and in that time the way Panopto "talks" to Blackboard has changed. We see this very clearly with Ultra Courses, which have a whole new "integration" with Panopto. What that means for you is that while you will be able to use your "legacy" Panopto videos in your Ultra Courses, you may need a little help in the setup. If you are standing up an Ultra Course format course for Spring, 2022 and you find you are having problems with Panopto videos not playing or coming over correctly, let us know and we'll make it right. You can email us at OIR@wichita.edu, or better yet, come to our come-and-go lab times in Zoom.

Around Campus

On November 11, the Assessment Committee hosted Dr. Carolyn Speer for a talk about Curriculum Mapping at the Program Level. If you are interested in the topic, you can watch the recording here:


Did you know that students have the same free access to Microsoft Office 365 that instructors and staff use? If you notice that some of your students are not using Microsoft products to create their submissions, please encourage them to download and use this free software. Here's how they can get it:

1. Log in to http://portal.office.com using your myWSUID@wichita.edu credential along with your password.

2. Click on the Install Office 365 link on the top right of the page.

3. Follow the instructions for accessing Office 365. Students can login to their account at o365.wichita.edu

Microsoft Office products are user-friendly and filled with tools that support students' work.  In fact, Ali Levine has recently written a blog post on the "Top 5 Microsoft Tools For Students," and it's filled with tips and tricks for student success. Please share!