November 21, 2023

Catalyst Awards Blog Series: Where College, Crime, and Community Collide: Leveraging Blackboard Learn Ultra to Create an Experience-Driven Flipped Classroom

The Catalyst Awards program recognizes innovation and excellence in the Anthology community of practice. In this blog series, a selection of 2023 award-winning institutions from across the globe share their success stories and best practices. 

Crystal Bohlander, Alicia Pennington, and Catie Weaver make up a course development team at Western Kentucky University that was awarded a 2023 Catalyst Award in the Teaching & Learning category. The team leveraged Blackboard® Learn Ultra to combine Bohlander’s subject matter expertise with Pennington and Weaver’s knowledge of instructional design principles in the development of an Introduction to Criminal Justice course, which was offered to students in WKU’s Criminology Living Learning Community. 

What is an LLC? 

Western Kentucky University’s Living Learning Communities (LLCs) is an award-winning program that enables groups of students to be placed together within a residence hall based on a common major, interest, or program affiliation. Students in an LLC live together, attend common classes, and participate in programs that cater to their academic, social, and personal needs. One such living learning community is the Criminology LLC, which focuses on engaging first-year students interested in criminology professions who believe their transition to college will be enhanced by receiving extra support from faculty, peer mentors, alumni, and community partners working in justice careers. 

The Vision for an Experience-Driven Flipped Classroom 

Crystal Bohlander was the faculty mentor for the Criminology living learning community during the 2022-2023 academic year. In this role, she was charged with teaching a section of CRIM 101: Intro to Criminal Justice offered exclusively to LLC students. Bohlander’s hope was that these students would view themselves as “social scientists called to define and measure what is happening now, research how that came to be, and explore courses of action likely to increase the achievement of justice and public safety in the future.” A practitioner at heart, Bohlander prioritizes diversity/global learning and community-based learning in her classroom, and she tapped into these high-impact practices by having her LLC students engage in co-curricular learning activities that included listening to guest speakers from local police and fire departments, attending an on-campus “self-defense” demonstration, completing an in-person court observation, touring the county jail, and taking a field trip to Nashville, TN for a behind-the-scenes security tour.  

To effectively implement these activities without compromising her course’s core content, Bohlander had to be intentional in planning her in-person class sessions. Many times, this meant she needed to reallocate her direct instruction in favor of a flipped classroom. Blackboard Learn Ultra and the expertise of instructional designers Alicia Pennington and Catie Weaver made that possible. 

Leveraging Learn Ultra 

The course development team utilized Learn Ultra as a platform for connecting students with course material and administering assessments. This was accomplished in a myriad of ways, but here’s what made the biggest impact: 

Creating a Well-Aligned and Easy-to-Navigate Course Structure 

Upon completing a course mapping exercise suggested by her instructional designer colleagues, Bohlander decided to group her CRIM 101 content into three instructional units that took students on a journey through the central components of the criminal justice system. This was achieved in her Learn Ultra course site by using learning modules and folders to present content and assessments in a meaningful way. Each learning module housed an overview document and individual folders for each week of instruction. Within those weekly folders, students had access to a chapter-level overview, a deep link to the week’s assigned eText reading, and a chapter quiz. Separate folders were created to house important course documents (e.g., course syllabus and schedule), textbook information, information about living learning community activities/events, and cumulative assessments.  

Utilizing the Content Market 

The Content Market enabled Bohlander to integrate her publisher platform, SAGE Vantage, with Learn Ultra to provide her students with seamless access to the course eBook, chapter quizzes, and supplemental practice activities.  

Assessing Learners and Providing Feedback Online 

Bohlander used the assignment tool in Learn Ultra to gather student submissions for her case-based, community-based, and group assessments. Additionally, the question banks feature gave her the ability to import test bank files from Sage into Learn Ultra and group the questions into pools that would be used to construct comprehensive exams. She utilized the Gradebook to review student submissions and post individualized grades and feedback.  

Providing Clear and Consistent Communication 

Bohlander used the announcement tool one to two times per week to send students important updates and reminders regarding upcoming due dates, assessment feedback, and LLC-related activities. She also leveraged the course calendar to increase the visibility of important due dates and events. 


According to a statement by WKU President, Timothy Caboni, regarding fall 2022-to-spring 2023 retention rates, “First-time, first-year students who participated in a living learning community returned at a rate of 95.7%, compared to 89.6% among our non-LLC participants.” Student testimonials suggest this impressive statistic can be attributed to increased access to instructors and the sense of belonging LLC students gain from living and learning with peers who have similar interests and aspirations as them. In an interview summarized on the WKU Living Learning Community webpage, one Criminology LLC student explained that “living in the Criminology LLC gave her a community to come back to and made sure she always had people to talk to whenever she needed.” 

Bohlander had 22 students enrolled in her Fall 2022 LLC-linked section of CRIM 101. According to data provided by the Course Activity report in Learn Ultra, students spent an average of 43.48 hours in the CRIM 101 course site, which served as the primary point of access for the course’s instructional materials and assessments. The report also showed that there was a direct correlation between hours spent in the Learn Ultra course site and students’ overall grades.  


By taking advantage of the harmonious suite of tools Blackboard Learn Ultra has to offer, the CRIM 101 course development team was able to extend student access to course material beyond the walls of the physical classroom. Furthermore, because of the flexibility afforded by the technology available within Learn Ultra, CRIM 101 instructor Crystal Bohlander, was empowered to spend her in-class time implementing innovative teaching practices and joining her students as a partner in learning as they tackled complex societal problems where college, crime, and community collide.


For more information on the program, visit Catalyst Awards. Learn more about our 2023 winners and their stories. 

Catie Weaver headshot

Catie Weaver

Instructional Designer and Part-Time Faculty
Western Kentucky University

Catie Weaver is an instructional designer II in the Center for Innovative Teaching & Learning at Western Kentucky University. As an instructional designer, Catie collaborates with university faculty and provides consultation in course design, sequencing of instruction, assessment, and the use of instructional technology to promote student engagement in the online and hybrid learning environments. Catie is also an adjunct instructor in the School of Leadership and Professional Studies at WKU and serves as the vice-chair of Awards and Recognition for UPCEA’s eDesign Collaborative Network.