January 30, 2024

How Faculty Feedback Shaped the Creation of Flex Grading in Blackboard Learn

At Anthology, we believe in keeping things simple so that educators can focus on what they do best—teaching. Our philosophy towards product development is all about creating experiences that fit into the natural workflow of creating and delivering a course without any unnecessary hurdles or headaches. To ensure we’re designing a product that really achieves this, we rely heavily on our community of educators to draw insights and inspiration. Focus groups, in-product feedback and analytics, advisory councils, and more all come together to inform our approach to creating a user-friendly and inherently efficient LMS.

One of the most common instructor workflows in any LMS is grading, and the August release of Blackboard® Learn marked a major milestone in making grading less grating with the introduction of the Flexible Grading interface. And as much as we’d like to take credit for the early success we’ve seen from this new feature, we’d be lying to say we did it alone. This new way to grade was heavily influenced and inspired by feedback directly from faculty.

Elizabeth Gleason, a user experience designer who works on Blackboard Learn, said, "The most important step in creating a solution is correctly identifying the problems, and we can only do that through close collaboration with our users.”

For the Flexible Grading interface, this collaboration started in the Anthology Idea Exchange, where our community had contributed eight different ideas on how we could improve the grading experience in Blackboard Learn to better meet their needs. These ideas drew over 150 votes of support from fellow educators, which helped shape the initial design for the updated interface. We shared these early designs with faculty and held focus groups, administered surveys, and had one-on-one calls to collect more feedback before we refined the design, and eventually launched a technical preview. This technical preview, or prototype of the interface, was released to more than 400 instructors from 150 institutions who we then partnered with to evaluate, refine, and finally launch the flexible grading interface for all Blackboard Learn Ultra users.

Gleason adds, “When we first talked to users about the grading experience, most of the conversations were about how time-consuming grading is and we found some initial ways we could streamline the process, but since every instructor grades differently, we knew flexibility was critical, too.”

Specific feedback from the technical preview shaped the interface in a myriad of ways, including sorting and filtering options, the workflow to post grades, the integration with SafeAssign, and more.

“With the technical preview we captured detailed feedback on the ease of navigation, the mobile experience, the gradebook, and much more,” Gleason says. “It was a lot to work through since we had to account for different workflows and various types of assessment, but it was important that we get this right. So, with even further refinement, we landed on a flexible, intuitive, and streamlined interface that has been very well received by the community.”

In the months immediately following its release, in-product feedback revealed that 97% of institutions are benefiting from this new way to grade. But as Gleason adds, “User feedback is a continuous thing. We don’t just collect feedback, design and build the solution, release it, and end it there—it’s a continuous, iterative process. Every week we have calls with users, and since launch we’ve identified additional functionality and improvements that you’ll be seeing in the coming months.”

Marcia Frobish, a mathematics professor from Grand Valley State University who was involved in the Flexible Grading preview, said of the experience: “When I saw the flexible grading interface live in Blackboard Learn I thought: woah, this looks like the one I was prototyping, but better, because I could see the improvements they made based on the feedback we shared. I’ve been really happy with the new interface and I was excited to contribute.”

While the user experience and product teams continue to improve upon existing features and release new ones faster than any other LMS on the market, we’re always looking for instructors to help us refine the experience. We regularly hold focus groups, meet with our Faculty Advisory Board, and have technical previews and beta tests in motion as we explore new features and capabilities.

To learn more about how you can get involved, visit the Anthology Community site, and in the meantime, be on the lookout for new features and improvements to Blackboard Learn with every monthly release.


Mindy Mekhail

Senior Product Marketing Manager

Mindy Mekhail is a senior product marketing manager at Anthology, focused on the teaching and learning solution. Data-driven and customer-focused, Mindy has over a decade of experience working with and for higher education institutions in various roles including integrated marketing, brand strategy, media, business development, and more. Mindy is passionate about the transformative power of education and the role technology plays in providing access to educational opportunities.