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The Manchester Learning Environment Project (MLE)

28 Apr 2010

Online teaching and learning system to upgrade to Blackboard Learn

The University is initiating an upgrade to its online teaching and learning system, Blackboard Vista. This is required as Blackboard will be phasing-out our current system, and replacing it with Blackboard Learn. The new Blackboard provides not only the teaching and learning course delivery functionality (currently provided by Blackboard Vista); but also includes the Community System, which provides the personalised display of information and support for various groups, and the Content System, which provides more sophisticated content and file management. These three products form the Blackboard Academic Suite, which is also referred to as Blackboard Release 9.

The University, like many institutions around the World, is facing cuts in public funding and needs to develop new markets, secure efficiencies, retain quality and change the way it is doing business. For these reasons it is essential that the transition to Release 9 is used as an opportunity to help us realise these objectives by bringing together a number of campus information systems to provide a more seamless, and cost-effective environment that supports teaching, learning and assessment activities.

The University will, therefore, be using this opportunity to make a much more significant impact on achieving its key strategic teaching and learning priorities. The aim of the transition to Release 9 and the further embedding of Blackboard with other campus services is to provide a more holistic learning environment that will significantly enhance the experience of on-campus students and support strategic growth in distance-learning.

The MLE Project will incorporate a significant stream of work to personalise access to academic material and services (including mobile services) and integrate more efficiently with the University Portal. The Project will bring together a wide range of colleagues from the University who are all in some way working to improve the student experience and student communication, and will help to provide a structure for this process.

The key objectives of the Project are to:

  • provide a more user-friendly and pedagogically engaging learning environment;
  • introduce more sophisticated tools for efficient course management;
  • invest further in the infrastructure and capabilities to facilitate growth in distance-learning and professional development programmes.

The Executive Sponsor of the Project is Professor Colin Stirling, Vice-President for Teaching and Learning and Sarah Morgan, Strategic Projects Manager from TLSO is the Project Manager.
The Project has an Executive Board chaired by Colin Stirling, which will provide the strategic direction of the Project and have overall responsibility for its success. Full membership of the Board consists of the Associate Deans for Teaching and Learning, Allan Copley, Sarah Morgan and Louise Walmsley. The Project Management Team is also chaired by Colin Stirling and consists of the senior academics who are leading the various work streams in the Project, and key people from TLSO, IT Services and the Faculties.

The Project will also form a Knowledge Exchange Team for all non-academic staff involved in eLearning and provide a structured staff development programme relating the new Blackboard and the MLE Project more broadly. Training will of course be available for all staff in due course. During the Project focus groups with students will also be held to seek their inputs on a number of issues.

The timeline for the transition to Blackboard 9 is to trial 15 pilot courses in September 2010, to trial 25 more in January 2011, and then to progressively support the migration of all courses to the new MLE system by July 2012.

In the first instance, queries about the Project should be directed to:

Further information about Blackboard 9, including significant resources about its new tools and functionality is available at:

Regular updates on progress with the Project will also be made available to all staff during 2010 and 2011.