There are a number of ways with which you can use Building Blocks to extend and enhance the Blackboard experience.
This tutorial will help you to understand where Building Blocks integrate with the native Blackboard user interface and begin to think about where best to integrate your tool.
User interaction with the Blackboard Learning System environment is through a portal-like interface that consists of a header frame with navigational tabs and a content frame for displaying course sites and other content.
Below, we will investigate each of the major areas of user interaction and highlight where Building Blocks can be used to extend the product's functionality to integrate with your solution.
When any user logs into Blackboard, you can see that the user is presented with a portal-like interface. There are tabs and buttons along the top, there are user tools along the left hand side, and there are several modules that populate the content area of the My Institution page.
A module can be used to display information on the My Institution page either before login (when using the Blackboard Community System) or when a user logs into the Blackboard Learning System. Certain modules, such as the "My Announcements" and "My Courses" modules, ship with the product. The content and layout of the My Institution page is customizable to meet an individual's or an institution's needs.
By clicking the Courses tab, a student is able to see a listing of all courses in which he or she is enrolled.
When a student enters a course, they are presented with that course's site. Each course site can contain a number of different areas for holding content, taking assessments, participating in online discussions, accessing the course calendar, and using additional course tools among other things.
On the Courses tab, instructors can view which courses that they are teaching.
When accessing an individual course site, instructors have the ability to add and modify content in each area. They also have an additional link to the Course Control Panel that displays in the Tools panel in the left column of the course's page.
Accessing the Control Panel link gives an instructor access to a wide range of options for creating and customizing his or her class.
System Administrators have access to additional functionality. On the System Admin panel, a Blackboard administrator is presented with many options to configure and manage the Blackboard Learning System environment.
There are three major types of Building Blocks: Modules, Tools, and Content. Module Building Blocks can be displayed in the portal-like areas of the Learning System. Tool Building Blocks can be added to a number of different areas and show up as additional links in the native Blackboard user interface. Content Building Blocks extend the range and types of content with which an instructor can populate his or her course.
As stated above, a module can be used to display information on the My Institution page either before login (when using the Blackboard Community System) or once a user logs into the Blackboard Learning System. An example of a module is one that displays information from another information system on campus within the Blackboard user interface.
Module type Building Blocks are only available to clients who license Blackboard Community System.
This is an example of an individual module.
Modules can be added to the My Institution page.
Tool Building Blocks can be added as links in a number of different areas in the native Blackboard user interface.
User tools appear on the left hand side of the user interface on the My Institution page. An example of a user tool might be one that allows a user to update their contact information directly into your school's student information system.
When accessing an individual course, you can see that the left hand column is populated by several links to access course content.
Course tools appear as links from the "Course Tools" area of each course. An example of a course tool might be a link out to an external course survey tool.
Communication tools appears as links from the "communication" area of each course. An example of a communication tool would be a virtual classroom.
Instructors also have access to the course control panel area. Building Blocks can be added as links in the "Course Tools" area of the control panel. Course control panel tools are only accessible to users who can access the course control panel (ie: not students). Tools such as a customized gradebook roster submission tool would go in this area.
On the system admin panel, a Blackboard administrator is presented with many additional options to configure and manage the Blackboard Learning System environment. Tools that are only accessible to the Blackboard administrator are implemented as system admin tools. Building Blocks can be added as links in the "Tools and Utilities" area of the system administrator panel. An example of a system admin tool is one that can run background performance reporting on a nightly basis.
When building a course, an instructor has the ability to add a number of different kinds of content to the course site. Content type Building Blocks enable you to add customized types of content that can be added to each course site.
Additional content types show up in the select content area of each course content area as shown below.
Some of your ideas might not fit into any of the above Building Block categories. Examples of these include but are not limited to tools which run background processes or extend our product through web services - in other words, "behind the scenes" stuff that might not have a good fit in the user interface. The Building Blocks architecture also supports these types of tools and does not require a tool to have a specific "hook "into the Blackboard user interface.
It is also sometimes desired to link to a Building Block via a tab or a link placed elsewhere in the user interface in a place other than the areas detailed above. This scenario would likely require additional steps to deploy, but it is certainly possible to create other types of links directly to a Building Block.
Blackboard's APIs also support the ability to create your own custom authentication scenarios. These would allow an institution to leverage existing investments in central authentication systems or single sign-on mechanisms above and beyond those supported by the core product. An example of an authentication customization is using CAS (Central Authentication Service) for user authentication.