Blackboard – some basics

To be able to explain about groups and how they can best be used it is first necessary to provide some basic background on Blackboard.

The Blackboard environment at Westminster breaks down into two broad components:

Blackboard Learn Ultra

This is the part that provides Blackboard sites for each of our modules. It is for asynchronous online learning, where students may go at anytime during a week to access materials or to contribute to discussion boards or read messages or submit coursework

 Blackboard Collaborate Ultra

 This is the live classroom environment where everyone gathers together in a virtual space at the same time. It is for synchronous online learning.


Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and Blackboard Learn Ultra are integrated systems. A student can be looking at the content in a Blackboard site in Blackboard Learn Ultra in one browser tab and then move to a Blackboard Collaborate live class open in another browser tab. In other words, they can move between these two ‘virtual spaces’ seamlessly, going from synchronous to asynchronous online learning environments with a single click.


You can have groups in Blackboard Learn Ultra and in Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. At this time however, there is no connection between groups formed in these two parts of Blackboard.

In Blackboard Learn Ultra you can organise students that have access to a module Blackboard site into group sets. Groups sets can be generated randomly, or they can be set to permit students to self-enrol or they can be custom (see table below).


Students are randomly assigned to the number of groups you choose. You need at least four students, so the system can randomly assign students to at least two groups.


You can ask students to self-enrol in course groups. Only students may join. Students receive a course announcement and an activity stream notification about groups they need to join.

Students see Join a group and New in the Details & Actions panel on the Course Content page. You can also add an enrolment period. Students are notified when the enrolment deadline approaches. When the enrolment period ends, students can no longer join groups, and they’re enrolled automatically.


You can create a single, custom group or as many groups as you want, with any number of students in each group. Students need to added by an instructor, one by one to each group. This can obviously be time consuming for large cohort classes.

Once you have group sets established in a Blackboard Learn Ultra site you can use these group sets for various actions including:

In live Blackboard Collaborate Ultra classes you can divide student in the session into break out groups. These groups can be generating randomly during the initiation of the break out group process or groups can be manually arranged. The latter becomes impractical though once numbers in the class exceed 20.

The maximum number of break-out groups in any Blackboard Collaborate session is 20. The break out groups feature cannot be used when there are more than 250 attendees in a session.

Blackboard groups and CMISGO groups

There is no ‘off the shelf’ connection between CMISGO groups and break out groups in a Blackboard Collaborate Ultra live class. Developers in ISS have been working hard on creating a usable connection between CMISGO groups and Blackboard Learn Ultra groups sets.

A connection between these two systems now exists and it is possible to automatically create group sets in a Blackboard Learn Ultra site, the membership of which will reflect group membership on CMISGO. However, at present the groups, once created in Blackboard the groups do not update dynamically. You are therefore advised to ask Blackboard support to create these groups for you only when you are reasonably sure your CMISGO groups are fairly settled.

To request for transfer of CMISGO group data to a Blackboard Learn Ultra site please send an email to with details of the module code and the semester the module runs in.

To reiterate: the transfer of data from CMISGO to Blackboard Learn Ultra will not generate groups for Blackboard Collaborate live sessions. If you wish to have Blackboard Collaborate Live classes with seminar groups you must create one Blackboard Collaborate session manually for each seminar group, naming each session after each group so that student know which seminar session to select. You need only do this once as when you create a Collaborate session you can set it to repeat at regular intervals.

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