How to Use Blackboard Academic Suite for Your Online Course

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Requirements and Basic Terminology

You’ve signed up for an online course and you have to do all of your work on an online program called Blackboard? Don’t panic! Blackboard Academic Suite may be confusing and overwhelming at first, but have no fear. This article will explain all the important things you need to navigate the site. Please note that this article will cover terminology and helpful tips for online learners, not online educators seeking information on how to customize Blackboard.

The first step that you, as an online learner, need to take is to make sure you have the proper operating system and software. If you have no idea what I mean by that, here is what you need to know: Blackboard does not require any specific computer or Internet browser, but what you need to make sure what you have is current. If you have a PC you should have a Windows 7, XP or Vista operating system or if you are a MAC user than you should have the OS X operating system. Blackboard will run on any Internet browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, etc.).


Portal: The place where you meet and access and share information, in this case, Blackboard Academic Suite. Think of it as a management system.

Browser: Software programs that allow you to surf the Internet.

Operating System (OS): Your computer’s operating system, in this case, MAC OS or Windows OS.

These definitions can also be found in another BrightHub article on the ANGEL learning system.

Blackboard Features

The Blackboard Portal System allows professors to customize the portal for each course. Most courses will have a very similar layout and format, but depending on how much time and effort the professor puts in the portal may be very in-depth with its features.

You will usually access Blackboard from your college’s website. Most colleges should email you or send you a letter with instructions on where to go and your login information. After typing in that information you will come to the common area of the Blackboard Learning System. You’ll see a welcome message at the top, below that announcements (the latest information your professor has posted), and to the right of that a list of courses you are enrolled in online on Blackboard.

You’ll want to click on your desired course. You’ll then see the main page of your course’s portal. On the left hand side there are usually the following sections: announcements, course information, staff information, course documents, assignments, communication, discussion board, external links, and tools. Each tab will take you to another part of the portal that will give you important information, place for you to submit assignments, or have a discussion with your classmates.

Brief Definitions of Each Section

Announcements - Where the professor will post the latest information about the course. Some professors will post here often while others may only use it once. Check back to this area either way to make sure you have the latest news.

Course Information - This is where there will most likely be a summary of the course and/or the course’s syllabus. This is where you’ll get the information to organize yourself.

Staff Information - Explains how to view information about the staff such as the instructor’s name, email address, office location, and office hours. Feel free to “bug” your professor if having any problems or confusion. That’s why they are there.

Course Documents - This will be where important course documents will be located for you to download.

Assignments - This is like the syllabus in that it usually outlines what assignments are due with a description of what is expected. Sometimes assignments are broken up by week or they may be all in one location. Professors will either have you use the “dropbox” tool to email your assignments or your professor will have you send it with your regular email address. Make sure you find out which way your professor wants to receive it.

Communication - This will link you to a list of your classmates and professor so that you can send someone or all an email. Don’t be afraid to ask your classmates questions! It’s not cheating!

Discussion Boards - This is the section where you will spend the majority of your online time. Your professor will post discussion topics (usually at least one a week) and you’ll have to respond the question.

External Links - Where you’ll get access to external links posted by the professor. Usually these links extend your learning on the topic being covered by the course or assignment.

Tools - Where you can manage your work and individual information. There is often a gradebook tool in there where you can see what grades you have received on submitted assignments.

If you are interested in more information on how to operate Blackboard Academic Suite, please visit the official Blackboard website at

Their blackboard operations manual can also be found on their website.