Adaptive Release: Using UB Learns to Manage Access to Course Content

Photo of hands typing on a computer.

Published November 19, 2020

Have you created a test, presentation, assignment or group assignment that you don’t want all your students to see? Do you want to manage or limit who gets access to some tasks? You can do that in UB Learns using the Adaptive Release tool.

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“By planning the schedule, the activities, and the flow of work, we can not only help our students manage their course workload but keep us on track as well. ”

What is Adaptive Release?

Essentially, Adaptive Release is an option in Blackboard that allows us to limit access to content by applying a few rules or criteria. We can set these rules by date and time, membership, achievement or review status. I think many of us use the date and time rule but may have been unaware that there are other ways to use the Adaptive Release function.

Menu in Blackboard showing Adaptive Release option.

Why use it?

There are many good reasons to use adaptive release. Part of it is about planning. From my perspective as a teacher, I often like to get a good “jump” on things when I have the time. Knowing that I can set up activities and assessments ahead of time is a great thing, but I am often worried that my students would access the content before it was ready, or that the content was meant to be accessed only by specific students, groups or activities. It’s definitely happened to me and I’m sure I’m not alone. This can be addressed by simply setting the item to “Make Available” and then adjusting the “Display After” for the future date and time when I want students to access the material in my course.

Date and time selection tool for adaptive release.

Choose a date and time for visibility

Adaptive Release can also be useful in helping students improve their skills as self-regulated learners. Learning encompasses so much, and in order to help scaffold or support their learning, we structure our lessons to ensure our students are achieving at a certain level in order to get to the next task area. This is a key part of Universal Design For Learning (UDL) regarding engaging effort and persistence. Think about motivation by way of mastery learning. Here is where we can use adaptive release using the “achievement” or grade rule. This means that in order to proceed to the next level, students need to achieve a score determined by the instructor before the next assignment is available. For students who don’t achieve at that level, we can create teachable moments for remediation, and for those who have, they can move on to the next level. Many of us do this in the classroom, but with the transition to remote learning, moving this type of activity to an online format has been a source of confusion. We can still create these pathways using the advanced features in adaptive release. This particular trigger uses the gradebook to help us manage student success.

Adaptive release and gradebook in Blackboard.

Adaptive release and gradebook

There is also the option of managing which students are assigned to a specific task. This is especially beneficial for larger classes where you might have several topics for students to work on, but you might want to limit which students are assigned to each topic. Think of this as group work or peer study groups. In terms of Adaptive Release, this is what the membership rule provides.

Adaptive release and the membership rule.

Adaptive release and the membership rule

How do I use it?

The first thing to consider is what exactly you need to accomplish. The nice thing is that Adaptive Release has options available—basic and advanced. At the basic level, this is simply picking only 1 rule or criteria. Let’s say you created an assignment, but it’s meant to happen 2 weeks from now. You can simply select the “make available” setting so you don’t have to forget to turn it on but set it for the date and time you want students to be able to see it. Or maybe it’s just that you only want students with last names beginning with letter A-L to see it or specific groups you have setup in UB Learns. You can select the membership criteria and then select the specific students in your class or the group. 

What if I want more than 1 rule?

More than one rule is the entire purpose of the Advanced Adaptive Release settings. You can select and set the rules and criteria at multiple levels. For example, maybe you have a task that you only want students to access at a specific date in the future and only if they have a last name beginning with the letters N, R, or T. You can set that criteria very simply.

What if I need my students to flow through the content in a specific way?

Lately, I’ve received more questions about how to make sure students actually read or watch something prior to class or prior to an exam. It is one thing to put the information “out there,” but another thing to make sure that students are actually accessing it. One of the best ways to navigate this problem is through managing the flow of the materials with adaptive release using “review status.” We can use the day and time for this, but what if we want to make sure they are actually attending to it in a specific order, but on their own time? This is where we can enable the “review status” option. This means that students need to watch, read, or “do” something in order to “trigger” something else to open. Essentially, this option requires students to review the item and select the “review status” button in order for the next task or series of tasks to open. There are a few things I like about this option. One is that I can see which students are actually doing the work, and since I’m not controlling the schedule, it is a nice asynchronous option that allows my students to access the materials at their own time and pace. Granted, I do assign due dates to keep students on track, but by allowing my students to work through the materials during the week at their own pace, it provides an accessible and inclusive opportunity. Afterall, we don’t all have the same schedules or process information at the same speed.

The one caveat I would say here is to also enable statistic tracking to review how much time students are actually spending on the tasks because the “review” button is clickable regardless of how much time your students spend on the material. If you are including a Panopto video, you could also embed questions in the video that students need to complete as part of this task. This way you can better manage the flow of your class. 

Adaptive release review status.

Adaptive release review status

Pulling it together

With the big push to working remotely comes a lot of challenges in terms of what we do, how where and when we do it. By planning the schedule, the activities, and the flow of work, we can not only help our students manage their course workload but keep us on track as well.