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Staff guide: creating discussions in Blackboard Ultra

Ultra Discussions logoDiscussions are a good way to encourage students to think critically about their coursework and interact with each others’ ideas. In discussions, threads grow as users respond to the initial instructor post and subsequent student / instructor posts. Replies build on one another to construct a conversation.

This staff guide will explain how to:

  • create a discussion from the discussions tab (basic set up and visibility)
  • search and organise discussions
  • create a link to a discussion in a content area
  • encourage and manage successful discussions
  • set up a group discussion

This guide will additionally explain:

  • discussion activity visibility and notifications
  • discussion analytics

The below video tutorial provides a basic overview of Ultra discussions.

Create a discussion from the discussions tab (basic set up and visibility)

Create a discussion from the discussions tab
  1. Select the discussions tab on the top navigation bar of the relevant course / community to open the discussions page.Ultra discussions tab
  2. Select to create discussion if it is the first discussion on the page, otherwise select the plus sign from the top right-hand corner / add discussion.Ultra discussion create option
  3. A new discussions set up page will appear.Ultra discussion page
  4. Type a meaningful title to help students find the right discussion (A), include guidelines and expectations (B). See the following help page for guidance on using the content editor; content editor guidance. Show or hide the discussion (C). Select the discussion settings icon to open a panel with further options for the discussion (D).Discussion settings
  5. From the additional discussion settings (D),  it is possible to ‘display on the Course Content page’. This creates a link to the discussion that will appear on the course / community homepage, additionally to the default link that will appear under the discussions tab. 
  6. The option ‘post first’ forces students to contribute before seeing content.
  7. We advise to check ‘prevent editing’ by students, to allow for a true record of all activity.
  8. New discussions are hidden by default. As well as choosing from the drop-down menu to make a discussion visible (C), it is possible to select ‘release conditions’ to set availability conditions based on date / time, and performance on other items in the course gradebook.Discussion visibility options
  9. The new discussion will appear back on the discussions page (and the content homepage if display on course content page was selected). Click on the ellipsis (three dots) to edit content again.Discussion edit options


Search and organise discussions
Search and organise
Organise discussions into folders

On the discussions page, it is possible to add folders to organise discussions. 

  1. Select the plus sign in the upper-right hand corner to open the menu and select add folder.Discussion folder option
  2. Select the move item (up and down arrows) next to an existing discussion.Discussion folder
  3. It is then possible to drag and drop the discussion into the folder.Discussion link

We do not recommend deleting or hiding any discussions, as this is a true record of staff and student activity.

Search a discussion
It is possible to search discussion content for a student’s contributions.Participants search engine
  1. Click on a discussion.
  2. Navigate to the participants search engine in the bottom right-hand corner. Limit your search to a few letters or the first or last name for the best results. Select a name from the results to view all the student’s responses and replies together.
  3. The student’s posts appear highlighted. Select the student’s name again to return to the main discussion.
Create a discussion link in a content area

There are different ways of creating a discussion link in a content area.

Select ‘display on course content page’ in an existing discussion’s settings, under the discussion tab
  1. Discussion settingsCreate a discussion from the discussion tab, as explained above. In the discussion settings for that particular discussion, select to display on course content page.
  2. This will create a duplicate link to the discussion. It will now be available from the duplicate link on the course content homepage, and also from the main discussions page.
  3. Navigate to the content homepage to then move the duplicate link to the desired location on the course. Select the duplicate link to drag and drop it elsewhere. To drop it into a folder, first click on the folder, and then click on the link to drag / drop it into the folder.

Discussion link

  1. Navigate to the content area where you wish to create a discussion. Click on the plus sign.Create plus sign
  2. Create optionSelect create / participation and engagement /discussion. Ensure display on course content page is checked in the discussion settings. This ensures a link will be placed in the location you are creating content in. A duplicate link will also appear under the discussions tab. Checking/ unchecking this setting resets this and displaces the link from your preferred location to the main content homepage (whilst keeping the duplicate link under the discussions tab).

You can reference a discussion in an area such as an online document or an announcement.

  1. Open the discussion item in your course / community. The discussion has a unique URL in the address bar and you can copy and paste this into your announcement / document. Once you have copied and pasted it into the content editor of your document/ announcement, highlight the URL text again and select the link icon from the editor menu.Discussion link in content editor
  2. Paste the URL text in the Link URL field in the box that appears. Link URL in content editor
  3. Advise students that if they are viewing from outside of Blackboard / from an email, they will need to first log in to Blackboard Ultra with their HYMS details before attempting to click on the link.

Encourage and manage successful discussions

Successful discussions
  1. Define participation requirements.
    • Share your expectations. Create a discussion where students can read about etiquette and access grading information (if applicable). Model proper online interaction and reinforce appropriate behavior with public recognition.
  2. Craft an effective question.
    • Incorporate multimedia resources into your questions to reduce the monotony of purely text-based interactions, such as ask students to view a clip and ask for responses.
  3. Encourage new ideas.
    • If discussion posts contain too much agreement and not enough questioning of ideas, try assigning students on opposing sides of a debate. Some students may also rely too much on the thoughts of others when they draft responses. Releasing content on the requirement that students contribute first may also help students cultivate their own ideas on the initial discussion topic (‘post first’ in discussion settings). Students can also be assigned to smaller discussion groups with specific sub-topics to discuss.
  4. Moderate and establish good etiquette
    • Establish your presence. Ask for clarification, resources, or input from participants. Use the participants search engine to monitor individual engagement. Ensure you check for regular discussion activity and also view discussion analytics.
    • Use descriptive subject lines to make threads easy to follow and scan. Keep posts short and use plain language.
    • Support your statements with evidence when you agree or disagree with others. Use professional language, including proper grammar. Avoid slang, emoticons, or chat acronyms.
    • Use attachments or links to websites for long, detailed information. Stay on topic. If you want to introduce a new tangent, start a new thread. Be respectful of other people’s opinions.

Set up a group discussion

Group discussion
  1. group discussionNavigate to the relevant discussion settings / select group discussion / assign to groups.
  2. You will be redirected to a new page to create groups and select students. From the drop-down select how you wish to enrol groups (self-enrol, custom, or reuse groups from an existing discussion if there are any already created). The example workflow here is ‘custom’ group type. Then select the pink plus sign in the middle of the page.Groups settings
  3. The new group will appear at the bottom of the page. Rename the group, then select a listed student. A drop-down menu will appear for that student. Select the name of the group to assign them to it. The student will then appear listed under that group. Repeat these steps to add another grouping / assign students.Group settings
  4. Group settingsSelect the ellipsis (three dots) alongside any grouping to unassign members, message members and delete a group.
  5.  Back on the main page for that discussion, you can then choose from the drop-down in the middle of the page the group you wish to view and to check activity for.Group set up page
  6. Groups and discussion linkFrom the initial discussion link in a content area or the discussions tab, select the discussion title to view discussion content and switch between any groups (as above). Select the groups link under the discussion title to open the groups set up page.

You can’t move individual students out of groups after they start their discussions. However, you can move unassigned students into groups after discussions have started.

Discussion activity visibility and notifications

Visibility and notifications
View content directly in courses and communities

Discussion logoDiscussions are visible directly on courses and communities and show a blue discussion icon to flag new content.

new discussion contentWithin a discussion new content will also be highlighted with a pink dot and the word ‘new’.

Discussion activity may also be visible to staff and students via the activity stream, email notifications, and also via the Blackboard app.

Staff and student recommendation

We recommend staff and students regularly check directly in course and community areas for a fully comprehensive view of all discussion activity. This is to ensure access to content as quickly as possible and to not miss any essential information (as some content may only partially display or be delayed in appearing elsewhere).

Activity stream

Discussion activity for a course or community can appear in the activity stream. Staff and students cannot select a preference in their activity stream notification settings, this is a default setting. This informs users that there is a new discussion, but not about individual posts. If a new discussion notification appears, users can click on it to be taken to the discussion. There may be a delay between content being added and it appearing in the stream.Activity stream

Blackboard app

Staff and students can receive push notifications about new discussions from the Blackboard app. Ensure in the app settings that such notification preferences have been checked, and phone settings are set to enable push notifications. Please see the following help page for further guidance; Blackboard Learn app guidance. Please note that the frequency and content of app notifications will vary on different devices and may not include individual discussion post updates.Notification settings

Email notifications

Discussion activity (new discussions and new posts) may appear in daily notifications for staff and students if under profile settings / email notification settings / ’email once a day’ and ‘new discussion messages’ has been checked. However, we do not advise staff or students select ’email once a day’, as ’email straight away’ ensures more announcement content is received. Daily notification content may also vary in what is included. There is also a current known issue being investigated regarding HYMS staff not receiving daily updates. Such notifications also do not include a live link to any new posts.email notifications


Discussion analytics


Analytics provide insights into participant activity and can help identify students who may need help and encouragement.

  1. Open the menu next to a discussion and select view analytics.Discussion edit options
  2. View information about the discussion; active students, average posts per student, average word count, participation, responses with the most replies, and top participants. The participation bar highlights in blue the percentage of students who’ve opened the discussion and participated. Click on responses to be taken to content in context.Discussion analytics

A further analysis of individual contributions is only available for graded discussions. However, it is possible to click on a discussion from the content area or discussions tab, navigate to the participants search engine in the bottom right-hand corner of that particular discussion, then search for individual contributions (see the above section of this help page regarding search and organise discussions).

Updated on 03/04/2023

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