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The annual Educause conference is the premier teaching and technology showcase for higher education. The most recent expo was held in Dallas last October. I recently read an account of the conference and, in particular, saw a list of some of the products and innovations that were announced there.

The article notes that with increased calls for demonstrable student outcomes, and in anticipation of what may soon emerge from the Spellings Commission, several vendors have introduced new or updated products geared to complying with outcomes reporting. Here is the description provided of Blackboard's (BBBB) product entry:

Blackboard announced development of the Blackboard Outcomes System, a comprehensive software solution to meet the needs of the entire enterprise for coordinated outcome assessment. IHEs are looking for ways to meet accreditation requirements for student learning outcomes; communicate their effectiveness to parents, businesses, government, and other stakeholders; and comply with accountability requirements. Due next year, the Outcomes System will help improve institutional effectiveness at each level. It's designed to provide better transparency into outcomes for effective decision-making and resource allocation, and it will streamline regional and specialized compliance requirements.

Institutions are scrambling to find ways to assess learning outcomes. Assessment is the latest craze in higher education and the accreditation agencies are coming down hard on institutions with regard to this issue. A lot of this pressure is due to the fact that the Department of Education is putting a lot of pressure on the accreditation agencies to beef up accountability requirements for the institutions they accredit.

Many colleges and universities which have recently undergone accreditation review have been found non-compliant in the area of assessing student learning outcomes. And those institutions who are facing review in the near future know that they will be held to a high standard with regard to such assessment. The accrediting agencies do not prescribe how an institution must assess student outcomes, but it insists on a detailed plan which is carried out on an on-going basis, not just every 10 years when an institution is up for review. Furthermore, the institution must demonstrate that it has used the results of its assessment efforts to make changes and improvements in its programs. Although a lot of faculty and administrators find all of this an annoyance and treat it simply as a hoop which one must jump through, they know full well that the accrediting agencies are deadly serious about this.

There is potentially a lot of demand for any product which will make life a bit easier for faculty and administrators as they try to meet the accrediting requirements in the area of outcomes assessment. While this type of product will not necessarily induce an institution to begin a subscription to Blackboard, it may well be something which existing customers add to their subscriptions.

Source: Education Innovation: Blackboard's Outcomes System