Change to ‘My Courses’ in Blackboard for Students

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In addition to the all of the other changes to Blackboard now that we have upgraded to Blackboard 9.1 Service Pack 10, there is a change to the ‘My Courses’ module that may cause alarm for a few students.

Before the upgrade, courses that a student had enrolled in but had not been made available by the instructor would show up in the My Courses module as unavailable when the student logged in to Blackboard. Blackboard has removed that particular configuration option in Service Pack 10. Now, when a student has enrolled in a course and the instructor has not made the course available, the course will not appear in the My Courses module at all. There is no change to how the My Courses module will appear to instructors.

Students who have grown accustomed to seeing their unavailable courses in the My Courses module may be confused and wonder if there is a problem with their enrollment. Rest assured that the course will display as expected once it has been made available. It is recommended that students access the Palomar College eServices system to verify their enrollment information if they have any concerns.

What’s New in WordPress 3.5

Now that the Palomar College WordPress system has been updated to version 3.5, this would be a good time to write about some of the changes you can expect to see when managing your sites. Here’s a rundown of the most important new stuff:

All New Media Uploader

The biggest change in version 3.5 of WordPress is the new media manager. Adding images or documents to a post or page is now easier. The new Insert Media screen, seen below, is much more streamlined. This is very helpful when uploading multiple files or creating image galleries.

Insert Media screen in WordPress 3.5
The new Insert Media screen in WordPress 3.5

 

Embedding Media

A feature that many do not know about is the ability to easily embed content from some third-party sites such as YouTube, Twitter, or Flickr. With WordPress 3.5, it is now possible to easily embed content from additional sites such as SlideshareInstagram, and SoundCloud. What makes this feature so great is that it is simple to use. All you do is paste a URL to content on any of the supported sites and it will embed the content in your post or page. For example, to embed audio from Soundcloud just copy the URL from the clip you want to embed from your browser’s address bar and paste it into a WordPress post. It will embed a player right on the page like this:

 

New Default Theme: Twenty Twelve

There is a new default theme for WordPress called Twenty Twelve that sports an attractive, minimal design. It is also responsive, meaning that it adapts to different screen sizes. As more of our users are browsing our sites with phones and tablets, responsive web design is becoming very important.

Twenty Twelve WordPress theme
The new default WordPress theme, Twenty Twelve.

 

 

Other Changes

The changes listed above are the most prominent but there are many more that you may not even notice including:

  • Remote publishing option turned on by default
  • Privacy settings moved to the Settings -> Reading area
  • All new Welcome screen for new WordPress sites

WordPress keeps getting easier to use and more powerful at the same time. If you have any questions or comments about WordPress 3.5 please use the comment box below.

Inserting Links Into WordPress Pages and Posts

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Links to webpages and files are a basic part of the web. In fact, without them it wouldn’t be much of a ‘web’. The WordPress content editor makes it easy to insert new links and edit existing ones. There are three types of links that will commonly be inserted:

  • Internal pages or posts – These are links to pages or posts within your own WordPress site. WordPress makes it really easy to choose which existing page or post to link to.
  • External websites or files – Anything that is outside of your WordPress site is an an external link. WordPress allows you to specify a URL for any external content.
  • Internal files – The WordPress content editor makes it really easy to upload a file and link to it, all in one simple interface.
The following video demonstrates how to insert all three types of links:

How to Disable Comments in WordPress

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One of the most frequently asked questions about using WordPress for managing a website is:

How do I disable the comments on a page or post?

While the comment system in WordPress works really well and can be a great way to get feedback, there are many instances when comments from site visitors are not necessary or appropriate. By default, the option for a site visitor to leave a comment is on. It is not obvious how to turn comments off when creating or editing a page because the option is initially hidden.

The following short video shows how to disable comments on a page or post and how to change the default setting so that comments are off when creating new content.

Customizing Menus in WordPress

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Managing navigation menus on a website is usually a difficult task. WordPress takes way most of the difficulty of creating menus and, some would say, even makes it fun. In fact, on many WordPress sites the menu will automatically be configured as you create each new page. Page settings such as the ‘Parent Page’ and ‘Order’ allow you to control where in the menu the page will be listed.

There are, however, many cases where the menu needs to be customized. For example, if you need to add a link to a third-party webpage or add a post category.

The following video, part of the “Getting Started with WordPress” series, demonstrates how to create and manage a custom menu:

Creating a New Page in WordPress

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If you intend to use WordPress  as more than just a blog, and in my opinion you should at least consider it, it is necessary to understand how to create pages. While there are many similarities between creating a post and a page, there are some significant differences.

The following video gives an overview of creating a page and the various options available:

For more video tutorials on how to use WordPress check out the How-To page at the Palomar College WordPress Central site.

Creating New Posts in WordPress

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After obtaining a new WordPress site, one of the most important tasks to learn is how to create new posts. Posts can be used in many different ways within WordPress, but their primary use is as discrete entries in a blog. The home page of a new WordPress site is what is referred to as the posts page. Any page in a WordPress site can be designated as the posts page, but the home page is the default.

Posts are a great way to get fresh information online, keeping your site from appearing stale. The beauty of WordPress is that posts are quick and easy to create.

The following video demonstrates how to create a new post and talks about many of the options when doing so:

Finalizing Grades in Blackboard

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It’s that time of year. Students are turning in their final projects. Instructors are feverishly trying to get everything graded. With that in mind, here are a few simple steps that instructors can take at the end of a semester to ensure that there will not be any surprises when it comes to grades in Blackboard:

Delete or Exclude Unused Columns

Due to unexpected problems such as illness, power outages, inclement weather, and the like it is sometimes necessary to cancel a particular assignment that was originally planned. When that happens it is easy to forget to manage the matching column in the Blackboard Grade Center. If the column is left as is, it may cause problems with calculating the final semester grade for students. The easiest solution, in many cases, is to simply delete the column. To do so the column cannot be attached to a currently deployed Blackboard assignment or test. In that case, the assignment or test link must be removed first before the column can be deleted. If deleting the column is not possible or desired, the other primary option is to exclude the column from grade center calculations by using the “Edit Column Information” menu option. On the “Edit Column” screen, look for a check box towards the bottom to exclude the column.

Include this Column in Grade Center Calculations option
Set this option to no to exclude the column from calculations

Create Grade Reports for Students

Blackboard has a great feature that lets an instructor create a custom grade report for each student showing just the individuals grades. There is a short video demonstrating how to create grade reports at the Blackboard On Demand Learning Center website.

Blackboard Grade Report Example
An example of a Blackboard Grade Report

Backup Grades

The Blackboard Grade Center allows an instructor to export the grades in a format that is easy to view and manipulate in any spreadsheet application. To download the grades, access the Blackboard Grade Center, point to the “Work Offline” button, and choose “Download”. The grades can be downloaded in either CSV or TXT format, both of which can be opened in Microsoft Excel. Again, Blackboard has created a video showing how to download grades.

Archive Your Course

Archiving a course in Blackboard is important for many reasons. One of those reasons is that a Blackboard course archive can store a complete history of Blackboard grades and any changes made to the grades for an entire course. If it ever came down to it, the archive could be restored (with the help of a Palomar College Blackboard Administrator) and access to all of the grade history would be possible. David Gray gave a great overview of the archive process in his recent webinar titled “No Fooling, Archive Your Course”.

Easy Websites with WordPress

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Managing a website may not ever truly be easy, but WordPress can certainly make it easier. For those unfamiliar with WordPress, it is a web content management system that allows you to use a web browser for creating and editing a website. It can be accessed with any modern web browser from almost any internet connected computer. No special software or skills are needed.

The Palomar College Academic Technology Resource Center offers workshops on using WordPress. In particular, I would like to point out a new series of workshops called “Website in a Month”. Here’s the workshop description:

Don’t have a website? Is your existing website in need of a renovation? Whatever your needs are, this series of workshops is meant to get your website project started and finished in just 4 weeks. Using WordPress, you will learn how easy it can be to setup and manage a website. Whether you’re on your own or you have a team of people to work with, you will have a site that you can be proud of. The first meeting will cover how to get your site started and explain how the 4 week program will work.

The goal of the workshop series is to give as much hands on assistance with either creating a new site in WordPress or converting an existing site. The workshop dates/times are:

  • Tuesday, September 25, 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday, October 2, 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday, October 9, 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday, October 16, 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.

If you don’t yet have a WordPress site and would like a staff/faculty site to begin working with, these simple instructions will get you started: How to Create a WordPress Site [pdf]

If you are interested in creating a WordPress site for a department, discipline, or program submit a request through the ATRC Help Desk.

Blogging and Journaling in Blackboard

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One of the most common objections I hear from instructors about teaching online is the lack of interactivity between students. The most popular tool in Blackboard for student to student (and instructor to student) interaction is the discussion board. I recommend considering the blog and journal tools as well as they are also great ways for students and instructors to interact with each other.

The blog tool is best for student to student interaction. It allows students to submit entries (posts) consisting of text, links, and images which can be commented on by other students. The blog can be setup as a graded assignment or as just an optional component of the course. One of the strengths of using a blog is that it encourage critical thinking without requiring the formality of turning in a formatted paper. Students can quickly type up and submit their views on a particular topic and then other students can comment with their own opinions. The blog tool also allows instructors to chime in with comments. Blogs in Blackboard can be a good alternative to using the often cluttered discussion board. Threaded discussions can be great, but the mix of threads and replies (and replies to replies) can make it difficult to evaluate a students writing in some cases. The simple appearance of a blog entry and comments is easy to read:

The journal tool is very similar to the blog tool but with the important difference that entries by students can only be viewed by the instructor (by default). Here is what a basic journal entry and comment from the instructor looks like:

Journal comments are limited to just the student who wrote the entry and the instructor. After the journal assignments have been graded, there is a setting that can be turned on which will allow students to read each others entries.

Blackboard has provided a few resources that will be helpful when setting up and using blogs and journals. Here are a few useful links:

Getting Started with Journal Prompts to Improve Student Writing (pdf)

Creating a Blog (video)

Creating and Editing Blog Entries (video)

Commenting on a Blog Entry (video)

Creating a Journal (video)

Creating and Editing Journal Entries (video)

Commenting on a Journal Entry (video)