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)

5 Reasons You Should Be Using Evernote

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For many, Evernote is an indispensable tool. If you are not yet an Evernote user, here are five reasons that you should consider becoming one:

Capture Anything

Evernote allows you to capture almost anything and store it for later use. Notes can be text that you type in directly, a voice recording you make with a mobile device, or a photo from your smartphone. If you come across a webpage that you want to save the Evernote Web Clipper makes it as easy as clicking one button. Evernote is also a great place to store important files that you may need quick access to such as user manuals or research articles.

Access Notes Anywhere

Be it a computer, tablet, or smartphone, you will be able to access and update Evernote. There are clients for Windows and Mac OS X if you want to use it on desktop and laptop computers. For mobile access, apps are available for iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone 7. If all else fails, there is a web based app that can be accessed from almost any modern browser.

Find Things Fast

The search and filtering capabilities in Evernote are incredible. Searches can be based on keywords, tags, dates,  or note types (such as images, audio, PDF, etc.). With a small amount of planning in how you use notebooks and tags it is possible to find exactly what you are looking for, whether it was created yesterday or 4 years ago. If you subscribe to Evernote premium ($5/month or $45/year), any PDF documents that you attach will be searchable as well.

Share with Friends and Colleagues

Evernote lets you share your notebooks with whoever you want. Notebooks can be made public via a link that can be posted on a webpage or included in an email. If security is important a notebook can be shared with only specific Evernote accounts. The premium version of Evernote lets you give others permission to edit shared notes for true collaboration.

Go Paperless

All of the combined features of Evernote make it possible to go almost completely paperless. Instead of printing an article from a webpage, just send it to Evernote and read it on your mobile device. The built in PDF functionality make it easy to scan a document, save it to Evernote, and find it whenever or wherever you need it.

A Brief Introduction to Google Docs

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Google Docs is a service offered by Google that offers the ability to create, edit, manage, and share documents online. It is possible to make text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms. Google Docs can be compared to software suites such as Microsoft Office or OpenOffice but is housed online so that it can be accessed from almost any computer or device with an internet connection. Assuming that you have a compatible device with access to the internet, the only other requirement is that you have a Google Account.

After signing in to Google Docs, the Docs list is displayed. The Docs list is the command center for creating and managing all of the document types.

The Google Docs list
The Docs list is where you create new documents or edit and manage existing ones.

Any existing docs can be viewed or edited by clicking on its name in the list. To create a new document click the Create button. The type of document must be selected. Whether editing an existing doc or creating a new one, the interface will be familiar to anyone who has used an office suite application.

 

Editing a document
When editing a document the interface has many features that are similar to that of traditional word processing applications.

It is possible to upload documents to Google Docs as well. Almost any type of file can be uploaded. For many file types Google Docs can automatically convert it to the appropriate Doc type. For example, a Excel spreadsheet file can be converted to a Google Docs spreadsheet. Once a file is converted it can be edited just as easily as one that was originally created in Google Docs. Similarly, any Google Doc can be downloaded to a computer or device by first opening the doc and then choosing “Download as” from the File menu.

The sharing features of Google Docs is where it really shines. A document can be shared in multiple ways:

  • A doc can be emailed directly to someone as an attachment.
  • A link to a doc can be placed on a website or in another document.
  • Another person’s Google Account can be specified allowing that person to see the doc in their own Google Docs list.

If a link is placed on a website (or elsewhere), any changes to the document after the link was provided will be seen by users clicking on the link. If the doc is shared with another person’s account they can optionally be given editing, commenting, or ownership rights to it. These sharing features make Google Docs a great tool for collaborating with others.

For more information about Google Docs, checkout the recording of the Google Docs webinar that was offered by the Academic Technology Resource Center on April 10, 2012.