Personalizing Blackboard Content

Blackboard logo

I’m certain you’ve received bulk messages, either on paper through the mail or (often as spam) though email. Often those messages use a function known as “mail merge” to modify the content of the message to show personalized information. Although that sort of function can be awkward if used poorly, Blackboard has limited options to get a “mail merge” effect out of your Blackboard content.

This function was originally intended for developers to be able to list personal details, but these “tokens” will work for students and instructors within Blackboard courses as well. Most of the tokens available are fairly useless (for details see the complete list), but there are three that you may get some use out of: Full Name, Username, and Course Name.

Whenever you are posting content using the Content Editor within Blackboard, including where students post to discussion boards, you can simply put these place-holders, and when viewed the correct information will display.

Data Token Sample
Full Name @X@user.full_name@X@ David Gray
Username @X@user.id@X@ dgray (for instructor) OR 012345678 (for student)
Course Name @X@course.course_name@X@ 2014 Fall DEMO 100 Demonstration Course 79999

Using these tokens, I could post a piece of content like:

@X@user.full_name@X@ (@X@user.id@X@), welcome to @X@course.course_name@X@.

Which, after submission, would display like this for my instructor account:

David Gray (dgray), welcome to 2014 Fall DEMO 100 Demonstration Course 7999.

While my student account would see:

David Gray (012345678), welcome to 2014 Fall DEMO 100 Demonstration Course 79999.

Sadly there is not a token for “only first name” so the full user’s name is the best you could hope to use for personalizing. These tokens should also work when using Blackboard to send email or post announcements, but I do recommend testing to be certain you have the code correct before blasting out a message to everybody in the course.

Generating Boilerplate Content within Word

Word 2013

Perhaps you’ve been in this situation: Need to work on the formatting of a document, but the author hasn’t provided the text yet. What you really need is some sample text in your Word document, but you don’t want to go out and find some text online, possibly for fear of getting interested in some new topic. (Or is that just me?)

Microsoft Word actually has a function just for this purpose. Actually, I lie, it has two functions just for this purpose.

To see this in action, fire up Word, open up a new document and type (without the quote marks, of course) “=lorem(5,8)” and then hit Enter. You should be looking at five paragraphs of eight sentences each, filled with that psuedo-Latin “Lorem ipsum” text. Naturally you can change the numbers in that, with the first controlling number of paragraphs and the second controlling number of sentences, so “=lorem(71,3)” would result in many short paragraphs.

But what if you want some boilerplate text, but want something that will be readable English? In that case, type in “=rand(5,3)” (or whatever numbers of paragraphs and sentences you want), and hit Enter. Text will appear, drawn from Microsoft help files. (At one time it used to iterate “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” But this changed to somewhat meaningful text around Word 2007.)

So there you have it, two functions to generate some throw-away text. Now you can get to testing font styles, preparing the locations of images, anything else to beautify the document, all without waiting for the author to get the text to you.

Getting Loopy with PowerPoint 2013

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If your classes go anything like my workshops do, then you seldom start right on time. I always hate “wasting time” out of my scheduled class time, and wish I could do something to make that time more useful.

I’d really like to have something like the pre-previews content that movie theaters run; you know, the stuff with trivia games, ads, and the like that play before the house lights dim. There’s always an array of things to tell my learners about, and having that showing on the classroom projector while I do other things until class starts seems ideal.

PowerPoint to the rescue!

If you prepare a series of informational slides (when the next exam is, when the drop deadline is, what sort of cookies you prefer, etc.) it is possible to configure your slides to automatically advance, and when the end of the presentation hits, to loop around and play them all again. The two key elements are “Transitions” and “Loop Continuously.”

  1. First, make sure you don’t have any animations that are set to run “On Click.” If you do, those animations will not trigger.
  2. Next, for each slide, decide how long you want it to display on the screen.
  3. Move to the first slide, and click the Transitions tab.
    Transitions AdvanceSlide
  4. At the right side of the ribbon, in the “Advance Slide” area, uncheck “On Mouse Click”, check “After:” and set the time. That is minutes, seconds, and fractions of a second, so if you want the slide there for 15 seconds it must be set to 00:15.00.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 on each slide of your presentation. Each may have a completely different time set.
  6. Next, go to the Slideshow tab, and click the “Set Up Slide Show” button near the left of the ribbon.
    Set Up Slideshow
  7. On the “Set Up Show” dialog, check the box for “Loop continuously until ‘Esc'”, and be sure the “Advance slides” control is set to “Using timings, if present.” That way, all those times you set will actually be used.
    Set Up Show Dialog
  8. Now you can save your show, as you normally would, in the PPTX format.

Technically you’re all done now (although you’ll want to test things BEFORE going into the classroom). But to trigger your presentation, all you need to do is right-click the PPTX file, and choose “Show” on the context menu. That should cause your presentation to open immediately into the slideshow mode, so all you would need to do then is sit back, and watch your presentation run itself.

PPTX Menu ShowNow, if you’re the type who wants to use animations, even in these slides, that can be done. The trick is to make sure all your animations are set to “With previous” or “After previous,” and that none use “On Click.” Of course, the more complex your animations, the more you’ll want to test and be sure everything works as expected.

So there you have it: Self presenting slides. My plan is to start such a presentation Showing a few minutes prior to my next in-person session, and see if anyone pays attention. When you give it a try, let me know how your experience goes!

 

Blackboard Offline August 11

Blackboard logo

As previously noted, Palomar’s Blackboard system is going through some software upgrades and system tuning on Monday, August 11, 2014. The plan is for the system to go offline starting at 12:30 AM Pacific time, and have the system back online before 4:30 PM Pacific time.

Should there be any news-worthy events during the upgrade process, I’ll be editing this blog post. So check back during the day on Monday, if you’re the obsessive type who wants to keep informed on the Blackboard system progress.

UPDATE: Posted 10:40 AM 8/11/2014

The Blackboard system has been offline since 12:31 AM, and significant process has been made. However the system remains offline, although we remain on track to complete prior to 4:30 PM.

COMPLETE: Posted 11:02 AM 8/11/2014

In record time, the Blackboard upgrade is complete. The system is back online, and may be used normally now.

New Faculty Technology-related Cheat Sheet

Palomar logo 200x200

One frustration for new faculty here at Palomar is simply remembering which systems are supported by which departments, and where the various resources are. (Honestly, that’s pretty frustrating for ME still, as I approach two decades at Palomar.) So here’s a short cheat sheet to answer the question “who you gonna’ call?” Hint: the answer, sadly, is not “Ghostbusters.”

Palomar E-mail will take you to a webmail interface for Palomar’s Exchange email system. Also, knowing we use Exchange may help you in configuring a mobile device to check your Palomar email.

Faculty eServices will take you to the faculty login screen for the eServices enrollment system. Given that the actual address of that page is quite lengthy, you may just want to go to the main Palomar web site, click eServices, then click the Faculty tab.

Both email and eServices are supported by the Information Services department. They also do the support on the office desktop computers and classroom workstations and projectors. You can reach the Information Services helpdesk by email at helpdesk@palomar.edu, or by phoning X2140 on campus.

Blackboard will take you to Palomar’s course management system. Alternately, if you’re putting the address in print, you may want to put http://www.palomar.edu/blackboard/.

WordPress will allow you to log into the Palomar WordPress system, to make changes to your own website on our servers. If you’ve never logged in before, simply logging in will create a site for you.

Both Blackboard and WordPress are supported by the Academic Technology department. We also have two classroom computer labs which can be reserved for classes to use, as well as a variety of other services. You can reach Academic Technology using the ATRC helpdesk, by emailing atrc@palomar.edu, or by phoning X2862 on campus.

Disability Resource Center will take you to information, mostly geared towards students, on what accommodations may be made for students with disabilities. So should you have students who need it, you can contact our experts in the DRC by phoning X2375 on campus.

Hey, worst case scenario, if you don’t know who to ask for help with a particular problem… ask anyone. If nothing else, we should all be able to point you in the right direction to get whatever help you need.