Blackboard Thing of the Week: Zen and the Art of Course Copy

This week I’d like to draw some attention to the Course Copy tool within Blackboard. True, y’all are pretty familiar with using that tool to duplicate materials into a new semester course, but there are some nuances to the course copy settings that you may be unaware of.

CP_CourseCopyFirst off, recall that you do want to start a course copy from the course with the material. In terms of “getting next semester ready” that means go into the OLD course. Under Packages & Utilities on the Control Panel you can go to the Course Copy tool. Here at Palomar we only allow one type of course copy “to an Existing Course”, since we make empty course shells for each class students can enroll in.


Bear in mind that Course Copy is not the appropriate tool for duplicating individual items or folders of content. At the very least a Course Copy will get whole content areas of material; if you’re looking for a finer granularity of copy function, consider the Copy option available on the context menu of nearly every item or folder in your course. (There are a few things, such as Test links, that do not have the Copy option, but by and large it’s present.)

There’s also a bit of a trick to getting Test links and Assignments to copy. It’s not enough to just check the box for the content area that contains the link. To get a test to copy, obviously you need to check for Tests, Surveys & Pools. And to have both test links and Assignments copy you need to check the box for Grade Center Columns and Settings, too. (Don’t ask why. Just accept it, okay?)

Blackboard Thing of the Week – Sign-up for Content

Have you ever had content that you want students to opt-in to receive, but you don’t want students able to opt-out of as the Review Status tool allows? Naturally the Adaptive Release tool will be the key to making Blackboard show the content, but what criteria could allow students to opt-in without being able to reverse the process?


But not just any old Group type; I’m talking specifically about Sign-up Only groups, in which students may sign up to include their name on the group list (so that YOU don’t have to assign them to the group). Then all you would need to do is set an Adaptive Release rule on your content, and allow students in that group to view the materials.

The specific example I use in the below video refers to a field trip and accompanying permission form, but this could easily apply to homework review, office hours, just about any situation where students will indicate they wish to be included. Take a look at how easy this whole process really can be:

Blackboard Inline Assignment Grading

Blackboard is introducing an improvement to the Assignment tool, which I suspect faculty will be quite pleased with. The Assignment tool, as you hopefully are already aware, is the component which allows students to submit files for the instructor to review, grade, and give feedback to the student. Assignments can take almost any type of file, and
Inline Assignment Grading can convert, display, and annotate Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and PDF file formats.

In fact, between Office documents and PDFs, that’s 95% of all file types submitted via Assignments on Blackboard’s hosted systems, and I strongly suspect it’s the vast majority of file types submitted here at Palomar too. So although you won’t be able to annotate an MP3 or markup a video file, the inline grading is likely to work with most of what students will submit to you.

To give you the factory showroom view of this tool, take a look at the “Quick Hit” video that Blackboard produced about this tool:

Naturally the video they produce looks shiny, but honestly the tool does seem to work quite well in person, too. There is a fairly comprehensive write-up on the use of the grading comment components on the Blackboard Help site, if you’d care to take a look. Inline Assignment Grading is enabled now on the BbSandbox environment, so I urge interested faculty to head over there and try it out. However, if you’re interested in seeing an example on our very own system, take a look at this video where I put the tool through its paces:

As you can see, it doesn’t do everything, but… close. And what it does do, it seems to do quite well.

So when, you may ask, will we get this ability on the production Blackboard environment here at Palomar? Good question. This new tool went live from Blackboard on March 13th, so it’s still very new. However, we technically could enable it on production at any time. The exact timing of when to put this on production is being decided by wiser heads than mine, but at the very latest we will have this new ability starting in June 2013. If you have a feeling one way or the other on having Inline Assignment Grading enabled in the middle of the Spring semester, please let us know your thoughts.

Blackboard Thing of the Week – Adaptive Release via Review Status

Is there anything in your Blackboard course that you really don’t want students to have until after they’ve read something else already in the course? In that case, let me introduce you to my two friends Adaptive Release and Review Status.

Review Status is a simple control that can be enabled on any piece of content within one of your content areas, which offers students a button to click to indicate they have reviewed that content. Think of it as a “yes, I did that” button, which could be used by itself to let students check things off as they work through your list of content. The entries a student marks as having reviewed will also show up for the instructor through the Performance Dashboard, so letting students use that Review Status control can even act as a way to monitor student progress.

To give the Review Status control some teeth, it is possible to leverage that button as a trigger for an Adaptive Release rule. If you aren’t already aware, Adaptive Release is the control within Blackboard that allows content be be conditionally available to students. In this example we would make the condition be “has marked something as Reviewed”, although there are many other ways to set up criteria using Adaptive Release. (If this idea interests you, perhaps you would want to contact us in Blackboard support; we can meet with you, and set up all sorts of Adaptive Release rules on your content.)

In the case illustrated in the below video, students will end up only seeing the second piece of content after they have marked the first piece as having been reviewed:

So hopefully this has spawned some ideas on where you might want to use Review Status, either on its own or in conjunction with an Adaptive Release rule. Give it a shot, and if you run into trouble, just contact your friendly support techs!

Blackboard Thing of the Week – Multiple Test Attempts

Blackboard’s testing tool has an option to allow multiple test attempts, either unlimited attempts or up to a specified number of attempts. This means that once a student has taken the test a first time, they will  have the opportunity to go back, click the test link again, and try another time. However, a goodly amount of the time, students do not correctly navigate into the test for their second attempt, but instead end up in a frustrating look of viewing the test, saying to Begin the test, and looking at their results from the first attempt.

The trick, as much as their is one, is to read the actual text on the screen. When a student clicks the Begin button to take a test for a subsequent time, there is a big obvious OK button over in the lower right corner of the screen. That button will take the student to see their last test attempt, thus they should NOT click that button. (Now, the text on the screen does clearly state this, but judging from the number of times this has been a problem people don’t actually read the text.) In that same paragraph of instructional text is a link which says “take the Test again.”

Let me be as clear as I can: To take the Test again, click the text that says “take the Test again.”

To be doubly clear, I’ve produced a video demonstrating exactly what this process is like, so feel free to review it and judge the process to “take the Test again” for yourself.

Blackboard Thing of the Week – Initial Grade Center Cleanup

I’ve been seeing an atypically high amount of interest this semester from faculty wanting to start using the Grade Center. That’s excellent, but if you’re just starting out using the Grade Center then a good place to start is with cleaning up some of the default columns that really aren’t of any use. Also, if you are just starting out with posting grades to your Blackboard course, consider meeting with one of the Blackboard support team to discuss how you are going to use grades. We are more than happy to meet with you one-on-one and discuss the specifics of your course; just let us know what times work best for you!

In the below video, I demonstrate how to hide away some columns of no value here at Palomar, and discuss deleting at least one of the two default columns for totaling up the student scores. After all, it’s unlikely that you truly need both a Weighted Total and Total column.

If you have been using the Grade Center for some time, and still have all those default columns around “just in case”… hide ’em away. Worst case scenario is that you may decide to show them again at some point in the future, and they’re just getting in your way right now.

Blackboard Thing of the Week – Blank Page

In the past I have referred to the “Item” as the most basic building block of content within a Blackboard course. That’s certainly true (and if you want to only master ONE content type, the Item is certainly where to focus your energy), but a content area can start looking a bit crowded with half-a-dozen or more Items all in a list. That’s particularly true if you are placing more than about two paragraphs of text on each item – the “wall of text” effect kicks in fairly quickly.

One strategy is to use Content Folders, to break up the massive list of items. Certainly folders work well when they are to contain a whole list of content, but I’ve always thought a folder holding just one item looks a bit funny.

Enter the “Blank Page”.

As you can see in the video, a Blank Page gives you the function of a folder holding an item, without the extra effort of creating two different pieces of content. Can you think of anywhere in your own course where you might simplify things through use of the Blank Page?

New Blackboard Discussion Forums

Blackboard logo

It’s been quite some time since Blackboard last made changes to the discussion board forum system available within Blackboard courses. Finally a stride forward has been made, which should make forums significantly easier to read and reply to. The Blackboard team has also thrown in a bit of wholly new functionality to this new Discussions tool, which will soon be replacing the existing Discussion Board tool here at Palomar.

Barring some esoteric problem, we should have the new Discussions tool available on our production Blackboard environment beginning in early June 2013, as part of the maintenance and upgrade time scheduled for June 3-6. However, if you’d like to get a feel for the new tool now, it is live on the BbSandbox environment right now! Feel free to log in and try it out in your sandbox courses.

To answer “what’s new” in this tool, here’s what Blackboard has to say about it:

Discussions have been updated in two primary ways: the “Thread Detail” page has been thoroughly redesigned while maintaining all of its current functionality. We have also added new functionality to support specific pedagogical needs for the use of discussions.

Selected highlights include:

  • All Posts on One Page and Instructor Highlighting – all of the posts in a thread are now visible at the same time on one page. Posts now also contain the users’ course role and forum role.
  • Inline Replies – when replying to a post, the content editor used to write a response appears on the same page, in the context of the discussion.
  • Post First Discussions – This setting allows instructors to require students to post to a discussion before seeing other students’ posts.

Since most of these elements are visual in nature, you also may want to review the following video demonstrating what the new forums look like.

So, a new discussion board forum tool. Something to look forward to, I say.

Blackboard Thing of the Week – Course Themes

Have you ever looked at a Blackboard course, and rather than focusing on the careful arrangement of course menu entries, attached files, and array of communication tools, what you actually thought was “dang that thing is ugly”? Well if so, you might be pleased by the Thing this week.

I take a look at Course Themes, and how they may be accessed via the “Teaching Styles” link on the Customization portion of the Control Panel, or through the “swatch” menu up near the Edit mode switch. Changing up the course theme can be a good way to make your course site stand out, so that your students can’t get confused as to which of their courses they are currently working in. (Yes, I’ve heard students claim that the name of the course in the upper left corner isn’t sufficient to keep track of which course they are in. No, I didn’t think it sounded true either.) Just keep in mind that your students may spend a good deal of time staring at whatever color choice you make, so try to avoid the more garish of the course themes.

Blackboard Thing of the Week – Content Areas

To host any of your handouts, deploy your tests, or offer students the chance to upload assignments through your Blackboard course you’ll need to use a content area. An empty course shell starts out with two, but you can create as many or as few as you like.

Did you know that it’s possible to set date and time restrictions on when a content area is available to students? Did you realize that it’s just two-click simple to manually render a whole content area unavailable to students? Well, watch the below video, and you’ll know exactly how to do those things.