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Enhancing teaching and learning for students and faculty of Palomar College


Category: Educational Ideas

Getting Loopy with PowerPoint 2013

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.
  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 Adventure Time

Hi, this is David the human, and today I’ll be telling you a bit about my adventure last week in Las Vegas, at the BbWorld 2013 convention. (Okay, technically I attended both Blackboard’s Developer’s Conference, DevCon, and the main BbWorld conference, but the content from DevCon is uniformly tech in nature so likely nobody here cares.) Some of the BbWorld sessions were about esoteric topics, such as how to optimize the integration of data from the Palomar eServices system into Blackboard, or how to crawl around in the databases looking for diagnostic information to help make the system perform better. (If you’re interested in what all was available, you can revel in the official BbWorld 2013 documentation here.) But some sessions, as well as the conference keynotes, may be of interest to the faculty here, so I figured I should report in.

During the BbWorld conference many of the attendees tweeted, using the hashtag #BbWorld13. I also tweeted. I tweeted a lot. (Incidentally, if you’re interested in seeing those, feel free to find me on Twitter as @DavidTheGray.) So I’ll use some of those to describe what I found as the high points of the conference:

The opening keynote featured Clay Shirkey, who had some interesting stories about technology. One specific example given was the “Red Balloon Challenge” done by DARPA back in 2009. Perhaps I took the incorrect moral away from that story.

Red Balloon Challenge Tweet

Needless to say, Mr. Shirkey was able to get his story through to even MY brain.

"I can't do this on my own" Tweet

So the conference was off to a fairly powerful start. My first session, rather than being one of a technical nature, was actually more focused on pedagogy, and how to structure course content using “Predictable Design” to best support student success.

Tall order Tweet

don't read the syllabus Tweet

Predictable Design Tweet

GPS Tweet

With these admonitions still ringing in my ears, I’ll put out this challenge to y’all: If you’d like to sit down with me and discuss the workflow and layout of your Blackboard course materials, I’d love to work with you on that. Just let me know!

The following day, I sat through the Blackboard corporate keynote, and on the final day the Blackboard product roadmap. Here’s the best of show from those sessions:

Work together Tweet

Right out of the new CEO’s mouth, the company will be putting much focus on how the various Blackboard tools work together. The most immediate benefit from that for us will be having the Blackboard Collaborate tool finally integrate well with course sites.

UX Design Tweet

The company is recognizing that user experience (shortened to UX) is key; it really doesn’t matter how great the tools may be, if they can’t be used then… they are useless.

New Improvements Tweet

My personal choice for the best improvement over the last twelve months… difficult choice, as Blackboard has released many improvements. Calendar, Discussion Board, Video Everywhere, and the Inline Assignment Grading are all new. But after some thought my choice for “best” goes to the Test Deployment Exceptions. Incidentally, ALL of those are currently available on our production system; hopefully that doesn’t come as a shock.

SafeAssign Tweet

The “coming soon” modification that made me happiest is that Blackboard plans to consolidate the SafeAssign tool with their regular Assignment tool. So sometime soon it should be… you know, the way it always ought to have been… create an Assignment, then simply check a box to have an originality report generated. (Okay, there’s more tech work than just that, but from the user’s point of view it should be just that simple.)

Test Activity Logs Tweet

Not really a “coming soon” but instead a new function already released that we will have on our production system come Fall 2013: There will be faculty-readable logs of how a student progresses during their test attempts. (So you can tell if “Joe Student” spent the whole time without ever answering a question, or if they ran through the first fifty in ten minutes and then spend thirty minutes on the next question. Stuff like that.) Naturally there will be a whole post dedicated to this new function… I just haven’t written it yet!

The closing keynote speaker was Sugata Mitra, who shared some amazing stories of his Hole in the Wall work, and the implications he sees.

Pedagogy Tweet

Naturally I can’t do the man justice in my paltry blog post; I would advise you to examine what he offers in the way of TED talks.

Finally, lest I come off as insightful or some such, let me leave you with a tweet from one of the technical presentations I attended:

Feel dumb Tweet

It made for a fantastic conference, but a bit overwhelming. So if you’re worried about your students getting overwhelmed in your course, take my plea: Give them some pictures, instead of more text or talking.

Finalizing Grades in Blackboard

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”.

Blogging and Journaling in Blackboard

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:

blog sample

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 example

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)

A Brief Introduction to Google Docs

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.

Recording Room Blues

Here in Academic Technology we talk about crafting screen recordings or doing narrated videos from your PowerPoint slide deck, and we really are emphasizing these functions since the recent purchase of Camtasia Studio for all district computers.

However, the one resource that can be in short supply on campus is finding a quiet place to get recordings done. That’s where the “Blue Room” comes in. For the last seven years Academic Technology has maintained the “Faculty Technology Center” in room LL-111 on the first floor of the Library building on the San Marcos campus. The ancillary room LL-111A, pictured below, has come to be known as the “Blue Room” for obvious reasons.

Wide angle view of the LL-111A room layout

With all-new computer equipment (the “all-in-one” model of workstation soon to be in the LL-109 computer lab classroom, coming this Summer) it is easier than ever to record material using Camtasia in the Blue Room. To ensure that you get the best sound quality we have covered the walls with sound-proof foam pads, and with the door closed there is a sound difference that has to be heard to be believed. (Truly, just about all the ancillary echoes that we take for granted are dampened down, which gives a richness to the quality of the silence in the room.)

Headset, workstation, document stand and lamp, everything for a great recording session.

As you can see above, the small room has a headset, webcam, document stand… everything needed to record academic content for your students. And, of course, it’s within ten strides of the ATRC offices, where the techs will be able to assist you with anything you might need during your recording sessions.

So come on down, and try your hand at recording in the ATRC Blue Room!

WordPress Themes from ElegantThemes Now Available

We began offering WordPress sites at Palomar College during summer 2011. Anyone who has used WordPress already knows just how powerful themes can be. Themes allow you to change the look (and sometimes the behavior) of your site with just a couple clicks of the mouse. There are over a thousand themes available for free at Many of them are very attractive and easy to use. For those who are looking for something even better, I am happy to announce that we now have all 72 of the premium themes offered by ElegantThemes available for use on our Palomar hosted WordPress sites. These themes are, to put it mildly, beautiful. Here is an example of one of their themes:

The DeepFocus theme from ElegantThemes

For those who do not already have a WordPress site at Palomar, it is easy to create one. If you already have a WordPress site, choosing a new theme is easy. Just log in to your WordPress site, go to the Dashboard, and choose Appearance -> Themes. Form there you will be able to browse through all of the available themes and activate the one that you would like to use.

Important note: The preview option does not work for many of the themes from ElegantThemes. To get an idea of what they look like and what features they have I recommend browsing through them at the ElegantThemes website. Once you find one you like, go back to your own WordPress dashboard and activate it.

Creating Groups in Blackboard

Blackboard has many tools which can be used by students for collaborating on group projects. Before students can take advantage of group tools, an instructor must first create the groups in Blackboard. Creating groups in Blackboard is easy. When in a Blackboard course, navigate to Control Panel -> Users and Groups -> Groups.

The Groups page will be displayed with a list of all groups that currently exist in the course.

If only a single group is needed, the Create Single Group button should be used. If there will be multiple, related groups the Create Group Set button should be used. There are three types of groups in Blackboard:

  • Random Enroll groups are just what it sounds like. The instructor chooses either the number of groups or the number of students per group that is wanted and Blackboard automatically creates them.
  • Manual Enroll groups allow the instructor to specify which students belong in which groups.  It is always possible to go back and change the group configuration later if needed. (Random-Enroll groups can be changed later as well.)
  • Self-Enroll groups enable the ability to post a sign-up sheet in a Blackboard content area which students can use to join a group. It is possible to limit the number of students that can join any group. This method is perfect if the students will be forming their own groups or if there is an optional project that students can be a part of.

There are many options that can be set when creating a Blackboard Group, including which tools that they are allowed to use. The tools that can be available to a group are:

  • Blogs
  • Collaboration
  • Discussion Board
  • Email
  • File Exchange
  • Journals
  • Tasks
  • Wikis

Each tool is optional. Just check or uncheck the box for a tool when creating (or editing) a group to turn it on or off. Some tools, such as the blogs and wikis, allow for grading to be turned on. It is also possible to create an assignment as a group assignment that only requires the group to submit once for the entire group instead of having each individual student submit.

More information about creating and using groups in Blackboard can be found online at the Blackboard On Demand Learning Center.

Recognizing student performance problems early in Blackboard

In a typical online course, making sure that all students are keeping up can be difficult. It’s rarely possible to check on the progress of each student every step of the way. The Blackboard Early Warning System allows an instructor to setup rules to identify when a student is falling behind and then notify them by email.

There are a few different ways that the Early Warning System can analyze student progress. For example, a rule can be setup to identify all students who have not logged in for a given number of days. Once the students are flagged, an email can be sent to them letting them know that they are not meeting the expectations for the course. Even better, if a students overall grade percentage falls below a certain threshold a notification email can be sent.

Setting up rules in the Early Warning System is easy. Blackboard has produced a short video on how to create a rule. Once the rule has been created, it is important to remember that it must be “refreshed” periodically to identify students who meet the criteria. Here is an example of a rule after it has been refreshed:

Early Warning System rules

After a rule has been "refreshed", the Number of Warnings column will show how many students met the criteria

In the example above, 1 out of 23 students has not accessed the Blackboard course for more than 7 days. From there it is easy to access the Review Rule Status to see a list of students along with information about whether or not they met the rule criteria.

Review Rule Status option

The Review Rule Status option will display a list of your students along with whether or not they have met the criteria

When multiple students have met the criteria it is easy to send them all the same message or customize the message for each student. The Blackboard system keeps track of the notifications that were sent out so that you can always view when you last notified a student about a specific Early Warning System rule.

There are three types of rules that can be created:

  • Grade Rule
  • Last Access Rule
  • Due Date Rule

It is important to remember is that the rules do not run constantly in the background. You must access the Blackboard Early Warning System area (Control Panel -> Evaluation -> Early Warning System) and refresh the rules periodically. Also, the system does not automatically notify students. Remember to send the notifications after refreshing rules if there were students that met the criteria. With the right combination of rules Blackboard can help make sure that no students “fall through the cracks”. More information about the Blackboard Early Warning System can be found on Blackboard’s help site.

Tech Toolbox:

Occasionally when the techs here are speaking with faculty, particularly in the free-form discussions that come up at our Wednesday morning “Blackboard with Cream & Sugar” sessions, the techs will mention tools we use that faculty are unaware of. Sometimes those tools can be adapted to use in the classroom, so I’m highlighting some such tools on the blog under the “Tech Toolbox” name.

Today’s addition to the Tech Toolbox is a screen sharing tool that could be used both in the classroom and out: by LogMeIn.

From the website:

“Get everybody on the same page, when they’re not in the same room, instantly. Review documents and designs. Train staff. Demo products or just show off. is a ridiculously simple screen sharing tool for meetings on the fly.”

What does this mean? The service allows the screen of a Windows or Mac computer to be viewed by one or more other screens, on any Windows computer, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android phone… you get the picture. Certainly there are a number of different screen sharing programs available, but what makes my tool of choice is how, as they say, “ridiculously simple” the tool is to use. Image: The share button at join.meJust go to the website on a Windows or Mac computer, and click the obvious orange “Share” button. Depending on how your computer is set up you may have to click buttons to allow the program to install, but once it does you can immediately begin sharing your screen with others.

The easiest way to invite someone to share your computer is to start a sharing session, copy the address from the program, then paste that into an email that you send to someone. When they click that link, they will very quickly be looking at what is on your screen. Of course, if you wanted to allow screen sharing in the classroom to student’s mobile devices, you might want to either post the sharing code on the screen or, to get more fancy, post a QR code that will direct mobile devices to the sharing link. That way, any students who so choose could have a duplicate of what you’re projecting display on their own mobile device or laptop.

Still have questions about There is a set of Frequently Asked Questions available on the website.