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 WordPress.org. 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: join.me

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: join.me 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. join.me is a ridiculously simple screen sharing tool for meetings on the fly.”

What does this mean? The join.me 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 join.me 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 join.me 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 join.me 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 join.me? There is a set of Frequently Asked Questions available on the website.

Getting the most out of Google Scholar

The Palomar College ATRC webinar topic this week was “Using Google Scholar”. The Google Scholar site is so easy to use that most visitors will not have any difficulty right from the start. There are, however, a few tips that will make it a little bit easier for you to find exactly what you are looking for.

Tip #1: Set your Scholar Preferences

At the top right corner of the page, look for the gear icon.

Clicking the gear icon will allows access to the Google Scholar Preferences.

Clicking the gear icon will give you the option to open the Scholar Preferences page. From there, you can set a number of options including your Library Links. Library Links allow you to specify which libraries you are a member of so that you can access their subscription based materials.

For those of you at Palomar College, simply type the name Palomar in the box and click the Find Library button. You will then see three different Palomar College Library access links. Check all three boxes and then click the Save Preferences button at either the top or bottom of the page.

Enter the name of the library that you are a member of and then check the boxes for the appropriate databases.

Setting up your Library Links is important because Google Scholar will include links to the full text of articles when they are available at the chosen library. (Library log in may be required for off-campus access.)

Once your Library Links are configured, the results include links to the full text of many articles.

Tip #2: Use Quotation Marks When Searching for Phrases or Names

When searching for an article by title or author, enclose your search terms in quotation marks. Using quotation marks will make Google Scholar return results for items that include all of the words (or names) that you searched for. For example, if you search for articles written by Craig Venter, search for “Craig Venter”. If you do not include the quotation marks, Scholar will includes results for articles written by anyone with the name Craig or Venter.

Quotation marks should be used for searches when you want to find an exact phrase in the text of articles as well. For example, searching for “quantum dot solar cells” will return results that contain that specific phrase but not articles that only refer to quantum dots or only solar cells.

In this example, searching without quotes returned more than 15,000 results.
The same search terms with quotes returns fewer but more relevant results.

Tip #3: Use the Advanced Scholar Search to Narrow Down Results

The Advanced Scholar Search page gives a lot of control over what is searched for and what results will be returned. Click on the Advanced Scholar Search link next to the Search button to access it. From there you can limit searches to just the titles of articles, only the author names, a specific subject, and many other options.

The Advanced Search page allows you to narrow down the search results.

Tech Toolbox: ZoomIt

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 plan to begin highlighting some such tools on the blog under the “Tech Toolbox” name.

For the first installment of Tech Toolbox, I’d like to focus on a simple Windows-based tool that can aid when doing presentations in the classroom: ZoomIt, from Microsoft.

From the download site:

“ZoomIt is screen zoom and annotation tool for technical presentations that include application demonstrations. ZoomIt runs unobtrusively in the tray and activates with customizable hotkeys to zoom in on an area of the screen, move around while zoomed, and draw on the zoomed image.”

What does this mean? That the ZoomIt program will allow you to show an enlarged picture of whatever is on your computer screen, and allow you to draw on the screen to illustrate points.

ZoomIt is easy to install (on Windows workstations running XP or higher, or Windows servers running 2003 or higher), and easy to use after just a couple minutes of horsing around. Since the program is free, I’d strongly suggest downloading and installing ZoomIt, should you ever have occasion to present to a class or meeting from a Windows system.