Blackboard Tests and ADA time extensions

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Do you use timed tests in your Blackboard course? Do you ever need to give students extended time on tests to meet legal requirements? Do you like to set things up once, rather than wasting time doing the same thing multiple times?

If you answered yes to all of those, this post is for you!

Before diving into the minutia of how to manage extended test times best, let’s define how students at Palomar end up entitled to additional time. As I’m quite ignorant on this topic, I consulted with an expert. Sherry Goldsmith of the Disability Resource Center (DRC) had this to say:

“Here is how it works. Not all students with disabilities are eligible for extended time. DRC Counselors approve extended time based on the students educational limitations. The student then provides an accommodations form to instructor. In face-to-face courses the instructor signs the form; however, in most online courses the instructor receives the form via email and a signature is not always available. Of the students that receive approval, the majority receive 1.5 times. Most blind students receive 2 times the normal time.”

So potentially students may require time extensions in two flavors: time-and-a-half, and double time. Since recent changes to the Blackboard testing system, there are provisions to make test availability exceptions, so you could certainly make exceptions to each of your tests for the specific students who need them, each and every time the issue crops up. Or you can follow these instructions, set your tests up once, and not need to touch each individual test deployment each time a student needs a time extension allowed.

Step one, create two groups in your course. I’d suggest naming them something memorable, such as TestTime1.5 and TestTime2. (Create Manual groups, set to not be visible, with no tools checked.)

Group creation options screen

Step two, for each deployed test, make it part of your normal routine to create availability exceptions for both these groups. Obviously set the TestTime1.5 group to be allowed half again the normal time limit, and TestTime2 allowed double the normal time limit. (In the Test Availability Exceptions screen, click the Add User or Group button, select both groups from the list, then set the Timer options. For a typical 30 minute test, set to 45 and 60 minutes.)

Test availaiblity exceptions

Step three, make it part of your normal routine when copying or export/importing content into new courses, to always include the “Group Settings” section, along with the more traditional “Content Areas”, “Grade Center Columns and Settings”, and “Tests, Surveys and Pools”.

Step four, whenever you have a student allotted extended time limits on tests, simply enroll them in the appropriate Group. Since you’ve been good about always setting those exceptions, and copying them forward to new semesters, putting them into a group is all you need to do!

Group enrollment screen

This video should illustrate the whole process, if things are still unclear:

Grading? Back up!

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As the Fall term draws to a close, quite a bit of grading is going on. If you’ve just spent the last two hours at your computer punching in student grades, this might be a good time to back up that work.

If you’re already in your course site now, just follow these 6 simple steps to create a grade backup:

  1. Go to the “Full Grade Center” view, so you can see the whole grade grid for your course.
  2. Over on the upper right of the grid, open up the “Work Offline” menu, then choose “Download”.
  3. If you are hiding student grades in the grade grid, be sure to “Include Hidden Information” in section 2 of the Download grades options. If not, then the default setting are all you should need.
  4. Click the “Submit” button.
  5. Click the “DOWNLOAD” button in the upper left corner of the Download Grades screen.
  6. Save the file onto your computer, somewhere you will find it should you ever have need.

Hopefully you’ll never need a backup of your grades, but hope and a backup will get you more than just hope.

From 35mm slide to digital

Remember 35 millimeter slides?

Yeah, me neither. No, really, although most of us don’t have occasion to use slide projectors any more, there are still boxes and carousels of slides floating around out there. Occasionally we in Academic Technology are asked “is there some way to have my slides scanned?”

Yes, yes there is. Meet the ImageLab slide scanner.

As you can see demonstrated in the video below, this little device makes it easy to digitize any 35 millimeter slides or negatives you have lying around. The scanner outputs JPG files, so there’s no fuss about using non-standard file formats; there’s not even any custom software to worry over, just pull out the SD card or plug the scanner in via USB to pull your pictures off the scanner. This thing even runs on AAA batteries, so you could sit in your living room easy chair with a box of slides and the scanner and just work away until you are done.

As mentioned in the video, the Academic Technology department does have one of these available, either to use in the LL-111 Faculty Technology Center or to check out to faculty for short periods of time. It doesn’t take long to actually scan the slides, either. That slide carousel shown in the movie contained 76 slides, and I was able to digitize the whole batch of them in just under 25 minutes.

So, if you’ve got slides or negatives to convert to image files, we’ve got you covered. Just come on down to the Academic Technology offices and we’ll help you get started.

Blackboard Learn 9.1 SP5 Notes

So at the end of last week the Palomar Blackboard system went though an upgrade process to the most currently released version of the Blackboard Learn software.  (For version number hounds, we were at 9.1 Service Pack 3, and are now at 9.1 Service Pack 5.)  Most folks would respond to that with a rousing cry of “so what?!”  Here is what Palomar faculty should be aware of regarding this new version of Blackboard:

Network Folder iconFile size limits: For years I’ve been warning faculty about a limit in Blackboard, where course archives and imports over 250 Mb in size would simply not import into a new course.  This was a real problem for some instructors, as their disciplines required the use of large file types (Graphic Communications, I’m looking at you), and of course there have always been the occasional need for larger files that are kept in a secured location where offloading onto some web space was not a practical solution.  Finally those days are over!  Although there is still a maximum file size limitation, that limit has been raised to 2.5 Gb.  So, should you be an instructor whose course export file is over that size… see me after class, and we can work on getting your file sizes shrunk down.

Changes in supported web browsers:  A constant problem, web browser versions keep marching on, while the Blackboard system versions advance at a much slower pace.  With Service Pack 5, the Blackboard support techs now list Safari 5, Internet Explorer 9, and Firefox 4 as being supported in some capacity.  Although IE 9 and FF 4 are not listed as certified or compatible, at least we will be able to take browser-specific issues we encounter to the support folks and not be ignored totally.  In partial answer to some of the questions posed through this spring’s Blackboard Faculty Satisfaction Survey on why we do upgrades – upgrading the system is the only real way we have to gain support from the company for users who upgrade to new browsers.  For those that wonder is the version and type of browser really makes that much of a difference – yes, yes it does.  Or, at least, if anything goes wrong at all, the browser version matters.

There are some miscellaneous and sundry improvements in the system performance, security, and administrative functionality, but nothing that ought to matter a great deal for faculty.  However, with our upgrade to Service Pack 5, we are also introducing two new expanded functions to our Blackboard system.  Say hello to the McGraw-Hill Connect service, and a pilot program of the NBC Learn service!

McGraw-Hill & Blackboard logosMcGraw-Hill Connect allows for integration of course material maintained by that publisher which may be used seamlessly with our Blackboard environment.  For details on that service, contact a McGraw-Hill publisher rep, or examine their online explanation of the service.

NBC Learn puts a whole spectrum of content from the archives at NBC at your fingertips for use within your Blackboard courses.  The methods of applying this material are fairly straightforward, and Blackboard provides a “how-to” video demonstration on using the NBC Learn content in a course site.  At the moment we are evaluating the usefulness of the NBC Learn content, so please take a few moments to examine their offerings and let us know if you find it worth-while.  We have until Halloween to decide if we want to license this content, so help us decide it it is a trick or a treat!

We will, of course, have more news coming about both the McGraw-Hill Connect and NBC Learn pilot programs.  But as those tools, and the new changes to Blackboard, are all currently in effect, it seemed wise to get something out to inform faculty as soon as possible.

Google Body

Google labs have recently released a terrific new tool called Google Body that does for human anatomical charts what Google Earth did for wall maps.  Well, not quite, but they could easily get there.  Don’t rush to the site, however, unless you are prepared to install one of the new HTML5/WebGL browsers: Firefox 4 beta or Chrome 9 beta [NOTE: The day I posted this article Chrome 9 came out of beta, so you will find the Chrome 9 production product at this link].  If you have a reasonably robust computer and a good graphics card I recommend you try it, just for the fun of using Google Body.

Google body show a human model (a female) with a Google Earth system of zoom and navigation that can give you close up views of very detailed anatomical structures.  You can peel back anatomical system, itegumentary, musculature, skeletal, organs, circulatory,nerves in an ingenious system that allows control of opacity for each system.  Watch the video below to see it illustrated.

Although I think this is a terrific system,I have a few suggestions for improvements:

  • Add the lymphatic system.
  • Add selectable sub-sections, like reproductive, endocrine, respiratory, etc.
  • Add a MALE model to make display of reproductive anatomy meaningful.
  • Lose the clothes on the femal model’s integument.  Come on.  This is the 21st century.  Why does an anatomical model have clothes???
  • Add 3rd-party layer add-ins as in Google Earth, so that scientific providers could add their own layers of data.
  • Add pathology tie-ins, so that we could view possible pathologies to structures.
  • Add developmental models with a time-slider, so that we could see fetal or gerontological developments.
  • Add x-ray, MRI, and ultrasound slices.
  • Add a metric system so we could measure structures and the distance between them.
  • Add scroll-wheel tilting as with Google Earth.
  • Add a system that would allow for more or less detailed labeling.

Enough suggestions?   I’m sure the Google geniuses have thought of all of these, and many more, but as with all lab projects it needs an ongoing commitment by the company and a surge in public interest to bring it to production.

I sincerely hope that happens because this is a system whose time has come.  Gone at long last gone can be those charts that have decorated classroom walls since the 19th century.  Here will be the command of detailed information and learning potential that technology can at long last provide.

Here is the video.  It’s a bit long, but its a big topic:

I Can’t See It

In handling the hundreds of help requests concomitant to rolling out a new version of Blackboard and beginning a new semester, a typical sub-thread running through the support requests is “I can’t see the documents, or discussion post, or content area…”

There may be several reasons.  Let’s take them in order of importance, items 1 & 2 from the student perspective, 3 & 4 from the instructor’s perspective.

1.  I can’t get into Blackboard at all, and my teacher has emailed me saying I have to…

Those who cannot login at all must set a new password in Palomar eServices.  To do so, DO NOT login to eServices.  Rather, go to the eServices portal page and click the link on the right of the page “Forgot my Student ID# or password.”  Follow the on-screen directions to set a new password.  You should be able to use your 9-digit student ID number, and this new password, to login to Blackboard right away.

2.  I get logged in OK, but I cannot access my class.  It is listed in the My Classes area,but it says “unavailable.”  What do I do?

Contact your instructor.  If you know your course is supposed to be using Blackboard,but your course is unavailable, you instructor must make it available.  Remember, not all courses use Blackboard, but if your instructor has contacted you via email or in class and has told you to access Blackboard, and you can’t, then she has simply forgotten to make the course available to you.

3.  I have created a content area in my Blackboard course called “Handouts” (or whatever), and it is certainly there, I can see it just fine, but my students report that they cannot see it.  Why not?

When you originally created the content area in Blackboard, you had the option of making the entire content area Available to Users.

Unless you click the little check box next to “Available to Users” it will not be.  This makes sense because you will want to populate the content area with items, file links, URLs and other content before you release it for consumption.  You may forget, however, to make it available to your students. Therefore, always test the appearance of your course with Edit mode turned off so that you can see it pretty much how your students will see it.  (The Edit Mode switch is in the upper right of your screen ).  To really see the course through your students’ eyes, login to Blackbaord with your “faux” student account (using your 9-digit EMPLID as your username and your eServices password as your password).  You will notice in this view that you do not have a control panel and cannot do things you can do in the course as an instructor.

Another clue to you that a content area is not available to students is the little symbol next to it when Edit mode is on:  .

To make a content area visible, click the drop-down control next to it and select “Show Link.”

It is really simple, but easy to overlook.

4.  My students report they cannot open my documents.  Why not?

If all of your students are reporting this, or when you login with your faux student account you also cannot open them, then contact us right away via our web site.  If, however, only some students are reporting problems, it is probably a) a browser issue; b) the lack of the appropriate plugin or viewer; or c) the file format you have used.  To solve these problems:

a:  Be sure to use only certified or compatible browser when accessing Blackboard.  The matrix of certified/compatible Blackboard browsers and operating systems can be found in our Knowledge Base article on the topic.  We always keep this one up to date.  It may be that the browser you are using works just fine for most things, but if you are having problems viewing certain content the first thing to try is to be sure you are using a compatible or, better, a certified browser.

b:  The Downloads section of our help system contains links to common plugins and helper programs used in many Blackboard courses, and if you cannot view a video, for example, and do not have the Flash player plugin, install it and all should be well.

c:  Instructors should be aware, however, that not all students own Word or PowerPoint, and installing the free Microsoft Viewers and file converters is beyond the technology comfort level of many students.  As a best practice, you should save documents as PDF files before linking to them in Blackboard.  The free Adobe Reader is on virtually every computer in the world, Mac or PC, and this guarantees that your document will be readable by all of your students.