Not sure how many Palomar students have tried out the Blackboard Mobile app for accessing Blackboard courses, but recently the Blackboard company launched another phone app which may be of interest. Called “Bb Student,” the app is for iOS and Android phones.
If you’ve sat through one of my past Faculty Plenary sessions in the last several years, doubtless you’ve seen my use of PollEverywhere. I use their free higher-ed account, and since I never need more than 40 respondents to any poll, it meets all my needs.
If you’re not familiar with the PollEverywhere service, here’s what their FAQ page says in response to the question “What is PollEverywhere?”
On the surface, Poll Everywhere is a simple application that works well for live audiences using mobile devices like phones. People participate by visiting a fast mobile-friendly web page for your event, sending text messages, or using Twitter. Instructions are displayed on-screen. The poll that is embedded within the presentation or web page will update in real time. Advanced uses include texting comments to a presentation, texting questions to a presenter, web voting, and SMS interactivity in print, radio, and TV.
What first attracted me to this service was that the polls allow for audience input via multiple points, such as text messages, tweets, and even a customized web interface. And, best of all, the result graphs would dynamically display from within PowerPoint slides, right in front of the audience during the polling period. (There’s just something… cool, watching your own votes show up on the screen moments after you submit them. It truly does make the audience feel more a part of the presentation, as I can attest from being in an audience using the polls.) My only reservation about the graphing function is that, in recent months, the Adobe Flash tool (which is how the graphs were rendered) was not playing nice with PowerPoint.
Apparently the good folks at PollEverywhere had similar reservations, because they have taken steps to abandon use of Flash, and coincidentally made integrating polls into PowerPoint slide decks easier than ever!
As the below video demonstrates, there is an add-in for PowerPoint (both Windows and Mac versions) which makes adding a poll results screen just as easy as adding any other slide to your presentation. And as the tech which powers the graphs now is purely HTML5, there should not be any security warnings or troubles such as Flash may have inflicted.
So, if you’re already using PollEverywhere with your students, rejoice in the new and improved PowerPoint integration. If you aren’t, maybe this is a good time to consider adding some interactive polling to your in-class presentations.
For fairly obvious financial reasons, Palomar didn’t send any of our Blackboard system administrators to the annual BbWorld conference again this year. However, thanks to the power of Twitter and a whole host of avid convention-goers, we have been hearing some interesting developments coming to Blackboard.
The Blackboard corporate keynote is concluding as I write this, so details on these points are still sparse on the ground from where I sit, but here is a brief overview of the noteworthy things I’ve heard (in no particular order):
- Blackboard is launching a content repository system – called xpLOR (yes, LOR, as in Learning Object Repository, presumably pronounced “explore”), so that content may be imported easily into Bb Learn or just about any other learning management system with ease. This system is also to include authoring tools, so it should be possible to create your own content and make it available to the whole world quite easily.
- A new service which should be freely available to us called ConnectTxt “empowers you to create a dialogue using two-way text messaging” (as per the website), so once we get that straight here at Palomar it may be very simple to get notifications out to all cell-phone-toting students.
- Lots of statements along the lines of “publisher integration is now here” have shown up, which means that if as a faculty member you haven’t heard about Blackboard integration from your textbook publisher rep recently, you may want to ask them what is available. There have been lots of new offerings on the publisher/Blackboard front over the last few weeks.
- The Blackboard Collaborate web-conferencing tool (which we’ve had available here at Palomar for quite some time) will now function on iOS, so it will soon be possible for students to engage in web-conference sessions via their iPad.
- The Blackboard Mobile app, available for Android, Blackberry, and iOS devices, has received significant updates lately. In my opinion it functions well for student consumption of course content – including discussion boards and blogs – but doesn’t function quite as well for instructors. The content creation tools are more simplistic than what we’ve become accustomed to through the web browsers, but if you just want to post up text the free app does a good job of it.
- Also on the Mobile app front, it is now possible to create tests which can be taken using the app. There are some question types that don’t function in the mobile-enabled tests, but certainly the old standby of Multiple Choice works just fine. Of course that doesn’t mean you should offer your final exams that way; use the tools, but use common sense too.
- Apparently the Blackboard Mobile app is changing up its licensing schema, too. Looks like there is now an option for students to pay for full Mobile app functionality on their own, even when the school does not… as Palomar does not. (Again, those obvious financial reasons.)
So, overall, my impression from the Blackboard corporate keynote is that the big changes are coming in the products that interface with the Bb Learn system, such as the Collaborate and Mobile devices, and in allowing existing content (from publishers and repositories) to more easily integrate into the course sites.
Again, all this news is second-hand and so new that websites don’t yet reflect the information, but from the sounds of things that’s what is happening with Blackboard.