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Enhancing teaching and learning for students and faculty of Palomar College


Category: Thing of the Week

Blackboard Thing of the Week – Smart Views in the Grade Center

Have you ever been just sick to death of scrolling around within the Grade Center? Sometimes I have a need to see only particular students in the Grade Center, and even only particular grade entries for those students, and it can be frustrating to scroll back and forth to check on those specifics and ignore the rest.

Wouldn’t it be nice to just tell the Blackboard course to show you only what you need to see, and not bother with the rest? Yes, yes it is nice.

The tool in question is called a Smart View, in which you can set up a filter so that the Grade Center will only show content based around some criteria. In this example shown in the video below, I ratchet things down to three specific students and only three columns from the larger grade grid. Also, to facilitate maximum laziness on my part, I link that Smart View so that I can get to it directly from the Control Panel, thus don’t need to visit the full grade grid as often.

And, should you not be quite sure how to get a particular effect in your Smart View… maybe we can help. Feel free to open a ticket in our helpdesk and describe what you’re trying to accomplish (or just ask to set up an appointment and we can meet with you in person).

Blackboard Thing of the Week: Discussion Board Course Copy Controls

No, the Blackboard Thing of the Week was not abandoned, I just went on vacation for a long time! I’m back now, and finding out some interesting aspects in the new version of Blackboard (9.1 Service Pack 12, for any version number fans out there). One such has to do with the Course Copy tool… but in a good way.

Our history of the Course Copy tool here at Palomar is a rocky one; semesters have gone by where we needed to have the whole tool disabled because it did not work properly, but still this is the primary way in which content is copied forward into new semester course sites. A question that keeps coming up for faculty about to copy a course is “what do I get if I copy the Discussion Boards?”

The confusion about this aspect of Course Copy is because nobody really knows what to expect. Will the new forums contain all their posts from the old course? If so, will they have student names attached, or be listed as Anonymous? If not, will the forums be blank, or will instructor-created posts be copied across to the new forums?

This confusion should be a thing of the past, with the advent of actual controls built into the Course Copy tool which spell out the available choices.


As you can see from the image above, instructors now get to choose between copying forums with no posts at all, or with first-level posts (not replies) which are set to be anonymous. No confusion, just pick which behavior you want and submit your course copy. When it’s done, just hop into the destination course enjoy!

Blackboard Thing of the Week: Questions – Multiple Fill in the Blanks

This week let’s take a look at one of the numerous question types available for use in a Blackboard test: Multiple Fill in the Blanks. As you’d expect from the name, this question type allows for a sentence with one or more “blanks” for the student to fill in. The tricks to using this question type are first to have the right type of question, and second to format the question properly.

So what sort of question is “the right type” to use with multiple fill in the blanks? Naturally that’s a matter of opinion, but what I look for is a question that isn’t going to have a great many possible words that might fill those blanks. For example, a bad question might be “The first president of the Unites States was [blank].” You see, in that case, as the instructor you would need to determine which (if any) answers might be correct. Among possibly correct answers might be “Washington”, “George Washington”, “President Washington”, “Mr. Washington”, et cetera, ad nauseum. And that doesn’t even consider the issue of if you’ll accept common mis-spellings or require correct capitalization  (Personally I always require correct use of capitals, but that’s just me.) In the explanatory video below I use the (obviously silly) sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Change out the adjectives for blanks, and that makes a fair sample, but if there are ever any exact quotes, or term definitions which students are supposed to have committed to memory, any of those would be suitable for this question type.

As to exactly how to format the question, it’s truly just a case of putting placeholders everywhere you’d want a blank to go. A strategy that has worked well for me is to start by typing out the whole sentence, then replacing words with the placeholders, as you’ll see in the video. Each placeholder is a variable between square brackets, so [x] would be an example. Thus the sample sentence about the fox above might become “The [q] [b] fox jumps over the [l] dog.” When you proceed to the next page of question creation, you’ll have the chance to fill in which words are correct for each placeholder. And, since Blackboard will know what the correct answers are, the system will grade the question for you.

So, be it one blank or many, consider how you might get your students filling out blanks in your tests!

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 – 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.