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Big Brother is Watching

Sometimes I look through the statistics for this blog, to see what people are looking at (not much) and any data on how folks got here.  It can be amusing to see the search results that lead people here, but one I saw today I just have to comment on.  The search term was “can professors see if students have logged in”…

Yes.

Dear students, if you are required to log in to a system, someone somewhere on the system is logging it, guaranteed.  In fact, the instructor has two related places where they can see the last day and time you accessed the Blackboard course:  the Performance Dashboard and the Grade Center.  So if your professor tells you that she’ll be docking points if you don’t check the course each week, she actually can tell, easily.

This blog may be “Blackboard for Faculty”, but I’m not above giving students the heads up: Big Brother is watching you.  Do your work.

Blackboard: A Class Act

This contribution is actually a repost of material from last June, where it was originally a contribution to the ATRC podcast for my segment called “Blackboard Feature of the Week”.  The fact that eight months later I can still remember some of the details from this segment lead me to believe that it might be worth a revisit…  plus, it’s a long weekend so I ran out of week to record something.

Rather than dwell on specific tools in Blackboard, this time I’d like to draw comparisons between several of the options in Blackboard and actual in-classroom functions. If you’re struggling to figure out what Blackboard can do for you, perhaps this will help.

In class it’s useful to get a feel for which students are attending regularly. Most of the time this is done anecdotally by recognizing the students; in Blackboard you can stop by the Performance Dashboard and easily see the last time a student has accessed the course site.

In the classroom, if something out of the ordinary is about to happen, or if something that’s been on the schedule for a while is about to be due, you might write a note on the chalkboard. With the truly important things, you may even want to “DNE” it, so other classes do not erase it. Clearly this is the Announcement tool in Blackboard, even down to the Make Permanent function to “DNE” your information.

The most obvious comparison between Blackboard and classroom functions is with handouts. If you would have material photocopied and passed out in class, you could have it posted as an item in Blackboard. A slightly overlooked option is how Blackboard items also replicate demonstration objects that you might bring into the classroom. If you want your students to see an Asiatic mask,or a monkey skull,or a topographic map of North America, these things could also be displayed in Blackboard. Possibly shooting a digital picture of the item would work, but there are more freely available resources of complexity available online than you might think; perhaps someone has a 3-D model of that monkey skull, probably some governmental department has the maps you need available. If you’re not sure how to get started finding such resources, that’s a pretty legitimate reason to call on Academic Technology for help.

If you do objective tests in class, you likely have your students use a Scantron. If you just can’t limit yourself to “pick A-E for each question” testing, you may have to manually grade objective tests by hand, which is never a fun exercise. Blackboard’s testing module excels at automatically and immediately scoring objective test questions, and may have more question choices than you’d ever believe. Up to twenty possible answers per multiple choice question, matching, ordering, multiple answer, fill in the blank, and even “Where’s Waldo” style Hotspot questions where the student answers by clicking a specific spot on an image are all easily set up in a Blackboard test.

If you ever use blue books, you may want to try instead having students type up their work and submit it via a Blackboard assignment. Imagine never needing to decipher student penmanship again… And if your concern is over limiting the time in which the students are working, just have the papers typed up in a monitored environment, either by bringing the whole class into a computer lab for that class session, or by having laptops rolled out to your classroom for students to use during the class session. Of course a fully online class would just want to assume all writing assignments are open book anyway, but an on-campus class would not need to.

If your students are ever invited to talk about class material during class sessions, then using the Blackboard Discussion Board could be a good idea. Just set up a forum, possibly seed it with some questions, then tell the students to “talk amongst yourselves.” Just because students post to the forum doesn’t make it uncontrolled; there are options to have moderated discussions, and you could even allow some trusted students to moderate in your place. If you just want to facilitate student discussion without making it a normal part of class, just set up a forum and let students know they can post there for any extra things they wish to discuss.

Do you show PowerPoint Presentations in the classroom? Do you lecture? Likely you do, and Blackboard has a variety of ways to make this material available to students. Use the Elluminate tool to have a live presentation online with your students, and record that so the student who missed can at least see what went on. Or, record a solo session, where you run through your presentation similar to what you might do in a lecture hall, then let the students watch that recording and post questions to a discussion board. Even if you already have all your material available in a written format, you could still make little audio snippets using the Wimba Voice Tools to accompany the written material, verbally drawing student attention to the most vital material or correcting the common misperceptions that your experience in the classroom tells you at least someone will have.

With the tools in Blackboard it is possible to replicate many of the features of a classroom environment over the Internet. However, it is even more possible to closely tie Blackboard features into an on-campus class, and offer a richness to the flow of a semester that could help your students to succeed. If there’s something you are doing in the classroom, and you’re interested in seeing if you can develop an online aid or equivalent, give us in Academic Technology a call (onlineclasses@palomar.edu or X2862) and we’ll see if we can work something out together.

Blackboard, Publisher Content, and the Future

Ray Henderson, President of the Blackboard Learn division at Blackboard, blogged today about progress that Blackboard is making on backing up past claims about embracing openness in their product.  You can read his full blog post over on his blog, titled “Blackboard’s Open Standards Commitments: Progress Made“.  It makes for some interesting reading, for someone who understands some of the tech-ese and history of getting publisher content into Learning Management Systems such as Blackboard.  However, I’d like to try and offer a “what does that mean for us?” perspective for faculty using Blackboard.

The “Common Cartridge” standard that Blackboard is planning support for is a set of rules that content providers such as textbook publishers can use when creating their content.  Following those standards should make it easy for a content provider to make just one set of content, but have it be available in multiple systems such as Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, whatever flavor of system that supports that Common Cartridge standard.

One thing this should mean for faculty is that, when trying to get content from your publisher rep, it should be far more difficult for the rep to provide you with the wrong stuff.  It also means that,should you teach at multiple institutions using different systems,you’ll have a good chance of using just one content source that can be imported into your courses at each institution.  This is what, in the tech support business, we refer to as “A Good Thing”.

There are certainly other implications to Blackboard becoming involved in, and planning support for, the Common Cartridge standard, but I don’t want to muddy the waters here.  The take-away point for faculty is:  This should make moving content into your courses better.

What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Juliet: Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

What’s in a name?  Well, when it comes to figuring out how to use Blackboard, quite a bit.  Without the proper vocabulary in mind, using written documentation (even the custom write-ups put out by Academic Technology, let alone the default Blackboard User’s Manual) is nearly impossible.  Without the exact names of the tools and functions in Blackboard, communicating with the support techs can be highly frustrating bouts of talking in circles instead of getting problems solved.

As a specific example, if you didn’t know that the column of links or buttons down the left side of your course site was called the Course Menu, it’s quite unlikely that you would be able to quickly figure out that the Manage Course Menu controls are the place to go to manipulate that sidebar.  Similarly, if you didn’t already know that the student My Grades list is considered a Course Tool, you could take quite a while to figure out that you need to add a Tool Link to the Course Menu,of the My Grades type,to allow the sidebar to contain a link directly to the list of a student’s grades.

If you’re the self-starter type of instructor, and want to just jump right into trying something new in your Blackboard course, keep this in mind.  My suggestion: spend a few minutes talking over what you want to accomplish with a support tech, and they can likely point you to the right proper names and keywords (as well as the occasional but inevitable “gotchas”) that will make your journey into the unknown wilds of Blackboard much smoother.

Getting Your Bb Course Ready

It’s the start of a new semester (and the start of a new decade, for that matter), and Chris Norcross and David Gray discuss some reminders and tips for faculty who are getting their Blackboard courses ready for students to use.

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Make the course available to students
  • How to confirm that Tests will work
  • Ensure that External Links still function
  • Sync up the roster to ensure that SafeAssignments will not have errors

Chris also wants faculty to pass to to the students: “Do not use a wireless network connection when taking an online test.”