March 17, 2014

Teaching for Student Retention

woman teaching classFinancial needs, family issues, and personal adjustment can impact student retention at universities across the nation. Moreover, academic factors such as curriculum design, teaching methods, and academic advising can have a considerable impact on why a student will or will not stay in a particular course, major, or the university. To help increase student retention, you can implement specific classroom techniques to engage students and intrinsically motivate them to stay in class. You can also design your courses to better help students retain course concepts and perform better on assessment activities. The following are some strategies you can use to address student retention.

Course Preparation
Preparing for a course from the perspective of student retention involves identifying the learning needs of your students. Recognizing students who may be at risk or struggling academically can help you develop strategies to help students succeed.

  • Get to know your students’ needs and potential academic challenges they may have by conducting a brief survey at the beginning of the semester. This survey can be conducted in Blackboard or by using index cards in which you ask students to provide responses to some basic questions: How many credit hours are you enrolled in this semester? Are you a transfer student? Is this your first semester at NIU? Other questions that can help you get a better feel for who your students are include those asking about students’ study habits, how they prefer to learn, their test taking strategies, and commitments such as work, family responsibilities, athletics, or if they commute to campus.
  • Prepare your course content in a variety of ways. Use Blackboard to post lectures, course notes, and study guides. Create or find open education resources to augment difficult course content such as video-taped lectures, simulations, and tutorials students can use to review outside of class.

Course Design Considerations
A number of strategies and models are available to help you design your course. There are certain aspects of course design, however, that require additional consideration from the perspective of teaching for student retention.

  • Design your course syllabus to include welcoming language and statements that motivate and encourage student success rather than focusing only on penalties for absences, late work submission, and plagiarism.
  • Review course pre-requisites, vocabulary, and concepts the first week of the semester to ensure all students begin at the same level. Assign homework on necessary topics to prepare students adequately for the course.
  • Make course assessments authentic. Students are more motivated to learn and do well when presented with course activities that relate to real world experiences. “Valuable” learning experiences are those which students can relate to and use when they enter the work world. Make assessments meaningful so both you and your students know that they have done well and performed like an expert in the field.
  • Ask for formative feedback from your students. Formative feedback helps students know how well they are doing and whether or not they are meeting course goals. Formative feedback can also inform you on your teaching. For example, at the end of a lecture or class period, give students a set of questions that ask them: What was the best part of today’s lecture? What was the muddiest point of today’s class? What could you do differently to help with your own learning in this class? Acting on the feedback you collect from students will tell them that you value their input and are willing to address any suggestions they might share.
  • Use success markers to track at-risk students. Examples of course success markers are class attendance, demonstration of comprehending particular concepts, timely submission of assignments, and performance in key course activities. Using Blackboard’s tracking feature, clickers (personal response systems), or other mechanisms can help simplify the tracking process. Students who are identified as not satisfying established success markers can meet with you during office hours where they can receive necessary advice and or assistance.

Course Delivery
Effective course delivery is dependent on positive communication, clarity in instructions, and patience in responding to students’ questions. Students may decide within the first few class periods whether or not to stay in a course based on their perceptions of and/or interactions with their instructors.

  • Create a positive learning environment by taking the time to learn students’ names and interact with them before, during, and after class.
  • Provide students the opportunity to interact in the classroom. Encourage students to engage in class discussions by welcoming them to share their ideas and experiences.
  • Convey your expertise and passion for teaching. Students will respond to your excitement and interest in the subject matter.
  • Draw connections between topics and point out the relevance of content to students and the real-world. Students are more likely to come to class and engage with content they fine meaningful, useful, and timely.
  • Deliver course content using a variety of means to accommodate the different learning preferences of your students. For example, use focused lectures to relay detailed course content, class discussion to recall readings and homework assignments, group work to encourage critical thinking and leadership skills, and technology to extend class time for online discussions, promote communication skills, and reviews.

Course Activities
Careful balancing of high-stakes and low-stakes course activities and designing course activities that allow multiple forms of expression can accommodate students with diverse skills and abilities. In-class, out-of-class, and online activities help to develop a sense of community, collaboration, and support among students, all which can enhance student retention.

  • Include class activities to give students the opportunity to apply what they are learning to real-life situations such as case studies, scenarios, and problem-based projects.
  • Be clear and concise when explaining how to complete assignments. If assignment directions are not clear, students may be less successful in completing activities.
  • Offer frequent quizzes and assignments to help students receive regular feedback on their course performance and recognize what to improve before major tests or exams.
  • Be patient when students ask questions about exams and grades. Recognize that students often ask these questions due to anxiety about succeeding in the course and the need to prioritize the time spent on multiple courses as well as outside responsibilities.
  • Encourage students to use support services such as the University Libraries, NIU Writing Center, and department- and college-level tutoring services to complete particular course activities. These facilities will help students receive additional assistance and become familiar with academic support services.

Much of what has been presented in this article is essential for learner-centered teaching. Through thoughtful course preparation, design, delivery, and course activities, you can address the learning needs of all students, which in turn can help to promote student retention.

March 17, 2014

How to Go Beyond the Textbook Using Open Educational Resources

Almost 30 participants braved the extremely cold weather on January 10, 2014 for the afternoon session of the second day of the Spring Teaching Effectiveness Institute on Beyond the Textbook: Using Open Educational Resources.

Tracy Miller, presenting

Tracy Miller, Online Teaching Coordinator, introduces Open Educational Resources at Teaching Effectiveness Institute

Creating educational resources for students can be time-consuming and potentially expensive. Open Educational Resources (OER) are free resources that can supplement teaching and learning needs. OER can include lesson plans, learning modules, videos, and interactives, just to name a few. However, Institute participants wanted to know: How do we find reliable resources, do we have permission to use them, and how do we add it to our courses?

The workshop began with a quick lesson on how to search, find, and evaluate open educational resources. Facilitator Tracy Miller suggested some search strategies, which can increase the likelihood of quick success. Every search should begin with your learning objectives in mind. Next, consider the type of resource you are looking for: an image, a lesson plan, a video. She offered some techniques to search for and find valuable OER to enhance courses. The first technique was to start at common places people search for resources such as Google or YouTube; however consider adding “scholar” or “education” to the search field or URL. Including such words can help refine and locate more reliable resources. But, always make sure you completely review the resource before sharing it with students.

Next, participants explored OER repositories such as OERCommons or Merlot. These repositories are designed to target searches and organize resources. Repositories are also a great place for faculty to share the learning objects and course materials they have created. Faculty who share their materials with the open community offer great recognition for themselves and their university.

Another option is to begin searching for OER by using Creative Commons (CC). Materials with a Creative Commons license are available for faculty to use, share, and adapt (depending on the specific CC license). Creative Commons allows individuals to use the work of others free of charge and provides clear guidelines on how the author prefers others to expand and share their original work. If you decide to share your materials with the open education community, Creative Commons can provide you with a license to copyright your work the way you choose.

Once you have found a potential open educational resource for your course, evaluate it carefully before sharing it with students. First, be sure that it aligns with learning objectives. Determine if the copyright or Creative Commons license allows the resource to be modified or shared. Check that the resource is accessible to all learners. When in doubt, ask colleagues for their opinion of the resource.

Participants also learned how to embed OERs into Blackboard Courses. Dan Cabrera provided best-practice methods for embedding videos and other popular resources. Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center staff can help you learn how to best incorporate OERs into your course. Doing so can be as easy as linking to the resource or embedding the resource within your Blackboard course.

The afternoon wrapped up with a discussion on incorporating OERs in active learning strategies. Here are some tips from Jason Rhode for introducing active learning activities to your students by using OER in your courses.

  • Keep your course objectives in mind
  • Identify activities and resources you currently use to create key learning moments
  • Look for activities or resources that will enhance the learning experience
  • Be explicit – Provide clear guidelines and expectations for students on assigned resources and activities
  • Help students realize why resources and assigned activities are not just “busy work”
  • Whenever possible select resources and activities that all of your students can access
  • If multiple resources or activities are available, let students choose the option that fits them best
  • Consider incorporating student-generated content for future classes


March 17, 2014

Blackboard Video Everywhere: Increasing Faculty and Student Communication

It is increasingly important to engage students and foster a sense of community and connection between students and faculty. This is true in all courses, but is particularly true in online courses, where students may not have the opportunity to meet together or with faculty. Simulating face-to-face interaction may help students feel connected to a learning community and enhance students’ motivation to learn (Carr 2000). Bolliger, Supanakorn, and Boggs (2010) reported that college students in an online course who had the option of hearing their professor’s voice in a course podcast made them feel more connected to him or her, while ‘listening’ to explanations of core course concepts translated into more meaningful learning compared to only reading a textbook. This supports the perspective that technologies can assist faculty to personalize and humanize online instruction by integrating multimedia elements that attempt to engage students in active and meaningful learning activities (Lee, Tan, & Goh, 2004).
Video Everywhere Icon
The ‘Video Everywhere’ tool in Blackboard can augment communication between faculty, student, and course content. Video Everywhere, which became available at NIU following the upgrade in June, 2013, allows users to record video anywhere in Blackboard that the text box editor is available (see image, right). Faculty can use this feature for creating and posting videos of course announcements, brief lectures, clarifications, discussion board posts, and instructions for assignments. Students can also post videos as submission to assignments, blogs, journals, and discussion boards.

Video Everywhere uses a webcam, either integrated in a laptop or connected via USB. Videos can be created quickly, but it is not possible to edit the videos.

Videos recorded with the Video Everywhere tool are stored in YouTube, so faculty and students must have Google accounts to use Video Everywhere. Once the video is recorded, Blackboard posts it to YouTube as an Unlisted video. This means the videos will remain private and will not appear in YouTube searches or on a users’ YouTube page. In addition to recording videos, users can also use the Video Everywhere tool to embed videos that were previously uploaded to their YouTube channel.

Some NIU faculty and instructors have already begun to incorporate Video Everywhere for their assignments. For example, Mary Kocsis from the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders uses Video Everywhere to test her students’ receptive skills in sign language. She records herself ‘signing’ a message within a test question. When students take the test, they must interpret what she signed. Other faculty have recorded and posted a video message welcoming students to a new course at the start of the semester. This can be especially beneficial as a ‘meet and greet’ if the course is entirely online, and never meets face-to-face.

There are other applications for student uses as well.  Students might record themselves ‘signing’ a message for a sign language assignment (demonstrating expressive rather than receptive skills), speaking a foreign language for later review in a language course, or conducting  ethnographic interviews for a cultural anthropology course.

Faculty who are interested in learning more about Video Everywhere can use Blackboard’s help guide for Video Everywhere or view the following brief tutorial, which is available at
YouTube Preview Image


Bolliger, D.U., Supanakorn, S., & Boggs, C. (2010). Impact of podcasting on student motivation in the on line learning environment. Computers & Technology, 55, 714-722.

Carr, S. (2000). As distance education comes of age, the challenge is keeping the students. Chronicle of Higher Education, 46(23), A39. Available from

Lee, C.S., Tan, D.T.H., & Goh, W.S. (2004). The next generation of e-learning: Strategies for media rich online teaching. Journal of Distance Education Technologies, 2(4), 1-17

March 17, 2014

New Features Coming to Blackboard at NIU in 2014

Learn more about what's better in Blackboard

Blackboard continues to improve! Since NIU’s major upgrade to Blackboard NG three years ago, there have been a number of feature improvements and additions, and this year will be no different. Service Pack 14 is currently planned to be deployed Memorial Day weekend, May 23, 2014 – May 26, 2014. Most of the changes are helpful refinements to existing tools, such as an easy method to create exceptions to test settings, an improved Inline Grading view for Assignments, simpler Groups management settings, and multiple Grade Center enhancements. This upgrade also includes a few new features: a new Quick Links button will make it easier to use a screen reader with Blackboard, the new Achievements allows faculty to award badges and certificates, and the Date Management tool can adjust dates when copying course materials.

Here are a few of the more important features for the NIU community:


Tests Exceptions and Feedback Controls
Test Availability Exceptions are available directly from the Test Options page, once the test is deployed to a content area. Select one or more students (or groups) and make a number of exceptions to the already established availability settings. Exceptions can be created for:

  • Number of attempts
  • Timer
  • Availability dates
  • Force completion
  • Auto submit

This means a single test can have multiple timers for students with accommodation requests and can automatically open at different times for students who may have scheduling conflicts.

Tests will also have the ability to schedule when students can receive different types of feedback.

Inline Grading
The Inline Grading view for Assignments will now have a full screen mode to make it easier to read student work and to provide comments. In addition, Blogs, Journals, Discussions, and Wikis will present a side bar for grading that is consistent with Inline Grading for Assignments

Groups Management
Manage all course groups at once from the “All Groups” page, including deleting multiple groups at once, creating Grade Center Smart Views, and enabling or disabling Group Tools. Plus, on the Users page, group membership is now listed for each student.

Grade Center
New Grade Center enhancements make it easier to work in the Grade Center. For example, Grading Schemas can now reach past 100%, so students with over 100% can be automatically assigned a letter grade. My Grades has been redesigned to include comments directly on the page, so they are more visible, and to provide students with the option to view rows by “Course Order,” which is the order of the columns in the Grade Center.

New Features

Quick Links
Based on ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite), the Quick Links tool allows a user to swiftly locate any heading or section within any page in the Blackboard Learn application and jump directly to it. Any available keyboard shortcuts for the page are also displayed. This significantly reduces the time needed to navigate the page for individuals who use screen readers.

The Achievements tool allows faculty and instructors to designate criteria for issuing rewards to students in the form of both Badges and Certificates. Students can see which rewards they have earned and what is required of them to receive additional rewards. Furthermore, students have the option to publish badges to the Mozilla Open Backpack, which lets them display and promote their learning outside of Blackboard. Instructors can easily see which students have reached learning milestones.

Date Management
Currently, the Course Copy tool duplicates dates (such as Availability and Due Dates) exactly, leaving it up to the professor or instructor to manually adjust them. The new Date Management tool will simplify this process by asking for the start date of the new semester, and automatically adjusting all previous dates accordingly. Some work may be necessary to update those dates, but the Date Management Review page provides a single interface for adjusting all dates on content and assessments in the course.

This is only a sample of the most significant enhancements and features. Learn more about upcoming features at and look for preview and tune-up sessions starting in April, 2014.

March 17, 2014

Incorporating Active Learning by Flipping the Classroom: Spring 2014 Teaching Effectiveness Institute

Stephanie Richter Presenting at Spring 2014 TEIThe second day of the Spring 2014 Teaching Effectiveness Institute opened with a half-day session on Incorporating Active Learning by Flipping the Classroom, but the participants had already begun learning about the Flipped Classroom model. To demonstrate the approach, those who registered were asked to watch a few short videos and read an article before coming to the workshop.

During the institute, participants reflected on how to apply the Flipped Classroom model to their own courses. They worked in teams to research, summarize, and present a model of active learning. Finally, each participant designed a course or lesson using the Flipped Classroom model and received feedback from their team.

In the flipped classroom model, in-class course lectures are replaced with active learning strategies, like problem-based or collaborative learning. Then, to prepare for these in-class activities, students learn new content by watching videos and tutorials, reading, or completing online simulations. These materials can be created by faculty, licensed from a publisher, or found as Open Education Resources. This video from the UT Austin Center for Teaching and Learning describes the Flipped Classroom in under one minute.

Because of its focus on active learning in the classroom, the Flipped Classroom model can strengthen student learning and increase engagement. It also provides students with more guidance from faculty and instructors when they work on applying the new information.

There are many resources available to learn more about Flipping the Classroom. For example, the Chronicle of Higher Education blog “Casting Out Nines” recently featured a series by Robert Talbert on how he flipped a calculus course. Another great resource is “7 Things You Should Know About Flipped Classrooms” from Educause. This quick read offers  highlights of the flipped classroom model and a brief case study on how it works in the classroom.

Finally, the Flipped Classroom model may not be appropriate for every course, or even every topic in a course. Faculty who want to try flipping their classroom can start small by flipping a single class session or topic and gradually work to flipping an entire course.