November 20, 2014

New Online Application for Graduate Teaching Certificate

graduate teaching certificate It has never been easier to apply for the Faculty Development & Instructional Design Center Graduate Teaching Certificate! The application form is now available online at

The certificate recognizes the participation of graduate teaching assistants (GA/RA/TAs) in the development programs offered by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. The certificate acknowledges these individuals’ commitment to effective teaching and can enhance their academic credentials. To qualify for this recognition, a graduate teaching assistant must have attended the full-day TA Orientation and at least five (5) programs of shorter duration offered by Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

NIU graduate teaching assistants are encouraged to apply for the certificate online at Once completed applications are received and processed, certificates are sent to the teaching assistants’ department to acknowledge their commitment to effective teaching and present the certificates to them. If TAs need a few more workshops to qualify for the certificate, they are encouraged to check the current schedule of TA programs on the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center website.

November 19, 2014

Helix Media Library: A Secure Solution for Uploading and Sharing Video

A useful new tool for securely sharing video online is now available to the NIU community, the Helix Media Library (HML). The HML is an on-campus streaming media server that allows faculty, students and staff to store media content (audio and video). Even more intriguing is that the HML is integrated with the Blackboard Learn course management system, making it easier to incorporate media into Blackboard courses by encoding and converting media so that it is optimized for streaming and able to play on most devices, including computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

In the past, faculty who wished to post media content to Blackboard, especially video, may have experienced difficulty when adding it to their course. The process was unwieldy and awkward, yielding inconsistent results because the Blackboard server was not able to optimize the streaming video.

In addition, because video files are often larger than other course content, uploading media content could quickly fill up Blackboard course quotas. As a result, faculty might have resorted to using outside services such as YouTube or Vimeo, to post and distribute content. Now, with the HML, it is much easier to post audio and video files to this on-campus server and share them within the university or publicly. The HML operates behind a firewall, with content regularly backed-up by NIU.

The HML is a Mashups tool appearing in the Text Box Editor (see below). When you click the Mashups button, you can select the Helix Media Library link to begin the process of uploading content.

HML Mashup02

This means that media content can be uploaded anywhere in Blackboard that there is access to the text box editor, by both faculty and students. For example, faculty can add video or audio as an Item in a content area, or while creating Announcements, Assignments, and posting a Discussion Board topic. Students can upload their own media for a video assignment or when collaborating on the discussion board, blogs, wikis, or journals.

Currently, every NIU faculty, staff, and student has an HML account, with 4 GB of space available. However, if you need more space, you can submit a request to DoIT (Division of Information Technology) to increase that for free in 4 GB increments. Individual files can be up to 2 GBs in size, which allows you to upload longer video segments. Since video is uploaded into HML accounts, Blackboard course quota space remains unaffected.

When a video is uploaded, the Permissions feature allows you to determine who has access to view it. If the video is uploaded from within Blackboard, the ‘Personal’ setting allows only the instructor and students enrolled in the course to view the content. Selecting ‘Protected’ makes the content available to all NIU users (i.e., faculty, staff, students). Selecting ‘Public’ opens the content to potentially all online users.

You can check out your own HML account by logging into You will be asked to authenticate with your university-assigned username and password.

To learn more about using the HML, be sure to visit the HML informational website.

In addition, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center offers a specialized workshop periodically, Adding Video to Your Blackboard Course Using the Helix Media Library, to train faculty and staff about how to use this tool. One-on-one consultation is also available.

November 19, 2014

High-Impact Practices for Student Success

High Impact PracticesHigh-Impact Practices (HIPs) are specific learning experiences that can have a high impact on students’ engagement and retention. These practices have been researched and tested in the field of higher education (Kuh, 2008). Successful HIPs engage students in a range of activities in which they interact with faculty and peers, experience diversity, focus on reflection and feedback, and participate in real-world applications. In addition, high-impact practices are closely tied to higher order learning opportunities in which students are fully engaged in their learning by analyzing, synthesizing, and creating new ideas and concepts of what they learn in and out of the classroom (Stephen F. Austin State University, 2014).

The LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) initiative of the Association of American Colleges & Universities identifies ten high-impact educational practices that have been shown to improve academic performance (LEAP, n.d.). The ten practices are described below followed by a representation of how these practices are being implemented at NIU.

First-Year Seminars and Experiences
“First-year experiences place a strong emphasis on critical inquiry, frequent writing, information literacy, collaborative learning, and other skills that develop students’ intellectual and practical competencies” (LEAP, n.d.).

  • NIU’s First- and Second-Year Experience (FSYE) helps freshmen, sophomores, and transfer students by implementing and supporting programming that ensures student academic, personal, social, and career success

Common Intellectual Experiences
Students enroll in “a set of required common courses or [in] a vertically organized general education program that includes advanced integrative studies and/or required participation in a learning community” (LEAP, n.d.).

Learning Communities
“Students take two or more linked courses as a group and work closely with one another and with their professors. Many learning communities explore a common topic and/or common readings through the lenses of different disciplines” (LEAP, n.d.).

  • Themed Learning Communities consist of two or three interdisciplinary courses taken in conjunction to analyze themes and connections for an integrative learning experience
  • Living Learning Communities are part of the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management — the goal is to strengthen connections between students and faculty within their course of study

Writing-Intensive Courses
“These courses emphasize writing at all levels of instruction and across the curriculum, including final-year projects. Students are encouraged to produce and revise various forms of writing for different audiences in different disciplines” (LEAP, n.d.).

  • Writing Across the Curriculum is a pedagogical movement based on the premise that students learn critical thinking best when they actively engage in the subject matter of a course through writing
  • NIU’s Writing Across the Curriculum and the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center co-sponsor Designing a Writing-Enhanced Course, which is offered each May as a day-long workshop for faculty to incorporate writing and critical thinking into their courses

Collaborative Assignments and Projects
“Collaborative learning combines two key goals: learning to work and solve problems in the company of others, and sharpening one’s own understanding by listening seriously to the insights of others, especially those with different backgrounds and life experiences” (LEAP, n.d.).

Undergraduate Research
“The goal is to involve students [from all disciplines] with actively contested questions, empirical observation, cutting-edge technologies, and the sense of excitement that comes from working to answer important questions” (LEAP, n.d.).

  • Research Rookies links undergraduate first-year, sophomore, and transfer students with faculty mentors in their major or area of interest to conduct small-scale research projects
  • Undergraduate Special Opportunities in Artistry & Research program (USOAR) is a program for students from all colleges, departments, and majors that funds student-generated research projects on campus, somewhere else in the United States, or overseas

Diversity and Global Learning
“[The emphasis is on] courses and programs that help students explore cultures, life experiences, and worldviews different from their own, [which often] are augmented by experiential learning in the community and/ or by study abroad” (LEAP, n.d.).

Service Learning and Community-Based Learning
Students participate in “field-based ‘experiential learning’ with community partners [as] an instructional strategy—and often a required part of the course. The idea is to give students direct experience with issues they are studying in the curriculum and with ongoing efforts to analyze and solve problems in the community” (LEAP, n.d.).

Internships “provide students with direct experience in a work setting—usually related to their career interests—and give them the benefit of supervision and coaching from professionals in the field” (LEAP, n.d.).

  • NIU Career Services offers many resources (Huskies Get Hired!) and events to connect students with internship and co-op opportunities in order to gain real-world experiences
  • Many departments require and/ or make available direct work experiences to students before they graduate

Capstone Courses and Projects
“These culminating experiences require students nearing the end of their college years to create a project of some sort that integrates and applies what they’ve learned” (LEAP, n.d.).

  • Many departments include capstone courses and projects as part of their curriculum such as the Comprehensive Exam-Portfolio from the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment in the College of Education. Included in this high-impact practice are portfolios, which are valuable at many stages of a student’s academic career.
  • NIU’s campus-wide electronic portfolio (ePortfolio) initiative supports and connects students by integrating general education and baccalaureate goals with authentic assessment and career preparation

Although HIPs are not new practices to higher education in and of themselves, bringing them together under the umbrella of high-impact practices allows faculty and students to easily select characteristics within those practices that best meets the need of academic goals. When successfully implemented, high-impact practices affect students in meaningful ways

  • Students spend considerable amounts of time on meaningful tasks
  • Faculty and student peers interact about substantive matters
  • Students experience diversity through contact with people who are different than themselves
  • Students receive frequent performance feedback
  • Activities have applications to different settings on and off campus
  • Authentic connections are made with peers, faculty, community, and/ or the university

If you are interested in learning more about high-impact practices, plan on attending one or both workshops of the Spring 2015 Teaching Effectiveness Institute on Thursday, January 8, 2015. In the morning session, NIU faculty will share some of the high-impact practices they have implemented in their courses. During the afternoon session, we will focus specifically on Portfolios and how they can impact student career success.

Association of American Colleges & Universities (n.d.). About LEAP. Retrieved from

Kuh, George D. (2008). High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access To Them, and Why They Matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from

LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) (n.d.). High-impact educational practices. Retrieved from

Stephen F. Austin State University, Office of High-Impact Practices (2014). Retrieved from


November 17, 2014

Improving Student Retention with Blackboard

Student retention has been an important topic around campus recently. There are many factors that impact student retention, such as financial needs, family issues, and personal adjustment to university life, as well as curriculum, teaching methods, and academic advising. While many of these require campus-wide cooperation, there are also small changes you can make in your teaching to help students stay engaged and be successful in your courses. The way you use technology, like Blackboard, can help, but it is important to remember that reaching students really requires a personal touch. The most important way you can impact student retention is by making sure that students feel connected and know that you care about their success.

Read more for some tips and strategies for using Blackboard to help you connect with your students or watch the recording of the webinar Tips for Improving Student Retention with Blackboard offered by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

YouTube Preview Image


Tip #1: Get to know your students

table of photos of everyone in the course

  • Conduct a survey in Blackboard to ask about your students. Blackboard surveys are anonymous, so students can feel safe sharing about themselves, and you can gather valuable information about them, their history with the subject, their experience at NIU, their comfort with technology, their study habits and learning preferences, and their responsibilities outside of their coursework.
  • Use a “get to know each other” discussion forum. Ask students to post an introduction to a discussion forum. Use structured prompts that encourage creativity and course-related personal sharing.
  • Create a photo-wall of the students in the course. Ask students to send you a photo of themselves or take them during the first day of class, and post them as an Item in the course. Students who do not want to send a photo of themselves could send an avatar, icon, or photo of something that inspires them instead.

Tip #2: Design your course syllabus to be welcoming

screenshot of getting started area of a course in Blackboard

  • Post your syllabus as a PDF/Word and add the content directly in Blackboard as Items. This makes it easier for students to access the syllabus in the format they need or simply browse the contents in the course.
  • Create a Welcome or Start Here area as the course entry point. This helps students find important information for being successful and know how to get started with the course.

Tip #3: Prepare course content using a variety of modalities

5 mobile devices showing blackboard mobile learn

  • Design your course to be mobile-friendly. Students are using their mobile devices more than ever to access content in Blackboard. If you follow a few best practices, your course can be optimized for students to browse and quickly find information (such as the syllabus).
  • Post videos as content or as secondary resources for enrichment. Video is often more engaging than plain text. Try embedding YouTube videos using the Mashup tool instead of posting a link. Record weekly introductions with the Video Everywhere tool, or post your own video content in Blackboard to the Helix Media Library.
  • Use Open Education Resources. You don’t have to create everything yourself! Open Education Resources (OER) are teaching resources created by the international teaching community and shared for others to use freely. OER repositories, like MERLOT, help you find high quality resources quickly.

Tip #4: Use success markers to track at-risk students

screenshot of Blackboard Retention Center

  • Track attendance in the Grade Center. One of the most cited factors in student success remains attendance in class. Tracking attendance in the Grade Center can be somewhat cumbersome, but it provides a clear record for you and for the students about whether they are missing opportunities to engage with you, each other, and the content.
  • Use Item Analysis for Tests and Quizzes to find difficult questions. Dig deeper into tests delivered via Blackboard by accessing the Item Analysis report. This report provides granular results for each question to help you identify topics that students struggled with (high difficulty questions) or questions that may have been confusing or mismarked (negative differentiation).
  • Monitor the Retention Center. The Retention Center analyzes student data from Blackboard logins, usage, and the Grade Center to identify students in each course you teach who may be at risk based on 4 risk factors: Missed deadlines on Assignments, Tests, and other assessments, Overall grade, Time spent in the Blackboard course, and Time since last log in. Then, you can notify students via email to help them improve their standing before it is too late. Learn more about the Retention Center in this recorded webinar.

Tip #5: Provide students with opportunities to interact

screenshot of blackboard collaborate schedule page showing the persistent room created for each faculty member

  • Create forums for off-topic discussion. You can increase students’ sense of community by including a forum for conversations outside of the coursework, similar to the conversation students have before and after class starts in a face-to-face classroom.
  • Create Groups to facilitate group work. Collaboration can be difficult for students who have busy class schedules plus outside responsibilities, such as part- or full-time jobs and family. The Group feature in Blackboard creates a space for students to work with each other through group-members only versions of the discussion board, email, and a file exchange.
  • Use web conferencing for online office hours. Similarly, students with hectic schedules may find it difficult to attend office hours on campus. It might be possible to hold office hours online, using Blackboard Collaborate. All faculty and instructors have persistent Blackboard Collaborate rooms that can be used across any course that they teach. This could make it easier for students to participate in office hours when they need assistance.

Tip #6: Provide students with frequent feedback 

screenshot of a blackboard rubric

  • Offer practice quizzes in Blackboard. Whether a course is face-to-face or online, practice quizzes offered in Blackboard could help students self-assess their progress in the course.  The quizzes could be for practice only (not included in Grade Center calculations) and set to show students the correct answers and feedback after they take the quiz. Even though they would not affect the students’ grades, practice quizzes could help them study.
  • Use Inline Grading to provide detailed feedback on Assignments. Feedback is essential for students to understand how they are doing in the course and how well they are learning. The Assignments in Blackboard include inline grading, which automatically displays any PDF or Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or Excel file within the browser. This integration also enables inline annotating, such as adding comments in the margin, highlighting, strikethrough, and drawing, to provide detailed feedback on student submissions.
  • Use Interactive Rubrics. A rubric is an explicit set of criteria used for assessing a particular type of work or performance and provides more details than a single grade. This helps students understand what is expected of them and how they were graded. Blackboard Interactive Rubrics can be built in Blackboard and associated with Assignments, short answer Test questions, graded Blogs, Journals, Wikis, and Discussion Forums. The Rubrics can be shown to students before they submit work and can include comments for each criterion (row) to provide detailed feedback that can improve student performance.
  • Motivate students with badges and certificates. You can use the Achievements tool in Blackboard to award digital badges (compatible with the Open Badges initiative) and certificates for students who master certain concepts or demonstrate exceptional performance in your course. These recognitions can motivate students to excel and provides a map of their learning that is more personal than a grade. Plus, these certificates and badges can go with students when they leave the university, helping them to communicate their professional identity and reputation to open opportunities for career success and further education.

Tip #7: Encourage students to use support services

  • Post information about support services in your course. There are many services available to help students perform better and connect with the university, but students may not be aware of them or know how to get involved. You can post links, descriptions, and details about contacting them in the Getting Started area of your course (as in the Getting Started image in Tip #2 above), within the syllabus (particularly if it is created as a series of Items, so that it is easy for students to find information) or in a separate Getting Help area.


Naturally, it would be difficult (and likely overwhelming for students) if you tried all of these tips at once. Instead, select a few small changes you can make that will help students to feel connected and stay engaged with your course, based on your teaching style. Ultimately, these are all ways to make your Blackboard course (and your course design) more learner-centered.

November 3, 2014

Four Great Sessions for the Upcoming Spring 2015 Teaching Effectiveness Institute

january calendar with 8 and 9 circledPlans are underway for the Spring 2015 Teaching Effectiveness Institute.

You are invited to attend the two-day Spring 2015 Teaching Effectiveness Institute which will be held on Thursday, January 8 and Friday, January 9, 2015.

Day one of the institute will be offered completely online by Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center staff and invited faculty who will share some of the high-impact practices they have implemented in their courses. From the comfort of your home, office, or other location, you can attend either or both of the workshops: High-Impact Practices: Fostering Student Engagement, Success, and Retention, 8:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. and Portfolios for Student Career Success, 12:30-4:00 p.m.

On the second day of the institute, Dr. Laurie Richlin, Professor and Chair of the Department of Medical Education at Western Michigan University, comes to NIU to present two workshops: Getting Credit for What You Do: Designing an Evidence-Based Course, 8:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. and Getting Credit for What You Do: Creating the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 12:30-4:00 p.m., both offered on Friday, January 9 in the Sky Room of Holmes Student Center.

Both days of the institute are for NIU faculty, instructors, and SPS & civil service staff. Learn more and register for each of the four sessions of the Spring 2015 Teaching Effectiveness Institute by clicking on the title of the session or by going to the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center website: