New Blackboard Features Coming in May

Learn more about what's better in BlackboardThis year’s update to Blackboard is smaller than some years, but it still has a big impact on teaching and learning. The update (planned to occur over Memorial Day weekend, May 23-25, 2015) will move NIU to the April 2014 Release of Blackboard. Although there is a more recent release from October 2014, the April 2014 Release is considered to be more stable. Read on to learn about what changes you can expect.

Sample portfolio

Completely Redesigned Portfolio System

The biggest change coming is a completely redesigned and rebuilt portfolio system, although existing portfolios created with the current portfolio tool will continue to be editable and shareable. The new portfolios are easier to create, so students can focus on the most important aspect of portfolios: reflecting on their work. Students can create new artifacts by uploading or linking to files, or they can use artifacts that have been submitted and graded with the Assignment tool as part of their course work. For the latter artifact type, they can also include metadata about the artifact, including the Assignment details, the grade they received, and any feedback their instructor provided.

In addition to the new Portfolio system, the Assignment tool has been updated to include a Portfolio option. This requires that students create and submit a Portfolio to be graded, instead of uploading individual files.

Learn more about the new Portfolio System at http://www.niu.edu/blackboard/upgrade/features.shtml#portfolio

SafeAssignment Integrated with the Assignment Tool

SafeAssign options integrated with the Assignment toolIn the past, Assignment and SafeAssign were distinct and separate features. Now, SafeAssign is integrated with the Assignment feature, making it easy to check student submissions for plagiriarm by clicking a checkbox when creating an Assignment. This means that many of the features of Assignments, which were not available to SafeAssignments, can now be used with plagiarism detection. For example, Group submissions can now be checked for plagiarism, multiple submissions can be enabled, and the submissions can be graded with rubrics.

 

New Student Preview Mode

Student Preview iconPreviously in Blackboard Learn, the Edit Mode On/Off control was the only way to approximate a student view. NIU faculty could request a student ID to view their courses, but that was not a convenient process. The new Student Preview features provides faculty with the ability to easily see the course exactly how a student would see it, including content, Assignments, Tests, Grades, and the Discussion Board. While in Student Preview mode the faculty member can interact with the course as a student, including taking quizzes/tests, submitting assignments, posting to forums, posting to blogs, and more.

Enhanced Anonymous Grading, and New Delegated Grading

Screenshot of reconciling delegated grading
Anonymous Grading provides a more useful, robust option and best practice than has been implemented previously by the “Hide User Names” capability to enable anonymous grading. This functionality meets the needs for high-stakes assessments, when you want to ensure anonymous grading to avoid bias. For Anonymously Graded Attempts, the system information that could identify a student will be replaced with a unique and anonymous identifier that can be used by the graders and instructors to identify a particular attempt for further discussion without discovering the identity of the student. If an Assignment is set to be Anonymous, the student will be informed of this when submitting the assignment, when reviewing the grade with My Grades, and on the Review Submission History page.

Delegated Grading is a new mechanism that facilitates sharing the responsibility for grading among anyone with the Instructor, Teaching Assistant, or Grader role in a given course. It promotes reliability of grading by using two or more grades from separate individuals to determine the final grade. Those teaching large courses can also use the tool to easily assign grading responsibilities to multiple TAs, whether or not multiple graders are used per student.

Significant Figures in Calculated Formula Test Questions

The Calculated Formula question type in Tests creates quantitative problem-solving test questions using a formula and variables. Questions can be dynamically generated, calculated, and scored automatically. Now, Calculated Formula questions can include specific rules for how many significant figures should be in the answer. In addition, the existing support for scientific/exponential notation has improved.

Learn More

Learn more about upcoming features at www.niu.edu/blackboard/upgrade and look for preview and tune-up workshops about the new features starting in April, 2015.

New Blackboard Observer Role Supports Student Success

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student working with counselorThis Spring, the Division of IT introduced the Observer role in Blackboard. This role is designed to allow academic counselors and other support staff to monitor the progress and performance of the students they work with. Observers have the potential to view the grades of the students they are observing as well as content in the courses in which their students are enrolled.

Of course, Observer access to student grades and course materials is entirely controlled by individual faculty. By default, Observers are not allowed access to any aspect of a given course until that is enabled by the faculty teaching the course. An Observer is never able to interact within the course, like posting to a Discussion Board or submitting assignments. If a student is assigned an Observer, that relationship will be visible to faculty and teaching assistants by viewing the Users list in Blackboard. Learn how to enable Observer access or what Observers can access in a course.

There are many benefits to allowing Observer access to a course:

  • An Observer is easily able to monitor their assigned students’ current standing in any courses that use the Grade Center. Depending on how access is enabled, the Observer may be able to view an overall grade or individual assignment grades. With this ability, Observers can identify students who may be struggling and connect them with valuable resources on campus.
  • If enabled, Observers can view course content, like the syllabus or schedule, and assignment instructions. This helps the Observer work with students on understanding course requirements and prioritizing study schedules.
  • Faculty can update all Observers about upcoming projects or assignments through the Send Email tool. In addition, faculty can contact the Observer assigned to a single student via Blackboard if an issue arises that puts the student at risk in the course, like poor performance on an exam or too many absences, through the Grade Center or the Retention Center.

This semester, a pilot is underway with the counselors of the Deacon Davis CHANCE Program, so they can work more closely with their students to help them be successful during their first year at NIU. Other programs interested in similar access should contact the Faculty Development & Instructional Design Center to learn more.

New launcher replaces Java for launching Blackboard Collaborate sessions on Windows

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Blackboard Collaborate is a comprehensive online learning and collaboration tool designed specifically for education.  It is already part of your Blackboard courses and organizations at NIU.  Faculty and staff can create live sessions easily and free of charge, and engage and interact for teaching, learning and other purposes. You can use a robust tool set that allows you to web conference and connect with one student or your entire class. You and your students can collaborate using audio, video, and recording capabilities. You can also use private and public chat, a whiteboard, application sharing, a clip art library, and the ability to add and edit content at any time. Learn more about Blackboard Collaborate at www.niu.edu/blackboard/communicate/collaborate.shtml.

NEW Windows Launcher for 2015: A recent update to Blackboard Collaborate eliminates the need for a compatible version of Java to function. Starting this semester, all Blackboard Collaborate sessions will initiate using the new Blackboard Collaborate Launcher. This utility has been available and successful for over a year for Mac users, and is now available for Windows, as well. The Launcher provides a convenient and reliable way for you to launch your Blackboard Collaborate web conferencing sessions and recordings.

It is no longer necessary to install and maintain the system version of Java in order to access Blackboard Collaborate sessions or recordings. In addition, the Launcher will only need to be installed once per computer, the first time it is used to join a Blackboard Collaborate session.

Information about downloading and using the Launcher is available at facdev.niu.edu/winlauncher for Windows and facdev.niu.edu/maclauncher for Mac. In addition, the Blackboard Collaborate Technical Support is available 24x7x365 to assist with accessing Blackboard Collaborate sessions at 877-382-2293 or through their online support portal.

Blackboard Collaborate MobileBlackboard Collaborate sessions are also available on Android, iPhone, and iPad using the free mobile app. Learn more about the mobile app here.

Finally, you can also contact the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at facdev@niu.edu for more information about using Blackboard Collaborate or the Division of IT Help Desk at helpdesk@niu.edu or 815-753-8100 for technical assistance.

New Online Application for Graduate Teaching Certificate

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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 facdev.niu.edu/tacertapp

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 facdev.niu.edu/tacertapp. 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.

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.

 

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.

Conclusion

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.

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