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.

Blackboard Wants to Know – How Do You Find Help When Using Software?

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hands typing on laptopThe Blackboard User Experience team wants to know how you prefer to find and use help materials for software, apps, or websites. Their goal is to redesign and improve the way you find help for all Blackboard products. The survey should take 2-3 minutes to complete. After completing the survey, you may be requested to join a more in-depth focus group or interview. Blackboard appreciates your feedback, which ensures they can provide the best and most convenient access to help in using all of the Blackboard products.

Who: Faculty, Students and System Administrators. The more the better! Feel free to forward this survey to others who might be interested.

What: Complete the survey at: https://bbuxresearch.wufoo.com/forms/survey-getting-help/

When: The survey will remain open until Thursday, November 6th at 5:00 PM Eastern

If you have any questions, please contact Marissa Dimino from Blackboard Community Programs at marissa.dimino@blackboard.com

Perspectives on Disability MOOC Receives Exemplary Course Award

Banner for Perspectives on Disability

In Fall 2013, NIU offered its first massive open online course (or MOOC), titled Perspectives on Disability. The course was led by College of Health and Human Sciences professor Greg Long, a Presidential Teaching Professor in the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders. The 10-week experience, based on the for-credit AHRS 200, a general education course entitled, “Disability in Society,” was designed to raise awareness and increase knowledge about disability.

Recently, the MOOC was awarded a 2014 Blackboard Exemplary Course Award with Director’s Choice for Courses with Distinction. According to Blackboard, Inc., the Exemplary Course Awards recognize those who develop “exciting and innovative courses that represent the very best in technology and learning.” Award recipients are chosen based on the Exemplary Course Rubric that evaluates four major areas (Course Design, Interaction & Collaboration, Assessment and Learner Support). Reviews are conducted by a peer group of Blackboard clients and winners are selected by the Exemplary Course Directors.

Here is a brief course tour that highlights some of the best practices used in the MOOC design.

You can also enroll in the course on the Blackboard Open Education platform.

For those interested, the course was selected for using three stand-out practices.

Stand-out Practice 1 – Universal Design for Learning

Because the course topic was perspectives on disability, and one of the course goals was to “create awareness, comfort, and sensitivity toward disability as an issue of cultural diversity and inclusion,” the course had to be entirely accessible. To accomplish this, we used principles of universal design for learning (UDL).

Screenshot of MOOC demonstrating UDL features

For example, content was delivered in plain text and multiple formats were provided for screenreader compatibility. The menus and content used high contrast colors for low vision. Videos were kept short for engagement & bandwidth. The videos were posted on YouTube and embedded using the Blackboard Mashup tool so that videos would have keyboard controls. All of the videos had captions and transcripts. Assignments had multiple options and open submission deadlines.

Stand-out Practice 2 – Developing empathy through critical thinking

Screenshot of a video with a guest speaker

Most courses on disability focus on the medical or legal facets of disability. This MOOC was designed to help students develop empathy by focusing on higher-level critical thinking skills. The goal was for students to see disability as a natural aspect of life.

The guest speakers in the videos told personal stories about disability, which began the process of engaging students in empathy. By using the same speakers throughout the videos, students were able to see the guest speakers’ stories develop through the different topics.

The activities helped students form personal connections through reflection, interviews, or teaching. Even though the activities were not graded, like a traditional course, they were designed to be educative instead of evaluative. For example, the process of interviewing someone was more important than the product of that interview. By engaging students in critical thinking, the activities guided students through new ways of thinking.

The final assignment of the course required students to reflect on the entire process and what they had learned. Many reported that their views on disability had changed and that they were more aware of issues related to disability, including stereotypes, portrayal in media, physical barriers, and etiquette.

Stand-out Practice 3 – Best practices as a MOOC

Screenshot of how to download certificate

Perspectives on Disability was challenging to design as a MOOC. It needed to be open, flexible, and student-driven so that learners could engage in the higher-level thinking needed to develop empathy and challenge their perspectives, but also linear and structured enough to support new learners without extensive technology skills.

Our approach was to provide a strong and consistent structure that still allowed students to connect with one another and maintain a sense of personal control. Weekly introductions and a consistent format helped students connect with and navigate the course. Clear instructions and links to help and accessibility support on the menu allowed students unfamiliar with the technology use the tools for the course.

Students were encouraged to form a community by posting to discussion boards and providing each other with feedback on their learning. In addition, social media was used to help students build a personal learning network outside of the course.

Objective quizzes with multiple attempts allowed students to self-assess their understanding, while multiple options for assignments let students determine their own forms of expression and the direction of their learning. In the absence of feedback or a grade as motivation, badges served as both motivation and recognition of student progress through the MOOC.

Feedback from Students

Most importantly, the students loved the MOOC! In their final reflections, students shared what they learned and how the experience impacted them. Here are a few of their comments.

“I learned that you should not judge a book by its cover because if you judge you will have that stereotype of what this person might possibly be. I learned that everyone has a story and the only way to learn their story is to ask and learn from them.”

“I loved the guest speakers. I loved how personal it was. I feel a lot of learning was through the speakers because they are in the present, living with their disability and are each very easy to relate to.”

“This course taught me to recognize my own attitudinal barriers and become more self-aware of my thoughts and behaviors towards those with disabilities.”


“As an educator, I will have opportunities to work with individuals with disabilities, and this course has provided me with the knowledge to better assist those individuals.”


“I want to express my deep feelings that I have towards this and sincerely thank each and every one who came up with this course because it was very helpful to the extent that I cannot express through writing.”


“I am going to recommend this course to many people at my place of employment. It was easy to use and very helpful.”

“I learned that the way that people view people with disabilities is completely unfair. I never really thought about my own views, and this course has definitely opened my eyes. I was completely wrong and this course has given me a glimpse into the ways others want to be treated/viewed.”

Opportunity to Shape the Future of Blackboard (and Earn an Amazon Gift Card!)

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Laptop keyboardBlackboard is conducting a series of user research studies as they design the next generation of Blackboard Learn, and are looking for feedback from faculty and students. They are partnering with TecEd, an independent research firm, to conduct usability tests with some new features.

What: You will try some features of the redesigned Blackboard Learn and tell them your thoughts

Where: At your own computer, speaking on the phone with a researcher during the one-to-one research session. Sessions will last 30 or 60 minutes for students, and 45 or 90 minutes for faculty

When: Sessions will take place July 11 – August 29, 2014

What else: Participants who complete a session will receive an Amazon gift card to thank them for their time and input. The card value will range from $50 to $150, depending on the session length

To apply to participate, please go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XHLZYLZ

If you meet the study criteria, TecEd will contact you to schedule a research session. Please note that the gift cards are not provided by NIU or the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, and we have no control or input on who is selected to participate in the research study.

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