New Features for Combined Courses in Blackboard

Wrapped into the new, faster course request process are a few feature enhancements for those teaching a Master Course in Blackboard. Now when combining student enrollments from multiple course sections into a single course, a Blackboard Group and Grade Center “Smart View” will automatically be created for each section, with students assigned to them according to the section they originally enrolled in. These will make assigning section-specific assignments, and grading section by section, easier. Enrollments in these Groups will be updated as students add, drop, or change sections.

Let’s assume that you have combined several sections into a Master Course, and now you have multiple Groups for these sections. How can you use those Groups to make your teaching more effective and efficient?

Adding Content and Assessments for each Section

Teaching multiple sections of the same course is very common. Whether it is undergraduate and Honors sections, or an undergraduate and graduate section, students work through the same material. In these cases, it makes sense to combine enrollments from all sections into one, within Blackboard. Having done so, however, there may be a need to offer additional material or assignments to one or more of the combined sections, which will now be much easier.

For example, an Honors or graduate section of a combined course may be required to submit an extra assignment. Once you have added any relevant materials (readings, links, etc) and created an Assignment for it, you can use an Adaptive Release rule to limit access to only the students in the relevant Group. Students who were enrolled in another section of the course would not be able to see the content or Assignment.

Selecting the Adaptive Release option from the contextual menu on a content item

Alternatively, you may want the students in one or more sections to participate in a Discussion Forum that is limited to only the students in that section. Perhaps this is an extra assessment for them, or you want TAs to monitor different sections of students. Blackboard Groups include their own Discussion Board (as well as Blogs, Journals, and Wikis), from which any number of forums may be set up for students to take part in a discussion, graded or not. Again, students from other sections of the course would not be able to access the Group Discussion Board. Note that the Groups are unavailable by default, and you will need to edit the groups to make them available to students before you can use the Group Discussion Board feature.

Grading by Section

The other new feature for combined courses is the automatic creation of a Smart View, allowing you to see a given section by itself in the Grade Center.  Previously, if you, or your TA(s), wanted to grade each of your sections independently, you would have to consult MyNIU’s section rosters, going down each list, and mentally skipping over students that weren’t on the current section’s roster. Or, you would have to replicate the rosters using Blackboard Groups and creating a Smart View for each. Now, all of that work is done for you!

To use a Smart View, go the Full Grade Center, and click the Filter button. You can use the Current View drop down menu to select the Smart View you want to focus on. You can also enable a Smart View as a Favorite by clicking the Manage button, choosing Smart Views from the drop-down menu, then, on the Smart Views page, clicking the Star for each of the Smart Views you would like as a Favorite. From then on, you’ll have quick access to each sections’ roster by expanding the Grade Center menu in the Control Panel, then clicking the relevant Smart View.

Adding a Smart View as a favorite, for easy access from the Grade Center menu in the Control Panel

Emailing Students by Section

It is easy to email students in a single section of a combined course, with the new automatically-created Groups. In the Control Panel, click Users and Groups, and then click Groups. Click on the Group Name to open the group, and then Send Email to select students from that section to email. You can use the Select All button and then the right arrow to quickly select all of the students in that section. If you have made the Groups available to students, you can also use the Send Email tool in Course Tools to select a single Group to email.

emailing a group of students

Summary

These new groups can be very powerful for making your teaching more efficient, and to enable student collaboration within a single section of a Master Course. What other use cases can you think of? Post them in the Comments – we would love to hear how you are using them!

Course Request Process in Blackboard Now Faster with More Features

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screenshot of course request table and my courses moduleThe Division of IT has released version 2.0 of the Blackboard Faculty Tools (BFT), with faster course requests, an auto-availability option, and helpful notifications, based on feedback from faculty. Overall, the course request process is largely unchanged, so it will be familiar and easy to use. Courses will still need to be requested each semester, but thanks to the custom-built tool by NIU’s Blackboard system administrators, the process will be easier than ever.

What’s New

Real-Time Course Requests

Course requests will now be processed immediately, instead of taking 24 hours. You can submit your course request and start building your course right away! Requests for new Shells will also be processed immediately.

 

Course Request Notifications

Once the course request is processed (instantly), you will receive an email notification that the course is ready to use. The notification will include a summary of the courses requested along with some helpful tips for getting started with common Blackboard tasks.

Auto-Availability Option

When you request a course, you can also set a date for the course to automatically become available to students. By default, Blackboard suggests the start date of the course in MyNIU, but you can override it with any date you prefer. You can also disable the auto-availability option, and manually make the course available to students when you feel it is ready.

Automatic Groups for Each Section in a Master Course

When two or more sections are combined into a Master Course, there will also automatically be a group in the Master Course for each of the combined sections, and a Smart View for each of the groups. This will make it easier to communicate with students in a particular section, and to filter the Grade Center to only see grades for a single section.

Learn more about how you can use the automatically-generated groups in exciting and innovative ways.

Dig Deeper

Those are the highlights, but there’s more to know!

Changes to Enrollment in MyNIU

As students add and drop courses, the updates will not occur immediately. It may take up to 24 hours for a student to be added or dropped from your course. Those changes will also be reflected in the automatic groups created in a Master Course.

Course Request Timing

Going forward, you may begin requesting your courses 100 days before the semester begins, or 100 days before the course’s scheduled start date, whichever comes first. In general, that means fall courses can be requested in mid-May, spring courses can be requested in mid-October, and summer courses can be requested in mid-March. The course must be scheduled in MyNIU, and you must be listed as the Instructor of Record before you would be able to request it.

Combining Courses with Different Instructors of Record

If you want to combine your Blackboard course with one taught by someone else, into a single master course, you may due so through the Service Desk. This requires written approval from all Instructors of Record involved, so the best approach would be to send an email to ServiceDesk@niu.edu.

Shells

Just like course requests, shell requests will also be processed immediately, and an email notification will be sent when the shell has been created. In addition, the names of shells have been updated to include the word “shell”, so that they are easier to distinguish from courses.