Upgrade to Blackboard Coming in May

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This year, Blackboard will be upgraded to the Q4 2016 Release, which consists of several exciting new features and several bug fixes. The upgrade is targeted for the Memorial Day weekend (May 27-29), and will require an outage during which Blackboard will be unavailable. Exact timing of the outage will be announced by the Division of IT prior to the upgrade. You can learn more about these features and the upgrade at niu.edu/blackboard/upgrade, or by attending the upcoming Preview workshop on April 21 from 12 – 1 CST. Register for the workshop

Here are some of the exciting changes that will be available after the upgrade (some are even available now!):

New Mobile-Responsive Theme

The new look of Blackboard is specifically designed to be mobile-friendly. It resizes based on screen size for use on smaller devices like smartphones, and the Submit button is always at the bottom of the screen instead of the bottom of the page (so there is less scrolling). The new design also includes new icons for most content and assessments, to match the new look.

new course theme in blackboard

This does require a few other changes that you will notice. First, the modules on the landing page in Blackboard have been reordered, so that My Courses is the first box on the left. This helps the various modules show up in a useful order on smartphones, where Blackboard can only display one column at a time. Also, the new theme does not let you customize colors for course menus, for consistency of the experience between Blackboard in the browser compared with using the Bb Student mobile app.

Improved Course Request Process

NIU’s custom-built course request process which was already excellent is now even better. Course and Shell requests are processed immediately, instead of taking 24 hours, and you receive an email notification to confirm that the Course or Shell has been created. When requesting a Course, you can request auto-availability at a specified date, or leave it off to make the course available manually whenever you are ready. When two or more courses are combined into a Master Course, the process will automatically create a group for each of the combined sections, to make it easier to communicate with individual sections or to view the Grade Center for a single section at a time.

screenshot of course request table and my courses module

Learn more about the updated course request process

New Mobile App for Students

The Bb Student app provides an intuitive way for students to interact with courses, content, instructors, and each other. Bb Student helps students:

  • Access course content anytime, anywhere
  • Stay on task with push notifications, a due date list, and activity stream updates
  • Submit assignments, take tests or quizzes, and review submissions
  • View course grades as well as individual assessment grades
  • Participate in discussions
  • Collaborate with classmates through Blackboard Collaborate Ultra
  • Attach assignment files from cloud storage like Google Drive or Dropbox

discussions in the Bb Student mobile app

Bb Student is available free for Apple, Android, and Windows devices. It replaces Blackboard Mobile Learn, which will no longer be supported this fall.

Look for a future announcement about the new Bb Instructor app, custom-built for the most important tasks faculty need to use while on the go. Bb Instructor launches later this year!

Learn more about Bb Student

Improved Behavior for Self and Peer Assessments

Self and Peer Assessment allows students to evaluate one another’s work in a structured environment, based on criteria you set for them. With this update, Blackboard has added an important change in how Self and Peer Assessment distributes evaluation assignments. Going forward, students who do not participate during the submission period are excluded from the evaluation process. Any student with a partial or complete submission will be assigned to their classmates for evaluation, and will be included in the pool of evaluators.

By pairing this with Adaptive Release, Self and Peer Assessment can now be used for students to evaluate group or team members! With three groups and three Self and Peer Assessments, you can use Adaptive Release to limit the visibility of each one to only a single group. Have the students submit a reflection on their contribution to the group as the initial submission. Then, during the evaluation phase, students will only see members of their own group.

Learn more about Self and Peer Assessments

Drag and Drop File Attachments

It is easier than ever to attach files in Blackboard. As a faculty member, you can now add files to Items and Assignments by dragging files from your computer to the “hot spot” in the Attach Files area. Students can also drag files to upload when they submit assignments.

drag and drop hot spot in a blackboard item

Assignment Submission Receipts

You and your students will be able to better track whether Assignments submit successfully with submission receipts. When students submit Assignments successfully, the Review Submission History page will include a banner and confirmation number. Students can copy and save this number as proof of their submission and evidence for academic disputes. For assignments with multiple attempts, students will receive a different number for each submission. For group attempts, each student will receive a separate confirmation number.

assignment submission receipt

You can access all of your students’ confirmation numbers from the Grade Center. Access the Reports menu and select Submission Receipts.

Learn more about Submission Receipts

Assignment Reminders

Faculty will be able to easily send system-generated reminders for missing coursework in the Grade Center to students and members of groups who have not submitted work. Students will receive a system-generated email that lists the course, coursework, and the due date (if included).

Learn more about Assignment Reminders

Fewer Needs Grading Items

When you allow multiple attempts on an Assignment or Test, you may not need to grade all of them. With this update, the Needs Grading page will automatically be filtered to only display the attempts that need grading. When you set up the assessment, you can specify whether the grade is based on the first attempt or the last attempt, and now the Needs Grading page will only display one attempt per student based on that choice. You can still display all of the attempts, if you want to see the others.

needs grading view with filter

Attempts that you do not need to grade will also now display with a special icon to indicate they do not need to be graded, in the Needs Grading view and in the Inline Grading display.

Learn more about Needs Grading and multiple attempts

Dropbox Integration

Following this update, faculty and students will be able to attach files from personal Dropbox accounts directly into Blackboard. In the text editor, click Mashups, then Dropbox to link your Dropbox account and to select files. This integration is available anywhere the text editor is available, such as Items, Assignments (creating or submitting), and Discussion Boards.

Export Rubrics

Previously, a bug prevented faculty from exporting Rubrics. That bug is fixed in this release, making it easier to reuse and share Rubrics.

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!

Congratulations to the 2016-2017 Recipients of the Graduate Teaching Certificate!

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graduate teaching certificateThe Graduate Teaching Certificate recognizes graduate teaching assistants (GA/RA/TAs) for their participation 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. You can learn more about the certificate at facdev.niu.edu/tacert.

In the 2016-2017 academic year, 6 individuals earned the certificate:

  • Beheshteh Abdi, Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment
  • Steven Chun, Department of Geography
  • Villanueva Edel, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
  • Asa Kultida, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
  • Ramanpreet Singh, Department of Physics
  • Taneisha Vilma, Department of Psychology

It is easy to apply for the Faculty Development & Instructional Design Center Graduate Teaching Certificate! The application form is available online at facdev.niu.edu/tacertapp. If you have forgotten which workshops you have attended, or how many you have attended, you can review your workshop history at facdev.niu.edu/myprograms. Log in with both your A-ID and Z-ID to see all of your programs (if you have used different IDs at different times).

New for 2016-2017, we offered a recommendation on recipients’ LinkedIn Profiles, to validate the recognition. Recipients will also be recognized at the Outstanding Graduate Student Recognition Reception.

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.

Video Captions: They are for Everyone

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According to principles of Universal Design for Learning, because learners vary in how they can become interested or motivated to learn, it is crucial to provide multiple ways to engage learners (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014).  One medium to consider is video, which, when well-planned, can engage students and facilitate a sense of community.  However, when designing instruction, it is important to ensure that materials are usable and accessible to individuals with a range of abilities, ages, disabilities, ethnic backgrounds, language skills, experiences, and learning style.

One consideration is ensuring that video content offers captions. Captions are defined as “…on-screen text descriptions that display a video product’s dialogue, identify speakers, and describe other relevant sounds that are otherwise inaccessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Captions are synchronized with the video image so that viewers have equivalent access to the content that is originally presented in sound, regardless of whether they receive that content via audio or text.”  (http://www.washington.edu/accessit/print.html?ID=1050)

Closed Caption Example

While one might assume that captions would be helpful primarily to students with a hearing impairment, in reality, all students with a range of abilities could also benefit. These include students with a learning disability, individuals whose first language is different than the language spoken in the video, students who watch the video in a noise environment, or any student who might benefit from both reading captions and listening to the accompanying audio. Findings from a recently released national survey of college students seems to support this practice, revealing that 35% of students said they always or often used closed captions when they were available, while 52% said they used them because they aid with comprehension (Linder, 2016). The study found that approximately 46% used transcripts for the same reason.

Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center is available to help faculty who want to learn to add captions to videos they have created, through a time-saving process that does not require directly transcribing the video. The basic steps are:

  1. Record a video using a video camera, smartphone, screencasting software, or other means.
  2. Upload the video to YouTube as a Private video. This prevents the video from being seen by anyone but the owner.
  3. Once YouTube has processed automatic caption for the video, download the captions as a .srt file.
  4. Open the .srt file using a text editor and edit the text as necessary to be more accurate.
  5. Upload the video and the .srt file to the MEDIAL server to embed the video in your course. On MEDIAL, you can protect the video by using the Personal security setting, so the video is only available to the owner and the students in the course.

If you have written a script, you can upload it to YouTube’s Closed Captions editor, and YouTube will automatically synchronize the script with the video. This is more accurate than the automatic captions, and you won’t have to edit the .srt for accuracy. Once YouTube has processed the captions, you can download the .srt file and then continue with step 5 (upload to MEDIAL).

If you have questions, please contact Dan Cabrera, Multimedia Coordinator at the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. He would be delighted to go through the process to ensure that you are comfortable adding captions to your videos.

References

Linder, K. (2016). Student uses and perceptions of closed captions and transcripts: Results from a national Study. Retrieved from  http://www.3playmedia.com/resources/research-studies/student-uses-of-closed-captions-and-transcripts/ on February 28, 2017.

Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: theory and practice. Wakefield: CAST Professional Publishing.

Recognizing and Embracing Cultural Communications and Sensitivity in the Classroom

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Eighty-three graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) from the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET) attended the panel discussion, Recognizing & Embracing Cultural Communications & Sensitivity in the Classroom, on February 10 and nineteen GTAs from various Colleges attended the repeated panel on March 2, 2017.

Invited panelists for both panels were Sim Chin, Director, International Student and Faculty Office; Molly Holmes, Director, Gender and Sexuality Resource Center; and Debra Miller, Director, Disabilities Resource. The panels were cosponsored by the CEET and Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

The panel discussions were offered to help GTAs be sensitive in communicating with their students who represent a range of cultures who are potentially different than their own.  The presenters spoke about interacting with students from different cultures, considering gender and sexuality of their students, and dealing with students with disabilities.

After the panel discussion, GTAs took part in an interactive activity to help them think about privilege and heterosexism and to reflect on their own behaviors and beliefs regarding sexuality. After the activity, one GTA asked, “Why don’t we follow the golden rule, treat everyone with respect and kindness? Be that star!” Another GTA suggested that, “These kinds of workshops will definitely help us to grow through our lives and do well in [our] professional careers.”

Center staff conducted evaluations at the conclusion of the panels.  89% of the GTAs indicated that the concepts/techniques covered in the panels were applicable in their teaching or other student-related activities, and 90% indicated that their participation in the panels has potential benefit to students.  GTAs also provided comments, such as:

  • This gave me a good understanding of how to treat people with disabilities.
  • Now I have a broader understanding of cultures.
  • I will be adding an accessibility statement in my syllabus.
  • We need to be more sensitive about the LGBT community.
  • I now feel more prepared to approach an unexpected situation.
  • Be mindful of students because you might not know who they are.
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