Faculty Development is Now on Facebook

Are you a Facebook user?  If so, you can now receive notices of new Faculty Development programs and resources as well as connect with Faculty Development staff on Facebook. 

In September 2009 Facebook has grown to 300 million users across the world, in essence becoming the largest social network on the web. It was at 250 million only in July of 2009. Such rapid and continued growth has had immense implications for its users. There’s an ever increasing number of people and organizations Facebook users can follow and a plethora of applications they can have installed on their accounts to stay in touch with current friends, finds new ones, follow the news and keep up with professional development.

Choosing to follow Faculty Development on Facebook will allow you to participate in discussions, receive program and workshop notifications, view shared resources, photos and videos from many events hosted by the department, and to connect with colleagues not just from NIU, but, potentially, from many other educational institutions.

Now on Facebook

To follow Faculty Development on Facebook, simply login to Facebook and search for “NIU Faculty Development” click here or click the Facebook icon on the Faculty Development web site (http://www.niu.edu/facdev). Once you arrive at the NIU Faculty Development page on Facebook, just click the “Become a Fan” button. After doing so, you’ll receive notices in Facebook of new programs, resources, or services offered by the Center.

You can also find NIU Faculty Development on Twitter at http://twitter.com/facdev and YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/niuquicktips

Accessing Blackboard Courses on Facebook and Mobile Devices

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Blackboard Courses on FacebookOver the last few years student use of various social networking sites and mobile technologies has grown exponentially. Realizing that students spend countless hours on Facebook, many organizations and educational institutions have started to seek ways of creating their own presence on social networks in an attempt to make relevant educational information more readily available to students in the environment they are already familiar with.

NIU has recently enabled access to the Blackboard Synch platform that attempts to help students “bridge their social and academic lives, as well as leverage those social interactions that are already occurring for social learning” (http://wiki.blackboardsync.com/). Blackboard Sync consists of two applications that enable students to receive pertinent Blackboard course updates through the use of a social network or a mobile device.

Blackboard Learn for the Facebook Platform application allows students to receive Blackboard course notifications and updates in Facebook. Students can see if there has been any new information posted in their Blackboard courses in the Announcements, Course Content areas, Discussion Board, Scholar, and even Grades.
Blackboard Learn for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch

Additionally, Blackboard Learn for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch application allows students to retrieve similar kind of Blackboard course information in their iPhone or iPod Touch mobile devices.

The Blackboard Sync platform is primarily targeted at students. As Blackboard puts it, “It delivers course updates and information conveniently through the student’s Facebook account or to their iPhone so that they can stay on top of their studies without having to login to their Blackboard account.”

Faculty members do not have to install the applications. If students have Blackboard Learn installed on their Facebook accounts or on the iPhone or iPod Touch mobile devices and a faculty member posts an update to the Blackboard course he or she is teaching, the students, who are enrolled into the course and who have chosen to install the applications, will be able to see the updates from either their Facebook account or on the mobile devices.

The installation of the Blackboard Learn applications should be initiated by users from the NIU Blackboard Login page. The users will be prompted to login to their Blackboard and Facebook accounts to install the application. This is done to ensure that information is exchanged securely and that users are properly authenticated.
Blackboard Learn applications

To install Blackboard Learn applications, follow these simple steps:

  1. Log in to Blackboard at NIU (http://webcourses.niu.edu).
  2. Click on the Blackboard Sync link in the Tools module.
  3. Select to install either Blackboard Learn for Facebook or Blackboard Learn for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch.

Learn More

To learn more about the Blackboard Sync platform and it applications, please visit the wiki page developed by Blackboard at http://wiki.blackboardsync.com/display/SYNC/Home.

Self and Peer Assessment

Sometimes, students need more than just their professors’ feedback. Students benefit from learning to assess their own work and from evaluating the work of their peers.

There are many benefits to self and peer assessment. The most obvious benefit to self assessment is that it encourages autonomy and independence in students (Boud, 1995). It forces students to think critically about their work rather than relying upon external feedback, which builds the students’ skills in self-monitoring and self-correction (Exemplars, 2004). Both of these are essential skills to have in the workplace (Boud, 1995).

Peer assessment allows students to receive feedback from their peers. However, the greatest benefit comes from the process of assessing their peers. In many cases, students would never see any work but their own. Evaluating others’ work allows students to compare their own work to the work of their peers. The assessment process also requires students to analyze the criteria for excellence more closely, which may also cause them to internalize the criteria (Exemplars, 2004).

There are some challenges to using Self and Peer Assessment in the classroom. Perhaps most importantly, students’ self-assessment skills may not be developed prior to arriving at the university (Boud, 1995). Students may need to be taught the skills necessary for effective critical reflection before requiring them to self-assess. Since self-assessment skills may be subject-specific, it may not be possible to assume that skills taught in other courses are applicable to the current course.

Peer assessment is often viewed as punitive rather than constructive (Boud, 1995). Students may even fear receiving low scores from their peers. Similarly, peer assessment may focus on scores rather than providing constructive feedback. Faculty should take care to design peer assessments to encourage or require feedback and explanations as opposed to only numerical scores.

It can also be challenging to implement self and peer assessment. If the subject of the assessed work is a paper or other written work, it often becomes the faculty member’s responsibility to coordinate the collection of the assignment and the distribution for peer review. The faculty member must determine and track which assesses each assignment and ensure that the evaluations are collected. The Self and Peer Assessment Tool, one of the newest features in the Blackboard Course Management System, may make this process simpler.

The Self and Peer Assessment Tool allows faculty to establish criteria for assessing the assignments and allows faculty to provide examples of model work. While creating the self and peer assessment, faculty can determine submission and evaluation periods, which Blackboard strictly enforces. Faculty can also determine how many peer assessments each student must complete, as well as whether or not a self assessment is required. Students submit their assignments using the tool, and then Blackboard randomly assigns assessment pairs and distributes the files. The faculty member may decide to make the pairs known or anonymous. Once the evaluations are complete, the faculty member may view or download the results, and can send the results to the Grade Center.  To learn more about the Self and Peer Assessment Tool, go to http://www.niu.edu/blackboard/assessments/spa

In short, both self and peer assessment are valuable tools that can increase learning by requiring students to critically evaluate their work and the work of their peers. The Blackboard Self and Peer Assessment Tool can simplify the process.


Boud, D. (1995). Enhancing learning through self assessment. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.

Exemplars. (2004). The benefits of peer- and self-assessment. Retrieved from http://www.exemplars.com/resources/formative/assessment.html.

Promoting Student-to-Student and Student-to-Instructor Interaction with Wimba Pronto

Wimba ProntoWimba Pronto is an instant messaging application that allows audio and text conferencing. It is integrated into Blackboard and is automatically populated with a list of courses a user is enrolled in.

Some of the features of Wimba Pronto include:

  • voice conferencing
  • text messaging
  • group chat
  • automatic population of Blackboard courses, instructors, and classmates
  • instant access to campus services
  • instant school-wide notifications
  • universal accessibility

Download Wimba Pronto using the following simple steps:

  1. Log in to Blackboard at NIU (http://webcourses.niu.edu).
  2. Click on any of the courses you are teaching or taking.
  3. Click on Tools in the course menu.
  4. Click on Wimba Pronto to setup your account, download, and install software on your computer.

Examples of a few possible applications of Wimba Pronto in an educational environment include:

  • Fostering on-demand, informal communication from student-to-student and student-to-instructor
  • Supporting the 21st-century students who are increasingly relying on instant access to information
  • Using live online communication to provide revision sessions for students needing extra help or optional assessment preparation sessions
  • Offering peer-to-peer “coffee breaks” or optional study sessions for students to network and learn from each other’s experiences
  • Promoting student project collaboration; the ability of students to see who is online from their classes or groups enables instant collaboration by chat or voice conferencing
  • Offering online office hours with voice and text messaging

Learn More

To learn more about Wimba Pronto, please visit the support page at http://www.wimba.com/products/wimba_pronto/.  

The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center offers various programs regarding the principles and practices of incorporating collaborative technologies, including Wimba Classroom, in teaching. The current program schedule and online registration information is always available at http://www.niu.edu/facdev/programs/fscurrent.shtml  

Mobile Learning Trends in Higher Education

While online instruction has been an increasingly common component of the university environment for several years, a recent innovation has been making its presence felt in higher education. Advances in computer and communication technologies resulted in the development of portable digital devices that change pedagogical possibilities. Cell phones, personal digital assistants, netbooks, iPods, digital still and video cameras, MP3 players, GPS, and portable e-books enhance establishing and participating in online communities of learners. The pedagogical application of these devices has lead to the development of ‘Mobile Learning’, a rapidly expanding area of instruction. According to Quinn (2000), Mobile Learning is defined as “the intersection of mobile computing (the application of small, portable, and wireless computing and communication devices) and e-learning (learning facilitated and supported through the use of information and communications technology) (para. 8).” Quinn predicted mobile learning would one day provide learning that was truly independent of time and place and facilitated by portable computers capable of providing rich interactivity, total connectivity, and powerful processing.

Some essential features of Mobile Learning are that it is dynamic, operates in real-time, is collaborative, is comprehensive, provides multiple paths for learning, and aids in building learning communities forged by participants (Leung & Chan, 2003). Indeed, the emphasis in Mobile Learning is placed on the interaction between learners/instructors/content and the technology used. This suggests to some investigators that learning is a social process (Sharples, Taylor, & Vavoula, 2007). For example, users can post content and have it instantly disseminated to a community of learners, who in turn, review the content, provide feedback, suggest refinements, and collaborate in team or group activities to an unprecedented degree.

A recent survey of U.S. adults reveals a significant increase in the use of mobile devices to access online sources (Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 2009). Thirty-two percent of Americans have used a cell phone or Smartphone to access the internet for emailing, instant messaging, or seeking information, which is an increase of one-third since 2007. The findings also reveal a 73 percent increase in Americans using mobile devices to access the internet.

Some academic institutions have begun incorporating mobile devices in the development of curriculum for both face-to-face and online instruction. Potential uses of mobile devices in higher education include providing recordings of entire lectures, textbook materials, journals, songs, music, novels, and radio programs to students via podcasts. These devices are used to access multimedia materials, produce student presentations, assignments and projects, facilitate field studies, and conduct tutor/peer/self-evaluation (Nie, 2006). Professional organizations have also been observed using mobile devices to facilitate their tasks and activities. For example, public health workers in developing countries are increasingly collecting health information with PDAs rather than with the traditional paper and pencil method for a speedier dissemination of data.

Collaboration with Mobile Devices was a featured topic in the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center sponsored ‘Teaching with Technology Institute’, held in June of 2009. Faculty Development is continuing to pursue an interest in current pedagogical and technological advancements by developing workshops in mobile learning. Please check the Faculty Development website to learn more information as well as new offerings in this area.


Leung, C.H., Chang, Y.Y. (2003).  Mobile Learning: A New Paradigm in Electronic Learning. Proceedings of the
3rd IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT’03)

Nie, M. The potential use of mobile/handheld devices, audio/podcasting material in higher education.  Retrieved from http://www2.le.ac.uk/projects/impala/presentations/Berlin/The%20Potential%20Use%20of%20Mobile%20Devices%20in%20Higher%20Education

Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.  Mobile internet use increases sharply in 2009 as more than half of all Americans have gotten online by some wireless means Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Press-Releases/2009/Mobile-internet-use.aspx

Quinn, C.  mLearning. Mobile, Wireless, In-Your-Pocket Learning. Linezine. Fall2000. Retrieved from http://www.linezine.com/2.1/features/cqmmwiyp.htm.

Sharples, M., Taylor, J., & Vavoula, G. (2007) A theory of learning for the mobile age. In R. Andrews and C. Haythornthwaite (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of elearning Research (pp. 221-247). London: Sage.

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