Blackboard Portfolio Tool: Faculty Perspectives

Blackboard Portfolio ImageDuring the summer of 2015, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center team worked collaboratively with many faculty and staff to prepare for the Fall 2015 implementation of the new Blackboard Portfolio tool. Blackboard portfolios were created in a variety of courses including UNIV 101 and First Year Composition courses, as well as other undergraduate and graduate level courses and programs.

The easy-to-use portfolio tool allows students and faculty to create several portfolios for different purposes. For example, portfolios may be created for a specific course, program of study, or job search.  Faculty can request templates to serve as a guide for students and grade the portfolio assignment in the Blackboard Grade Center. Students can upload completed assignments, projects from co-curricular activities, and career information using the portfolio tool. Students can then share their portfolio by submitting it to a course or via email to NIU users or non-NIU contacts with only an email address.

NIU faculty who have used the Blackboard Portfolio tool found it beneficial for their students. Some of the comments from faculty include:

It was easy to set-up.

 

The portfolio gave me (as instructor) far deeper insights…what really had an impact on their learning and how beneficial different teaching strategies or activities were from the students’ perspective.

 

For the students, I believe this portfolio really helped them explore and recognize everything that they accomplished in a very short time frame.

 

The portfolio also helped the students reflect on what type of learner they are…and how to adjust their approach to their own education and learning in the future.

 

It is so important to have all of the resources…in one place and this functionality in Blackboard made it especially convenient.

 

Students were able to include a variety of media (ppt, animation, audio, documents, links, etc.).

 

I was able to create a checklist/rubric to go along with the portfolio assignment, which made grading painless.

 

I was very pleased with the pilot of the e-portfolio. I would like to experiment with setting up an e-portfolio for another class I am teaching this semester.

We have extensive information and tutorials on using the Blackboard Portfolio tools at go.niu.edu/portfolios, including tutorials specifically for faculty and students to help you get started using Blackboard Portfolios. Contact us at facdev@niu.edu for more information on using the Blackboard Portfolio for your course or departmental ePortfolios!

Enhancing Live Online Sessions with the New Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, Part II: Updated Features and Faculty Feedback

Students watching online sessoin

During fall 2015, we introduced Blackboard Collaborate Ultra – an updated version of the existing web conferencing tool that can promote online collaboration and interaction. Blackboard Collaborate Ultra can be used to hold live class sessions, offer virtual office hours online, or conduct meetings with students or colleagues. One of the most exciting improvements in this release of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is that sessions open quickly directly in a web browser, with nothing to download or install in order to join a session.

This time, we want to discuss additional features that can enhance online synchronous courses as well as share feedback from the faculty and instructors who participated in beta testing or piloting Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. The beta testing program began in spring 2015 and allowed NIU faculty and instructors to explore the revised interface, test upgraded features, and provide feedback to Blackboard to continue improving the product. In the summer and fall 2015, faculty and instructors piloted Blackboard Collaborate Ultra in their courses. During that time, a number of existing features were enhanced and a few new ones were introduced.

Feedback from Faculty

A major advantage to using web conferencing is the ability to bridge distance so that students can participate from wherever they happen to be. Whether due to job demands, family obligations, transportation issues, or other causes, distance and travel time can represent a significant barrier to pursuing education. Web conferencing can address these concerns by allowing you to present material, engage in live discussion, and keep long distance students connected to live class sessions. This was supported by one of the faculty members,

This program will allow me the opportunity to communicate course content with the class in a timely manner so that no material is missed. A few years ago, I had an RN reservist who was pursuing a MS degree and was deployed to Germany.  I was able to Skype him into the class each week, but it was cumbersome and didn’t allow for him to see the other students well.  This program would successfully include a student unable to attend the course face-to-face.

Another faculty member expressed a similar sentiment,

I used the tool for a course offered to first-year graduate students, many of whom work full-time and are considered mid-career. Once the technology adjustment was made, they found it extremely useful to interact with the instructor without making the trek to the campus.

During the pilot courses, novice users of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra found it to be quite intuitive, with a short learning curve, making it easy for faculty and students to begin using it quickly,

I had never used Blackboard Collaborate, yet learning how to use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra was very easy.  The process is very intuitive and the students also seemed to pick it up easily.

One common complaint expressed by faculty who are considering whether to put their courses online is that online teaching can be a somewhat impersonal experience, with little to no opportunity for faculty-to-student, student-to-content, or student-to-student interaction. However, as reported by one NIU instructor, her students seemed to enjoy this updated web conferencing tool,

Feedback from students was very positive- they told me that they really liked the convenience of being able to have this session online.  They also indicated that they felt they were able to get to know their classmates a little bit better.

In addition to presenting their own content to students, another potential application is for faculty and instructors to invite a guest lecturer to a class session to speak on an area of their specialization.  In one instance during the fall 2015 semester, a faculty member invited an expert in substance abuse to speak to her upper division psychology students in a face-to-face class. Because travel logistics and other obligations made an in-person appearance all but impossible, web conferencing offered a convenient solution. The guest speaker was able to join the class ‘virtually’ from her office at another institution. Students were able to ask the guest for clarification when necessary as well submit questions, thus benefiting from the guest speaker’s clinical and research experience,

I have used collaborate 2x – once in the workshop ….. to train on it and then also with a guest lecture.  Things went very smoothly in the class you taught and I was impressed with how participants could interact by raising hands and typing questions/comments.

Although a primary use of this web conferencing tool is for faculty and instructors to conduct live online session for their courses, an alternative use for Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is to hold online meetings with research associates and collaborators,

I have used it on several occasions both for teaching as well as to work on research projects with colleagues in other parts of the country.  I like the features of being able to share files on the screen as we discuss items.

New Features Added

Now that the core functionality is completed, Blackboard Collaborate Ultra continues to be updated with small additions on an ongoing basis. These changes do not significantly change the workflow for using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, but do improve the experience for both faculty and students. Here are a few of the tools or upgrades that were recently added:

  • Content Zoom: Individual users can now control the zoom level of the content, which makes it easier for participants to view content at a size appropriate for their screen-size. Participants can choose between ‘best fit’, ‘actual size’, and ‘zoom in’ or ‘zoom out’.
  • Private messaging between Moderators and Presenters: Within the general chat window, Moderators and Presenters now can access a private chat feature to other moderators and presenters. This helps you coordinate with other faculty, instructors, and teaching assistants, or support staff who are assisting with your session.
  • Visual indicator when you are sharing video: All participants can be more aware now of whether or not they are broadcasting their web camera. When your video feed is on, you will see an ‘eye’ beside your avatar image
  • Participant connection indicator: Faculty and instructors can now tell at-a-glance who is in their session and who might be having trouble connecting. New indicators have been added that inform faculty when someone is in the process of joining their session, if users are connected, and how strong their connection is. This is as easy as hovering a pointer over participants in the ‘Participant’ panel to see the indicators.
  • Audio via telephone: If faculty or students do not have access to a microphone, they can still participate via the new integrated ‘telephony’. Now, faculty and students have the ability to call in to a live session using their phone, where they can listen or speak to session participants.
  • Audio indicator: For those participants who are using a microphone, an indicator icon (dark microphone) appears beside their name and photo in the ‘Participant’ panel, permitting faculty to identify who is speaking and who has turned off their audio. This can be important as the indicator will move to whoever the current speaker is as a discussion unfolds.
  • Mobile access: Students and other participants can participate in Blackboard Collaborate Ultra Sessions from any iOS, Android, or Windows Mobile device using the free Bb Student app.

 

Final Thoughts

The consensus opinion among faculty who commented on their experiences using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra was favorable. Here are a few other comments from faculty who have tried Blackboard Collaborate Ultra:

I enjoyed using the technology and I feel like it has a great deal of promise.  I am looking forward to using it in the future.

The technology seemed to work well and everyone who has used it liked the overall look and feel. Overall, very positive, very easy to use. Love it.

I am so glad that this program is available and I am looking forward to using this again in the future!

For the pilot, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center had to manually create Blackboard Collaborate Ultra sessions. It will be available for everyone and integrated in Blackboard beginning in summer 2016. If you would like to try it early, or for more information, training, or consultation on Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, contact Dan Cabrera, Multimedia Coordinator for the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at dcabrera@niu.edu or 815-753-0613.

 

Photo Credit: www.laudio-lucistore.It

 

 

Latest Trends in Educational Technology Use Identified in 2016 Horizon Report

2016 Horizon ReportThe New Media Consortium (NMC) and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) have jointly released the NMC Horizon Report > 2016 Higher Education Edition. This 13th edition describes annual findings from the NMC Horizon Project, an ongoing research project designed to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have an impact on learning, teaching, and creative inquiry in higher education.

The report identifies six key trends, six significant challenges, and six important developments in educational technology across three adoption horizons spanning over the next one to five years, giving campus leaders, educational technologists, and faculty a valuable guide for strategic technology planning. The report provides higher education leaders with in-depth insight into how trends and challenges are accelerating and impeding the adoption of educational technology, along with their implications for policy, leadership, and practice.

“The release of this report kicks off the 15th year of the NMC Horizon Project, which has sparked crucial conversations and progressive strategies in institutions all over the world,”says Larry Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of the NMC. “We are so appreciative of ELI’s continued support and collaboration. Together we have been able to regularly provide timely analysis to universities and colleges.”

“This year’s report addresses a number of positive trends that are taking root in higher education,” notes ELI Director Malcolm Brown. “More institutions are developing programs that enable students and faculty to create and contribute innovations that advance national economies, and they are also reimagining the spaces and resources accessible to them to spur this kind of creativity.”


Watch the video summary

Key Trends Accelerating Higher Education Technology Adoption

The NMC Horizon Report > 2016 Higher Education Edition identifies “Advancing Cultures of Innovation” and “Rethinking How Institutions Work” as long-term impact trends that for years affected decision-making and will continue to accelerate the adoption of educational technology in higher education over the next five years. “Redesigning Learning Spaces” and the “Shift to Deeper Learning Approaches” are mid-term impact trends expected to drive technology use in the next three to five years; meanwhile, “Growing Focus on Measuring Learning” and “Increasing Use of Blended Learning” are short-term impact trends, anticipated to impact institutions for the next one to two years before becoming commonplace.

Significant Challenges Impeding Higher Education Technology Adoption

A number of challenges are acknowledged as barriers to the mainstream use of technology in higher education. “Blending Formal and Informal Learning” and “Improving Digital Literacy” are perceived as solvable challenges, meaning they are well-understood and solutions have been identified. “Competing Models of Education” and “Personalizing Learning” are considered difficult challenges, which are defined and well understood but with solutions that are elusive. Described as wicked challenges are “Balancing Our Connected and Unconnected Lives” and “Keeping Education Relevant.” Challenges in this category are complex to define, making them more difficult to address.

Important Developments in Educational Technology for Higher Education

Additionally, the report identifies bring your own device (BYOD) and learning analytics and adaptive learning as digital strategies and technologies expected to enter mainstream use in the near-term horizon of one year or less. Augmented and virtual reality technologies and makerspaces are seen in the mid-term horizon of two to three years; affective computing and robotics are seen emerging in the far-term horizon of four to five years.

Topics from the NMC Horizon Report

The subject matter in this report was identified through a qualitative research process designed by the NMC and collaboratively conducted by the NMC and ELI that engaged an international body of experts in higher education, technology, business, and other fields around a set of research questions designed to surface significant trends and challenges and to identify emerging technologies with a strong likelihood of adoption in higher education. The report details the areas in which these experts were in strong agreement.

Download the Report

New Blackboard Portfolio Tool: Upgraded Features are Easy to Use

blackboard portfolio sampleThroughout the summer and fall, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center team has been busy working on implementation of the new Blackboard Portfolio tool that was released during the May 2015 Blackboard Learn Upgrade. Over 130 faculty and staff from more than 40 departments across campus, including many instructors for UNIV 101 and First Year Composition courses, have been trained on the portfolio tool. Students in these programs as well as in a variety of other courses will be building their ePortfolios during the fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters.

In the new portfolio tool, students can easily create multiple portfolios for different purposes. Students can share their academic, co-curricular, and professional accomplishments in unique ways to tell their stories using the Blackboard Portfolio tool. Faculty and programs can request templates to provide a portfolio structure for students to follow. As students build their portfolios, they can include photos and videos, as well as upload any file as an artifact. Students can also integrate files they have submitted as Blackboard Assignments in any course they have taken at NIU, including the assignment instructions, their file, the grade assigned, and any comments or rubric submitted by their faculty.

When the portfolio is complete, students can submit it to a Portfolio Assignment, so that faculty can review and grade the portfolio in the Grade Center. It is also easy for students to share the portfolios with NIU users as well as people outside of NIU, with only an email address.

Extensive resources and tutorials have been created to support faculty and students who will be using the Blackboard Portfolio. Quick Guides, instructions, and step-by-step video tutorials are available for faculty and students on the Teaching with Blackboard website.  Check out our website at go.niu.edu/portfolios for step-by-step instructions on how to use the new Blackboard Portfolio tools. Contact us at facdev@niu.edu for more information on using the Blackboard Portfolio for your course or departmental ePortfolios!

Blackboard Learn Upgrade: Memorial Day Weekend 2015

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See What's BetterA significant upgrade is scheduled to be performed to the Blackboard Learn System over Memorial Day weekend. The upgrade will begin at 5:00 AM on Saturday, May 23, 2015, and will complete by 5:00 AM on Sunday, May 24, 2015. The Blackboard Learn system (https://webcourses.niu.edu) will be unavailable during this time.

The latest version of Blackboard Learn, April 2014 Release, will introduce several new and exciting features, including:

  • Portfolios
    A rebuilt Portfolio system aimed at assessing student learning.
  • Anonymous and Delegated Grading
    Grade Assignment submissions anonymously and share grading responsibilities with one or more graders.
  • Student Preview
    The new Student Preview feature provides faculty with the ability to easily see the course exactly how a student would see it.
  • Assignment and SafeAssignment Integration
    SafeAssign is now integrated with the Assignment tool, making it easy to check student submissions for plagiarism by clicking a checkbox when creating an Assignment.
  • New Look and Feel
    New flat color schemes and navigation banner.

To learn more about the upcoming features, please visit http://www.niu.edu/blackboard/upgrade.

The Faculty Development & Instructional Design Center will be holding workshops and hands-on sessions to preview the new features. To sign up for a workshop please visit http://www.niu.edu/blackboard/upgrade/workshops.shtml

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the DoIT Helpdesk at 815-753-8100 or helpdesk@niu.edu.

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