Trends and Motivation for Blackboard Use at NIU

Supporting faculty and teaching staff’s use of instructional technologies at Northern Illinois University is one the major functions of the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, which requires us to keep up with trends in their use on campus so we can provide better support. Last academic year, the center focused on understanding how and why faculty at NIU use Blackboard Learn to support their teaching.

Blackboard Tool Use

NIU adopted Blackboard in 2002. As of the 2016 fall semester95% of enrolled students at NIU use Blackboard for at least one course, and 88% of NIU faculty use Blackboard to teach at least one course. The majority (64%) of for-credit course sections have some presence in Blackboard (learn more on trends in Blackboard usage). In addition to an increase in overall usage, there has been an increase in the use of many of the individual tools. The figure below shows the trend in usage for the top 10 most-used tools. Some interesting trends:

  • All of the top tools are being used more, over time.
  • Most tools in Blackboard are used at higher rates during summer semesters (compared to both fall and spring). Much of that increase is due to a greater percentage of online courses being offered each summer, as online courses naturally tend to use more of the tools within Blackboard.
  • During the 2015 fall semester, the number of courses using several tools for posting content and collecting assignments electronically dramatically increased. We believe this was likely a response to university efforts to decrease the amount of printing on campus.

 

percentage of courses using a tool, per semester

Motivation for Using Blackboard

Since understanding motivations for using Blackboard could provide greater insight than looking at simple tool usage, we sent out a survey to faculty and teaching staff in fall 2016. Based on the expanded Technology Acceptance Model, to see why those new to the LMS are using it, and why long-term users continue to do so. Several things initially stood out to us, including:

  • Sentiment about Blackboard among NIU faculty is generally high:
    • 82% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I feel confident using Blackboard features in general”
    • 66% agreed with the statement “I find Blackboard easy to use”
    • 72% agreed with the statement “Using Blackboard increases my efficiency”
  • 95% had adopted Blackboard. The top reasons were its perceived requirement (though the University doesn’t require use of Blackboard, some departments may, or respondents may feel that students expect it), the value it brings to their teaching, and its ease of use.
  • 5% had never adopted it, due to the perceived lack of need or because alternative tools are available.

Takeaways

  • As online course delivery grows at NIU, Blackboard will be used even more heavily, by more students and faculty.
  • Adoption is more than an initial decision to use Blackboard. It is an ongoing and continuous process of evaluating teaching needs and the wide array of tools available in Blackboard.
  • While the vast majority of faculty at NIU use Blackboard in some way (and many find it easy to use for their purposes), there still exists a need for high quality support.

These data will continue to inform the center’s decision-making for providing resources and support, to maintain responsiveness and a commitment to serving NIU’s faculty.

Blackboard Tool Spotlight: Date Management, for efficiently updating Availability and Due Dates

With so many features in Blackboard, it can be easy to miss that one tool which could save you hours of work. If you’ve ever used the Course Copy tool to move materials from one semester’s course to the next, you may want to try Date Management. Located under Course Tools in the Control Panel, the Date Management tool can create a list of all content and assessments in your course which have Availability dates or Due Dates associated with them. From that one list, you can quickly and efficiently change all of those dates, instead of having to click through all of your content folders to find everything.

reviewing and updating dates using the date management tool

The Date Management tool can also be used to adjust all Availability and Due Dates at once, by specifying a new course starting date, or the number of days by which to offset the original dates. This can save even more time, as you will not need to change the individual dates. After the adjustment is made, however, you can still use the list of all of the dates to manually adjust any that need further modification.

automatically adjusting all availability and due dates in a course, using the date management tool
Have you ever tried the Date Management tool? Let us know in the comments!

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!

Trends in Blackboard Tool Usage at NIU – 2016

Blackboard Learn, the primary course management system used by faculty, staff, teaching assistants, and students at NIU, continues to be an important platform for facilitating teaching and learning at NIU with over 95% of students and 88% of teaching faculty using the system during fall 2016.  To gain even more insight into how NIU is using Blackboard, the Division of Information Technology implemented custom reporting capabilities within Blackboard that extends the built-in statistics tracking features for recording individual tool usage by course. As a result, we have an even better understanding of overall Blackboard adoption and tool use at NIU, and have the ability to track usage trends over time.

Here are some notable trends in Blackboard tool usage at NIU (also available for download here):

NIU Blackboard Tool Usage Report, 2016

A few noteworthy usage trends as of Fall 2016 include:

  • Between fall 2015 and fall 2016, Blackboard continued to be used at a very high level (95% of students using, 88% of faculty)
  • Overall tool use continues to grow, including of the most-used tools
  • Usage of the Assignment tool (for collecting students’ assignments electronically) has continued to grow at a rapid pace, and has been used by at least half of all courses in Blackboard, for a year
  • Most course instructors make use of Blackboard for communicating important information through the Announcements tool, posting content items (such as PowerPoint Slides, PDFs, Images, etc.), as well as posting students’ grades
  • Assignments, tests, discussion boards, and Collaborate web conferencing continued their trend of increased use during the summer semester

Thank you to the Division of Information Technology for providing these usage statistics, as they have been useful in identifying what tools are being used most in Blackboard as well as recognizing trends usage over time.

For more information about Teaching with Blackboard at Northern Illinois University, visit http://www.niu.edu/blackboard.

Review of Classroom Response Systems Complete

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clickersFrom the end of March through mid-April 2016, faculty and staff from Northern Illinois University participated in a review of five classroom response (“clicker”) systems, facilitated by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center (for an overview of the process, timeline, and the faculty needs assessment, please see this earlier article). The review was undertaken because of intermittent issues with the current officially recognized and supported clicker system, rapidly changing clicker technology, and the recent increase in adoption of multiple competing clicker systems across campus which potentially forces students to buy more than one device.

However, due to low participation in the review process, any change of systems would not represent perspectives of everyone who uses a clicker system across NIU. The faculty who participated in the review recommended not changing systems at this time, and the Faculty Development Advisory Committee (comprised of faculty across all colleges) concurred with the decision. For the 2016-2017 academic year, Turning Technologies will remain the officially-supported clicker system at NIU.

Whenever possible, faculty are encouraged to use the officially-supported clicker system, to reduce costs to students, increase the value of the purchase they make, and take advantage of student familiarity with a common system. However, there are many factors to consider when adopting technology, so faculty are not required to use the officially-supported system.

When choosing a clicker or student-response system, there are a number of alternatives you may consider to minimize cost to students. First, if your purpose is to increase student engagement as opposed to testing, a physical clicker device may be unnecessary. For Turning Technologies’ clickers, the ResponseWare license is cheaper than the clicker remote and students can participate using their mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. In that case, ask the Bookstore to add license cards to the list of recommended materials for your course. Second, if your class is not large, you may be able to use one of several free systems, such as Poll Everywhere (free up to 40 students) or Socrative (free and supports up to 50 students).

If any lingering issues or concerns regarding the use of clickers for instructional purposes arise, please don’t hesitate to contact the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at facdev@niu.edu or 815-753-0595.

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