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” ( 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 (
  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

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

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

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 (
  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  

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  

Timesaving Tips Using the Blackboard Grade Center

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Beginning with Blackboard 8.0, the former Gradebook has been rebuilt and includes many new features for managing student grades and feedback. Here are a few timesaving tips for using the newest features in the Blackboard Grade Center.

  1. Hide unnecessary columns
    Blackboard by default adds several new columns to the the Grade Center, including: Username, Student ID, Last Access, and Availability. Hide the columns that you don’t want visible in default and custom views. How to: Click the down arrows next to the title of the column, then click Hide Column.
  2. Organize columns
    New columns added to the Grade Center are by default added at the end of the Grade Center, with Total and Weighted Total columns near the beginning. Reorder columns to a logical order, such as sequential order by due date. Note – The order in which students see their individual assignment scores in My Grades is the order of the columns in the Full Grade Center View. How to: Select Manage from the Action Bar, then click Organize Grade Center. Click and drag columns to reorder.
  3. Freeze columns (student names still visible when scrolling)
    Grade Center columns can be frozen in place so they do not move while scrolling through column data. Last Name and First Name columns are frozen by default. Freeze any additional columns that you desire to remain visible while scrolling. How to: Select Mange from the Action Bar, then click Organize Grade Center. Click and drag columns above the gray bar to freeze.
  4. Customize grading schema for automatically computing letter grades
    A grading schema can be configured to match the grading scale used to compute letter grades. Once customized, this grading schema can be applied to display a students individual assignment grade, running total, or even final grade as a letter. Apply your grading scaled for assigning letter grades to the grading schema. How to: Select Manage from th Action Bar, then click Grading Schemas. Click the Modify button for the existing Letter schema. Remove unneeded letter grade values, such as plus and minus grades, and adjust existing percentages of letter grades to match grading scale. Click the Submit button to save.
  5. Add custom categories and apply to grade columns
    Categories assigned to columns are included in students display to clearly identify the category that an assignment is applied to and can be used to easily sort columns in Smart Views. Add custom categories to match the types of assignments used to assess student learning. Then, when adding columns, assign a category to each column. How to: Select Manage from the Action Bar, then click Categories. Click the Add Category button and enter a name and description if desired. Click the Submit button to save.
  6. Shorten column titles by adding Grade Center display name
    In addition to the descriptive column name assigned to grade, a shortened Grade Center display name not exceeding 15 characters can be added that will display as the column header in the Grade Center. How to: When adding a new column, enter the shortened column title in the Grade Center Display Name box.
  7. Enter grades directly into cells
    Enter grades directly through the Grade Center spreadsheet. How to: Add a grade column and then enter the grades for students directly into the column cells. Click in a cell to add a score, then press the Enter key to save and move to the next row.
  8. Add due dates to grade columns
    In addition to tracking when a column was added, add due dates to columns corresponding to assignments with due dates. This provides a visual reminder to students in My Grades of when a given assignment is due and can be used to dynamically assign columns to a grading period. How to: When adding a column, click the option for Due Date and then assign the date.
  9. Provide feedback on any student scores
    Comments can be added to any score. Add comments to student scores when desiring to provide individual feedback or clarification on a score. Comments are visible to students in My Grades. How to: Enter the score in a cell. Then, click the down arrows and click Add Comment. Enter comments in the Feedback to User box. Optional Grading Notes can also be added available only for instructors and teaching assistants..
  10. Display score and percent or letter grade for the same item
    Once entering a student score as, a secondary display can automatically be also displayed, also showing the percentage or letter grade equivalent of the score earned. Add a secondary display to any column where this additional grade view would be helpful. The secondary display is only available in the Grade Center and not My Grades. How to: Click the down arrows next to the title of the column, then click Modify Column. Select the desired format of the additional grade display from the Secondary Display drop down menu.
  11. Exempt a grade for an individual student
    For a student who has a legitimate reason for missing an assignment, that score can now be exempted from the student’s cumulative grade. Notation that a score has been exempted is visible in the Grade Center and My Grades and can be reverted if needed. The original score assigned can also still be found. Exempt scores for students who aren’t required to makeup missing assignments. How to: Click the down arrows within a cell and then click Exempt Grade.
  12. Email students from the Grade Center
    The Email tool allows for sending emails to students or select students directly from the Grade Center. This feature is especially useful when desiring to email several students who have not turned in assignments. How to: Check the boxes next to the students you wish to email, then select the Email option from the Action Bar at the top.
  13. Create calculated columns
    In addition to adding standard grade columns, calculated columns can be added to provide additional statistical display information, including: Weighted Grade, Average, Total, and Minimum/Maximum values. How to: Select Add Calculated Column from the Action Bar at the top and then click the type of column you wish to add. Follow the prompts provided to configure the column and click the Submit button to save.
  14. Create customized “Smart Views”
    Smart Views provide the ability to categorize students into groups based on selected criteria. Once created and saved, these customized views of the Grade Center area available from the Current View drop-down menu within the Grade Center. How to: Select Manage from the Action Bar, then click Smart Views. Click the Add Smart View button. Enter a name for the view and then select the type of view, criteria, and any desired filtering. Click the Submit button to save.
  15. View Grade Center statistics
    View statistical information related to columns and students, such as average, median, and standard deviation. How to: Click the down arrows next to the title of the column, then click Column Statistics or click the down arrows by a student name and select User Statistics.
  16. View Grade Center history
    The Grade History feature provides a record of all changes which occur to grades within a course. Accidentally entering or changing the wrong student’s grade or inadvertently clearing a student’s grade can be identified and resulting grades reset. How to: Click the Grade History button in the Action Bar located near the top of the screen.
  17. Automatically drop the lowest grade
    An assortment of new grade computation features are available, including the capability to easily drop the lowest grade from scores within a given category. Columns containing scores must be assigned to the same category. How to: Click the down arrows next to the title of the Weighted Total column, then click Modify Column. Select the categories you wish to include in computing the weighted total grade and note the percentage weight for each category. Under Drop Grades for the category, enter 1 in the lowest grades box. Click the Submit button to save.
  18. Weight grades either proportionally or equally
    Grades can now be weighted either equally or proportionally. Weighting proportionally will accommodate instances where assignments within a given category have different point values. Click the down arrows next to the title of the Weighted Total column, then click Modify Column. Select the categories you wish to include in computing the weighted total grade and note the percentage weight for each category. Choose Proportionally for any categories in which the assignment values vary. Click the Submit button to save.
  19. Print/run reports
    Printable reports, like a progress report, are available. How to: Click Reports in the Action Bar and define the report data. Click the Preview button to preview the report or the Print button to print. Reports pring the data for one student per page. Reports can be customized in a variety of ways, include report header and footer information.

A printable version of these tips is available at

New Master Course Tool in Blackboard

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NIU faculty you can now use the Blackboard Faculty Tools (BFT) to combine one or more course sections into a master course in Blackboard. By combining enrollments of related or cross-listed courses, you will save time by managing only one course in Blackboard.

The new master course functionality, which had been previously available only by request, will allow you to:

  • Combine enrollments of sections for which you’re the official instructor of record into a single “master” course in Blackboard.
  • Manage the master course by adding or removing sections before the semester starts.

The tool can be accessed by logging in to Blackboard and following the ‘Blackboard Faculty Tools’ link under the Services tab.

To learn more about the new tool and/or to watch a 2 minute tutorial, please visit

If you have any questions please contact the ITS Helpdesk at 815-753-8100 or

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