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

 

 

Enhancing Live Online Sessions with the New Blackboard Collaborate Ultra

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Image01Personal interaction between you and your students is one of the most valuable elements of quality teaching and learning experiences. However, it can be challenging to maintain high levels of interaction when your students are not in a classroom, such as in blended or online courses, or with students who are not often on campus, like adult learners or commuting students. Web conferencing tools, when properly implemented, promote collaboration and interaction while still allowing flexibility in travel and space. These tools allow you to conduct live class sessions with students online as well as to offer virtual office hours to students who are not on campus. Students can use web conferencing to collaborate on group projects, as well.

Blackboard recently released an updated version of Blackboard Collaborate, the web conferencing tool many have relied on to provide opportunities for live interaction and personal connection in online and blended courses. Named ‘Collaborate Ultra’, the updated version offers a modern and streamlined interface for participating in a session. Collaborate Ultra has improved audio and video quality, including the group view which allows up to 6 videos at a time. Present PowerPoint slides or share a PDF file with students, or try the easy-to-use application sharing feature, with thumbnails of each program you have running so you can be confident youwill share the correct one. Best of all, unlike the current version of Blackboard Collaborate, Ultra opens directly in a web browser, so there is nothing to install or download to join a session. No Java needed!

The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center will be offering a preview to the new Blackboard Collaborate Ultra in November 2015. In this new hands-on workshop, you will be able to try the new Collaborate Ultra first-hand, and be among the first to explore this revised web conferencing tool before it becomes available campus-wide in 2016. Interested faculty and staff do not need any previous experience with Blackboard Collaborate or any other web conferencing system to quickly learn to present and communicate with Collaborate Ultra. Please check the Faculty Development Upcoming Faculty/Staff Programs webpage to register for this new workshop, ‘Preview of the New Blackboard Collaborate Ultra’.

For more information on registering for the workshop, go to http://go.niu.edu/programs. Contact us at facdev@niu.edu for more information on Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, and look for more information about Ultra coming soon!

 

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 Open Labs, August 24-28

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Blackboard Open LabEvery day next week, from 11am-1pm, August 24 – 28, 2015, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center will host a Blackboard Open Lab. This is an excellent opportunity for NIU faculty, staff, and TAs to ask specific questions about how to set up their courses in Blackboard. Whether you want to know how to communicative effectively with students to increase retention, add videos that stream flawlessly, set up your weighted grading formula in the Grade Center, or establish Groups to simplify collaboration, the staff from Faculty Development will be on hand to answer your questions individually.

The Open Lab is available Monday, August 24 through Friday, August 28, from 11 am to 1 pm every day in Adams Hall, Room 323. Feel free to drop in – no registration required! Unfortunately, we cannot provide a general overview of Blackboard at this session, but we will be happy to answer specific questions about using Blackboard.

If you can’t attend an Open Lab session, please complete the Ask a Question form at http://facdev.niu.edu/bbq, and one of our staff will respond within 2 working days (though we strive to respond the same day).

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