End of Semester Reminders in Blackboard

closeup of woman's hands using a laptopAs the semester draws to a close, there are some final tasks you can take care of in Blackboard, to make your courses end successfully and prepare yourself for the next semester.

    • Calculate final grades: If you have been recording grades in the Blackboard Grade Center, you can use it to calculate the final grades for your students. Remember to check that you have entered zeroes for any missing assignments or tests, so that the calculations are accurate. If you are using a Weighted Total, make sure that your categories are assigned correctly – you can do so quickly by going to Manage > Column Organization. Consider attending the Calculating Final Grades with the Blackboard Grade Center workshop on Friday, December 8, 2017, from 10:00 – 11:30 am; please register in advance for the workshop! We will also be holding an Open Lab for any who need help Calculating and Submitting Final Grades as well, on Thursday, December 14, from 11:00 – 1:00 pm in Adams Hall Room 323. Our staff will be on hand to assist you with the process.

 

    • Automatically assign letter grades in Blackboard: The Blackboard Grade Center uses a default grading schema to assign letters grades, with pluses and minuses. You can verify that the schema matches yours, and modify it if necessary, by going to Manage > Grading Schemas. To automatically assign letter grades, edit the Total or Weighted Total column (or create a new Calculated Column), and set Letter as the Primary Display option. You can use a Score or Percentage as a secondary display, which you will be able to see in the same column of the Grade Center.

 

    • Submit grades automatically from Blackboard to MyNIU: The Grade Submission tool can automatically submit your grades from Blackboard to MyNIU, so that you don’t need to enter grades in MyNIU with the drop down menus. This is particularly useful for large classes or when you have used a Master Course to combine sections. In Blackboard, you need a column of letter grades (either assigned automatically, or typed into a column with Text as the Primary Display). That column should be set as the External Grade column (there will be a green checkmark next to the column name). Use the Grade Submission tool in the Control Panel, under Course Tools, to send the grades to MyNIU. Once the submission is complete, you can log in to MyNIU to enter last attendance dates (for any F’s, U’s, or I’s), approve grades, and post them. The Grade Submission tool is available until the night before grades are due; after that you may only enter grades manually in MyNIU. Review the Quick Guide on submitting grades for more information.

 

    • Export the grades for safekeeping: While Blackboard is backed up regularly, it is a good idea to download your Grade Center as an Excel file for you to keep on your office computer. To do so, go to the Grade Center and click Work Offline > Download. Watch this video on How to Download Grades from the Grade Center to see how to do it.

 

  • Request your course(s) for next semester: Get a head start on developing your spring semester Blackboard courses now! You can request your spring semester courses now, so that you can develop them over the break. You can review how to do it in these tutorials: Request a Course or Request a Master Course (for combining two or more sections).

As always, you can contact the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center using our Ask a Question form for individualized assistance.

Center Staff Discuss Online Teaching and Learning in Higher Education with Visitors from Tianjin University

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meeting with visitorsStaff from the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center met with six faculty members and administrators from the Tianjin University in Beijing, China to discuss online teaching and learning. Some of the topics covered included: online program decisions, online teaching skills and time commitments, and design models. “It is always an honor to share ideas and best practices with colleagues from across the globe,” said Jason Rhode, the director of the center.

To reinforce the concepts, the staff demonstrated some sample works of closed-captioned presentations, audio-enhanced lectures, and methods for creating a welcoming and interactive course. The Chinese delegation also received resources on development timelines, support models and quality assurance guidelines. The delegation included faculty and administrators from multiple colleges and they were interested in a broad spectrum of the organizational support necessary to fully support online teaching and learning initiatives.

 

“Your talk was important to understand the full picture. I learned a great deal meeting with you and your staff. You have a professional team there.” ~Visitor from Beijing Delegation

The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center is grateful to have the opportunity to engage in conversations with other higher education professionals on a variety of teaching and teaching with technology topics. To find out more about what the center does, read about it in the 2016-2017 Annual Report.

Establish Social Presence with a Welcome Message Video

One great way to begin a new year/semester is to prepare and share a welcome message video for students enrolled in your course(s). Whether the course format is face-to-face or online, posting a welcome message online can facilitate the establishment of social presence, and thus begin the process of creating a sense of community. This initial effort to connect with students can provide opportunities to orient students to a course, where an instructor discusses course expectations/organization and encourages students to obtain course materials and assigned textbooks early. In addition, students may have an opportunity to observe an instructor’s passion for their field. The welcome message can also work to set a student’s mind at ease, as they perceive their instructor as a real person.

While providing a welcome message video can be especially important for students of online courses, it is also relevant for face-to-face courses. Instructors can send a welcome message in advance of the start of the semester, and provide an introduction to the course before the first day of class regardless of the course format.

Faculty can create videos with their smart phone or tablet, or with a webcam on a desktop workstation or from a laptop. A welcome message video can be added to a Blackboard course through MEDIAL or YouTube.

Considerations for Creating Your Own Welcome Message Video

When planning the creation a welcome message video, here are a number of considerations that faculty and instructors should keep in mind:

  • Although the expression of a welcome message can be heart-felt and spontaneous, consider using a script or outline. Captions derived from a script can be added to the video to enhance accessibility, benefiting students with a range of abilities and disabilities.
  • Think about the setting where you would want to record the video. Lighting and sound quality can enhance or compromise the quality of the recording.
  • What image do you want to project to your students? Formal or informal. Will you be recording inside your office, or outside in front of an iconic landmark or well-known university building.  Or perhaps inside you automobile.
  • How long should the video be? It is recommended that welcome messages be brief and to the point, rather than extended descriptions of each aspect of the course. Remember, you are establishing social presence in advance of the first class session, not just giving a shorter version of your initial lecture.

For more information or tips on creating your own welcome videos for your students, please contact Dan Cabrera, Multimedia Coordinator (dcabrera@niu.edu or 815-753-0613).

2017 Blackboard Reminders for the Beginning of the Semester

man at desk using laptopAs many new faculty, teaching staff, and TAs are requesting course space on Blackboard this week and get ready to begin the semester teaching their courses using Blackboard, here are a few useful links as reminders for some of the “beginning of the semester” frequently asked questions:

1. Requesting a new course on Blackboard – After logging into webcourses.niu.edu click the “Services” tab at the top of the page and then “Blackboard Faculty Tools”. Click “My Courses” and then follow the links on the displayed window. Instructions and step-by-step tutorials can be found at: niu.edu/blackboard/manage/request.shtml. In order to request a Blackboard course, individuals must be the “instructor of record” for the course in the MyNIU system.

Course space requests are processed immediately by the new automated process developed by DoIT. It takes an additional day for someone newly assigned as instructor of record in MyNIU to have permission to request the course in Blackboard. Learn more at niu.edu/blackboard/news/20170210.shtml

2. Combining course sections – Those teaching dual level courses (e.g. 400 and 500 or cross-listed courses) or multiple sections may want to combine their sections into one master course. Individuals requesting master courses must be instructor of record in both sections to be combined. Information about doing that can also be found at niu.edu/blackboard/manage/multiplesections.shtml.

“Course combine requests” also are processed immediately. The resulting “Master Course” will include all of the students from both sections, as well as automatic Groups and Grade Center Smart Views for each section. Learn more at niu.edu/blackboard/news/20170413.shtml.

3. Making courses “available” to students – After creating and posting documents on a Blackboard courses, faculty should make those courses “available” to students. Otherwise, students will not be able to see the courses. This can be automated as part of the course request process, or it can be done manually by following the instructions found at niu.edu/blackboard/manage/availability.shtml.

4. Using Blackboard on a mobile device – Faculty can download the Blackboard Instructor app for their Apple or Android devices, to be able to communicate with students and view course materials. Students can use a separate Blackboard App on Apple, Android, or Windows devices, which is specially designed for to allow students to engage with their coursework on the go. Both apps are free to use. Learn more at niu.edu/blackboard/mobile.

5. Blackboard workshops – Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center regularly schedules workshops on using Blackboard for teaching purposes, and the monthly program schedules can be found at niu.edu/facdev.

For those who are not able to attend a workshop, there is also now a Self-Paced Introduction to Blackboard online workshop consisting of short video demonstrations, available at facdev.niu.edu/selfpacedbb1.

Answers to other Frequently Asked Blackboard-related questions can be found at niu.edu/blackboard/faq and Blackboard-related help information can be found at niu.edu/blackboard/atoz.

For login and password-related questions, please refer faculty to the DoIT Service Desk at 815-753-8100 or servicedesk@niu.edu and for other teaching-related Blackboard questions, faculty can submit the questions at ssl.niu.edu/blackboard/ask/index.asp.

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!

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