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.

Spring 2017 Teaching Effectiveness Institute Featured Tips for Energizing the College Classroom

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Sarah Cavanagh
Sarah Cavanagh, Assumption College

Energy was high for the NIU faculty and staff who participated in the Spring 2017 Teaching Effectiveness Institute, The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotions. The event featured Sarah Cavanagh from the Laboratory for Cognitive and Affective Science at Assumption College, and author of the recent book The Spark of Learning: Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion. Dr. Cavanagh explained her research in Cognitive Psychology as well as connections between emotions and learning. She also explained techniques for stimulating curiosity, strategies for low-stakes assessments, and methods for incorporating choice of assignments in the syllabus. Sarah guided participants through a variety of engaged learning activities that provided opportunities to apply Cognitive Psychology concepts to teaching and learning in the college classroom. Workshop participants actively engaged throughout the day-long event while carefully considering the impact of emotions on the teaching and learning processes.

NIU faculty and instructors from 23 colleges and departments across campus attended the engaging, day-long event. Participants were excited to learn techniques that could be applied immediately in their courses.

Plans are underway for the Fall 2017 Teaching Effectiveness Institute scheduled for Friday, August 18th. The event will feature David Matthes of the University of Minnesota and will focus on team-based learning.

To share ideas for new Institute topics or if you would be interested in presenting at one of our Institutes, please contact Yvonne Johnson, Multimodal Teaching Coordinator at yjohnson@niu.edu, 815-753-2690 or Janet Giesen, Instructional Design Coordinator at giesen@niu.edu, 815-753-1085. We look forward to hearing from you!

Grading Rubrics

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sample levels for a rubric, excellent, very good, good, average, poorA rubric is a tool that lists evaluation criteria for an assignment. Rubrics can help students organize their efforts to meet the requirements of an assignment and faculty can use rubrics to explain their evaluations to students.

Rubrics are made up of rows and columns. The rows correspond to the various criteria of an assignment and the columns correspond to the level of achievement expressed for each criterion. A description and point value for each cell in the rubric defines the evaluation and score of an assignment.

 

Simple Grading Rubric for a History Research Paper

Excellent Good Poor
3 2 1
Number of sources 10 – 12 5 – 9 1 – 4
Historical accuracy No apparent inaccuracies Few inaccuracies Lots of historical inaccuracies
Organization Can easily tell from which sources information was drawn Can tell with difficulty from where information came Cannot tell from which source information came
Bibliography All relevant bibliographic information is included Bibliography contains most relevant information Bibliography contains very little information

 

Basic Steps in Creating a Rubric

  1. Select a Performance/Assignment to be Assessed.
    Performances and assignments which may be difficult to grade and where you want to reduce subjectivity are great candidates for incorporating rubrics. Is the performance/assignment an authentic task related to learning goals and/or objectives? Are students replicating meaningful tasks found in the real world? Are you encouraging students to problem solve and apply knowledge? Answer these questions as you begin to develop the criteria for your rubric.Performance example: Writing a Research Paper on a Topic Related to Local History
  2. Identify the Criteria.
    Create a list of all traits, features or dimensions that you want to measure, and include a definition and example to clarify the meaning of each trait being assessed. Each assignment or performance will have its own unique traits to be scored. Then reduce the list by chunking similar criteria and eliminating others until you produce a range of appropriate criteria. Keep the list manageable and reasonable.Criteria examples for a term paper:
    Introduction
    Thesis statement
    Arguments/analyses
    Grammar and punctuation
    Spelling
    Internal citations
    Conclusion
    Reference page
  3. Set the Point Value.
    Point values make up the system of numbers or values used to rate each criterion and often are combined with levels of performance. Make sure the values make sense in terms of the total points possible: Is there a difference between getting 10 points versus 100 points versus 1,000 points? The best and worst performances are placed at the ends of the continuum and the other scores are placed appropriately in between. It is best to start with fewer levels and to distinguish between work that doesn’t meet the criteria.Point value examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 2, 4, 6, 8
  4. Write the Descriptions.
    Descriptions spell out each level (gradation) of performance for each criterion and describe what performance at a particular level looks like. Descriptions describe how well student’s work is distinguished from the work of their peers and will help you to distinguish the differences between students’ work.Description examples in italics:

    Criterion

    Excellent
    5

    Good
    4

    Fair
    2

    Poor
    1

    Spelling No spelling errors. One or two spelling errors, but not of the type to make meaning obscure, and not of basic or common words A few minor spelling errors (more than two) but not enough to harm your ethos seriously or impede a reader’s comprehension. Many misspelled important or common words, or a number of minor errors that interfere with easy reading or comprehension.

     

  5. Determine Levels of Performance.
    Select words or phrases (often as adjectives) that will explain what performance looks like at each level, making sure they are discrete enough to show real differences. Levels of performance should match the related criterion.Levels of performance examples:
    Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor
    Master, Apprentice, Beginner
    Exemplary, Accomplished, Developing, Beginning, Undeveloped
    Complete, Incomplete
    Yes, No
  6. Evaluate the Rubric.
    Evaluate the rubric each time it’s used to ensure it matches instructional goals and objectives. Be sure students understand each criterion and how they can use the rubric to their advantage. Review the rubric with a colleague, pilot test new rubrics if possible, and solicit students’ feedback for further refinements.

Types of Rubrics

Determining which type of rubric to use depends on what and how you plan to evaluate. There are several types of rubrics including holistic, analytical, general, and task-specific.

Holistic — all criteria are assessed as a single score which can be used for evaluating overall performance on a task. Because only one score is given, holistic rubrics tend to be easier to score. However, holistic rubrics do not provide detailed information on student performance for each criterion; the levels of performance are treated as a whole.

Analytical — each criterion is assessed separately, using different descriptive ratings, and thus, receive a separate score. Analytical rubrics take more time to score but provide more detailed feedback.

General — these rubrics can be used for similar performances such as a rubric for all final presentations, a rubric for all dance performances, or a rubric for all research proposals. Criteria are assessed separately, as in an analytical rubric.

Task-specific — are designed to assess a specific task in which each criteria is assessed separately. It may not be possible, however, to account for each and every criteria involved in a particular task which could overlook a student’s unique solution (Arter & McTighe, 2001).

Using Rubrics in Blackboard

You can build interactive rubrics in Blackboard to simplify the process of grading student work and returning rubric results to students. Interactive rubrics can be used with nearly every assessment method in Blackboard, including Assignments (including with SafeAssign enabled), short answer Test questions, and any Blogs, Journals, Wikis, or Discussion Board threads and forums that have grading enabled. Visit the Teaching with Blackboard website for instructions on using Blackboard’s Interactive Rubrics as well as tutorials, archives of online rubric workshops, and Quick Guides on using Rubrics in your teaching: http://www.niu.edu/blackboard/assess/rubrics.shtml

Summary

Grading rubrics are effective and efficient tools which allow for objective and consistent assessment of a range of performances, assignments, and activities. Rubrics clarify your expectations and will show students how to meet them, making them accountable for their performance in an easy-to-follow format. The feedback that students receive through a grading rubric can help them improve their performance on revised or subsequent work. Rubrics can also help to rationalize grades when students ask about your method of assessment. Rubrics also allow for consistency in grading for instructors who team-teach the same course, for TAs assigned to the task of grading, and can serve as good documentation for accreditation purposes. Finally, rubrics can reduce grading time, increase objectivity and reduce subjectivity, convey timely feedback to students, and improve students’ ability to include required elements of an assignment.

Free Rubric Builders and Generators.

Consider using any of free existing rubrics available online. Many rubrics can be used “as is” or can be modified to meet your specific needs. Creating a rubric from scratch will take time but may be necessary for a particular assignment. The following are school-based but are highly applicable to higher education.

Build a Rubric by Annenberg Learner
http://www.learner.org/workshops/hswriting/interactives/rubric/index.html

General Rubric Generator by teAchnology
http://www.teach-nology.com/web_tools/rubrics/general/

Create a Rubric by RubiStar
http://rubistar.4teachers.org/index.php

References and Resources

Arter, J., & McTighe, J. (2001). Scoring rubrics in the classroom: Using performance criteria for assessing and improving student performance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.

2015-2016 Annual Report Now Available

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The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center is pleased to announce the completion of our annual report for the 2015-16 academic year. This latest report is available at go.niu.edu/facdevreport15-16. Below are a few highlights.

During 2015-2016, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center contributed to the university’s mission …to promote excellence and engagement in teaching and learning, research and scholarship, creativity and artistry, and outreach and service by collaborating with various academic and support units to meet the ongoing and emerging needs of NIU faculty, staff, administrators, and graduate teaching assistants in their teaching, technology integration, professional development, and related needs. This was the seventeenth full academic year of operation for the center since we were reorganized in August 1998. Some of our significant accomplishments this year include:

  • Offering 164 programs for 1,945 participants, which totaled 6,052 hours of professional development
  • Conducting 1,310 consultations with 468 unique faculty, instructors, staff, and graduate teaching assistants from 92 academic and support units
  • Serving on 17 committees, councils, and organizations within NIU and the broader Faculty Development community
  • Recognized 4 recipients of Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award, issued 10 Graduate Teaching Certificates, and was honored with 4 individual and department recognitions

Activities Quick Glance

Feel free to explore and learn more about our activities and accomplishments from the past year.

Sincerely,

Jason Rhode, Ph.D.
Director

Tips for New Graduate Teaching Assistants from Your Experienced Peers

head with light bulb IdeaEach fall, the Teaching Assistant Orientation is offered to new and returning teaching assistants to learn more about their role as a TA and the support services at Northern Illinois University. The Teaching Across the Disciplines panel of experienced teaching assistants is always one of the most popular sessions at the orientation. This year, we asked the panel members, who are experienced TAs, to share some best practices and practical tips of being a graduate teaching assistant.

Q: How do you balance your school work with your teaching assistantship?

Kelsey Williams, English, GTA for 8 semesters: “I know of two common approaches to this.The first is to handle your work as a student and your work as a teaching assistant separately. That could mean designating Friday as your day to get your own homework done, Saturday as your day to get your teaching duties taken care of, and Sunday as your day of rest because, hey, you’ve earned it. The benefit of this approach is that you can set your brain in “student mode” one day and “teacher mode” the next, rather than doing mental gymnastics by switching between the two. It can also allow you to cross whole items off your to-do list. This is my preferred strategy and it has served me well, even unto the third year of my Ph.D.

The second strategy is to do a little bit of student work, then switch to a little bit of TA work, then switch back to student work, and so on into infinity. The benefit of this approach is that you can slowly make progress on your to-do list without feeling overwhelmed or having to force yourself to focus on a single task for too long. You need to take care of yourself as a person as well. The best way to balance student work and TA work is to balance all of that equally with having a life outside of being a student and a TA.”

Q: How do you prepare for class?

Jeanine Clark Bremer, Literacy and Elementary Education, GTA for 6 semesters: “I’m old school – I bought into the notion to read the top five scholars on each topic you will cover, for every topic you will cover all semester long. In a perfect setting, where you know what you will be teaching well in advance, this works. In a minimally perfect situation, you have probably already read a lot of the scholars due to your graduate level work. Looking at this from the daily perspective of prepping for class, two things come to mind. First, read along with your students. You will be surprised at how many more mistakes you will catch that they are making during a discussion, if you have reread the material for the day it was assigned. Concurrently reading with them also helps you better ascertain who is reading ahead and who is falling behind. Second, it may sound silly, but take a few minutes and really try to think through possible questions you might receive on a day’s topic. You may not come up with everything, because their schema is different than your own, but mentally working through options will make you more agile when they throw questions at you that you were not expecting.”

Q: What is the one thing you learned about being a teaching assistant during your first semester that you didn’t know before?

Amanda Schlink, Family, Consumer, and Nutrition Sciences, GTA for 4 semesters: “The one thing that I learned about being a teaching assistant was how much the students can rely on you. In my first semester, I was the TA instructor for a food preparation lab, where the lab was a separate course from the lecture. Therefore, I was responsible for the instruction, including lecturing, preparation of ingredients, grading, exams and everything in between. Going into the first semester, I had never had a course like this during my undergrad and didn’t know that a TA could essentially teach a separate lab, where the grade is completely independent from the lecture course. However, I found that I gained respect from my students early on by acting as the authority figure in the lab, speaking from experience when discussing course topics and showing care about their academic success in my course. This reliance carried on throughout the semester and eventually led to trust that if something didn’t work out, everything was going to be okay.”

 

Tips for Grading Student Work

Amanda Schlink:

  • Be consistent from start to finish, especially with essays, projects or any assignments that do not have a concrete rubric.
  • Avoid grading late at night, as you are more likely to miss errors. I recommend giving all graded assignments a second look over to ensure the grades given are indeed correct.
  • Use the rubrics for assignments if possible. In addition, always be able to justify the grades that are given.
  • For any exams that require a Scantron, double check that the answer key is correct before the Scantrons are submitted for grading.

Tips for Handling Difficult Situations

Amanda Schlink:

  • Always stay professional, especially through email and conversations that occur in person.
  • If possible, discuss difficult situations in private, away from other students.
  • Be observant of your tone and body language, as students can sometimes misinterpret signals.
  • Always remain neutral and do not take sides.
  • Never be afraid to go to your supervisor or faculty supervisor for advice if a situation requires additional assistance.

Jeanine Clark Bremer:

  • Breathe – no matter what, you are in charge and the student will respond to your action/reaction.
  • Listen with an open mind. Really listen to what they are saying so you understand the many facets of the situation.
  • Ask questions in a manner that is not accusatory and is fact-seeking.
  • Be straightforward and honest. Be honest about the actions you have to take (if any).

Tips for Preparing for Class/Lab/Clinical

Amanda Schlink:

  • Always come prepared (unless circumstances arise that are out of your control)
  • Students notice when you are not prepared and will comment on it, even if you think they won’t.
  • Allow more time to prepare than what you think. As the semester progresses, you will likely become more efficient and therefore will spend less time preparing.

Thank you to the experienced teaching assistants that provided these valuable suggestions on how to develop in the role of teaching assistant at NIU.

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