Screencasts as a Pedagogical Tool

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Have you considered developing a brief computer-based tutorial as a means to extend course content to students who would like to view complex lab demonstrations again or for any students who cannot attend a particular classroom session to review what was demonstrated?  If so, you may
Screencasting as a Pedagogical Tool
consider developing computer-based tutorials or ‘screencasts’ that can be viewed by students whenever and however many times they need for both initial learning and subsequent review.

Screencasting is a digital recording of a computer screen’s sequence of actions. The resulting file is encoded into a format similar to video. With an accompanying voice narration or background audio from a program, screencasts can be ideal for developing on-screen tutorials and distributed for easy viewing in an online setting. As with other computer techniques, screencasting is valued for its support of self-paced learning, just-in-time instruction, and 24/7 access.

Screencasts can be designed to engage learners through a well-conceived sequence of planned activities and assignments.  For example, faculty can organize instruction by alternating screencast episodes with assignments students must complete before moving on to the next episode. When a screencast is well-designed, students can feel they are sitting with the faculty while viewing and hearing a sequence of instructional steps. Students can follow-up via email or face-to-face with questions for further clarification, if necessary.

There are a number of software products available for developing screencasts, ranging from free downloadable programs (such as Jing or Screenr) with limited features, to fee-based products (such as Camtasia or ScreenFlow) offering a host of editing options such as zooming and text captioning.

Screencasts have been applied in a number of innovative ways in higher education including capturing lectures, conducting website tours, software and database training, demonstrating library functions, and providing feedback to students. Regarding feedback, students can benefit greatly as faculty can review portions of students’ submitted assignments on-screen, highlight specific areas of text, and give his or her audio feedback on the students’ assignments. Students can view the recorded feedback at their convenience and follow-up with questions via email or face-to-face.  Faculty can also assign students to develop their own screencast episodes for certain course activities.

Students can benefit from screencasts whether they are used for initial/follow-up instruction, as reference when needed, or for review for an upcoming exam.

The duration of screencasts can range from just a few minutes for limited instruction to an hour or longer for a captured lecture. Examples of screencasts can be viewed from the NIU Blackboard Tutorials website at: Examples were created using Jing:

The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center is offering two screencasting workshops during the Spring 2010 semester. "Quick and Simple Creation of Educational Tutorials" is offered on April 13, 2010. This hands-on workshop will introduce the free Jing screencasting tool and explore several practical applications for implementing simple educational tutorials in the classroom.  Faculty and staff can gain familiarity with the more advanced "Screencasting: Design, Development, and Delivery," offered on March 16, 2010. Visit the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center web site at to register for these workshops.


Educause Learning Initiative. (n.d.).  7 Things You Should Know About Screencasting. Retrieved on February 17, 2010 from

The Graduate Teaching Certificate

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The Graduate Teaching Certificate recognizes the participation of graduate teaching assistants (GA/RA/TAs) in the development programs offered by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. The certificate acknowledges these individuals’ commitment to effective teaching and can enhance their academic credentials. To qualify for this recognition, a graduate teaching assistant must have attended the full-day TA Orientation or one other daylong teaching effectiveness program made available to TAs and at least five (5) programs of shorter duration offered by Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

Encourage your graduate teaching assistants to apply for the certificate by printing and completing the application found on the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center website at and mailing it to the Center. Once we have processed the application, we will send the certificates to the teaching assistants’ department to acknowledge their commitment to effective teaching and present the certificates to them. If your TAs need a few more workshops to qualify for the certificate, encourage them to check the current schedule of TA programs on the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center website!

10 Lesser Known Features of the Blackboard Grade Center

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The redesigned Blackboard Grade Center offers a lot of new features and improvements over the old Gradebook. Below is a list of some of the lesser known, yet very helpful, features that faculty can incorporate to make better use of the Grade Center capabilities and improve their teaching experience.

  • Extra Credit Assignments: Extra Credit columns can be used for optional assessments that not all students may want to complete. The added Extra Credit column needs to be assigned 0 points. The key is then to manually include it to be added to the Total column. By default, the Grade Center excludes from the Total any column that is set to be worth 0 points. Extra Credit columns cannot be set up if the Weighted Total is used to calculate the final grade. To learn more about setting up an Extra Credit assignment, view the Extra Credit documentation page at:
  • External Grade Column: One of the columns of the Grade Center has to be designated as the External Grade column. By default, this column is the Total and it is marked by a green check mark to the left of the column name. The External Grade column facilitates Grade Center integration with the external to Blackboard systems. At NIU, the External Grade column can be used to send student grades from Blackboard to MyNIU using the Grade Submission Tool. The current version of the Grade Center allows faculty to execute complex grade calculations and there might be times when a different column needs to be set as the external Grade column. View information on how to set an External Grade Column at:
  • Grade Submission Tool: The Grade Submission Tool allows publishing grades from the Blackboard Grade Center directly to MyNIU. Faculty who use the Blackboard Grade Center can choose to export final grades from a column in the Grade Center that has been set as the External Grade column to MyNIU instead of manually entering the same grades in MyNIU. The tool can save time and reduce the opportunity for error. After submitting grades using the Grade Submission Tool, faculty should login to MyNIU to view the final grades and post them for student viewing. More information about this tool can be found at:
  • Column Availability When Entering Grades: Faculty enter grades in the new Grade Center using what’s called an inline editing. The inline editing process is similar to entering grades in a spreadsheet. Each grade entered in the Grade Center is automatically saved and is visible to the student as soon as it’s entered. Some faculty may not want to display the assessment results until every student’s grade has been entered and grades have been verified. Before this is done, faculty can choose to hide the column from students by modifying its availability. This will prevent students from seeing the column and their associated scores in My Grades. Once the grades have been verified, faculty can then make the grades available to students by modifying column availability. More information about modifying a column can be found at:
  • Smart Views in Master Courses: 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 are available from the Current View drop-down menu within the Grade Center. Smart Views can be helpful in combined master courses where enrollments from more than one section have been combined into one Blackboard master course. Setting up separate groups for each of the sections in the master course and then creating a smart view to associate it with a specific section, will allow faculty and TAs to keep rosters separate for grading reasons. More information on Smart Views can be found at:
  • Hiding Columns in the Grade Center Does Not Hide Them in Students’ View of Grades: Faculty can hide certain columns that they do not need from the Grade Center default view. Blackboard, by default, adds several new columns to the Grade Center, including: Username, Student ID, Last Access, and Availability. These columns can be hidden because they are not available to students. However, some columns, such as the Total column or the Weighted Total column, or any other manually added column, is by default available to students and hiding those columns from the Grade Center view will not make them unavailable/or hidden from students. If a column is not needed and faculty want it be unavailable to students, then it’s best to remove it from the Grade Center. More information on removing columns can be found at:
  • Removing Columns for Automatically Deployed Assessments: If there is no Remove Column link in the drop-down menu for a column, it must be an automatically deployed assessment in Blackboard. Automatically deployed assessments, such as tests and surveys as well as assignments added with the built-in Assignment tool or the SafeAssignment tool, first need to be removed from the Content Area of the course where they have been deployed. Only then, faculty get an option in the drop-down menu for a column in the Grade Center to be removed. More information on how to remove columns from the Grade Center can be found at:
  • Dropping the Lowest Grade: Dropping the lowest quiz or test grade cannot be done in an automated way if grades are not weighted. If the Weighted Total is used to calculate the final grade and all similar assessments appear in the same category, the Grade Center now provides the capability to easily drop the lowest or the highest grade for a given assessment. Learn how to set up a Weighted Total column at:
  • Grading History: By default, the Grade Center keeps track of every change or modification of the grades. Unless specifically deactivated, the Grade History feature will have 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. In addition, the Grade History feature provides an easy was to keep track of all the comments that have been entered for students. Learn more about the Grade History featured at:
  • Assessment Due Dates and Grading Periods: Setting an assessment due date does not actually prevent students from submitting their work late. Assessment due dates specified while adding columns simply provide a visual reminder in the student view of My Grades when certain assignments are due. Assessment due dates can also be used in conjunction with the grading periods to create custom views of the Grade Center or to track student progress within a certain period in the semester. Additionally, assessment due dates can be used to create the Early Warning System rules to monitor student performance in the course. More information about Grading Periods and the Early Warning System can be found at: and at:

For more information on teaching using Blackboard, visit

Teaching First-Year Students

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With anticipation each fall, faculty look forward to a new year on campus: new courses to teach, new teaching strategies to try, and a whole new group of students. In addition to the returning students faculty have not met before, many of the new faces faculty see each new semester are college freshmen, otherwise known as first-year students. Although first-year students differ in age, experiences, traditions and backgrounds, the majority of them are between 18 and 22 years old.

According to 2009 Beloit College Mindset (Nief & McBride, 2009), students today are different than those of just a decade ago and include some of the following demographics.  More students:

  • are older than 25
  • are working while taking classes
  • are veterans
  • need remedial classes
  • are part-time students
  • are from single-parent or step-parent homes
  • have a minority or immigrant background
  • have English as a second language
  • have a learning or physical disability
  • have taken college courses while in high school

Here are a few tips and techniques that can help faculty understand, engage with and effectively teach first-year students.

Connect with First-Year Students

Make connections with students despite age, values and experiential differences. When discussing new or controversial course content, bring in examples to which students can relate. For example, use a reverse-debate format in which students take opposing side to what they believe.  Here are a few tips for interacting with first-year students in the classroom from Carnegie Mellon University (1997):

  1. Ask lots of questions in class that stretch students’ thinking. For example, begin with simple recall questions such as, “List the” and “Who did” and increase the complexity of the question to those that challenge students higher order thinking such as “Which _____ is the best? Why do you think so?” and “Give and justify your opinion on _______.”
  2. Mingle with students as they work in groups to encourage dialogue and interaction.
  3. Toss a Koosh ball to students. The student who catches the ball is expected to answer the question. Students can then toss the ball to another student, and so on. This interactive nature of questions and answers can lead to more engaged learning. The activity can also relieve stress, especially at the beginning of the semester.
  4. Have students write responses to questions on flip chart paper or white board using colorful markers.
  5. Use games and simulations to help students “visualize complex systems” such as simulating an environment otherwise not possible in the classroom. For example, provide color-enhanced images of the inside of a cell or show a video of chemical reaction. Each of these strategies can help students better understand the environment (Oblinger, 2004).
  6. Learn students’ names. Students are more likely to interact when called upon by name.
  7. Relate required reading to lectures and course discussions. Ensure course assessments (quizzes, exams, and assignments) include material from required readings.
  8. Arrange students to work in groups to encourage out-of-class interactions.
  9. As part of the non-instructional course objectives, teach first-year students how to prepare for assignments and exams. Provide previous exams and sample of graded papers so students get a feel for how course work is graded.

Be Personable

Share some personal experiences, such as how interest in the subject started or stories from college days. Faculty can let students know that faculty can be trusted and that students can share feelings and questions. This is especially helpful for first-year students seeking to establish a place in the university community. Sprinkle in a bit of humor now and then to reduce the formal nature of class.

Make Course Content Relevant

Relate what may be new course content to many first year students, to their knowledge and interests. Show students the importance of the content, how content relates to required readings, and how content can actually be used.

Give and Receive Feedback

Provide ways to give and receive feedback throughout the semester and use rubrics to help students understand expectations and methods of assessment. Grade assignments and exams quickly so students can use feedback to prepare for new content and future assessments. Give meaningful and timely feedback and solicit feedback to add credibility to teaching approaches. Some examples are:

  1. Give frequent quizzes – Blackboard is an easy-to-use venue for low-stakes assessments.
  2. Use email to set up appointments, clarify course expectations and communicate with students. Establish email protocols such as how quickly questions will be responded to, if questions  will be responded to over the weekend, how faculty would like to be addressed and if using complete sentences and proper punctuation (instead of “texting” language) is expected.
  3. Give short assignments that increase in complexity to measure comprehension of course content.
  4. Use “One-minute-papers” to get a snapshot of student comprehension of ongoing content. These papers allow students to quickly reflect on content just covered in class and will help identify areas that might need further review.
  5. Ask questions such as, “What was the clearest point in today’s class?” and “What the muddiest point was in today’s class?” Ask students to write their responses on note cards and submit before leaving the room. Incorporate student responses in the next lecture or address them directly in class.

Believe in Students

Begin each semester with the assumption that all first-year students come to class eager to learn. Although the faculty member is an expert in the discipline, students should be allowed to express their points of view. Listen to what first-year students have to say, allow discussions that diverge from the planned lecture and invite students to help devise course policies and rules related to projects and assignments. Students who have a voice in their own learning will find a more rewarding learning experience.


It is essential that faculty help first-year students successfully adjust to new living and learning environments. By understanding what it means to be a first-year college student and recognizing the demands first-year students face while transitioning to the university community, faculty can provide engaging, challenging and supportive learning environments.

Selected Resources and References

Carnegie Mellon University (1997). Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence. Best practices for teaching first-year undergraduates: Strategies for experience faculty.  Retrieved from PublicationsArchives/InternalReports/BestPractices-1stYears.pdf

Nief, R., & McBride, T. (2009). The Beloit College mindset list.  Retrieved from

Oblinger, D. (2004). Boomers & gen-xers millennials: Understanding the new students.  Retrieved from

Faculty Development is Now on Facebook

Are you a Facebook user?  If so, you can now receive notices of new Faculty Development programs and resources as well as connect with Faculty Development staff on Facebook. 

In September 2009 Facebook has grown to 300 million users across the world, in essence becoming the largest social network on the web. It was at 250 million only in July of 2009. Such rapid and continued growth has had immense implications for its users. There’s an ever increasing number of people and organizations Facebook users can follow and a plethora of applications they can have installed on their accounts to stay in touch with current friends, finds new ones, follow the news and keep up with professional development.

Choosing to follow Faculty Development on Facebook will allow you to participate in discussions, receive program and workshop notifications, view shared resources, photos and videos from many events hosted by the department, and to connect with colleagues not just from NIU, but, potentially, from many other educational institutions.

Now on Facebook

To follow Faculty Development on Facebook, simply login to Facebook and search for “NIU Faculty Development” click here or click the Facebook icon on the Faculty Development web site ( Once you arrive at the NIU Faculty Development page on Facebook, just click the “Become a Fan” button. After doing so, you’ll receive notices in Facebook of new programs, resources, or services offered by the Center.

You can also find NIU Faculty Development on Twitter at and YouTube at

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