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  

Mobile Learning Trends in Higher Education

While online instruction has been an increasingly common component of the university environment for several years, a recent innovation has been making its presence felt in higher education. Advances in computer and communication technologies resulted in the development of portable digital devices that change pedagogical possibilities. Cell phones, personal digital assistants, netbooks, iPods, digital still and video cameras, MP3 players, GPS, and portable e-books enhance establishing and participating in online communities of learners. The pedagogical application of these devices has lead to the development of ‘Mobile Learning’, a rapidly expanding area of instruction. According to Quinn (2000), Mobile Learning is defined as “the intersection of mobile computing (the application of small, portable, and wireless computing and communication devices) and e-learning (learning facilitated and supported through the use of information and communications technology) (para. 8).” Quinn predicted mobile learning would one day provide learning that was truly independent of time and place and facilitated by portable computers capable of providing rich interactivity, total connectivity, and powerful processing.

Some essential features of Mobile Learning are that it is dynamic, operates in real-time, is collaborative, is comprehensive, provides multiple paths for learning, and aids in building learning communities forged by participants (Leung & Chan, 2003). Indeed, the emphasis in Mobile Learning is placed on the interaction between learners/instructors/content and the technology used. This suggests to some investigators that learning is a social process (Sharples, Taylor, & Vavoula, 2007). For example, users can post content and have it instantly disseminated to a community of learners, who in turn, review the content, provide feedback, suggest refinements, and collaborate in team or group activities to an unprecedented degree.

A recent survey of U.S. adults reveals a significant increase in the use of mobile devices to access online sources (Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 2009). Thirty-two percent of Americans have used a cell phone or Smartphone to access the internet for emailing, instant messaging, or seeking information, which is an increase of one-third since 2007. The findings also reveal a 73 percent increase in Americans using mobile devices to access the internet.

Some academic institutions have begun incorporating mobile devices in the development of curriculum for both face-to-face and online instruction. Potential uses of mobile devices in higher education include providing recordings of entire lectures, textbook materials, journals, songs, music, novels, and radio programs to students via podcasts. These devices are used to access multimedia materials, produce student presentations, assignments and projects, facilitate field studies, and conduct tutor/peer/self-evaluation (Nie, 2006). Professional organizations have also been observed using mobile devices to facilitate their tasks and activities. For example, public health workers in developing countries are increasingly collecting health information with PDAs rather than with the traditional paper and pencil method for a speedier dissemination of data.

Collaboration with Mobile Devices was a featured topic in the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center sponsored ‘Teaching with Technology Institute’, held in June of 2009. Faculty Development is continuing to pursue an interest in current pedagogical and technological advancements by developing workshops in mobile learning. Please check the Faculty Development website to learn more information as well as new offerings in this area.


Leung, C.H., Chang, Y.Y. (2003).  Mobile Learning: A New Paradigm in Electronic Learning. Proceedings of the
3rd IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT’03)

Nie, M. The potential use of mobile/handheld devices, audio/podcasting material in higher education.  Retrieved from

Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.  Mobile internet use increases sharply in 2009 as more than half of all Americans have gotten online by some wireless means Retrieved from

Quinn, C.  mLearning. Mobile, Wireless, In-Your-Pocket Learning. Linezine. Fall2000. Retrieved from

Sharples, M., Taylor, J., & Vavoula, G. (2007) A theory of learning for the mobile age. In R. Andrews and C. Haythornthwaite (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of elearning Research (pp. 221-247). London: Sage.

Tips for Teaching During a Health Crisis

The H1N1 virus (Swine Flu) is expected to make a comeback to the United States this school year and officials say that college campuses could be impacted. It’s prudent for faculty to be proactive by considering how their teaching may be affected by an illness outbreak and exploring steps to continue teaching during such a situation. Here are a few suggestions as well as questions to consider when preparing for teaching during a health crisis recommended by a number of institutions. As these are simply recommendations, implement the suggestions that are applicable for your discipline and course as allowed by your college and department policies.


Preparing to teach a new course for the first time, as with any new experience, is a journey into unchartered waters. It is difficult to know exactly what to expect until actually experiencing the process. Regardless of how prepared one may strive to be, undoubtedly adjustments will be needed along the way. Each successive iteration of the course likely results in a refined and improved learning experience for students, incorporating revisions resulting from previous experiences.

No matter how familiar one may be with the course content, preparing to teach in a new format or environment involves recognizing a number of new variables and then incorporating them into the planning process. The challenge of teaching a class during a health crisis is no different from teaching in any other new instructional context, requiring adapting methods to meet the given context.

The possibility of teaching a class during a health crisis raises a number of additional scenarios and questions for consideration. A few questions that may come to mind when preparing to teach during a health crisis include:

  • What accommodations will you make for ill students?
  • What if ill students attend your classes despite health warnings to remain at home?
  • What if you become ill?
  • How will you continue the teaching and learning process during an extended illness?
  • What if classes are canceled?

These are just a few of the many questions that may likely surface when considering strategies addressing these issues. Preparation is necessary in any instructional environment, but even more so for a crisis scenario.

Tips for Preparing:

  • Plan ahead.  As the proverb states, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.” This may be stating the obvious, but it is always a good idea to plan as far in advance as possible when preparing to teach. Doing so helps alleviate stress caused by last-minute preparations.
  • Have an alternate plan. In addition to planning ahead, include alternate plans for as many potential circumstances as possible. Review your teaching plan and identify possible areas beyond your control that may impact your plan.  Then, develop a contingency plan to keep it on hand in the event that you need to deviate from your original plan.
  • Make your plan realistic. Keep in mind the full scope of your teaching, research, and service obligations as well as family and other personal commitments as you make your plan. Purposefully schedule your weekly class preparation time, office hours, and other teaching duties while balancing your other responsibilities.
  • Make your plan available to your department. Consider sharing your plan with your department chair and/or be prepared to do so with your department if for any reason someone else is needed to step-in and assist with or teach your course in your absence.
  • Keep yourself healthy. Take the recommended precautions to reduce the chance of becoming ill yourself and encourage your students to do the same. For suggestions on keeping healthy, visit
  • Become familiar with available resources. A host of support units, resources, and technologies are available for NIU faculty to utilize. A great place to start is the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, where you can find information and links to all the resources available for NIU faculty.  Perhaps consider attending a workshop on a new pedagogical approach or instructional technology or avail yourself to the wealth of step-by-step resources available at
  • Be aware of NIU’s news, information, and updates concerning H1N1. Visit the online resources available, including the NIU H1N1 flu prevention site at and the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center collection of resources for teaching during a health crisis at

Instructional Alternatives

An important component of the preparation process is identifying instructional alternatives that can be put in place if necessary to supplement and/or replace certain face-to-face interactions that are commonplace in the classroom setting. When contemplating the dynamics of teaching during a health crisis, consider how teaching the class with a diminished number of students will affect your teaching. What activities might need to be adjusted in the event of a health crisis?

  • Instructional presentation. What is the primary method for sharing instructional content with your students? Are in-class lectures crucial for students to grasp the concepts covered and meet instructional objectives? Numerous alternatives exist to traditional in-class instructional presentations, including using an online collaboration tool built in Blackboard called Wimba Classroom for replicating rich collaborative interactions from the classroom online.
  • Class discussion. Once students complete required readings and/or view instructional presentations, how will they process the information and interact with one another in the learning process? Both synchronous and asynchronous tools within Blackboard can be used to facilitate discussions, either class-wide or within smaller groups for students who can’t attend class sessions.
  • Class news and announcements. How will students be informed of class-related news and announcements that they would otherwise receive during class? Consider alternative avenues for communicating class news and announcements. Blackboard includes both email and announcement tools, making it possible to easily post an announcement for the class and simultaneously email the announcement to all students in the course. In addition, if students choose to install the new Blackboard Sync applications, either for their Facebook or iPhone / iPod Touch, they can receive class news and announcements on these platforms as well.
  • Student questions. How will students receive answers to questions that otherwise would be addressed in class? The Blackboard Discussion Board is a great location for addressing student questions. Once the faculty creates a forum for questions and answers, students can post questions and faculty or other students can respond in a centralized location. A subscription feature is available that when enabled, emails any new postings directly to the subscriber. Faculty who choose to subscribe to a forum will receive student questions via email and can respond promptly in the discussion board and even follow-up via email if necessary.
  • Assessment of student learning. How will students demonstrate competence in meeting course objectives? Several online assessment tools are available within Blackboard that can be used to facilitate the assessment process. For example, online quizzes can be conducted via Blackboard in place of in-class paper-based quizzes.

Ideas for continuing the teaching and learning process during an extended illness:

  • Record short instructional presentations to supplement in-class presentations. Using Wimba Classroom or another presentation recording and authoring tool, record short presentations that introduce the materials for the week or perhaps recap important points discussed. Make the recorded presentations available for students to view online and/or as a podcast for viewing offline on their computer or mobile device.
  • Move class discussion online to allow all students to participate in course discussion activities. Create a forum within the Blackboard Discussion Board for the given week or content unit and prepare questions for students to respond to. Inform students of expectations for substantive responses and criteria for evaluating their contributions. By enabling the grading feature for the forum, faculty can easily view the posts from a given student and assign a score for their participation.
  • Conduct online office hours instead of on-campus office hours, allowing students, who perhaps are still ill, the ability to connect with you, ask questions, and remain involved in the teaching and learning process. Consider archiving these sessions for students who are unable to attend to view the recordings later.
  • Post grades and feedback online so affected students can view their individual graded assignments. Access to assignment scores and feedback posted in Blackboard is restricted; students can only view their own individual scores and available feedback from the faculty.
  • Conduct low-stakes online quizzes to assess whether learning is taking place outside class sessions.  Provide an opportunity for affected students to take an alternative form of in-class quizzes that may be drawn from a pool of questions from course readings or class notes.
  • Present lectures online in lieu of selected in-class lecture presentations if you are familiar with online lecture technologies and such alternatives are appropriate. Using the Wimba Classroom tool in Blackboard, give live online lectures in which students can see presentations materials, hear and see the instructor, and interact with the instructor and fellow students in real time. Students who are ill or concerned about being in close proximity with other learners can participate from any computer connected to the Internet. Archive the sessions for students who are unable to attend so they can view the recordings later.


Not only must instructional alternatives be considered, but also accommodations for students who miss class in the event of an extended illness. It certainly may be challenging to maintain academic rigor while also accommodating the physical needs of students. It is important to become aware of university and departmental policies addressing interruptions caused by extended illness. After reviewing existing university recommendations, you may wish to develop your own strategies for accommodating students affected by a health crisis.

Suggestions for accommodating students during a health crisis:

  • Keep students up-to-date when they miss class for an extended period of time. Communicate with students, either via phone, email, or online announcements in Blackboard.
  • Collect assignments electronically instead of in paper form. Provide students who are unable to attend class the opportunity to submit work in electronic form, either via email or using the Assignment Manager in Blackboard.
  • Develop guidelines for make-up work. Identify possible alternatives to assigned in-class work that could be completed outside of class. For example, if students are ill and unable to complete a required lab activity, how will this situation be addressed?  You may ask the student, once healthy, to come to a lab and complete the assignment outside of class time.
  • Provide instructional alternatives. Contemplate how students who are unable to attend class will have access to information covered. Ideas might include recording lectures and posting as podcast, providing class notes electronically, and/or requesting that students share their hand-written notes with affected students. Perhaps discuss with the class what instructional alternatives they would find most helpful.
  • Prepare hard copy packets. For affected students who may not have ready access to the Internet, you may consider preparing hard copies of reference materials, assignments, etc. to distribute to ill students in addition to posting online in Blackboard. These materials could be mailed to students and would be available when they return to campus.

Institutional Resources

Begin your preparation efforts by becoming familiar with the available resources specific to the support services, guidelines, and directives from NIU. To find and the news, information, and resources from NIU regarding teaching during a health crisis, visit Among the notable institutional resources available there, you will find:

Additional Resources

Additionally, a number of local, state, and federal agencies are providing current information online concerning preparation and response to H1N1 flu, including:

If you are in need of further assistance in your teaching or teaching-related activities, contact the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at 815-753-0595 or email

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