Using Playlists to Supplement Course Materials, one of the most popular and successful video learning service offered, has been available to NIU faculty, students, and staff since Fall 2015. Since its release, users have relied on its extensive video library of engaging, top-quality courses taught by recognized industry experts for personal development. NIU faculty can now incorporate these high-quality materials to enhance and supplement their own course content.

Videos and courses from can easily be added to Blackboard courses using Web Links, or embedded using html. If you have identified a series of videos you want students to watch, a playlist is even better. A playlist is a collection of web content arranged around a particular theme or subject area. Playlists are commonly used to collect and organize songs from musical artists or video content from YouTube. Similarly, you can create playlists of videos by curating a collection of tutorials on a particular topic. For example, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center created a playlist on Online Teaching.

When you find a video you want to include on a playlist, click the + Add to Playlist button. On smaller screens, this may display below the video title, or be shortened to a simple +.

add to playlist profile drop down menu You can then create a new playlist, or add the video to an existing playlist.

To view your playlists, click your name in the upper right, and select Playlists from the drop down menu. You can manage your playlists here, including reordering or removing videos, adding a description, and making the playlist public. This is also where you can Share your playlist by copying the direct link for the playlist.

In Blackboard, you can add your playlist to your course as a Web Link. Students will be prompted to log into when they click the link. They use their z-id and password to log in.

Creating playlist can be a convenient yet powerful strategy to supplement course content, offer an alternative perspective to the instructor’s, and provide support to students to develop skills that may not be directly taught by the instructor. This might include teaching a technology for presenting a report more effectively, basic to advanced training of video editing for an assignment that offers the option for submitting the finished product as a video rather than in a word processing format, etc.

For more information on, you are invited to view a recording of the online workshop conducted on December 4, 2015. Faculty Development will also be offering a face-to-face workshop during the fall semester.

Facilitating Web Conferencing, Interaction, and Collaboration using Blackboard Collaborate

With more and more instruction taking place online, faculty are increasingly seeking online tools and strategies that can promote communication, interaction, and live collaboration from faculty-to-student, student-to-student, and student-to-content. Web conferencing is an online tool that allows multiple users to view content, exchange ideas, and work collaboratively. Web conferencing can include online “real time’ (synchronous) activities such as conducting lectures, inviting guest speakers to share their expertise from a remote location, pushing out content for students to download for review, holding weekly office hours, offering a venue where colleagues can hold meetings to discuss professional or research interests, or providing students with a virtual location to conduct collaborative activities for group assignments. Faculty wanting to utilize useful online resources during a session can take their students on a web tour, walk them through specific websites, or allow students to explore on their own. Regular web conferencing sessions in online courses can help to foster a learning community among students who may never meet face-to-face. Thus, web conferencing is recognized not only as a mechanism to distribute content, but as an opportunity to implement learning strategies that engage students, increase interactivity, and promote collaboration.

Blackboard Collaborate is a web conferencing tool that integrates seamlessly with Backboard, the course management system used by Northern Illinois University. Blackboard Collaborate was deployed in the Summer 2012 semester and will replace Wimba Classroom, the previous web conferencing tool used in Blackboard, by the Spring 2013 semester.

Faculty using Blackboard Collaborate can upload lecture materials including notes, PowerPoint slides, websites, images, video or audio sources as a jumping off point for a more comprehensive discussion of content. Faculty also have the ability to annotate over their content by using tools to point out/highlight specific aspects of their slides. New content or comments derived from real time class discussions can be added right onto the slides using a text editor and saved for future review by students.

Sample Bb Collaborate Session

Faculty can also “share” a view from their own computer for the purpose of demonstrating software applications or walk students through a procedure or process on the student’s computer. For example, faculty may wish to demonstrate how to use a particular software on their own computer or allow students to demonstrate something on their computers, and receive immediate feedback on their performance, all of which can be viewed by every participant.

There are a number of ways that students can communicate during live online sessions. Faculty can configure optional settings permitting students to engage in two-way audio conversation using a microphone, include a video feed from a webcam, or simply type comments or questions in the Chat area. These messages can be viewed by all participants, or sent as a private chat to faculty, if that is preferred. This last option can be especially helpful if a student is hesitant to ask a question in “public” during an online session. Students can communicate using clearly labeled buttons to express feelings/sentiments (emoticons), raise their hand, or respond to polling questions asked by faculty.

Faculty can still assign group activities during Blackboard Collaborate sessions as they would in face-to-face settings by having students meet in virtual “Breakout” rooms for a given period of time. Students can collaborate on the assignment with group members, with faculty having the option to monitor activity in any of the breakout rooms. Students can then return to the main session area to share their findings.

Faculty have the option of recording live synchronous web conferencing sessions and making the archived recordings available for review. This offers participants of Blackboard Collaborate sessions benefits that are both synchronous (live interaction) and asynchronous (students can review the session at their convenience).

Students can also choose to participate in web conferencing sessions from a mobile device (iPhone/iPad) using a free mobile app. Students connect directly from Blackboard on their mobile device, using the NIU Mobile App or Blackboard Mobile Learn app.

Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center offers a number of face-to-face and online Blackboard Collaborate workshops as well as one-on-one consultations. For more information about Blackboard Collaborate including a brief video of the Blackboard Collaborate Mobile Web Conferencing, check the “Blackboard Collaborate: Next Generation Web Conferencing” page on the Teaching with Blackboard website or contact the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

Cloud Storage: Making File Access and Management Easy

As we rely more on computers and mobile devices in our day-to-day lives both at home and work, easy access to information and files that we have been working on has never been more important. Carrying files on a USB drive and moving them from a laptop to a computer or vice versa to make sure we are working with the latest version of the file can be cumbersome. USB drives get lost; sometimes they fail, and sometimes we simply forget them at home. Additionally, constantly deleting files and replacing them with the newer versions or emailing files to ourselves just so that we could have access to them from home, work or classroom, can be a chore.

Now it is easy to access the same file from your home computer, a laptop or a mobile device, such as an Apple iPad or a Samsung Galaxy Tab, using one of the cloud computing file storage and sharing services. There are a number of such cloud storage services, with the more popular being:


Dropbox (

Dropbox has become one of the most popular file storage services. It allows users to access files saved on one computer from all other computers and mobile devices where the application is installed. If a computer or a mobile device does not have the Dropbox software installed, all files could still be accessed through the web using a browser interface. The benefits of using Dropbox are numerous:

  • Ability to transport your photos, videos, documents anywhere
  • Share files easily whenever you need them
  • Allows file and folder synchronization so that files saved on one computer, such as a laptop, would automatically be updated on all other computers and devices
  • 2GB of free storage, up to 100GB with subscription
  • Support for PC, Mac, Linux, iPad, iPhone, Android and Blackberry
  • Allows several people to work together on shared projects and documents
  • Allows working offline since files are downloaded to the local computer


iCloud (

iCloud is a service from Apple that “stores music, photos, documents, and more and wirelessly pushes them to all your devices.”  Files stored on the iCloud can be accessed from the iPhone, iPod Touch, a Mac or a PC. All email, contacts and calendars are automatically synced as well. iCloud:

  • Comes with every new Apple device
  • Is easy to set up
  • Offers 5GB of free storage
  • Purchased music, apps, books and TV shows do not count towards free storage
  • Allows subscriptions for up to 50GB of storage

Some of the other similar file storage services include, FilesAnywhere, Egnyte, and Windows Live SkyDrive, among others.

Cloud Storage Benefits and Considerations in Education

Cloud storage services:

  • Offer faculty and students real time access to files and folders
  • Offer an easy way to organize and manage files and folders
  • Allows users to start work on one computer, finish it in the office or in a remote location without the need to transfer files physically
  • Are available on mobile devices, so any pictures taken with a mobile smart phone can be saved to either Dropbox or iCloud and shared with students
  • Offers an easy way to share files with anyone; no login is required for publicly shared files

While there are many benefits and conveniences to using cloud storage, there are a few things that users should consider:

  • Because files reside on a remote server, security of these files is important
  • Users should take precaution not to expose sensitive information in those files, whether that information is private or institutional
  • The costs associated when more storage is needed

More information on cloud storage can be found here:

Educause 7 Things You Should Know About Organizing Files in the Cloud

The Complete Dropbox for Educators (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Feed My Inbox: RSS to Email

posted in: Web Tools | 1

While RSS is nearly ubiquitous across the Web today, many people unfortunately are still unfamiliar with how feed readers can save time and be used to stay updated on news from favorite sites. For those who aren’t ready to use a feed reader, they can still reap the benefits of having news from RSS-enabled sites delivered to them via email using a free service like FeedMyInbox.

FeedMyInbox is a very simple service that attempts to bridge the gap between feeds (RSS, XML, Atom) and email. Click here to read more how it works.

For anyone who isn’t yet ready to make the jump to an RSS reader but still wants to receive updates from a blog, news site, twitter feed, or any other RSS-enabled site, give FeedMyInbox a try.

Have you found another RSS to email tool that you recommend? Leave a comment with your suggestion!

Using Forms in Google Docs

posted in: Resources, Web Tools | 0

Google Docs includes a very easy-to-use forms tool that can be used for simple online surveys or other basic data collection activities. Here’s a quick introduction to using forms in Google Docs:

How might use of the data collection features of the Forms tool in Google Docs be helpful in an education context? Beyond online surveys, what other applications come to mind? When would you not want to use a Google Form? Leave a comment with your ideas!

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