New Semester? Check Your Course Before You Wreck Your Course!

Jacob Spradlin M.Ed. Jacob Spradlin – spradlin@shsu.edu
Assistant Director & Blackboard Certified Trainer
SHSU Online/DELTA Center

Check your CourseAnother new semester has arrived at SHSU. We are just days(2) away from the start of a the fall 2014 semester. Many of us have moved last fall’s content over or re-purposed course materials from last spring. Copying course content from previous semesters saves us time and effort that we would otherwise spend re-inventing the wheel.

As you prepare to unleash your online course resources to your students via a course in your Blackboard, you will need to take some things into consideration to ensure a smooth start to the semester.

Here are a few steps you can take to help guaranty a good start for you and your students:

  1. Get your course’s dating life straight. – Content Availability & Due Dates
  2. Take….these Broken Links! – Check Your External Content
  3. Get a second opinion! – Is Your Course Navigable?

Get Your Course’s Dating Life Straight
(Content Availability & Due Dates)

Date AdjustmentNothing can be more frustrating for your students than having an assignment that is due in the syllabus but unavailable in your Blackboard course. Obviously this is not done on purpose to confuse the students. Some content from a previous semester could have been date specific and so a new semester needs new availability dates. Checking your due dates is also an important part of getting your course’s dating life straight. Not only to ensure that you have days and dates mentioned correctly throughout your course, but you want to ensure you don’t have things due on holidays etc..

This date checking session also provides you with a good opportunity to make changes for the better. Think back to your previous semester when you taught the course. Maybe there wasn’t enough time to complete an assignment, or maybe there was too much. Make changes to this semester’s calendar based upon issues or opportunities from the previous semester.

Blackboard provides a great tool for date management inside your course. The Date Management tool can be found here: Control panel>Course Tools>Date Management. The tool allows you to change dates based upon:

  • Using the Course Start Date
  • Adjust by number of Days
  • List all Dates for Review

Being aware of your course’s dating life will greatly benefit you and your students.

Take….these Broken Links!
(Check Your External Content)

One of the primary benefits of posting files and content in Blackboard or any Learning Management System is that you can feel very secure in the knowledge that within reason, your content/files will always be accessible. This is NOT true with links to external content. Whether you are linking to an Internet article, a YouTube video, a SlideShare presentation or some other external content, you never know when that content might disappear.

This is why it is uber-important for you to check links to external content prior to releasing it to your students. This means checking prior to the start of the semester as well as just before your students have to use the content. Ensuring that links to external content work before your students need them will help reduce pain and frustration within your Blackboard course.

Here is a helpful (and funny) eLearning Best Practice music video to help you remember to Take….these Broken Links!

Get a Second Opinion!
(Make Sure Your Students can find Their Away Around)

So, you have dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s. Your course dates are adjusted and your links have been checked. You’ve even read through your course and feel pretty good about it. There is another best practice you can use to help ensure success for your students when it comes to your Blackboard course.

Why not have a colleague, a friend even a family member read through course instructions to make sure they make sense? Unfortunately ‘they’ haven’t invented a pill that conveys all knowledge of how to operate inside a Blackboard course yet so the importance of contextualized mechanical & academic instructions is key for any LMS-based course. Layering instructions throughout your course will help your students feel like they have way-points to guide them as they move along through their learning journey.

Your course might make sense to you the twelfth time you’ve read through it, but there might be some obstacles that people who have never seen it before could come across. So getting a fresh perspective on your course is always a best practice. Ask a colleague, your instructional designer, a family member, heck even your son or daughter could help in this endeavor.

These three steps can go a long way toward reducing consternation and frustration for both you and your students as they and you move through your Blackboard course.

Blackboard & Instructional Tech How-to Sessions For Fall 2014 – Sign Up today!

Jacob Spradlin M.Ed. Jacob Spradlin – spradlin@shsu.edu
Assistant Director & Blackboard Certified Trainer
SHSU Online/DELTA Center

It is hard to believe that the Fall 2014 semester is upon us.  Where did the summer go?  Were you like me and had great plans for the summer, but not enough time to get them all in?  Maybe you even planned on brushing up on your Blackboard or Instructional Technology skills.  Not to worry, we’ve got you covered.  Below you will find the Fall 2014 How-to Session Schedule, complete with links for session descriptions and sign-ups.

As the semester progresses we will be adding other sessions as needed so be sure to visit our official How-to Sessions page regularly and check it out!  Looking for our next Teaching Online with Blackboard Certification cohort?  The next cohort starts in October!  We will have more information for you in September.

Date Session Name  Description
 Sign-Up
SEPTEMBER
9 Blackboard Learn: Course Building Sesssion Description  Sign-Up
10 Blackboard Learn: Communication Sesssion Description Sign-Up
11 Blackboard Learn: Assessment Sesssion Description Sign-Up
16 Blackboard Social Profiles and Learning Tools Sesssion Description Sign-Up
17 Putting Video In Your Blackboard Course Sesssion Description Sign-Up
18 Blackboard Learn: Rubrics Sesssion Description Sign-Up
23 Feedback Strategies for Your Online course Sesssion Description Sign-Up
24 Respondus Lockdown Browser – Academic Integrity Sesssion Description Sign-Up
OCTOBER
7 Blackboard Learn: Achievements – Badges in Blackboard Sesssion Description Sign-Up
8 Blogs Wikis & Journals – Oh My Sesssion Description Sign-Up
14 Blackboard Learn: Adaptive Release Sesssion Description Sign-Up
15 Blackboard Learn: Groups & Grades Sesssion Description Sign-Up
16 Blackboard Learn: Rubrics Sesssion Description Sign-Up
21 Blackboard Learn: Course Building Sesssion Description Sign-Up
22 Blackboard Learn: Communication Sesssion Description Sign-Up
23 Blackboard Learn: Assessment Sesssion Description Sign-Up
28 Blackboard Learn: Rubrics Sesssion Description Sign-Up
29 Putting Video In Your Blackboard Course Sesssion Description Sign-Up
NOVEMBER
18 Blogs Wikis & Journals – Oh My Sesssion Description Sign-Up
19 Blackboard Learn: Adaptive Release Sesssion Description Sign-Up
20 Feedback Strategies for Your Online course Sesssion Description Sign-Up
DECEMBER
9 Blackboard Learn: Copying Course Content Sesssion Description Sign-Up
10 Blackboard Learn: Achievements – Badges in Blackboard Sesssion Description Sign-Up
11 Blackboard Learn: 1st Week Strategies for Your Online Course Sesssion Description Sign-Up

The Best Browser for Blackboard Learn

Jacob and his MinionSo last week I went on a trip to visit a very good friend of mine. He can’t see very well and he is addicted to wearing overalls, but he is a great dancer and is the life of the party wherever we go (especially with the younger set). Any-who, we were walking down Fremont street together and he asks me a fairly straight forward question.

“Jacob, what is the best browser for Blackboard Learn?”

I smiled back at my friend the minion and told him that was a question we get often at our Technology Support Desk for SHSU Online. We strolled along together while I tried my best to answer his question. Well, my friend the minion liked the answer so much he asked me to share it with you. So, with this blog post, I shall attempt to do so.

Traditionally our support desk has leaned heavily toward one particular browser, Mozilla Firefox when answering this question. While I still think that Firefox is probably the best answer from a stability and fails-the-least-with-all-of-Blackboard’s-bells-and-whistles standpoint, the real answer is more nuanced than that.

While visiting with the minion last week in Las Vegas, I had the occasion to make a small side-trip to the Blackboard World 2014 (#BbWorld14 – for those that tweet) conference. One of the sessions I attended on supporting Blackboard’s user community was put on by the University of Knoxville, Tennessee. During the session they stated something that we here at SHSU Online always knew, but never put into words:

“The best browser for Blackboard is every browser.”

This zen-like statement on viewing Blackboard via the lens that we call our Internet browser is almost mind-blowing. It seems like something that “the Dude” would have uttered. If you think about it though, it is true.

Internet browsers are on an accelerated development schedule. They receive updates sometimes weekly in order to be sure that they are safe & secure to use for netizens across the globe. Blackboard, on the other hand, receives updates officially twice a year for the most part (not counting any cumulative patches your institution decides to apply). The update disparity here is clear. You can already see where the pain points might happen when a browser is updated as often as they seem to be. If one browser’s update messes with how you interact with Blackboard Learn, then try another.

Sometimes you may be on a deadline and “It’s my Blackboard and I want it now!” In this case, just being able to launch another browser rather than making sure you clear your cache, delete your cookies and cleanse any temporary Internet files, makes life easier.

This is why it is important to have a stable of tools you can turn to when the need arises. For PCs, your browser list for Blackboard should be: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox & Google Chrome. For Macs: Safari, Mozilla Firefox & Google Chrome.

Blackboard even provides a supported browser list that will work with your particular version of Blackboard Learn.

Well, the minion and I had a great visit. I also visited a few more of my friends and they too had some questions that might interest you, but I’ll save those for another blog post.

Want to take your Blackboard Course to Next Level? Be Graphic!

bestpracSo, you’ve been at this Blackboard thing for a couple of semesters and you are starting to feel comfortable with the learning management system. You’ve mastered the art of uploading and attaching files to content. The discussion board is your boon companion and you are collecting assignments digitally from your students via the assignment tool. Navigating the grade center is like riding a bike and you feel good about it!

What now? Learn a new tool or technology? Live inside your course for the next 6 months? Well, you could do those things, but let me suggest a slightly different approach. Have you considered adding an important layer to your Blackboard course by inserting images?

Importance of Images

  • Convey course information in an alternate method.
  • Students pay more attention to articles/readings with graphic content.
  • Breaks up monotony of “text-only” Blackboard pages.
  • Increases student engagement by making them use a different part of their brain.
  • It just looks better!

Below are examples of a Blackboard content area without graphics and a content area with graphics. Which one looks better? Which one would you rather read?

Blackboard Course Content Area Examples
In this example the graphics are more of the decorating variety, but they do add color and continuity to your course. Imagine having your course banner at the top of every major content area in your course. In this case there are examples of images in a content item, learning module and content folder descriptions. Almost anywhere you use the content editor in Blackboard, you can place an image.

Inserting an Image

  1. Click the Insert/Edit Image button on your content editor.
  2. Browse to where your image is saved and attach it.
  3. Type an Image Description (for screen readers).
  4. Click the Insert button.Insert Image dialogue

Editing an Image (Alignment, Spacing and Size)

  1. Click on the image you have placed in the Content Editor.
  2. Click the Insert/Edit Image button.
  3. Click the Appearance tab.
  4. Adjust your Alignment, Spacing and Size.
    Insert - Edit Image - Appearance Tab

With a few clicks of your mouse, your Blackboard course can go from black and white text to a colorful tapestry of text and images that convey meaning to students in a number of different ways!

Resources – Free Images For Your Courses

Summer 2014 Training Offerings – Online & Face-to-Face

How-To
Summer is upon us!  Thankfully, summer brings with it warmer weather and relaxed schedules.  Why not use a tiny bit of your summer to brush up on your instructional technology skills?  The DELTA Center will be offering sessions all summer long that can directly benefit you!  Below you will find information about our second fully-online cohort of the Teaching Online With Blackboard Certification Series as well as a list of our face-to-face classroom based how-to sessions.


Teaching Online With Blackboard Certification Series [Fully-Online]
June 2 – August 4

The Blackboard Certification Series is the fully-online training option which SHSU Online has most recently developed and added to the training catalog. The certification consists of four courses aimed at preparing an instructor to master the online teaching environment through Blackboard. Courses included within this series comprise the following:

  1. Course Building: 2-week course that will equip online instructors with building and sharing content in their online courses.
  2. Communication: 2-week course that will cover tools of communication, as well as applicable communication strategies for online course management.
  3. Assessment: 2-week course that introduces participants to how to get started assessing their student’s learning in an online class.
  4. Teaching Online- Strategies for Success: 2-Week course that presents participants with the opportunity to explore best practices for creating engaging and effective online learning environments.

Register online today!


Summer 2014 Instructional Technology Learning Opportunities [Face-Face]

All Summer long, from the beginning of June to the end of August we will be offering how-to sessions on instructional technologies and best practices in the CJC A185 Training lab.  Here is a list of courses we are offering. Sign-up Today!

Date Session Offered
June 3 & 24
July 9
Aug 14
Blackboard Learn Adaptive Release: This session covers how to release course content to your student based up certain rules you set up as the instructor.  Imagine blocking access to your course until a student completes a Syllabus Quiz for example.
June 4, 26
Aug 13
Achievements – Badges in Blackboard: This 1 hour session will help you Gamify your Blackboard course with badges & certificates. The achievements tool allows instructors to designate criteria for issuing rewards to students. Much like the Early Warning System, rules can be set as the criteria for issuing achievements. Unlike the Early Warning System, the achievement tool rewards students for their accomplishments, rather than punishing or identifying detrimental behavior. Students can see which rewards they’ve earned and what is required of them to receive additional rewards.
July 10
Aug 5
Blackboard – 1st Week Strategies: Studies have shown that the first week of an online course is key for your students. The activities and interactions that take place in that first week can influence the rest of the semester.  There are strategies that you can employ that ensure that the start of your course that will help you and your students have a successful learning journey. This 1 hour session will outline activities, ideas and strategies you can use during the 1st week of your course.
July 29
Aug 6
Blackboard Learn Copying Course Content: This 1 hour session covers how to copy in part or in whole, course content from one course to another as well as within one Blackboard course.
June 5
July 30
Aug 26
Blackboard – Plagiarism Defense: A 1 hour session that covers Blackboard SafeAssign. SafeAssign is Blackboard’s plagiarism prevention assessment tool. A SafeAssignment helps educators prevent plagiarism by detecting unoriginal content in student papers.  In addition to acting as a plagiarism deterrent, it also has features designed to aid in educating students about plagiarism and importance of proper attribution of any borrowed content.
June 17
Aug 19
Blackboard Learn – Course Building: This course is the first in a three-part series that will ensure you are well acquainted with Blackboard @ SHSU. Become familiar with the Blackboard environment including: layout, navigation, adding, editing and deleting content. Attendees will gain control over their course’s navigation menu and learn how to interact with their courses from an instructor role.
June 18
Aug 20
Blackboard Learn – Communication: This course is the second in a three-part series that will ensure you are well acquainted with Blackboard @ SHSU. Learn how to communicate and collaborate with your students using Blackboard’s on-board set of tools. Announcements, Notifications, Email, Discussion Boards, Blogs, Journals and Wikis will all be covered.
June 19
Aug 21
Blackboard Learn – Assessment: This course is the third in a three-part series that will ensure you are well acquainted with Blackboard @ SHSU. Attendees will learn how to assess student progress with Blackboard Assignments, Turnitin Assignments, Test/Quiz/Survey Creation and how each of these interact with the Blackboard Grade Center.
June 25
July 31
Aug 7 & 28
Respondus Lockdown Browser: Assessment Protection: Respondus LockDown Browser™ is a custom browser that locks down the testing environment within Blackboard and other LMSs. When students use Respondus LockDown Browser they are unable to print, copy, go to another URL, or access other applications. When an assessment is started, students are locked into it until they submit it for grading.
July 8
Aug 12
Incorporating Video in a Blackboard Course: This course will make the instructor familiar with the different ways to add video to a Blackboard Course. YouTube Mash-ups, Kaltura Video & Video Everywhere will be covered as well as DELTA Video services.
Aug 27
Blackboard Learn – Connecting Your Course: This 1 hour course will cover connecting your course by organizing, clearly naming your navigation elements, providing mechanical instructions and having an “escape route” will save your students and ultimately you time when putting together your online course.

Sign-up Today!

Help your Students be Reflective with Journals

Merriam Webster defines a journal as:

a book in which you write down your personal experiences and thoughts

Backboard JournalPutting down those thoughts and experiences that impact us can be an important tool in personal growth and development. Journals don’t have to be limited to the “Dear diary” entries you make at your beside table. They can be used in courses you teach as well. In online courses journals can be used as a mechanism for communication between a faculty member and a student, or as a reflective tool for students as they work to absorb what they are learning.

Benefits of using a journal include but are not limited to:

  • Teaches students to communicate their thoughts on the subject matter
  • Forces students to be on the lookout for journal material (actually paying attention in the course)
  • Helps students to remember what they have learned
  • Keeps a record of ideas, concepts or structures that are important
  • Lets students create without fear of judgement from peers
  • Allows students to take first level thoughts to the next level – idea expansion

Creative writing teachers can benefit from using a journal. Students can post their entries and instructors can make comments as needed. Journals can also be used to drive home what the student has studied over the week. Think about the reinforcement that happens when a student submits an assignment, discusses with his or her peers, takes a quiz and then puts it all together in a journal entry for the week. Finally, journals are ideally suited for formative assessment. Get the student’s temperature by asking them to write about their highs and lows as it relates to the course during the week. If something comes across that is legitimate, feel free to make course corrections for the benefit of all of your students.

Here at SHSU we utilize the Blackboard LearnTM learning management system, which has a journal tool as part of it’s feature set. Journal assignments can be placed anywhere in the course and are accessible with click of the mouse. Learn more about implementing journals in your Blackboard course.

While you are thinking of ways to ensure your students are getting what they need on their learning journey, consider reflecting on the added value of implementing journal activities to your courses.