Blackboard Maintenance (Downtime)

System MaintenanceBlackboard will be undergoing maintenance from 10pm on Wednesday, December 17th until 10am on Thursday, December 18th, 2014.  Blackboard will be unavailable during this time.  This maintenance will address the accessibility, security, performance and scalability of the platform as well as other known issues.

We are posting this announcement now to allow for any changes in due dates and schedules in your course(s). Please do not log in or try to do any work during the maintenance window.  During the downtime, please visit the SHSU Online Blog for more information.

E-mail blackboard@shsu.edu if you have any questions.

Sincerely,
The SHSU Online Blackboard Team
blackboard@shsu.edu

Getting Your Students ready for Online Exams – Finals Prep

ReadinessWith finals fast approaching, your students should be dutifully studying up on course materials, completing academic research and course activities that will help them be able to handle the questions and concepts they come across during end-of-semester assessments. Your course materials have covered topics large and small that will help them make appropriate inferences, connect the dots and generally understand the subject matter they have been interacting with over the course of a semester.

Even when hitting all of your targets academically speaking, your students may have problems when it comes time for finals in an online environment. We all know that technology failures operate under the “when, not if” principle, but there are strategies and practices that your students can put into place that will help them surmount any obstacle thrown their way. The following practices will benefit your students when it comes to the end of year exams:

BEFORE STARTING THE EXAM

Power Up!
Plug your laptop into the power outlet unless you are absolutely certain that your laptop has enough battery power to last for the duration of the test.

Tether Up!
If you have the option, turn off your wireless connection and plug your laptop into the nearest available network port or use your desktop computer if available. Wireless issue can cause your exam to disconnect and your instructor may not be fond of resetting your exam attempt for the umpteenth time.

Go Solo!
Close down any other programs that my distract you from the test or interfere with your network connection. Having only one active program ensures your computer will be running at its best.

Idle Computers are the Devil’s Playground
Check your laptop idle time to make sure that it will not go into sleep mode prematurely and sabotage your assessment attempt midway through.

Be Up for Pop-Ups!
Disable all pop-up blockers. These blockers come installed in the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox, in third-party toolbars such as Google and Yahoo, and they can come with utility software such the Norton products from Symantec.

Get Patched Up!
Ensure that your laptop has the latest Operating System (e.g., Windows) patches. Automatic updates can disrupt your current browser session or make your laptop very slow.

Are You Compatible?
Use a web browser that is compatible with or certified to work with the current version of your Learning Management System.

Using Special Software? Practice, Practice, Practice!
If you are using a lockdown browser or special proctoring software, be sure to download and install it BEFORE you take the exam. Your instructor may provide a practice assessment that will let you make sure you are familiar with the special software involved.

DURING THE EXAM

Don’t Get Click Happy!
When beginning the quiz/test, click the quiz link ONLY ONCE and wait at least a minute for the quiz/test to load.. Do not keep clicking on the quiz/test/test link. Clicking on the quiz/test link two or more times may trigger a message saying you already took the quiz/test. If, after clicking once and waiting the full minute nothing happens, contact your instructor or test proctor immediately.

Leave-off of Leaving
Once you have started the quiz, do not leave the quiz/test page for any reason. Using the browser’s back and forward buttons to move to and from the quiz/test will end the quiz prematurely and prevent you from further access until your instructor clears the attempt. If you are permitted to view other online resources during the quiz/test, open a new browser to view them.

Problem? Reach out and Touch Someone
In case of computer problems during the test notify your instructor as soon as possible. He or she will reset your quiz/exam attempt or authorize a designee to do so. Your instructor may have policies on if they allow you to reattempt the quiz at all.

Sizing it up BEFORE You Begin!
Do not resize or refresh your screen after loading the quiz/test. Make sure the screen is the size you want before going into the quiz/test. Most browsers refresh the page when you resize the screen so the browser will try to reload the quiz/test if you resize/refresh.

 

 

Connect With Online Students – Make Feedback Personal

banner-people-connectedOne of the challenges for any online instructor is making students feel a sense of community or connectedness in their online course. There are multiple strategies that can be put into place to meet this challenge head-on. Today’s blog post will focus on the feedback the instructor gives in an online course and how it can connect the student more personally with the instructor.

The type of feedback an instructor provides can have a tremendous affect upon the student/instructor dynamic in an online course. Students who feel like they know their instructor report higher satisfaction levels and tend to be more engaged with the courses they are taking. Conversely, students that don’t sense instructor presence in the course tend to feel less satisfaction and engagement, and that can be reflected in course evaluations.

The following are steps an instructor can take to connect with online students via course feedback:

1. Leave specific feedback.

Be purposeful about leaving feedback that deals specifically with aspects of a student’s submitted work. A side-effect of a good best practice to save time for online instructors is that sometimes generic feedback can be used to a fault. The online instructor can counteract this by leaving specific feedback about the students’ attempt every few assignments.

2. Use student names when leaving feedback.

Starting assignment feedback with a student’s name immediately personalizes the interaction. Placing emphasis on the personal before leaving the feedback of the assignment, points to interest on the part of the instructor in the student’s individual attempt. The idea that an instructor cares about student success is vitally important in any course, online or otherwise.

3. Use multimedia to personalize the interaction.

To a student sitting at their workstation/laptop/tablet, a grade or text-based feedback in an online course can seem almost sterile and devoid of the human touch that comes from the professor handing back grades in a face-to-face course. Luckily, most LMS’s these days come with tools that can make the feedback interaction more personal. Just the sound of the instructor’s voice will add a personal dimension to the feedback experience. The addition of video to assignment feedback kicks it up a notch!

Audio Feedback with Blackboard Collaborate Voice AuthoringAt SHSU, Blackboard is the Learning Management System for online, hybrid and web-enhanced course offerings, and it comes equipped with tools that can enhance the feedback experience. It also interacts well with third party tools and other types of files that can fulfill the same type of need for students. For example faculty can use the Blackboard Collaborate Voice Authoring Mashup to leave audio feedback directly in the feedback of the assignment.

As a bonus a student is not just limited to hearing the disembodied voice of the online instructor for feedback. Faculty members can also use the Video Everywhere tool to drop a recorded video into the feedback shown to the student. The Video Everywhere tool utilizes YouTube to either link to a video uploaded to the instructors YouTube account or record a video at the point of feedback and place it directly.

Using Video Everywhere for FeedbackIf the instructor does not have ready access to a webcam or microphone on their computer, he or she can record a video with their smartphone and upload it to YouTube as an unlisted video, then link to the video with the Video Everywhere tool. Instructors can also use voice recording apps to attach audio files to feedback for online students.

Personalizing feedback for an online course is an important best practice for any instructor. However, personalizing every feedback entry for every student would take too much time away from grading and other important interactions. As with all things, moderation is key. Try provide a few personal interactions for each student, each semester, letting them know that the instructor is committed to their success and is willing to connect with students on a more personal level.

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.