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.

 

 

Connect your Online Course – Give Students a GPS for Course Content

Connect Your CourseWhen you travel somewhere for the first time, doesn’t it seem to take a little bit longer to get there than it does to return home? Whether it is unfamiliar surroundings, difficulty reading the map or the GPS isn’t up to date, it can be frustratingly slow to travel to new places.

Think of your online course as that new destination for your students. How would they describe their navigation experience? Would they say that once they travel into your course that it is difficult to find their way back? Would they say that the course links were easy to find and use? Would they be frustrated trying to make it to their “destination”?

Even when we try to organize the course so it is organized into more digestible “chunks” for the students, we can make it hard to maneuver. Imagine a student lost in a Escher print of folders within folders within folders.

Connecting your course by organizing, clearly naming your navigation elements and providing an “escape route” will save your students and ultimately you time when putting together your online course.

Below are steps you can take to connect your course and save time for you and your students:

  • Use Dividers and Subheaders to visually organize your course’s navigation menu.

    Course Menu

  • Append the text (Click the title above to Open) on descriptions for folders, learning modules, lesson plans, web and course links.
    Click to Access text
  • Make the content item Blue if you want your students to click it
  • Chunk your course content as you would teach it in your face-to-face course. For example: Put all Chapter content in chapter folder with different sub-folders for each chapter.
  • Provide an Escape Route by placing a Course Link at the bottom of a unit of study so that the student can navigate back to where they were before easily.
    Course Link

Promote Student Engagement by ‘Personalizing’ Your Online Course

Personalized Learning

The Glossary of Education Reform defines student engagement as:

the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their learning

Personalized LearningIf the above is true, then there are many ways an online instructor can impact the attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion of students. This particular blog post deals with how personalizing an online course can increase student engagement. When an online instructor and students can invest more of themselves in an online course, the satisfaction levels reported by those same students will go up.

This particular view of online course personalization will be broken into 5 areas:


Placing Yourself in the Course

Place Yourself in the CoursePrevious posts on this blog have focused on instructor presence in the online course. We’ve talked about establishing routines to ensure prompt feedback and instructor availability. This particular practice revolves around something a little more superficial, but important nonetheless.

Students in an online course like to feel that they know who you are. A text-based introductory paragraph or post in a “getting to know you” discussion forum may not fully encompass who you are to the student. Why not take one small step and add a picture of yourself to the course. You may already be familiar with the best practice of establishing a Virtual Office in your course where you can answer student questions. Why not add your photo and contact information in this same area and personalize your office.

Here at SHSU, Blackboard allows you to set up a Social Profile that places your picture wherever you interact in a course (discussions, blog & wiki posts, grade center etc..). If your students feel like they “know” you, they are more likely to reach out to you and less likely to drift off into obscurity.

The logical next step in this progression is for you to utilize video to connect yourself to your course and your students, but that is a post for another time.


Allowing Students to Place Themselves in the Course

Online StudentsIn online courses it is easy for students to believe that they operate in a vacuum. They punch their ticket fulfill obligations, and never get a good look at who is on this learning journey with them. Allowing students to place themselves in your online course begins to build that learning community that encourages students to be successfully engaged.

Why not have your student find a way to place their image in your course. Have them attach/upload/insert their picture as part of an introductory activity. Some Learning Management Systems like Blackboard, allow students to create their own Social Profile that includes an image and biography. After the profile is created the student’s face appears in the course roster, grade center and course activities (blogs, wikis, discussions, group activities etc..).

Having student/faculty images in your online course allows a more cohesive integration of group activity and shared learning.


Allowing Students to Personalize Their Learning

Personalize We know that student satisfaction goes up when they feel like they have some “skin in the game” when it comes to their learning experience. The challenge for many online instructors is figuring out how to incorporate student content-building or contributions to the online environment.

A good first step is to find out what they know and what they want to know more about. You as the instructor will define the boundaries from which they will pick, but a survey or KWL* assignment is a great way to start out a course.

*KWL – What do you know? What do you want to know? What have you learned?

You can also provide an element of continuous improvement in your courses by having your students journal each week or at an interval of your choosing. The journal entry could serve 2 purposes:

  1. Provide a graded assignment where the student reflects upon what they learned during the week.
  2. Allow the student to tell you what the high points and low points were of the previous unit of study.

The journaling activity will allow you to make course corrections (pun intended) during the course rather than finding out where you might have some issues when the course is finished and evaluations are in.

There are other methods for involving your students in this process. The scenarios are numerous, but here are a few ideas:

  • Have your students come up with the academic integrity policy for the course to increase buy-in. They can use a wiki or discussion board to share ideas around defining plagiarism and academic honesty.
  • Create an assignment dealing with constructing a study guide for the final and allow your students to contribute questions.
  • Use peer evaluation as a method for grading discussions and other assignments.


Feedback Early, Feedback Often

FeedbackProbably the most important way to ensure your students believe that you are personally involved in their learning is to provide prompt and frequent feedback. Think about how you feel when someone gives you kudos on a job well done or even coaching on a subject where you might need assistance. You feel like someone took a personal interest in something that you were doing, right? Students feel the same way about the feedback you provide via the course.

Here are some options:

  • Make feedback part of your daily routine as an online instructor
  • Change up how you provide feedback (text/audio/video)
  • Post a weekly announcement recapping the last week’s activities and previewing the current week.
  • Too many students to reply to discussion posts? Provide 1 summary post per discussion giving kudos and challenges when needed.
  • Schedule “office hours” where you can provide synchronous feedback a ’la chat or webinar when needed.


Personalization without Confusion

Sometimes in our desire to create a learning environment that is personal and engaging for the learner, we can add a layer of confusion that can separate the student from the learning experience we are trying to create.

So before we go tech-crazy or jump into a fun idea feeding frenzy take the following into account:

  • The Main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. If the personalization/engagement does not comport to the learning objective, then don’t do it!
  • Keep it simply single. Add one new wrinkle to your experience at a time. Don’t heighten student anxiety by adding lots of tools/tech that they’ve never seen before.
  • Don’t play Hide & Seek with course content and activities. If you started out putting content and activities in a certain order, stick with it!

Here are some quick and easy ways to provide personalization without confusing the issue:

  • Use images to introduce content/topics and break the monotony of the text monopoly!
  • While keeping the same routine/order of a unit of study, utilize different activities to differentiate the way students interact with the course.
  • Change up how you deliver content to students. Introduce a discussion activity a ‘la webcam recording or provide an audio introduction with assignment instructions that contain bonus points for those who listen.

These five methods of personalizing the online learning environment don’t have to all be done at once. As with most of the best practices on this blog, we encourage you to take it one step at a time. Remember if you feel overwhelmed, then odds are your students will too! Hopefully you will find your students paying more attention, being more curious, showing more interest, bubbling over with optimism and being passionate about their learning.

#bestpracticemonday – Netiquette for the Online Course

NetiquettePart of setting your students up for success in any course is to create a culture of success. We create a culture of success by ensuring students know what is expected of them and in some cases involving them in coming up with some of those expectations. Online students come into a course with their own thoughts and musings how about the course should operate and how they should interact with others.

Being proactive in establishing a positive culture of communication can mean the difference between student satisfaction and student frustration. A great way to encourage positive interactions in your course is to establish Netiquette or Internet Etiquette expectations for your online course.

This blog post will cover four different types of Netiquette for the online course. It is not an exhaustive list, but a great starting point or template from which to work. We will look at the following four areas:

  1. Netiquette – General Guidelines
  2. Netiquette for Discussion Forums
  3. Netiquette for E-mail
  4. Netiquette for Chats/Webinars

GuidelinesNetiquette – General Guidelines

  • Keep caps lock at a minimum for emphasis: IT MAKES YOU LOOK LIKE YOU ARE YELLING
  • Be careful when using humor or sarcasm as much can be lost in translation and give offense in the online environment
  • All communication should be at a college level and include correct spelling and grammar
  • Treat fellow students and instructor with respect in all types of online-communication (e-mail/chat/discussions/web meetings)
  • Use clear and concise language (e-mail does not easily reflect your implied meaning)
  • Avoid text speak and slang (sorry, no LOL, ROFL, LMBO or IMHO)
  • Use standard fonts and font size: Arial/Times New Roman, 11-12 pt font
  • Only use emoticons when appropriate ☺

Discussion Forums GraphicNetiquette for Discussion Forums

  • Review and edit post BEFORE posting
  • Spell-check, Spell-check, Spell-check
  • Stay on Topic
  • Cite any sources you reference in your post
  • No flaming or personal/insulting remarks
  • Provide well thought out replies to thread postings, “I agree” and “Great Post” are unacceptable
  • Be respectful of others’ opinions
  • Read previous messages in a thread BEFORE replying
  • Don’t regurgitate someone else’s post, make your own

E-mailNetiquette for E-mail

  • Include your name and return address in the e-mail signature
  • Be brief: Don’t try and write the sequel to War & Peace
  • Make your subject line descriptive
  • Limit the use of Reply All, does everyone need to see your response?
  • Be forewarned about “forward”: Be sure the original author is okay with you passing his/her e-mail on

WebinarNetiquette for Chats/Webinars

  • Don’t play with the whiteboard tools unless directed to do so by your instructor
  • If you are sharing your desktop be sure only topic appropriate windows are open
  • Use a headset/microphone combo, online meeting attendees don’t want to hear themselves through your speakers
  • Do not talk over others
  • Wait your turn to speak/use web cam
  • Make sure everything works BEFORE the session begins don’t try and get technical support in the middle of a lecture
  • If using a webcam be sure you have appropriate lighting, appropriate attire and limit distractions (pets, spouses, roommates, children)