Looking for a 1st week of class activity? Introduce your students to Blackboard’s Social Learning tools.

One of the most important things your students can do while they pursue their education is to begin to build their PLN or Personal/Professional Learning Network.

A personal learning network is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment. In a PLN, a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection.

Linked-in, Twitter feeds, professional user groups, blogs and connections your students make to colleagues are all examples of ways students can extend their PLN.  Blackboard now offers a way students can begin this experience with the new Social Learning Tools.

With Blackboard’s social learning tools you can:

  • Have an enhanced Profile where you create your online academic identity and share only what you want to share. Profiles include a profile wall for communication and the ability to message and follow other users to make connections and build your learning network.
  • Use the People tool to find your students and peers, at your school or at another school with Blackboard Learn, and build your global learning network.
  • Message anyone within the global learning network.
  • Create a collaboration Space that you control, where you can communicate with others for departmental collaboration, best practice sharing, committee work, or to foster social learning among your students. You can also participate in spaces created by your peers or students.

Why the First Week?

  • Familiarizes the student with the My Blackboard menu which gives them access to their social profile as well as the dashboard for what’s going on in all of their courses.
  • Provides a way for student to identify themselves via photo and professional, educational and social information.  Once student has uploaded a photo, every interaction they make in your course will display their photo along side it so you and fellow students can connect with each other.
  • Let’s the students know that you are interested in them as more than just a person taking a class, which can start their learning journey out on the right foot.
  • Greases the wheels of communication:  Prompts the students to start collaborating/interacting from the start.

You can find instructions for using these tools in the Teaching Online tab in Blackboard and your students can find instructions through the Getting Started tab.  Both sets of instructions are accessed by using the Get Connected link in their respective course’s navigation menu.  You can also find instructions on the web here at help.blackboard.com.

Three Ways to Ensure Student Success when Teaching Online

Student SucessInstructors who teach online must cover a number of bases when working with students in an online environment.   You must be mentors, knowledge sharers, tech support, facilitators of learning, and technology gurus in your own right.    It is easy to see that trying to wear all of these hats can make an online instructor’s life difficult and that student success becomes an afterthought to just surviving an online course.

The good news is that there are ways to ensure your students have a successful learning journey.  There are methods, best practices, tips & tricks that can make your life and the lives of your students easier when participating in an online course.  For this blog, we will focus on three:

  1. Start Here
  2. Model the Behavior You Want to See
  3. Contextualize Your Instruction

Start HEreStart Here

We often assume that students that come into our online courses are digital natives and will somehow intrinsically know how to find their way around when they first enter an online course.  Aside from the fact that not every student born after 1990 has a computer implanted in their brain, more and more students pursing an online education are non-traditional students and may not feel as comfortable in the online environment.

This is why it is a good idea to use a Start Here unit or content area in your course.  You can leverage the unit as a kind of “this is how my course works” walk-through for your students.  It should contain things like course expectations, a welcome message or video from you, introductory discussion and any other information that can help your students be successful in your course.  Tips like “assignments, discussions and quizzes are located in each course unit (Weeks)” can answer questions before they are even asked.

Giving your students a “standard operating procedure” for how your course will work will go a long way toward reducing their anxieties about your course and put them on a path for success.

Model the Behavior You Want to See

One way that parents impart knowledge to their young is to demonstrate whatever it is they would like their progeny to do.  When you teach, adopt the same practice in order to ensure that your students know what is expected of them.  Giving the students a guide or working rubric for what is acceptable can go a long way toward ensuring student success.  If you are having them turn in papers, give them a non-topic specific example of how you’d like their papers formatted.  It doesn’t have to be an entire paper, but an example of what you are looking for from them.  When using the Learning Management System’s discussion board for the first time in your class, be the first person take make the post.  This works best in an “Introductions” discussion. Provide the instruction and then provide the example that follows that instruction.  The same thing goes for blogs, wikis and journals.

Giving your students an example of the online course behaviors will reduce the amount of uncertainty that naturally comes when taking an online course.  Remember that some of them may never have submitted an assignment online or participated in an online discussion.  Taking the extra time early in your course to provide guidance will help your students feel at ease and let them know that you are engaged in the course along with them.

Contextualize Your Instruction

Contextual InstructionThink of your online course as a new destination for your students on their learning journey.  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”?  These questions can be easily put to rest by providing contextual instruction wherever your students are within the course. If you put every bit of instruction your students would need for the course within the syllabus you would end up with the document that rivals to War and Peace in its width and breadth.   Compare how hard it would be to locate instruction in a 20 page document versus instruction in the same area where your students are currently working.  College students are used to living in a connected world where they can find instructions for how to do something right where they are via their mobile device or computer. Taking the extra time to provide instruction in the context of where the students are in your course is easy.  Here are a few examples:

  • Place unit level or assignment specific ojbectives throughout your course. Traditionally we have left Learning Objectives in the syllabus and forgotten about them.  By placing objectives in the unit where the student is working or on the assignment the student is focusing on, you remind the students why they are doing what they are doing, and connect the students to course content in a way that keeps them focused on the topic at hand.
  • Create a locked INSTRUCTIONS thread in each discussion. Not all LMSs have the facility to keep the forum instructions/description where posts and replies are made.  Make the first post of the discussion be a locked INSTRUCTIONS thread that students cannot reply to but is available for them to ensure they remember what they need to do in the forum.
  • When placing content in folders, units, learning modules & containers, be descriptive.  When creating a folder to place a unit’s worth of course materials, be sure to provide a description to students of what is in the folder. Remember that old adage “Tell them what you are going to tell them“.  Placing descriptions on each content folder, unit or module leaves the students with no question as to what those items contain and reduces the stress of not knowing where to click.
  • Provide “signs” that tell the students where to go and what to do.  This last point on contextualizing your instruction may seem like it comes straight out of the Department of Double Redundancy Department, but it is well worth it to ensure that there is no confusion on the part of your online students.  Online students don’t always know where to go or what to click on to advance in your course.  A great best practice is to provide the contextual instruction for students so that they will successfully navigate your course.  When you do use a folder, or unit for organization be sure to tell them to click the title when you type up your folder/unit description.  Also, with some LMSs you can change the title of this particular container/item to blue.  Blue is the universal color of links and will help draw the student’s eye. Lastly, place an item at the end of your unit telling the students where to go next.  Don’t assume that they always know what comes next in your online course. Provide them with a signpost that points the way!

As with all strategies for success, don’t feel you need to implement all of these at once.  You can use them all, but don’t feel like you have to.  Pick one of them to use this time and become comfortable with it.  Next time add another and so on.  We all want to be in the business of student success.  We want to see our students succeed.  With a little extra effort you can help ensure that students fewer obstacles in their path when it comes to being successful in your online course.  Implementing a Start Here unit in your course, modeling the behavior  you want your students to exhibit and contextualizing your instructions will help set you and your students on a path to success.

BbWorld 13 Session: Learning Content in the Cloud: An Introduction to Blackboard XpLor, A Cross-Platform Learning Object Repository and Authoring Environment

Richard Caccavale, Senior Director, Product Marketing, Blackboard Cloud Services

Brent Mundy, Director, Product Management, Blackboard Cloud Services

What are the current problems we encounter when sharing learning objects?

  • Learning objects are often copied over and over within an LMS.
  • Material has to be manually exported and imported to other LMS platforms.
  • There isn’t a simple way to apply copyright to items.
  • Searching for content is difficult.

Blackboard xpLor is a cloud based learning object repository with authoring tools that addresses: authoring, copyright, sharing, discovery, and delivery.


You can create individual learning objects, like an exam, assignment or class lecture, as well as collections, like a module/unit or an entire course in xpLor. XpLore allows you to upload files and add links from websites. You can upload an entire collection if it’s in a common cartridge.


Creative Commons is built into the system (CC BY, CC BY-SA, CC BY-NC, CC BY-NC-SA). CC BY is the default. Publisher material is not allowed. XpLor was created with crowd-sourced material in mind.


You can choose to keep a learning object private, to share it with select users (premium version), or make it open to all. If an item is updated, the original item in your course will not change, but you will be made aware of the  updated version.


Users can subscribe to channels, (similar to following someone on Twitter). You can have channels for individual users, groups, and subjects. You can search by keyword, subject, and aligned standards.


XpLor integrates with your LMS, and delivers content through the LMS using Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI). Gradable items will populate in the Grade Center. At this point in time, assignments do not show up in Needs Grading. LTI links allow for a seamless connection of xpLor content in the LMS. When students view the content, they see their institutions LMS heading and the xpLor content appears below that.

XpLor knows who you are, where you came from, and your roll, so when you go to add content to your course, they know what folders are in your course, and adding is as easy as choosing the folder you want.

SHSU doesn’t offer xpLor yet, but it’s on the horizon.

BbWord 2013 Session – Understanding the Lifecycle of a Bug: Transparency around the Known Issue and Patch Process

Heather Maniscalco
Business Process Analyst, Support Operations
Blackboard, Inc.

    Goals and Expectations

To be transparent
To be efficient
To communicate
To respond

    Key Improvements

Behind the blackboard
Issue Tracking System
Dedicated Knowledge Base support
Bug and Patch processes

    Case Review and the Escalation Process

Issue submitted
Tier 1 reviews the case
Issue is a known bug > case associated with the bug and closed, Tier 2 reviews case > if Tier 2 cannot fix it is escalated to Tier 3
Other Answer > Duplicate Answer/Not possible
Needs further investigation > Triage Process > Tier 3


Before bug creation, it is determined if there is a duplicate bug and the case is updated accordingly
All client bugs for the week are reviewed in a Learn Triage Review once a week

Bug targeting variables:
Priority and severity
Number of clients reporting
Approved patch request status

Future Referenced Bugs generally meet the following criteria:
Medium priority/medium severity or lower
Only one client affected
Non-core component
Valid workaround exists

Bugs are ranked for each service pack
About halfway through an SP development, bugs are reviewed again

Will Not Fix status:
Future Reference bugs that have been closed
Phased out or rewritten components
Technologies beyond the purview of Blackboard

    Known Issue Creation and Publication

Known issue articles are ones that describe a known bug
Publish these articles within 48 hours of bug creation
Update these articles as information changes
Review the articles once per year

We do not publish articles based on bugs that are:
Security related
Will not fix
Functioning as Designed

If an issue is not created to a bug, a general article may be created for the issue
The best way to keep track of an issue is with the article number and title
We are phasing out the use of the LRN numbers when publishing information
The new retrieval limit for known issues is 3000
Search enhancements

Articles should contain:
Affected service packs
Target release
Patch information
Steps to replicate


Basic Patch Acceptance Criteria:
Issue is an acknowledged bug
Request is for the last three service pack general releases
Issue affects critical functionality, stability or performance
Issue is preventing an upgrade to a supported product or service pack, or from self-hosted to managed hosting

Basic Patch Rejection Reasons:
Issue is related to a single course or user
Mainline issue is Future Reference, which assumes that the issue is non-critical

Patch Prioritization:
All patch requests are reviewed four days a week

Patches are coded or back ported from the mainline code base
As soon as the patch is crated and code reviewed, the patch will be targeted to the next available Cumulative Patch
We generally have a maximum of seven issues per CP
All patches in a CP are full QA tested
Information delivered in a Support Bulletin. Tree will be links in the Support Bulletin to the appropriate KB articles

    Feedback and Client Involvement

Client Support
Surveys on articles
Client support phone numbers

    Bug Squad

The purpose is to leverage client expertise to aid us in prioritizing bugs
Login to Behind the Blackboard and navigate to Bug Squad under Get Involved

BbWorld 2013 Session – Open Database and DIY Analytics

Scott Kodai, Manager, Distributed Learning Technologies
California State University, Chico

  • Chico State creates a blank course shell for every course offered
  • We need to determine how many of those course shells are used by faculty
  • We also want to know how those course shells are used

Do faculty use the course shells as a content repository or a collaborative tool?

    Database Information

Database query produces CSV spreadsheet
course_main table; 1 the course is available, 2 it is unavailable
course_users table: 1 the users in the course are available, 2 they are unavailable
available_ind Y or N
Default instructor role is P, make sure to include the code for any custom roles

    Course Contents

course_content table links to course_main table, so you can see which course it comes from
cnthndlr_handle points to particular tool (assignments, blogs, wiki, etc)

Best way to identify assignments (in case there are any courses where instructor has hidden assignments from previous semester course copy and they are unused) is to query the gradebook_main tables for courses

That table also contains due dates and availability, as well as whether the column was created by user or by the system
One gradebook_grade table created for each cell in the gradebook

In discussions, msg_main table contains msgmain_pk1 which indicates whether it is a reply, will be null if not
Journals are blogs, in the blogs table, with journal_ind field set to Y
Wiki content is stored in Xythos and not available in OpenDB, use dtmodified attribute where date modified is after the start of the semester
Announcements, use dtcreated attribute because courses may have unavailable announcements from previous semester

    Running the Query

You have to use terms to group your courses
You will need to adjust any dates, since they are hard-coded in the query

BIRT building block allows you to run queries directly on database through user interface


BbWorld13 Session: Incorporating Student-Centered Activities within Blackboard Learn Courses

Session Title: Incorporating Student-Centered Activities within Blackboard Learn Courses
Thursday, July 11 9:25 – 9:50
Venetian|Palazzo Congress Center, Bellini 2003

Erika Wilkinson
Dean of Online & Continuing Education
Central Penn College

Being student centered must spill into every aspect of university life.

The Approach:

Start with Literature Review, Get Buy-in, Highlight non-student centered policies and develop professional development sessions.

Definitions & Review of Activities  (wikis to discuss class policies, journals for refleciton and dbs for collabo)

Instructor Centered vs. Student Centered

Don’t just stand there and share your expertise.  Involve the students, be collaborative.  Its about how you engage with your students.

Things (Topics that can be discussed)  Give Students options, get student buy-in and opinion on what they want to look into.

People (How you view it) – How you engage with students is important

Process (How the Information is shared)  Same thing every week (PPT, Discussion, Assignment)Have students post lecture notes (outline) by group.  Include your students!

Teaching is now how many posts are in DB or if curriculum is uploaded.  Teaching is how you are engaging your students!

Class Policies – Provide opportunity for students to take ownership of course requirements – Use Wiki with students to determine class policies:  Allow Student Editing, Allow Student Commenting, Decide if participation is graded.  “Class are we going to allow late work?”  “Should there be a penalty”?  “Should Extra Credit be available?” Post rationale.

REFLECTION – Provides opportunity for students to engage in learning. Bb Tool:  Journal – Weekly or Monthly entries, allow users to edit or delete, permit course users to view journal (Private vs. public), graded journal.

Journal Activity – Reflect on your personal goals for the class as they align with the course objective.  By the end of each week post a reflection on how this weeks assignments aligned with your goals and any modifications you anticipate in behavior for upcoming assignments.

Collaborate – encourage students and teachers to learn from one another. Bb tool: DB, WIKI, COLLAB SESSIONS.  Have students work together on review assignments for upcoming exams or presentations.

DB example – Give students roles in managing their own discussion


Begin on small scale, communicate new approach with students, use Bb tools to:

  • engage students in their learning
  • encourage students to reflect on their learning
  • motivate students by empowering them
  • Encourage students and faculty to learn from one another

BbWorld 2013 Session – Extend + Integrate Blackboard Learn with LTI

Melissa Stange
Bb System Administrator, Shenandoah University

Chris Borales
Sr. Manager Technical Product Marketing

LTI = Learning Tools Interoperability

Basic LTI: LTI 1.0 used to be just a link to external 3rd party content
LTI: 1.1 more integrated with Bb, building blocks
LTI 2.0: coming soon, grade book access

Tool providers are publishers
Tool consumer is Blackboard

Right now, it is being done by using web links and building blocks

    LTI in the Real World

Allowing faculty to extend the capabilities of Blackboard, enhances academic freedom
Students don’t have to go to another site and create an account and bring the item back in, it’s within Blackboard
Several sites already have LTI connections on their site
Students don’t even know they are using a third-party site, it looks like they are using blackboard

    Why use LTI?

Expand learning without complicating the experience

http://www.edu-apps.org has several tools already
Configured in Building Blocks area of the Sys Admin panel
In Content Area, use Add LTI tool (can also be configured via Placement to change the name)
Or for a one-off use Add Web Link from Build Content, check “This link is a Tool Provider” checkbox

Sys Admin has option to allow faculty to add the one-off and be alerted when they add one
Step-by-step instructions: http://tinyurl.com/LTIsetup