#bestpracticemonday – The Importance of Rubrics in Blackboard Courses

Rbrics CubeThis blog has covered the importance of communication strategies when leading an online course. Students who feel like they have effective lines of communication during an online course tend to have a higher opinion of the course’s quality. Part of effective communication lies in the explanation of assessment and evaluation of student work. The Blackboard learning management system has a tool that can assist faculty when communicating around grading and assessment. This tool is called the Blackboard Rubric.

Rubric (Definition)
A rubric is a way to communicate expectations of quality about an assignment or activity.

The Blackboard Rubric is an assessment tool that lists evaluation criteria for an assignment, and provides a means to convey to students your expectations for the quality of completed assignments. This tool is an effective means to enhance an online instructor’s communication strategy. The Blackboard Rubric tool is important for three reasons.

  1. Using a Blackboard Rubric Clears up any Grading Ambiguity for Students
  2. Using a Blackboard Rubric Makes Grading Easier and Consistent
  3. Using a Blackboard Rubric Lets Students Know What they Need to Succeed

Using a Blackboard Rubric Clears up any Grading Ambiguity for Students

Students in online courses can feel like they have multiple reasons to be anxious about their experience. Technology glitches, digital proficiencies, and communication snafus are all obstacles that can present a problem for online students. This does not even take into account how students interpret results from assignments and activities they have turned in. In a face-to-face environment, students have the luxury of talking to the professor during class or stopping by the office to talk about their grade. Online students who want to know why they received the grade they did have to jump through hoops at times to determine where they went wrong. For a student, just seeing a number in their My Grades area of Blackboard doesn’t give them the full picture.

Rubric Criterion with Feedback BoxThe Blackboard Rubric tool provides an easy method for communicating about student performance. How a student performed is not only detailed by the indicated criterion and level of achievement, but the instructor has the ability to provide further individual feedback at the individual criterion level. If one specific criterion has three levels of possible achievement, then Blackboard instructor will have the ability to leave feedback right where the student landed for their assignment/activity.

Giving students the tools to understand how they performed, will equip them with the ability to not only understand why they performed the way they did, it can also enable them to improve upon their performance.

Using a Blackboard Rubric Makes Grading Easier and Consistent

Grading assignments/activities in Blackboard can take a fair amount of an online instructor’s time. One way to simplify the process and give both the instructor and the students a detailed explanation of the evaluation is to grade with the Rubric Tool. Blackboard Rubrics can be associated with:

  • Assignments
  • Essay, Short Answer and File Response test questions
  • Blogs and Journals
  • Wikis
  • Discussion board forums and threads

This means that each of these activities can be graded using the Rubric tool. Once a rubric is associated with a Blackboard activity, the instructor can access the gradable item via the Grade Center, on the Needs Grading page, or directly from the tool. Once in the in-line grading or grading view the View Rubric (button or link) is clicked and the instructor can select the level of achievement for each criterion and the points are automatically tabulated!

Using a Blackboard Rubric Lets Students Know What they Needs to Succeed

SuccessIf a student knows what it takes to succeed at a particular assignment, they are far more likely to be successful themselves. The Blackboard Rubric tool has the ability to allow the students to see the Rubric BEFORE they complete the assignment.

When viewing a Blackboard activity a link is provided to your students to View the Rubric. They then see the activity levels of achievement and criterion. The rubric gives them visibility into what it takes to not meet requirements, meet the requirements, and exceed the requirements for the activity. The rubric then becomes the book-ends for the assignment: a guide for what they need to be successful and a tool for letting them know how they performed.

At the very least, the use of Blackboard Rubrics can help students organize their efforts to meet the requirements of an assignment, and you can use them to explain evaluations to students. Rubrics can help ensure consistent and impartial grading. They are important because they clear up grading ambiguity, make grading easier, and provide a pathway to success.

For more on the Blackboard Rubric tool, check out the Assessment link in your Teaching Online with Blackboard tab or by visiting the Blackboard Help pages.

Where to Start – Example Rubrics

Introducing Turnitin for Ipad

SHSU Faculty can now grade Turnitin assignments submitted via Blackboard on the iPad.  iPad users can visit the App Store to download the convenient app.

Turnitin for iPad

In order to grade the Turnitin assignments submitted via your Blackboard course you will need to generate an access code that you can use to connect the Turnitin App to your Blackboard courses.

How to Generate your Turnitin Code

  1. Log into Blackboard @ SHSU
  2. Open any submitted Turnitin Assignment and access the Turnitin document viewer (the view that shows you the originality report) for the assignment.
  3. Click the iPad button to get the access code (lower left).

 Get Class Code Button

  1.  Click Generate Code

 Generate Code

  1. Copy the code or write it down.
  2. Go to the Turnitin for iPad app and tap the Access Code tab.
  3. Paste or enter your access code and tap the Add button.

Add A Class

Note:  Each class you want to add requires a unique access code.  To grade Turnitin assignments from other courses, you will need to:

  • Go through steps 1-4 above to get the access code for each class.
  • Open Turnitin for iPad
  • Tap the User Profile button (upper right)
  • Choose Add Class with Access Code
  • Enter the code and tap Add

For more information and helpful how-to’s, visit the Turnitin support page here: http://turnitin.com/en_us/training/instructor-training#ipad

#bestpracticemonday blog – Use Smart Views to corral unruly group assignments in the Blackboard Grade Center

Leveraging course groups, as part of a course plan is one of the most important things an online instructor can do to encourage student engagement in an online course.

Course GroupsBenefits of course groups include:

  • Ready-made collaboration activities
  • Activities are usually recorded (discussions, blogs, wikis)
  • Critical thinking encouraged with peer review of group work
  • Students become content creators

While group activities are beneficial to students, they can create extra work for you when it comes to grading. Thankfully, Blackboard has a handy tool in the grade center to cut down on the multiple columns you have to sort through when trying to grade group work. To manage the amount of columns and list only the groups or a specific group, just employ a Smart View.

A Smart View is a focused look at the Grade Center. It shows only the columns that match a set of criteria, and the view is saved for continued use. When the Grade Center includes a great number of students and columns, you can use smart views to quickly find data.

Several smart views are available by default, but you can also create your own. You can easily move between the Full Grade Center view and any of the available smart views. You can set a smart view as the default view of the Grade Center and change it at any time.

Smart View Selection CriteriaWith smart views, you can view the progress of the following:

  • An existing group
  • Student performance for a particular item
  • Individual students
  • Category and status of items
  • Custom combination of attributes

The Smart View list can be accessed via the manage button in the grade center. The Smart Views can be added to the Favorites that already show up in the grade center menu of your control panel (includes assignments, tests by default). They can also be created from this page.

*Note: You will need to create course groups before you can create a group-based Smart View.

The Smart Views will let you focus on exactly what you want and nothing you don’t. Be careful though, once you start using Blackboard’s Smart Views in the grade center for groups, you’ll find yourself using them on other things like tracking low scores for students who need help or to compare two different types of assessments for starters.

#bestpracticemonday – How to Choose Technology-Based Tools

Teaching online can seem like wading through a super store of technological innovation when it comes to the amount of technological aids available. There are a bevy of tools that can brought to bear when it comes to enhancing and equipping student learning. The challenge comes in deciding which of these tools to use when putting together a course plan. It is very easy to be mesmerized by the shiny object with all the bells and whistles when browing through available tech tools. The instructor is immediately assailed with questions. Which tool works best? Which tool will the students like? Is it too new? Is it too old?

Making ChoicesWhen picking technologies to use in an online course, keep these four things in mind:

  1. Learning Objectives
  2. Know The Audience
  3. Logistical Considerations
  4. Instructor Comfort Level

Learning Objectives

Learning ObjectivesOnline instructors seem to have more options than ever when it comes to technology choices for their courses. Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are inundated by technology products that claim to work with big ideas and catchy concepts like gamification of learning and the ability to disrupt the status quo. The pressure of keeping up with the Dr. Joneses alone can make a teacher’s technology tool belt feel more like a burden than an aid.

It is during this maelstrom of keywords and catchphrases that it is important to ask if the chosen tool will assist in completing learning objectives. Hold firm to the mantra that it’s the method, not the medium. If the tool assists in completing learning objectives, then it is the right tool for the job.

Know The Audience

Know the AudienceWalking into a situation already knowing how the audience will react is a tremendous benefit for anyone and even more so for an online instructor. Knowing the student audience in an online course greatly influences the technology choices that are made.

Knowing the audience isn’t some innate psychic power that online instructors are born with. Some of this knowledge comes from past teaching experience and some comes from working through activities as a course progresses. One of the best ways to know the audience of an online course is to take a technology literacy survey early on in the course. This helps to establish a basic comfort level for participants and helps the instructor know which tools fill a learning need without raising anxiety levels.

Logistical Considerations

Logistical ConsiderationsChoosing the right technology can be seriously impacted by logistical considerations. These considerations can be student-centric like a lack of high-speed Internet or a total lack of technology all together at certain periods of time. Military service members in particular may have stretches of time where they do not have access to high-def technology, so scheduling a web conference may not be a good idea.

There is another side of logistics that must also be thought about. The support structure for online instructors is a huge logistical consideration when choosing technology. If a technology in use by instructors and students stops working during the course of a term, who is responsible for fixing it? If students need help getting the technology to work, is there a support number, web or e-mail address that they can use? Do the online instructor and students have access to a help desk? Do the help desk hours coincide with times that the technology will be used? All of these logistical considerations need to be taken into account when picking technology to use in an online course.

Instructor Comfort Level

This last part was almost not included in that it should be an understood value when it comes to tech tool selection. The online instructor needs to be comfortable with the technology tools they choose. It does the online students no good if the instructor’s anxiety level is up. Students take their behavioral queues from the teacher. If the instructor seems like they have a firm grasp of the technology and can calmly relate appropriate usage, then the student will feel the same way. Conversely, if the instructor is flustered and communicates stress when trying to use the tool, the students will reflect that stress and frustration right back.

Comfort with technology is gained by practice. Before introducing a tool to students, the online instructor should work with the tool on and off line to ensure that it works and that he or she is familiar with all of the technological “bumps in the road” that may arise. Where possible the instructor should use the tool in a current class where the students can passively view the results before trying it themselves. For example, he or she can use a presentation software like Prezi for lecture materials BEFORE asking the students to create a presentation of their own.

Choosing Technology

These 4 items can be of assistance when deciding which technologies to use. Working through them will save time and frustration before the online course begins.

Remember, the technologies out there might seem like the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if they don’t help meet learning objectives, if the audience isn’t taken into account, if logistical considerations aren’t thought about and if the instructor isn’t comfortable with the technologies then they are much like the bard wrote, “full of sound and fury and signifying nothing”.

The Secret to Student Success in Your Online Course

Hidden TreasureSo, you want to know how to help facilitate student success in your online courses huh? The good news is that it isn’t like the search for the holy grail or an Indiana Jones-like adventure to find a hidden treasure. It is simply a matter of systematically and uniformly taking certain steps when deploying course activities/assignments throughout your course.

So take comfort in the knowledge that their are no rooms full of snakes or other dangers involved. The secret to student success in your online course revolves around these three things being given with each graded activity:

  1. Provide Assignment Instructions (Context)
  2. Provide Technical Instructions (How to use assignment/activity/submission tool)
  3. Demonstrate what success will look like for the particular assignment/activity (Rubric)


InstructionsThis one seems like a no-brainer, right? We all provide assignment instructions don’t we? At first glance you might think that you have this taken care of because you put all of your assignment instructions in your syllabus. However, we know that a student who is in the middle of a unit in your online course looks for the instructions to be chunked along with the course activities. So to give context to your students; to let them know why they where they are and what they need to be doing there, place instructions at the unit and individual assignment/activity level.

Whether you are deploying a discussion board, a electronic submission assignment or a collaborate wiki, providing contextual instruction for what the activity is the first step in steering your students toward success.


how-to-logoAs has been stated before in this blog, your students may be living in a digital age, but that does not mean that they are all digital natives. Keeping that in mind, it is never wise to assume that they already know how to use every tool you will employ in your online course. This is the case when dealing with clicking on a link so a folder will open, replying to a post in a discussion forum, or creating a blog post for a reflection assignment.

To ease student anxiety and cut down on late night e-mails or phone call to the helpdesk, place technical instructions for how to use the activity tool directly inside the assignment or activity. This would be for example, letting students know how to create discussion board posts and how to reply to them as part of the instructions for the activity.


Success If a student knows what it takes to succeed at a particular assignment, they are far more likely to be successful themselves. You can give your students this path to success with a few easy keystrokes. This could be something as simple as you demonstrating a successful discussion post in an introductory discussion forum, or you providing a good example of APA formatting for citations in a paper. One of the best ways for you to demonstrate what success looks like is to use a rubric.

Merriam-Webster describe a rubric as:

a guide listing specific criteria for grading or scoring academic papers, projects, or tests

Using a Rubric tool or providing a Rubric document along with assignments and activities lets the student know what kinds of steps they need to take to be successful in completion of that particular activity. It also provides the added benefit of communicating to students how they did or did not measure up to the expectations of the assignment after it is graded.

These three steps when applied systematically and uniformly throughout an online course can be the difference between success and failure for an online student. These concepts are not really that new or paradigm shifting in that teachers have been doing these things for years, but leveraging them together will be putting another tool in your teaching tool belt that helps you equip your students to succeed in their online courses.

4 Ways Teaching Online is Like Running a Marathon

Jacob Finishing his First MarathonAdmittedly, the body of this post may or may not be heavily influenced by the fact that I just completed my first marathon, but I do believe that the comparison is a sound one.   No, running 26.2 miles hasn’t boiled my brains.  While training for this event I started thinking about these two as parallels and after finishing my run, I’m even more convinced.

So before I spend more time rejoicing in my accomplishment and/or my soreness here are the comparisons:

1.  Running A Marathon or Teaching an Online Course Requires Preparation

I didn’t just wake up Saturday morning and decide that I wanted to run a marathon that day.  Months ago, I began a scheduled series of runs to prepare me for the event.  My legs weren’t ready for a marathon back in April when I decided I wanted to this.  Three and a half months of preparation went into making sure I could complete my long distance run.

Successful online instructors begin planning for their online courses long before uploading the syllabus or posting their first announcement.   They start aligning curriculum to objectives before the first day of class.  They decide on a course plan, technologies and strategies for assessment, communication and collaboration if they are redesigning their own course, or they work with a colleague or instructional designer if they are teaching online for the first time or using canned content.

Start Slow2. Whether Teaching Online or Running a Marathon – Start Slow

Running 26.2 miles takes a lot out of you.  Beginning slowly helps you store up energy for when you need and it starts warming your body up for the long road ahead.  Usually you are in a crowd of people and confusion erupts if you start tripping over your own feet or someone else’s when trying to get out with a fast start.  Finally you just want to slowly adjust your body to the rigor of a marathon.

A measured start to an online course is also important for instructors.  Whether you are teaching for 4 weeks or 4 months a slow start benefits you and your students.  First, you cut down on the confusion and anxiety that can be experienced at the outset by helping your student to get their feet wet with some introductory activities.  Take the time let the students get to know each other and the course environment.  It may take a day or two or week depending on the length of the term, but it pays off in the end.

3.  In Online Courses just like Marathons – There WILL be Problems

Obstacles - Snake in RoadSo, on August 3rd I didn’t set out to have problems when I began my run.  It was 6 in the morning; temperature in the low 80s and a light breeze was blowing.  All in all, it looked like a good day for a run.  However, before I finished my race I ran into some issues.  A little over halfway through the race my feet started to develop blisters.   Let me tell you, there is nothing more fun than running on blisters. I had done enough research to know that this could happen and just put up with the pain knowing that I would finish and be able to get off of my feet.  However, a very unexpected obstacle was thrown in my path about ¾ of the way through the event.  I was on my way back during my 3rd circuit and saw a 6-foot long King snake slither across the trail.  I immediately stopped and warned the folks behind me that we had a cold-blooded obstacle in our path.  We didn’t have an immediate way to deal with the snake, so we just waited patiently for it to cross the trail and went on our way.

There is an old adage when it comes to working with technology.  It goes: “It is not a matter of IF technology will fail, it is a matter of WHEN technology will fail.” Online courses by their very nature are technology-rich environments.  Students (and you) use multiple types of technology to view, communicate and interact with course materials and each other.

Just like in a race obstacles can get in the way of you and your students participating in your online course.   You will experience issues that you are familiar with.  These issues revolve around things like power outages, Internet blips, browser issues and a few others.  They have happened before and you generally know how to deal with them.  Sometimes you will come across the unaccounted for “snake in your path” when teaching an online course.  When you encounter these issues, the most important thing to do is to keep the lines of communication open.  Let your students know that you know there is a problem.  Reassure them that it will pass and that things will continue once it is cleared up.  Reaching out to your students lowers anxiety and lets them know that you understand what they are going through.

Finish Strong4.  In a Long Distance Race or an Online Course – Finish Strong

When doing my last mile, I reminded myself of all the hard work I put into my training.  The hours of time I spent running, the different distances, the regularly scheduled workouts I committed to each week and the mental endurance to stay focused all came to a head in that mile as I kicked through to the finish.

Wrapping up an online course should pull everything together for your students.  They should be able to connect the dots of their learning and see the big picture of what they got out of their online course. You and they should feel a sense of accomplishment in finishing the course.

Participating in a marathon and teaching an online course are both “long distance” activities.  They both require a commitment of time, effort and energy from the participant.    If you prepare for your course before starting it, allow for an orientation period or “slow start”, be ready for obstacles and communicate through them and finish strong by connecting the dots for your students you will come out ahead with a “finished race” and a “good time”.