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Seals sleeping

Photo credit: Rick La Mesa

You put a lot of work into your Blackboard course space. As we move through each semester there are tasks you can do to protect that work. This checklist can help you wrap up the semester and make the transition to a new semester run more smoothly.

Links throughout this post take you to specific “How To” pages at the CTL’s Blackboard Help site at: http://www.uvm.edu/ctl/blackboard

At the end of the semester

  • Download the final Backup of your Grade Center to store for your records.
  • Create, download, and store an Archive of your course. An Archive is a compressed file that contains all the information you have built in your course as well as your student grades. It can be used to build a new course and it should be saved as your backup of your grade center and your course materials.

Before the new semester starts

  • Log in to Blackboard and check that your course appears with the correct instructors associated with it. Instructors are added to Blackboard through the Banner system, by departmental staff.
  • Add TAs as soon as possible.
  • Gather your course materials, plan how you will organize them in your course space, create Tests or Surveys, and plan which tools you will use for assignments and course activities. Plan early if you intend to create and incorporate videos.
  • If you are reusing course material from a previous course, Archive the material from the old course, then Import it to the new course. Another way is with Course Copy command.
  • Begin planning your Grade Center. Visit the CTL Dr Is In so our staff can consult with you on strategies for using this tool most effectively and efficiently, especially if you are teaching large enrollment courses. See Dr Is In schedule here.
  • Post your Syllabus.
  • Make the course Available to students when you are ready for them to access it.

During the semester

  • Create and download an Archive of your course frequently throughout the semester. These will be your backup copies in case you need to restore any deleted material to your course.
  • Download and store a Backup of your Grade Center both before and after adding grades.
  • Try Color Coding in your Grade Center to easily see students at risk.

UVM’s Blackboard now has tools that allow instructors to connect their courses to publishers’ online textbook materials and assessments.

Jean Marc Côté, 1899

Jean Marc Côté, 1899

In the past, publishers sometimes offered “course cartridges” to place publisher materials into your Blackboard course space. Recently, however, they’ve been moving away from this method.

What we see most frequently now is that publishers host textbook materials on their own Learning Management Systems and provide a tool in Blackboard for instructors to connect their course spaces directly to the these systems.

You might think of this as the publishers having set up their own Blackboard course spaces for each textbook. When you want to use their online materials, you simply turn on the tool in your course to create the link between your course and theirs.

One advantage is that it streamlines students access—they don’t have to register or enter separate codes because this is handled automatically. They can even take quizzes/tests and use other interactive tools on the publisher’s site, and the results of this activity can be sent back to your Blackboard Grade Center.

UVM currently supports a number of publishers, including Cengage, Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Wiley, and Acrobatiq.
Read instructions here on how to add these tools to your course.

On May 14th, UVM’s Blackboard will be getting some new features and enhancements.

What’s new?

There are a number of minor cosmetic changes coming. For example, the logout button now looks like a power button, and the Needs Grading icon in the Grade Center is now yellow where once it was green. The Content (Text) Editor, the Discussion Board and Tests are also getting some updates. Let’s take a closer look at what that means.

The Content (Text) Editor has new features that include

  • better pasting from Word
  • easier table editing
  • more control over image placement
  • improved editing of the ‘behind the scenes’ HTML code
  • ability to add CSS styles to your content
  • an updated equation editor.

Also new is Video Everywhere. If your computer has a built-in or connected webcam, you can record video and embed it within the content you create anywhere you use the Content (Text) Editor. You can use this to create video instructions for a blog assignment, give feedback by video, or provide a video introduction to a unit. Video Everywhere is powered by YouTube so you will need a Google and YouTube account. By default, the videos are semi-private: available to those who have the link but not listed or searchable by others.

How you get around Blackboard is changing with the addition of the Global Navigation Menu. Click on your name in the top right corner next to the new Logout button and get one-click access to updates across all your courses. Here you’ll see due dates, and stay up to date on the latest Discussion Board, Blog, Journal or Wiki posts from your courses. Students will be able to see their grades and progress all in one place. Instructors can quickly access another new addition to their toolbox: the Retention Center.

The Retention Center provides an easy way for you to discover which students in your course are at risk. With it, you can track which students have triggered alerts such as missed deadlines, grades, course activity, or access. As you observe their progress and send emails, you can also keep track of this correspondence and make notes about each student from within the Retention Center.

Tests are essentially the same, but have several new improvements:

  • Test Availability Exceptions – This new option lets you apply different deployment criteria for students taking a test. For example, you may set the timer so that some students are required to finish a test in one hour while other students are given two hours to complete it. Other criteria that can be set include date availability, forcing completion, and the number of attempts allowed. These exceptions can be used to provide an accommodation to a disabled student, or provide accommodations for technology and language differences.
  • Progressive Feedback Release – Instructors will have much more control over student access to test feedback, correct answers, and the answers they have submitted. For example, you might want to show students their own answers after they have submitted a test but wait to show them all correct answers until after all tests have been graded.
  • Test Access Log – A source of frustration for students, instructors, and test proctors is the inability to confirm whether students began a test or ran into problems during a test. The access log shows a detailed list of every interaction that students engage in when taking a test. If a student claims to have started a test, the log will show the time the test was started. If a network or internet disruption occurred during the test, for example, the log would show an unusual gap in the time.
  • Item Analysis – You can obtain statistics on overall test performance and on individual test questions using item analysis. You can use this information to improve questions for future tests or to adjust credit on current attempts. Ineffective or misleading questions can be identified easily, corrected in the Test Canvas, and re-graded automatically.
  • Responses to fill in the blank questions no longer need to be an exact match. Instructors can allow a pattern or a partial match as a correct student response.

The Discussion Board has been redesigned to add these features:

  • All posts on one thread page – All of the posts in a thread are now visible at the same time on one page.
  • Role highlighting – Posts made by forum managers and moderators now contain the user’s course role and forum role in thread view.
  • Inline replies – When replying to a post, the editor for writing responses appears on the same thread, in the context of the discussion.
  • Post first – This allows instructors to prevent students from seeing other posts before posting to a forum.

There are more minor features and enhancements coming as well, in addition to a number of long standing bug fixes. Keep an eye on the CTL events calendar for upcoming hands-on preview sessions.

This May, Blackboard @ UVM will be getting an upgrade that will deliver some brand new features and greatly improve a few of the existing ones. We’ll be posting more about these changes in the coming weeks, but here are a few highlights.

New Features

Test Access Log

The Test Access Log allows instructors to see exactly what students clicked on in an exam. This provides a much clearer view into what happens during an assessment.  

Retention Center

The Retention Center provides an easy way for instructors to discover, track, and communicate with students in their course who are at risk. Here’s an example of what the retention center looks like.  

Updates to Existing Tools

Discussion Board

The Discussion Board tool has been redesigned for an improved experience. Here are a few of the new features:

  • Instructors can require students to post to a discussion before seeing other students’ posts.
  • Posts made by forum managers and moderators will contain the user’s course role and forum role.
  • All of the posts in a thread will be visible at the same time on one page.
  • When replying to a post, the content editor used to write a response appears on the same page, in the context of the discussion.

Here’s a video about the new Discussion Board interface.

Text Editor

This upgrade brings a complete replacement of the text (content) editor—the tool used for writing announcements, items, folder descriptions, etc.—and has many improved features! The new editor presents a simpler interface with a more consistent results. Here’s a sneak peak of the new Content Editor.

Bug Fixes and More

Blackboard will also be receiving a number of bug fixes and small behind-the-scenes improvements. Stay tuned for more information and opportunities to participate in hands-on demonstration sessions.

Blackboard Organizations logoUVM licenses a Bb add-on tool that allows individual colleges and organizational units to create and manage course-like “organizations” in Bb. Example uses of these spaces might include:

  • Providing collaborative environments for Residential Learning Communities and student clubs or interest groups. 
  • Delivering training courses for faculty, staff, and students to ensure compliance with policies and regulations addressing safety, privacy, or any number of subjects. 
  • Creating work spaces and tools for faculty wishing to collaborate with colleagues who are otherwise not affiliated with UVM.

Organizations use different nomenclature in some ways (i.e instructors are listed as “Leaders”, and students are labeled as “Participants”), but otherwise are functionally equivalent to courses. Organizations are created individually by an administrator (who is assigned by the college) instead of being created and populated by the registrar.

Getting started

Colleges wishing to create these organization spaces will need to identify someone who will be responsible for creating and managing organizations in Bb for the college. An email from the Dean’s or Director’s office to blackboard@uvm.edu indicating the primary administrator will be enough to get started. Once we have that information, we will create the administrative space for this person, and work with them to provide as much instruction, training, and support as is needed.

Managing organizations

Managing organizations is relatively straightforward:

  • The administrator will be trained and supported by UVM’s Bb administrator. Training is not complex – at most a one-hour conversation is all that is needed. 
  • The percentage of FTE involved depends on how extensively the college makes use of the tools (i.e. how many organizations the college decides to create). 
  • Administrators will be required to follow protocols in terms of naming convention. Training and instruction is provided to identify these conventions. 
  • Tasks associated with this role require using a web interface to create organizational spaces. Participants normally self-enroll in these spaces, so enrollment management is minimal or non-existent. While these are not highly technical tasks, the person managing the organizations should be comfortable with computers and learning new applications.

How to tell if your college is using non-credit organizations

If you feel you have a use for a space like this, contact blackboard@uvm.edu explaining what you’d like to do, and we will direct you to the administrator for your college. If your college or unit is not using organizations, we can work with you and your Dean’s/Director’s office to identify possible next steps.

As we head down the last stretch of the semester, it’s a good time to recheck our Blackboard course grade centers and make sure everything’s working as it should be. Here are a couple of tips:

  1. First, make backups! This is always recommended but of special importance now when we may be making more changes to the grade center and there is potentially more data to lose. Instructions for backing up the grade center are here.
  2. One of the trickiest aspects of the grade center is that the columns that the instructor sees (or does not see because they’re hidden) do NOT automatically correspond with what columns the students may see or not see. To hide a grade column from the students’ view, you need to click at the top of the column and select “Show/Hide to Users.” Once a column is hidden from them, a slash icon appears in the title bar of that column. However, if instead you simply chose “Hide Column,” then you’ve selected to hide the column from your Grade Center view. The column will still be seen by students unless you first choose “Show/Hide to Users.”

    The tricky part is that you can only do that if you can see the column. Therefore, you must first restore the column to your instructor view, and then choose “Show/Hide to Users.” To restore a hidden column to your instructor’s view, click the “Manage” button (while in Full Grade Center view) and choose “Column Organization.” Select (with a checkmark) any columns that appear as hidden and click the Show/Hide button, below. Then click, Submit. Once you have restored a column to your view, you can then take the step described above to hide the column from students.

Or… come visit the Dr. Is In for help! See our hours at http://www.uvm.edu/ctl/doctor

If your list of courses is long and overwhelming, there are solutions! You can either:

  1. re-sort the list so that your current course spaces show at the top, or
  2. hide older courses from the list (and restore them again, if desired)

To learn how, see the CTL How-to page for course list management.

(Note that after a few semesters, courses are deleted from the system so they will no longer appear on your list, anyway.)

For many instructors, the Blackboard (Bb) Assignment Tool is a helpful time saver.  A few of the advantages are:

  • there are no papers to haul around—they live in Bb
  • feedback and grades can be distributed within Bb
  • the rubric tool makes grading easier and more consistent (especially helpful for TAs)

To read more, visit the CTL how-to page for the assignment tool or Getting Started with Assignments [PDF].

A course banner brightens up a course home page and helps users identify the course they’ve entered. Any image can be made into a banner, but the ideal dimensions are shallow and wide.* Text can be added to an image using editing software, such as Photoshop, or an online image editing tool such as picmonkey.com/.

The CTL provides pre-made banners and instructions on this page or come to the Dr. Is In for help.

*If you use the announcement tool in your course, you’ll want to make sure your banner isn’t so tall that it pushes the announcement area out of sight. Read more about that here.