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Premise: all students want to text in class and will do so surreptitiously if they can, so many faculty feel the only way to keep students focused is to ban mobile device use altogether. Many blog posts and articles on texting, cell phone, or mobile device use in class seem to start with this premise.
Responses to the growing use of devices in the classroom have ranged from that of complete control: “Put your device on the table as you enter the classroom. Pick it up when you leave” to the laissez-faire: “Students are paying the tuition. If they want to text during class and not learn, that’s their choice.”
Developing a cogent and workable mobile device policy for the classroom continues to be a challenge. The negative effects of multitasking or auto-switching are well documented and the possibility that students may be distracted by other students’ use of devices is also a consideration.
How to deal with the presence of these devices in the classroom elicits a multiplicity of responses from faculty. A quick search on the terms “cellphone, policy, syllabus” turns up a host of ways faculty are banning or limiting their use. In fact, Cortland has collected a list of mobile device policies from syllabi that might well have been titled “36 Ways to Say No.”
However, as the prevalence of these devices continues to grow many teachers are finding ways to make the use of mobile devices work for their students’ education rather than against it. Not surprisingly, these solutions tend to encourage the integration of inquiry-based or active learning practices.
Karen Eifler suggests that mobile devices can be used to capture, archive, share and use whiteboard work done in class as well as for real-time/just-in-time information gathering. (“Cell Phones in the Classroom: Is It Time to Reconsider Your Policy?”)
John Thayer explains to his students how they will be using their devices for his Geometry class and closes with “we have work to do so please take out your phone.” (“Cell Phone Policy: A Letter to My Students”)
As New York prepares to lift its ban on cellphones in schools, many K-12 teachers will be preparing their students to use these devices responsibly and effectively. John Giambalvo explains that he will be starting slowly, using various apps as appropriate. For example, he’ll be “automating exit tickets — the micro-assessments that ask students to demonstrate their learning at the end of a lesson” using the Exit Ticket app.
Whichever mobile device policy you intend to use, it is most important to communicate it clearly to your students. As the SUNY Brockport policy on use of electronic devices in the classroom warns: “It is advisable for instructors to anticipate that issues with wireless communications and electronic devices may arise and publish any restrictions in their course syllabi.”
More recently, faculty advise having a discussion with students to build the policy together. Having students contribute ideas for a policy, and especially for how infractions should be dealt with, encourages them to consider both their own practice and their role in establishing a respectful and productive classroom for all.
On May 13, Bb is getting a few important additions.
1. Student Preview (Finally!)
A “true” student preview has been one of the all-time top requested Blackboard features. Instead of just being able to see what content is visible (as is the case with the Edit Mode button), instructors will be able to take exams, submit assignments, and view grades just as a student would.
Entering student preview mode can be done at the click a button. Upon entering this student view, an actual student account is created (visible in the grade center), and the instructor is put in the driver seat of that account.
When leaving the student view, the instructor can choose to keep the account in their course. This allows the instructor to “evaluate” the fake student’s work, enter grades for that account, and then go back in to that account and see the results of their grading.
Alternatively, the student preview account can be deleted when leaving the view, so that it is no longer listed in the grade center.
Instructions and more information about this feature can be found in the How-To’s area.
2. Inline Grading
Currently, assignment files have to be downloaded to the desktop in order to be opened and read for grading. After May 13, the grading process will be streamlined because uploaded assignment documents will display within the browser.
Documents that can be viewed in this manner include Word (.doc, .docx), PowerPoint (.ppt, .pptx), Excel (.xls, .xlsx), and PDF. Inline Grading is supported on current versions of Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer. No plug-in or other application is necessary.
Documents can be annotated within the browser and shared with students. (However, the annotations feature is not fully supported: see the link below to read more.)
Find out more about in-line grading in the How-To’s.
3. Single Sign-On
UVM is streamlining its login processes across a number of applications. While those accessing Bb from MyUVM will not see a change, the login page at https://bb.uvm.edu is getting a refresh. As part of this change, existing “cookie” bugs in the process of connecting to MyUVM to Bb will be resolved.
This is an interesting read by Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University. “Why I just asked my students to put their laptops away.” Shirky holds a joint appointment as an Associate Arts Professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program as well as an Associate Professor in the Journalism Department, and he’s a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
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.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.
Screencasting is a technique that allows you to record everything that happens on your computer screen, then turn that recording into a video. It has been used extensively for online teaching where a process is better shown than described in words. For example, it can be used to create a tour of your Blackboard course, show how to calculate and solve a problem, demonstrate how to use a particular software application, or simply create a narrated PowerPoint for students to watch outside class.
Sometimes, however, the process you want to show is best done by writing or drawing. Now, you can certainly use a drawing program and use a mouse to write or draw your information–but that’s like “drawing with a brick” because a mouse is not exactly designed for such fine motor skills. Is there a better approach? Here are three options.
A digital pen tablet
The word tablet continues to be redefined to describe several kinds of devices. In this instance I’m using it to describe a device that plugs into your computer and becomes a larger alternative to the small built-in touchpad on your laptop. The device comes with a stylus and some software but largely relies on writing or drawing software you already have on your computer. For example, you may already use the annotation feature in your PowerPoint slideshow view to draw or write on your slides, or you may already have a drawing program like Windows Paint to make freehand drawings of charts and graphs.
The digital pen tablet gives you two advantages over trying to write or draw with a mouse or with your finger on your laptops tiny touchpad: a stylus and a large surface. One of the leaders in this field, and one whose products we have used in the CTL, is WACOM (“wah-kum”). They have several pen tablet devices that range from the small Intuous ($79) to the Cintiq 24HD (a $3,000 24″ HD touch sensitive display).
The iPad and other tablet or phone devices
You may already own a device that you can write on: an iPad, Surface or even a phone. While you usually interact with these devices with your finger it is also possible to find a stylus that will give you greater precision when trying to write on them. Some styluses can now even differentiate between what you are writing and stray marks made by resting your hand on the writing surface.
The easiest way to capture what you are writing as a screencast is to use an app designed for that purpose. My current favorite on the iPad is Explain Everything ($2.99, also available for Android and Windows), an app that lets you create slides on which you can write, draw, import pictures and videos, link to web sites, and attach files like PDFs. As you create those slides you can record the entire process as a video. If you need need to incorporate elements from your laptop you can save your Explain Everything recording and insert it into a regular screencast. You can even, depending on your device, use them in combination by displaying your mobile device’s screen on your laptop. (There are several ways to do this depending on your device.)
But what if I want to write on plain old paper and record that?
Recently a question from a faculty member led to an interesting quest. Even using a stylus, many of us have difficulty writing on a tablet device in a way that is legible. For example, we may want to make a video of drawing a graph or solving an equation. Yes, you can write or draw on your iPad. Yes, you can attach a drawing device to your laptop or write/draw on that. You can even use a stylus instead of your finger. However, learning to write on these devices is not always as comfortable (or legible!) as using the technology you grew up with: pen and paper.
So, the question? Can one use a standard classroom document camera (ELMO, etc.), write on a piece of paper or a transparency, and then capture that process as a video? The answer turns out to be yes, sort of. The doc cam needs to be a digital one, you need to find and install the drivers for it, and the drivers must be compatible with your computer and operating system. After some searching (and thanks to Classroom Technologies in the Library for the loaner of a Samsung doc com for testing!) I found some of the doc cams around campus could do this, with varying results. But the experience wasn’t always a happy one given the myriad combinations of doc cams and drivers (i.e. it flat out would not work with some combinations).
Enter the hi-tech + low-tech combo: a stand and a mobile device. There are stands that can hold your iPhone, iPad, MicroSoft Surface, Android or other mobile device over a piece of paper. You then use the device’s built-in camera to record writing on that paper. Belkin makes one (Belkin Tablet Stage Stand B2B054, $168) that can use any device as long as the camera lens can be positioned over the view hole in the corner of the stand’s holding tray. This type of stand is being used in K-12 and higher ed classrooms as a cheaper alternative to doc cams when the instructor has access to a mobile device.
The beauty of this combination is that you can use your own tablet or phone, using the software that is familiar to you. And though $168 is not inexpensive, the stand is portable and can be shared in a department.
So, UVM faculty: if you write better on paper than on a tablet, want to make a video of that writing and have an iPad or other mobile device, let us know. We can loan you the stand for a week for testing.
And if you would like to try any of the other options described in this post, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be happy to meet with you.
On May 14th, UVM’s Blackboard will be getting some new features and enhancements.
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.
For those who might not be familiar with it, EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education through the use of information technology. The EDUCAUSE Annual Conference claims to unite “the best thinking in higher education IT.” EDUCAUSE 2013 was held in mid-October, 2013, and I was there to investigate learning analytics.
Analytics is the use of data, statistical, and quantitative methods, and explanatory and predictive models to allow organizations and individuals to gain insights into and act on complex issues. The use of digital tools, especially Learning Management Systems (LMS), like Blackboard, for academic data and Student Information Systems (SIS) for demographic data, can create mounds of digital data that could be mined for discovering trends or predicting outcomes. Examples:
- Marist College is developing a predictive model using Banner (SIS) and Sakai (LMS) to deliver intervention notices to identify students unlikely to pass a course. A model was built using grade book data across a broad set of courses. They built their own system out of mostly Open Source tools. They found the most powerful predictor to be student’s GPA. Presentation.pptx [3 MB, Powerpoint slides].
- University of California Chico built a system from server log files and Excel, Tableau, Stata, and SPSS and looked at one large course (373 students). They found LMS usage to be the best predictor of success (not GPA), using these LMS usage variables: total course website hits; total course “dwell time”; administrative tool hits; assessment tool hits; content tool hits; and engagement tool hits. summary of results [455 KB, PDF]; presentation slides from EDUCAUSE 2013 [3 MB, Powerpoint slides]
- University of Kentucky uses a hardware “appliance” from SAP (HANA) to look at data in near realtime, push out administrative reports to administrators, and “how am i doing” reports to students via a custom mobile application. Academic advisers get an iPad application that compiles advisees’ data, giving both advisor and student a better idea of where they are and where they are going. Using Groundbreaking Analytics and Fast Data [7 MB, Powerpoint slides]
- South Orange County Community College District built the mobile app, “Sherpa,” a recommendation engine similar to Netflix or Amazon that helps students choose courses, services, and get information based on previous enrollments, major/minor declarations, and grades. It pushes out warnings and reminders to students via email or text message. Powerpoint slides.
- Coppin State University implemented Blackboard Analytics for Learn, providing a slew of dashboards for deans, chairs, faculty, and students using data from the Blackboard Learn LMS alone. Mesa Community College has taken it one step further, using Blackboard Analytics to also ingest SIS data. University of Maryland, Baltimore County is using Blackboard Analytics for Learn to explore the LMS in much finer detail and assess the impact of faculty course redesign training.
Barriers? Sure. Analytics are hard. The people who developed Sherpa called in three outside mathematicians to help design their statistical model. Kentucky hired three PhDs. Analytics require buy-in and many of the presenters were CIOs, provosts, presidents, or vice-this-or-thats. There is a lot of missing data (e.g., classes that don’t use an LMS), and a lot of inconsistent data (e.g, variance in how faculty use LMS gradebooks). Statistical models are still in an early stage of development and proprietary software, like Blackboard Analytics, is expensive.
For more on learning analytics, visit The Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR), an interdisciplinary network of leading international researchers who are exploring the role and impact of analytics on teaching, learning, training, and development.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.