Using the Bb Grade Center? Here’s a must see little tip!

When I mentioned this in the CTL Blackboard Grade Center workshop this week, people were SO grateful that I thought I should post the tip to our blog.

Frustrating Blackboard scenario: when you go to the Full Grade Center, you see the column headers but not the bottom horizontal scrollbar. So you scroll down to see the horizontal scrollbar and then you can’t see the column headers!

Quick Fix: Go to the bottom of the page—just underneath the rows—and click the button “Edit Rows Displayed.” Change the number from 10 to, say, 6 and click Go. Now you should be able to see the column headers when you scroll to the right! (Depending on your screen resolution, you may need to change it to 4.)

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Career Readiness Modules for Blackboard

Written by guest blogger Sarah Heath, UVM Associate Director of the Career Center

Workforce outcomes (aka: good jobs) are, research confirms, “far and away, the driving motivation for pursuing post-secondary education across all ages, races, and degree types” (D’Amico, 2018). So how can you ensure that your students graduate career-ready, able to put their learning to use for a better tomorrow?

If you’re Assistant Professor Lizzy Pope, you embed ready-made career modules in your Senior Dietetics Seminar.

Week 5 homework for these seniors was to complete the Resume Module and submit a draft resume to the Career Center for personalized feedback. The module (including 2 short videos) covers all the basics of crafting an impactful resume. In just 15-minutes the students gained essential insights on how to best present their skills and experiences.

“It was really nice to have comprehensive information about resumes and building a LinkedIn Profile in one place for students to go to. Thanks for making these modules available to instructors!” – Prof. Pope, Nutrition & Food Sciences.

Without relinquishing precious class time or needing career expertise, Professor Pope helped prepare her students to articulate their academic learning as career competencies to future employers. These seniors took it one step further in week 7 and created LinkedIn profiles following completion of that module.

You too can galvanize student learning by incorporating career-readiness in your syllabus. Career modules can be added to any Blackboard site as the first part of a “flipped” assignment (followed by an in-person discussion), a stand-alone homework assignment, or in tandem with a presentation by Career Center Peer Mentors. Every module is fully customizable to your course objectives and can include optional assignments.

Request a module today @

To learn more, join us for a demo of the modules, hear how other faculty are incorporating them, and get access to the modules relevant to your class at the upcoming workshop: Plug & Play Career Readiness Modules: Mon, Nov 25, 9:00am-10:30am.  



D’Amico, C. (2018, February 13). Why go to college? Student perspectives on higher ed. Real Clear Education.


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Take a Podcast Breather

We welcome you to bring your lunch and listen to some fresh ideas about teaching with us. Our Friday Listening Series Brown Bag is an opportunity to take a break for an hour with colleagues and listen to Bonni Stachowiak’s Teaching in Higher Ed podcasts. She interviews authors and key thinkers on topics “such as excellence in teaching, instructional design, open education, diversity and inclusion, productivity, creativity in teaching, educational technology, and blended learning” ( The podcasts are approximately 30 minutes long and for the rest of the hour we chat about the topic. This series goes all semester, Fridays at noon, and you can read the schedule and register on our website. Coffee, tea, and snacks provided.

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Date Management Tool Makes it Easier to Update Your Course

While editing a document to change dates from one semester to the next might be the epitome of administrivia, Blackboard, fortunately, has a Date Management tool to help with these updates.

First, bring your old course content into your new Blackboard course shell (using either the Course Copy or Import tools).

Second, use the Date Management tool in your new course to adjust all dates (such as due dates and availability dates) to match the new semester for your copied or imported content. In most cases, choose the “Use Course Start Date” option, and set the first class session as the new course start date. All due dates will then calculate and update accordingly.

You will find the Date Management too in the Control Panel, under Course Tools.

This short video tutorial provides step-by-step instructions:

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Blackboard Ally: Can I see all the files that Ally has analyzed in my course?

Bb Ally analyzes all your files in Blackboard and rates their level of accessibility so you can fix the files one at a time. But what if you have files spread across many places in your course? Is there an easier way to find and fix them without having to hunt and peck through all the nooks and crannies?


All files you have uploaded to a course are stored in your Content Collection. You can find this list of files by going to the Control Panel, then clicking on Content Collection. Your course ID will appear just below the words Content Collection. (You will also see links to “All Courses Content” and “Institution Content”–just ignore those links for now.) Click the course’s ID and Blackboard will bring up a list of all the files you have uploaded to your course. You can page through these files or click the Show All button at the bottom of the page to get one long list of all the files to scroll through.

If a file has been deployed anywhere in the course–that is, you have attached it to an Item, used the File option to create a link to the file, or embedded a link to it in any Text Editor area–Bb Ally will show you the gauge for that file.

Here’s an example screenshot from my Content Collection list. You will notice some files do not have a gauge. That’s because I have uploaded several files for later use but have not yet deployed them (linked or attached them) to a specific area in my course.

List of files from Content Collection

The gauges work the same way here as they do in any other area of Blackboard. You can click on the gauge, learn about the accessibility issue, then fix and re-upload the file. And looking at the gauges in that screenshot, it appears I have several files that need work!

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Blackboard Ally: Helping You Create Accessible Documents

We, as a University, work to be inclusive and to ensure that all our students can access the materials they need. And let’s face it: we also want to be sure that we are meeting federal guidelines. To do so we need to create accessible documents. Enter Ally for Blackboard!

But first, just what are accessible documents? They are electronic documents that are as easily readable by a low vision or non-sighted reader as they are by a sighted reader.  They allow individuals to move through documents using a screen reader, by providing features that make it possible to skim or jump from one part of a document to another, to hear descriptions of images on a page, and to identify contact and reference information. In other words, to have equal access to the document overall.

How does it work? As you upload files to Blackboard, Ally will immediately begin to analyze them. In a short amount of time it will display an accessibility meter next to each document. Clicking on the meter brings you to a screen that tells you what issues could be improved, guides you through making those changes, then lets you upload the fixed file back to Blackboard.

Are accessible documents only for those who use screenreaders? Not really. Let’s consider elevators. An elevator may have been installed to provide accommodation for people who have difficulty climbing stairs, but even if you tend to climb instead of ride you may still find the elevator useful when carrying a heavy load up several flights.

So, too, with accessible documents. Ally can generate on-the-fly alternative versions of your accessible documents to accommodate different needs. For instance, students who could benefit from the alternative format files include:

  • Your time-conscious bus-riding student who would find it nauseating to read on a bus may better keep up with the reading if the article is provided as an mp3 file to which they can listen, or
  • A student who has not requested accommodation but can read more easily if the font of the document is larger, or
  • The student who is comfortable reading on a phone as long as the page can reflow to fit, or
  • A student with an ebook app that lets them take notes on an epub file.

In addition, as more and more attention is paid to how well universities are meeting their accessibility responsibilities, Ally can help UVM show that progress through its variety of reporting tools.

Must you make all your documents in all your courses 100% accessible immediately? Of course not. But we would like to “move the needle” on as many documents as possible over time.

That’s where the Ally help materials, and the folks at the CTL, can help: learn more about how Ally works and how you can get help by visiting our Ally web page.

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The Power of Five Minutes

Red squirrel in bird feederI’ve been observing the red squirrels in my woods as they live up to the verb of their names – squirreling away food in anticipation of the upcoming winter months (they particularly love to “store” birdseed in my perennial beds, but that’s a conversation for another day). I also have a powerful tendency to squirrel. And while I do have a snack drawer at my desk, I’m thinking right now about my rather healthy collection of bookmarked teaching resources webpages. It is from this archive that I’d like to summarize and share two articles.

I like considering these two articles in the context of one another because they address the bookends of any class session: the first and final five minutes. I was trained as an educator to think about chunks of 20 minutes when planning a class, given research on attention spans. But when I start with a 20-minute chunk right out of the gate, I’m missing an important opportunity for intentional transition to the class. Likewise, if my focus is on a final 20-minute activity, I may be wrapping up that piece, but not necessarily the whole class session. These articles have changed my teaching practice, and I hope you find some useful ideas, as well.

The first five minutes of class

James Lang, author of (amongst other texts) Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, wrote a blog post on Small Changes in Teaching: The First 5 Minutes of Class. Read more about his four ideas for helping students become present in class:

  1. Opening question(s)
  2. Recalling what was learned in the last session
  3. Reactivating prior knowledge on the subject
  4. Low-stakes writing

Last semester, I started every class session with a 1- to 5-minute writing activity and then sometimes had students share their ideas with a partner or the whole group. The prompt might be a question to get their gears turning about the focus of the upcoming class or it might be related to previous learning. This writing became a ritual in class. Additionally, students were given the chance to shift, from their busy lives, into the learning environment in a meaningful way.

The final five minutes of class

Classroom assessment techniques (CATs) have long been encouraged as useful for both students and faculty to generate a picture of where learning is solid and where more time needs to be spent to promote understanding. The blog post on Disrupting Illusions of Fluency by Desai, McCray, & Todd provides an interesting framework for the purpose of CATs – namely this idea that students may be disillusioned about their own competency, highlighting the need for facilitated metacognition.

I don’t think these illusions are intentional by students. This semester, I’ve been taking a weekly strength training class at the Patrick Gym. Having minimal previous exposure to the majority of activities we engage with each week, I am definitely approaching the class with beginner’s mind and body. An observer would probably chuckle, at my “illusion of fluency,” as our patient trainer corrects my form despite my absolute certainty that I’m doing a move perfectly! This disruption of my illusion creates opportunities to then ask questions and make adjustments, which are critical to my progress.

Close up of an analog clock showing the minute handIn most classes, students’ beginning mastery of content knowledge or a skill is less visible than in my strength training class. Faculty can’t just look at students to assess their progress. Spending the final five minutes of class engaging in a one-minute paper, a muddiest point exercise, or a class wrapper (as described in the blog post) can unveil the areas where students are leaving a class falsely confident about their knowledge and fluency with course materials. With this information, in the very next class, new opportunities can be created for further clarification, hence disrupting the illusion of fluency, replaced by actual fluency and deeper understanding.

I end each class session asking students to self-evaluate their participation and engagement. I’ve long understood that I have a fairly narrow view of students’ engagement during class. Therefore, I turn over that portion of the grading to the students. They assign themselves points in five categories (preparation, listening, focus, presence, spoken contributions). More importantly, they respond to an open-ended question about how they have promoted (their own and their classmates’) learning via their participation. Finally, I also ask questions such as “Because of this week’s assignments and/or class, I’m still thinking about/wondering about/want to know more about ….” I write a response to each individual student (in a class of 18, max) and can summarize themes or really insightful reflections in the next class session. By asking students to be transparent about their engagement, they practice metacognition and I have a much more authentic understanding of students’ thinking and learning.

Your turn – please comment!

What are your ideas for effectively starting and ending class, being mindful of the intentions and suggestions posed in these two articles? How you can you leverage the power of those 5 minutes?

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Hold That Thought! Helping Students Choose Research Topics

Written by guest blogger Trina Magi, UVM Reference & Instruction Librarian
This is the first in an occasional series of posts by UVM Librarians that addresses information literacy and using library resources in teaching.

Students often believe that research begins only after they have chosen a topic. Some even go so far as to write a draft paper before beginning their research.

Deciding on a topic usually feels like a relief to students. But deciding too soon and without first looking at the literature can set students up for later frustration and the feeling that they’re doing something wrong when research turns out to be more difficult than expected. It can also limit students’ learning if they immediately become focused on finding material to prove predetermined points.

Instead, we want students to approach the research process with an attitude of open inquiry that allows them to learn from what the literature has to say1. With some simple but important adjustments to syllabi and assignments, we can help students understand that good research is an iterative process, that attempting to answer a question often leads to more questions, and that a research topic may change over the course of a project.

Consider the following suggestions:

  1. In your syllabi and assignments, use language that indicates research is an iterative process. Explicitly tell students that you expect their topics may change over the course of a project as they learn more about them.
  2. Rather than asking students to find literature to prove a point, make assignments that encourage students to approach the literature with an open question. Ask students to notice if there is convergence or dissent around a topic, and allow for the possibility that some (many?) questions may remain unanswered.
  3. Tell students it’s normal to have feelings of uncertainty and confusion at the beginning of their research process. Invite them to think of themselves as explorers heading out to sea and talk with them about the characteristics and behaviors of good explorers: bravery, curiosity, flexibility, patience and tenacity. Tell them about your experiences with your own research projects.
  4. Ask students to generate two or three potential topic ideas, and require students to do some exploratory research on each before selecting one. The goal of the exploratory research is to test the viability of each idea and to uncover interesting and previously unknown aspects of the topic. It will also help students determine if an idea requires narrowing or broadening to fit the scope of the paper or project. It doesn’t make sense to attempt a 25-page paper on the confidential marketing strategies of an obscure private company. Conversely, “global warming” is too broad for a short five-page paper.

Librarians can be allies in this process.

Reference and instruction librarians can work with you to create or adjust assignments to encourage exploration and inquiry. Feel free to contact your liaison librarian. Reference and instruction librarians also are accustomed to helping students explore and select topics. Invite your students to meet with a librarian—either at the reference desk or in an individual consultation—to do some exploratory searches in various databases. Librarians also can point students to high-quality topic overviews such as subject-specific encyclopedias and current affairs reports. Browsing these can stimulate ideas and provide clues about the extent of information available about a topic.


1See Association of College and Research Libraries. (2016). “Research as Inquiry,” In Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. Retrieved October 9, 2018, from

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Kidder Award Congrats!

Dr. Annie Murray-CloseWe are thrilled that one of our CTL Faculty Associates, Dr. Annie Murray-Close, won the 2018 George V. Kidder Outstanding Faculty Award! Annie is an associate professor in the department Psychological Science. She’ll present the George V. Kidder Lecture, “Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice? Understanding the Development of Relational Aggression in Girls,” on Tuesday, October 30, 2018. Read more and register on the UVM Alumni Association website.

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Screencasting: What and Why?

Screencasting is a technique that allows you to record everything that happens on your computer screen then turn that recording into a video. Not very exciting, right? But think about all the things you do on your computer. More importantly, think about what you do on your computer that you would like to show to, or share with, others.

What can you put in a screencast?

“Course trailers”:

Just like a movie trailer, a course trailer can help generate interest from prospective students to your course. Or, you can create a trailer for the students who have already enrolled. The trailer could lay out the goals of the course, the expectations, the organization, the workload, or any special activities. [1] See Duke University’s “Best Practices: Creating Video Course Trailers” for samples and more information.

Course tour:

Even the most well-organized Blackboard course can leave students without a clear idea of where they should begin or what, exactly, the course contains. A course tour video can help guide students through the course in the early days and, especially for those new to the field, act as an introduction to the terms used, and conventions followed, in that field.

Demonstrate a process:

Whether it’s working through a math problem, graphing an economic calculation, analyzing lines of computer code, or pointing out important facets of a work of art, a poem, or a musical composition, showing is often better than telling. A screencast can walk a student through a process rather than simply showing a result. Here’s an example of how to calculate the area of a triangle.

Answer a question:

A screencast can be used from semester to semester to explain perennially difficult concepts or to address common questions. For example, here’s Bonni Stachowiak’s video that shows her students how to create a quick bibliography in the citation program Zotero.


Narrate a slideshow:

Some versions of PowerPoint allow you to narrate a slideshow and save it as a video, but there are some compatibility issues between Mac and Windows versions and editing that sound is not easy. You can, instead, screencast your slideshow while you narrate it. This gives you a soundtrack that is easier to see and edit  in the screencasting program (take out the ums and ahs!) and it will be compatible on either Mac or Windows.

Provide student feedback:

Providing detailed formative or summative feedback is known to be effective, yet students do not always read your extensive notes. Sometimes you may want to show students how they can improve a piece of writing rather than simply describing what is problematic. Screencasting the process provides a way to accomplish both. In these two examples, Megan von Bergen describes how screencasts can help with both formative and summative and Ron Martinez describes his feedback process for student essays. For more on this topic see Cambell and Feldman’s “The Power of Multimodal Feedback.”

screencast checklist imageScreencasts do not have to be cinematic masterpieces. Students appreciate the authenticity of your voice. This screencast checklist checklist can help ease the process and give you good results in a short amount of time.

To create a screencast you will need screencasting software. Many of these exist, some with very limited capabilities are even free, but CTL recommends and supports the following:
Screencast-o-matic: There is a free version that allows you to capture but not edit. We recommend instead that you get the “Pro” version which costs $18 a year.
Camtasia: Educational pricing is $169 per license (can be installed on two machines per user. Volume discounts also available.)

To learn more about screencasting, see our CTL Screencasting page or come visit during our Open Hours.

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