Teaching with Blackboard Review, Examining Plans

November 5, 2010

Over the last month at Palomar I’ve offered the first series of four workshops (a total of 24 hours in-class) using the new version of Blackboard (version 9.1, for those who care about the numbers) which goes live with our Spring 2011 courses.  The first of those workshops was titled “Getting Ready for Day One” and consisted of a comparatively shallow look at many different components in a Blackboard course; a “survey of” type of workshop rather than a more in-depth study of limited numbers of Blackboard course tools as the later three workshops were.

“Getting Ready for Day One” ended with a component I titled “Plan of Attack”, in which I posed a series of questions to the attending faculty in the form of essay questions in a Blackboard test.  The idea behind this was to give faculty a chance to form and articulate some response to issues; to have a plan which could then be adjusted as needed during the development cycle.  (Personally I find it far more reliable to have a plan and modify it as necessary rather than constantly “wing it” without a plan at all.)

I’ll be sending the attendees back their own responses as a reminder soon, but I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the aggregate language of the responses.  One of the best ways I’ve found of doing this is to dump all the data into a Wordle and see what the resulting cloud of words looks like.  (Click the image to see a larger view.)

A Wordle created from the responses from a faculty training workshop.

For those interested, the actual text of the questions is listed below:

  1. Will you use Announcements?  If so, how often do you expect students to check for updated announcements in your course?
  2. Will you be using the Send Email tool within Blackboard?  If so, how long should your students expect it may take before getting a response from you to their messages?  How long do you expect it will take before students respond to your messages?
  3. Will you be using Tests in Blackboard, either for actual testing or for tutorial functions?  If so, do you plan to use any essay questions, or other question types that require manual grading?  If so, how long should students expect before seeing those questions graded?
  4. Do you plan to use the Wimba Voice Authoring tool to record messages for your students?  If so, what sort of messages do you plan to leave for your students to play back?
  5. Do you plan to have your students submit files to you using the Assignment tool?  If so, what sort of file types will you accept from your students?  (i.e. Word documents, PDF documents, Plain Text files, Rich Text Format files)
  6. Do you plan to distribute files to your students from within Blackboard?  If so, what sort of file formats do you plan to distribute?  (i.e. Word documents, PDF documents, Plain Text files, Rich Text Format files)
  7. Will you be using the Grade Center to post student grades?  If not, why?  If so, do you plan to only post grades from manually graded assignments, or do you plan to use some of the grade-enabled tools in Blackboard such as Tests, Discussion Boards and the Assignment tool?
  8. Will you be using the Discussion Board tool in your class?  If so, what purposes do you hope to achieve using this tool?  Do you expect to ever use the Anonymous post option, and if so, what sorts of topics do you think it appropriate for?  Do you expect to ever use the Grade function and assign points based on Discussion Board posts?
  9. Will you post information about the class up in a single syllabus, or broken into different pieces?  Why?
  10. When you post your contact information, which methods of contact will you include?  (i.e. Email address, college phone extension, cell phone number, office location and hours, Instant Messenger details, Twitter username)  Which forms of contact do you find most effective?  Which forms of contact do you prefer to use?
  11. Do you plan to post the Student Learning Outcomes designated for your class in your course site?  Why, or why not?
  12. What sort of organizational structure do you plan to use in your Blackboard course?  (i.e. By chapter, by week, by topic)  Why do you plan to use this structure, and how do you plan to explain this structure to your students?  Do you plan to reflect this structure primarily inside of a single content area, or by using multiple entries on the Course Menu?
  13. If a student doesn’t know what to do in your class, how would they go about getting their questions answered?  How are you informing students of this?  (i.e. written in syllabus, talked about in class)

BbWorld Pre-conference Report – Part 2

July 13, 2010

Well, the remainder of the day was a bit less pedagogic theory, but still highly about the pedagogy.  (That’s not a bad thing, but instead as opposed to “mechanical”, if you take my meaning.)  Basically, after establishing that learning modules are an effective way to chunk down and deliver material, we delved into the types of assignments to use for that delivery.

WebQuests, Virtual Tours, and other such Active Learning assignments were discussed, and some nice examples were included in the handouts I received.  There was also some time spent working with group activities, calling back to the language discussed during the Learning Outcomes period to define the activities.  Since we picked up after lunch everyone was a bit logy, which rather highlighted the point of Active Learning – don’t let the students be passive.  So, I guess my take-away from this was to avoid letting students run on cruise control, but keep them mentally shifting gears during the classwork.

The lessons wrapped up with a discussion on the importance of rubrics, for both the students (knowing what their grade will be based on) and faculty (easily being able to defend the grade given).  A point I raised is that rubrics can also be effective for the instructor to self-evaluate the course material as they create it; after all, if you’ve created all those Learning Outcomes, oughtn’t you to check every step of the way to see if your material is matching up with the outcomes?

The workshop ended with a nice little review, cast into the PowerPoint template of a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? mold.  The review was kinda fun, and I found out that my reflexes are way slower than any other attendee when it comes to popping up a “call on me” card.  Apparently, I don’t want to be a millionaire.

BbWorld Pre-conference Report – Part 1

July 13, 2010

I arrived in Orlando, Florida, yesterday and took care of my registration for the BbWorld conference, because even though the conference doesn’t open until tonight I am spending all day today in a pre-conference workshop.  The session, titled Using Learning Modules to Develop and Deliver Units of Instruction, is supposed to cover techniques for organizing content for consumption by students.

So far I feel a bit out of depth in the workshop.  Everyone else attending (all six others) have teaching experience, including an instructional designer and teacher for the CIA.  (Yes, that’s not a strange coincidence of acronym, she actually educates for the Central Intelligence Agency.)  Their backgrounds in pedagogy make the discussions a bit heady by my standards, but here, as best as I can follow, is what has happened so far today:

We’ve had discussion of different course design techniques, briefly comparing the concept of a sequential-only approach versus a more “open entry” approach in which students may change up the order in which concepts are covered.  Although the sequential model is most common for a typical class environment, I can certainly see some uses for the open entry model, particularly in the Professional Development training that I spend time with.

There has also been some long discussions of designing Learning Objectives, with an emphasis on how to word such objectives so as to make them measurable.  I’m afraid I keep tripping over the terminology of this, as until now I’ve managed to stay blissfully unaware of the minutia of writing SLOs.  After these discussions this morning,  I think I may – for some of the Blackboard training workshops – ask faculty to bring the SLOs for their classes along to the workshops.  The pre-conference workshop facilitators have emphasized that, even once proper learning objectives are written, a common stumbling block is to fail to connect the actual activities done in class by students back to those objectives; likely this afternoon will cover concepts on how to do this well.

During all of this, I am put in mind of what I’d tried to accomplish in August 2009 at the Academic Technology Tech Camp, trying to walk faculty through the process of sequencing material in Blackboard.  The delivery techniques in this workshop today are similar, but the focus on defining why to have students do things based on concrete learning objectives really makes the whole process seem far more important and valid than what I’d done last year.  As with so much of the training I’ve offered, it’s far more about the mechanics than the pedagogy.  With any luck, I can incorporate what I’m learning today into future workshops, and particularly into the one-on-one sessions with faculty, once I get back to the office.