Cry ‘Havoc’

May 27, 2010

Cry ‘Havoc” and let slip the courses of Summer!

A new semester is upon us, at least those of us who are working over the Summer term.  At this moment there are 830 courses in Palomar’s Summer 2010 term, and many of those will have Blackboard components.  Here are some things to think about, when getting a Blackboard course ready for this new term:

The shells for Summer 2010 courses have been around for about two months now, in accordance with our typical course lifecycle rule of creating the course shell 90 days prior to the start of the semester.  Some faculty have already transferred their materials into those new course shells, but many have not yet.

If you have material in a previous course that you want to also have in the new course, you have two options:  the Copy Course tool, or to do a Course Export and then a Course Import.  There are pros and cons to each technique.

The Copy Course tool has to be initiated from the course with the content, typically this is the older course.  You would tell the Copy Course tool which of your courses is the destination, and check the boxes for what you want to copy over.  However, if you try to copy the Settings for your course (which includes the style of course menu and banner in the Announcements area) you may receive an error.

If you opt for an Export and Import, you would first go into the older course and use the Course Export tool to create an export file, then save the file onto your computer.  You would next go into the new, empty course, and use the Import Package tool to pull the contents of your export file into the new course.  However, if your course contains more than 250 Mb of data, you will be unable to import the file contents.

Regardless of which method, or neither, that you use for porting over materials, there are a couple other things to be sure to do in your new course site.  Particularly, post an Announcement to start off the semester right.  (And, please, make it a new announcement rather than doing a Modify of an old one.  Announcements have the original date posted on them, and it really looks bad to see a June 2010 class start with a January 2006 post.)  Also, of course, none of your students will be able to get into the course site until you have manually made it available to them.

In the Control Panel, under Settings, is the Course Availability control.  It’s a simple Yes/No radio button control, but until and unless an instructor switches things from the default “No” position, students are unable to see any of the contents of the course site.  Some faculty make their course sites available to students well in advance of the start of semester, and use Blackboard as a tool to prepare students to show up at the first class session actually ready to work; others will wait until right at, or even after, the start of the semester before making the course available.  Whichever way you choose, just remember to make the course available before telling your students to go there – our tech support phone rings quite a lot when that step is forgotten.

So, there you have it.  Summer is here, and if you’re not enjoying a nice vacation it is time to be sure your Blackboard course is ready!


Dates and Disasters

April 30, 2010

April has been quite a month for Palomar’s Blackboard system, including two disasters on Thursday, April 8th.  To my amusement the major disaster that ended in ten hours of data loss went by with barely a comment, which the minor disaster that just blocked access to the system for about three hours got a furor of complaints.

May should be quite a month too, with the traditional dates of note for Blackboard courses right around the end of the academic year.

Here’s the bare bones of what was and will be important with Palomar’s Blackboard system:

  • Spring 2010 semester ends on Friday, May 21st.
  • Student access to the semester-length Blackboard courses will end two weeks later, so by Saturday, June 5th most students will no longer be able to access the Spring 2010 course sites.
  • The old Spring 2009 Blackboard courses will be removed from the system on the morning of Tuesday, May 25th.  If you haven’t yet, this would be a good time to archive your old courses.
  • The Fall 2010 Blackboard courses will be created the morning of Friday, May 21st, approximately 90 days before the start of the Fall semester.
  • Thursday, April 8th saw two system disasters take down Palomar’s Blackboard system; neither of these was the fault of the Blackboard software, but were instead classic cases of GIGO.  (That’s “Garbage In, Garbage Out” for those who don’t know that particular acronym.)  All things considered, we recovered from both those disasters pretty well.
  • We are changing the scheduling of Blackboard maintenance in accordance with the unanimous will of responding faculty); now Reboot Wednesday will happen every Wednesday instead of only on the first Wednesday of the month.  Expect regular Blackboard outages each Wednesday between 6 and 7 AM.

That’s pretty much it, although Terry and I found enough to fill over twenty minutes of audio on these topics.


Blackboard: A Class Act

February 11, 2010

This contribution is actually a repost of material from last June, where it was originally a contribution to the ATRC podcast for my segment called “Blackboard Feature of the Week”.  The fact that eight months later I can still remember some of the details from this segment lead me to believe that it might be worth a revisit…  plus, it’s a long weekend so I ran out of week to record something.

Rather than dwell on specific tools in Blackboard, this time I’d like to draw comparisons between several of the options in Blackboard and actual in-classroom functions. If you’re struggling to figure out what Blackboard can do for you, perhaps this will help.

In class it’s useful to get a feel for which students are attending regularly. Most of the time this is done anecdotally by recognizing the students; in Blackboard you can stop by the Performance Dashboard and easily see the last time a student has accessed the course site.

In the classroom, if something out of the ordinary is about to happen, or if something that’s been on the schedule for a while is about to be due, you might write a note on the chalkboard. With the truly important things, you may even want to “DNE” it, so other classes do not erase it. Clearly this is the Announcement tool in Blackboard, even down to the Make Permanent function to “DNE” your information.

The most obvious comparison between Blackboard and classroom functions is with handouts. If you would have material photocopied and passed out in class, you could have it posted as an item in Blackboard. A slightly overlooked option is how Blackboard items also replicate demonstration objects that you might bring into the classroom. If you want your students to see an Asiatic mask, or a monkey skull, or a topographic map of North America, these things could also be displayed in Blackboard. Possibly shooting a digital picture of the item would work, but there are more freely available resources of complexity available online than you might think; perhaps someone has a 3-D model of that monkey skull, probably some governmental department has the maps you need available. If you’re not sure how to get started finding such resources, that’s a pretty legitimate reason to call on Academic Technology for help.

If you do objective tests in class, you likely have your students use a Scantron. If you just can’t limit yourself to “pick A-E for each question” testing, you may have to manually grade objective tests by hand, which is never a fun exercise. Blackboard’s testing module excels at automatically and immediately scoring objective test questions, and may have more question choices than you’d ever believe. Up to twenty possible answers per multiple choice question, matching, ordering, multiple answer, fill in the blank, and even “Where’s Waldo” style Hotspot questions where the student answers by clicking a specific spot on an image are all easily set up in a Blackboard test.

If you ever use blue books, you may want to try instead having students type up their work and submit it via a Blackboard assignment. Imagine never needing to decipher student penmanship again… And if your concern is over limiting the time in which the students are working, just have the papers typed up in a monitored environment, either by bringing the whole class into a computer lab for that class session, or by having laptops rolled out to your classroom for students to use during the class session. Of course a fully online class would just want to assume all writing assignments are open book anyway, but an on-campus class would not need to.

If your students are ever invited to talk about class material during class sessions, then using the Blackboard Discussion Board could be a good idea. Just set up a forum, possibly seed it with some questions, then tell the students to “talk amongst yourselves.” Just because students post to the forum doesn’t make it uncontrolled; there are options to have moderated discussions, and you could even allow some trusted students to moderate in your place. If you just want to facilitate student discussion without making it a normal part of class, just set up a forum and let students know they can post there for any extra things they wish to discuss.

Do you show PowerPoint Presentations in the classroom? Do you lecture? Likely you do, and Blackboard has a variety of ways to make this material available to students. Use the Elluminate tool to have a live presentation online with your students, and record that so the student who missed can at least see what went on. Or, record a solo session, where you run through your presentation similar to what you might do in a lecture hall, then let the students watch that recording and post questions to a discussion board. Even if you already have all your material available in a written format, you could still make little audio snippets using the Wimba Voice Tools to accompany the written material, verbally drawing student attention to the most vital material or correcting the common misperceptions that your experience in the classroom tells you at least someone will have.

With the tools in Blackboard it is possible to replicate many of the features of a classroom environment over the Internet. However, it is even more possible to closely tie Blackboard features into an on-campus class, and offer a richness to the flow of a semester that could help your students to succeed. If there’s something you are doing in the classroom, and you’re interested in seeing if you can develop an online aid or equivalent, give us in Academic Technology a call (onlineclasses@palomar.edu or X2862) and we’ll see if we can work something out together.


Getting Your Bb Course Ready

January 14, 2010

It’s the start of a new semester (and the start of a new decade, for that matter), and Chris Norcross and David Gray discuss some reminders and tips for faculty who are getting their Blackboard courses ready for students to use.

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Make the course available to students
  • How to confirm that Tests will work
  • Ensure that External Links still function
  • Sync up the roster to ensure that SafeAssignments will not have errors

Chris also wants faculty to pass to to the students: “Do not use a wireless network connection when taking an online test.”