During a workshop later today on the topic of “Building Your Course” in Blackboard, I’m going to cover a segment I refer to as “Can You Hear Me Now?” In this segment we are going to be using the Wimba Voice Authoring tool (which Palomar has been licensing from Wimba for several years, well before they were purchased by Blackboard and rolled into the Collaborate project). The idea is to leave brief audio annotations in line with the rest of the textual content of a course, both to highlight key points and to aid in correct pronunciation of terms by students.
Now, for those purposes, the Wimba Voice Author tool really does work great. The most difficult part in using that tool to create content, as I’ve said on many an occasion, is making sure the microphone is plugged in right.
As I was prepping for the workshop a thought struck me uncommonly strongly though. Using this tool really is making an assumption; specifically the assumption that all the students will be able to hear the recording.
Now, technical barriers are fairly low here. To play back the audio from a Wimba Voice Author component a computer needs to have Java installed (which is no real problem, as it’s freely available online), and have a sound card and speakers or headphones (which, realistically, isn’t a problem either with any recent make of computer). The student also needs to be able to hear.
Just as it is important to provide textual (and therefore screen reader readable) descriptions in the alt text box for any images you use, it is important to ensure your material is not exclusively available to those who can listen to it. Here at Palomar we try to have all video material (when processed by the Academic Technology and Educational Television departments) captioned before it is put online, but that just isn’t practical for an individual instructor’s one-off recorded remarks.
So, although I do heartily encourage use of audio annotation to enhance the materials in a Blackboard course, use it carefully. Try to avoid an assumption of audio, so that should you find a deaf student enrolled in your class you don’t end up having to scramble to provide equivalents to the sound playback.
Today Blackboard announced a new division, Blackboard Collaborate, which is the destination of two new acquisitions with familiar names: Wimba and Elluminate.
From the official Blackboard Collaborate website: “Today, we’ve announced that Elluminate, Wimba, and Blackboard will join forces to bring together the leading technology products for synchronous learning and collaboration – and the minds that created them – in what we hope will be a major step forward to pursue new innovation.” On that site are links to the email sent out to Blackboard clients, as well as oodles of additional information on the fact of the existence of Blackboard Collaborate. The site mentions “Hear more at BbWorld”, which should be nice as I’ll be spending next week attending the BbWorld conference. (Feel free to comment this post with any Blackboard Collaborate-related questions you’d like to have answered!)
Although things are still shaking out on Twitter, it looks like the hashtag to watch for on this topic is #BbCollab.
At any rate, there will be many questions to ask about this conglomeration. One specific concern that seems ignored by all the current information is the role of the Wimba Voice Tools (which is not a synchronous communication tool, and doesn’t fit the “live chat” motif of the LiveClassroom and Elluminate Live! tools) in this bold new future. I’ll be sure and post more about it here, as I discover the answers at BbWorld!
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org or X2862) and we’ll see if we can work something out together.