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eLearning Frenzy

eLearning is like a sewer, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.

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Teaching Online

BbWorld15: Drop-In Trainings – A Buffet Approach to Technology Training – Session Blog

Speakers
Christala Smith
Director, Center for Instructional Development & Technology
Southeastern Oklahoma State University


Problem with scheduled training classes is low attendance.

Problem solving:

  • have to attend hour long training for 5 minutes of what they need
  • low attendance at scheduled training classes
  • different expectations
  • Quality delivery mechanisms

Educause Article on Drop-In Training

Wall of different software with handouts for each at the lab.  Go and get the exactly the information you want, right then.  Find experts in tech that wouldn’t mind being available to answer questions for the buffet-style training.

Goals

– Have a Variety of Tools – they come for what they need  (they come wanting to learn thing but end up learning two or more)
– Start: Targeted Training
– Networking Opportunities
– Personalized Hands-on Training
– All Inclusive Technology
– Have food (buffet of tech and buffet of food)

Have floater walking around touching base and asking “Did You Know” questions to direct faculty to appropriate drop-in group.

Have different units there to help with area of expertise:  Trainers, Instructional Designers, Support Desk, Video Team, Web Content specialists, Library etc..)

Send images of software offered in press release and let faculty know that they can think of questions before hand.

Getting the word out:  E-mail, Flyers, Word-of-Mouth

Success:  More served immediately, increased exposure, improve meetings, creating unique solutions, bridge of creativity, positive feedback!

Future:  In Conjunction with faculty symposium, include other trainers/topics, additional space.

BbWorld15: Best Practices for Implementing Blackboard Communities – Session Blog

Speaker
Adam Voyton
Wilmington University

Once you get the license, what do you do with it?  Customize interface to engage students and faculty across your institution.

Customization:

  • Create tabs, sub-tabs, and modules
  • each tab, sub-tab can be configured to appear to users that are assigned to a particular role
  • A module is bascialy a box that can contain: text, video etc..

Primary Roles are Students, faculty, staff.

For tabs or modules that have information relevant to students and or faculty in certain department, we set up college-specific institutional roles.

Student/faculty login has generic content and customized content.  Advertising, Marketing, Student Life

Students: Top layer tab has student services tab – links to student service pages, Jobs for Kats as Top Layer Tab
Faculty: (Faculty services tab – centralizes info that was scattered across website)  My media module (Kaltura)

Subtabs – Tech Support/Resources (support desk hours) (clean up My courses video), Kaltura subtab, My media and faculty repository on it along with self-help for Kaltura.  Blackboard Collaborate  subtab(embed the webpage), Blackboard subtab for IM.

Wilmington uses colleges on Top lvl tabs that contain info that they may want behind a login.  Each of these tabs have subtabs with more info   (question, how do you envision having 6 tabs one for each college).  Tabs to other systems

Things to Keep in mind:

*Tabs don’t open up in new browser tab.
*when embedding content use HTTPS*Have rules and policies for what content can go where (Governance)
*Set up a calendar to manage/schedule the content
*keep MY Courses at top right and announcements at top center

Blackboard Organizations

Bulk of orgs are Academic in nature, a fair amount of student orgs, smaller honor societies and departments.

Come up with and keep up with a naming convention.

Implementing Communities  (Organizations Subtab with “My Organizations” module)  Contains video explaining what orgs are and how they work. Including support documentation.  (Have an org catalog), link to a request form.

3 ways to enroll users into orgs: 

  • Self Enrollment – No level of privacy
  • Manual Enrollment – Leader has complete control, but has to do it all themselves.
  • Automatically adding someone who meets a certain criteria (SIS Based), some people may not want to be enrolled. (come up with un-enrollment process – place a default link in orgs with instructions to e-mail leader etc..) come up with code of conduct link for orgs as well.

Tips to Increase Students Use of Organizations (Require leaders to go to training)

– Make registration process simple
– Put out a press release on ORGS (get the word out)
– Videotaping campus events or use collaborate
– have student representatives talk for them

Online Student Association – Blackboard Org  (Engaging Online Students) – automatically add every student taking an online course.

  • Discussion board of the month – “What can we do to engage our online students at homecoming?”  small giftcard or prize of randomly selected participant
  • Online Student of the Semester – (we can use our ads)  Short little bios, students can apply we can focus on them.
  • Introductions Discussion Board (Networking)
  • Have video and webpage about this organization

Remind your constituencies what Blackboard Communities does for them. Press Releases, videos etc…  Target program chairs about Bb Orgs.

Lessons Learned:

– Get Departmental Involvement
– Dedicate a staff member to serve as community admin- Audit content every year
– People that do not have a Bb Login will not be able to access any content in Orgs

BbWorld15: Leveraging Blackboard to Introduce New Faculty to Essential Technologies – Session Blog

Speakers
Kimberly Evans
Joey Robinson
Reynolds Community College

TTS 101 Orientation to Essential Tech is an online orientation designed to streamline the on-boarding process and acclimate newly hired faculty to various technologies and services.  A collection of modules are housed within Blackboard introducing faculty to the wide range of tech resources they will be expected to use.

Upon hire faculty are automatically enrolled and through Blackboard complete each module.  They will remain enrolled for 1 year.  Once completed, deans and chairs are notified and they receive 1.5 hours of professional development.

Information is distributed at faculty orientations, convocation.

Orientation contains:

  • brief video of objectives
  • self-guided activities
  • self-assessment
  • resources

Each of the modules use adaptive release to move faculty on to the next module when they complete the previous one.

Menu: Possibilities: (Start Here, E-mail, Computer account, SIS, LMS etc..)

Exit survey posted at the end of session to measure effectiveness of orientation.  (It is not mandatory to complete training)

Reynolds looked at helpdesk tickets (Logon Concerns, Email, Software) they all decreased over time with implementation of orientation.

Don’t ask, just congratulate when welcoming.  Not “Would you like to participate?”, but “Congratulations, you’ve been enrolled..”

Course Banners are NOT just for Course Landing Pages

Since the early days of Blackboard and other Learning Management Systems in the field, Course Banners have been a great way to personalize the online or web-enhanced learning environment. Instructors could differentiate any course by starting it out with a graphic or photo of their own choice/making. Course Banners have been used far and wide since then to add flare and personalize the online and blended environment.

Course with Banner ScreenshotFor years, instructors who used Blackboard have been operating under the assumption that a Course Banner could only be used on the landing page of a Blackboard course.  Well guess what?  Course Banners can be placed almost anywhere in an online/web-enhanced course. Check out this before and after photo of a Blackboard content area, in this case Lesson 1:

Before and After - Adding BannersWith just the addition of a few graphics, a theme change and a Banner image, we can add continuity to the course as well as make it more engaging.

How do you do it?

Show Text OnlyFirst, you will want to give yourself more real estate in the Content Area where you will be placing the Course Banner.  You do this by changing your page options to show text only.

  • Ensure your Edit Mode is on.
  • Click the contextual menu next to your page title and select Page Options.
  • Click Show Text Only.

This gives you more space for your graphic to live in the content area where you place it, by removing the icon that shows up next to your content title.

Note: It is also a good idea to make your Course Banners in the subsequent course content areas a little bit smaller. This cuts down on load time as well as screen resolution issues.

Add ImageNext, add/edit a Content Item on your page and add an image to the top.

  • Add/Edit a Content Item.
  • Click the Add Image button.
  • Browse and Attach your Banner.
  • Click Submit.

You will now have a content item with a banner graphic that is placed at the beginning of the content area, folder or module of your choice:

Adjusted Content Item ExampleThis practice will add a layer of continuity and engagement to your course. If your students feel like they are in a familiar place and are engaged while browsing, their satisfaction levels will increase. Consider adding more Course Banners to your online/web-enhanced courses today!

Being Ready for Finals in an Online Course

ReadinessWith finals fast approaching, your students should be dutifully studying up on course materials, completing academic research and course activities that will help them be able to handle the questions and concepts they come across during end-of-semester assessments.   Your course materials have covered topics large and small that will help them make appropriate inferences, connect the dots and generally understand the subject matter they have been interacting with over the course of a semester.

Even when hitting all of your targets academically speaking, your students may have problems when it comes time for finals in an online environment.  We all know that technology failures operate under the “when, not if” principle, but there are strategies and practices that your students can put into place that will help them surmount any obstacle thrown their way.  The following practices will benefit your students when it comes to the end of year exams:

BEFORE STARTING THE EXAM

Power Up!
Plug your laptop into the power outlet unless you are absolutely certain that your laptop has enough battery power to last for the duration of the test.

Tether Up!
If you have the option, turn off your wireless connection and plug your laptop into the nearest available network port or use your desktop computer if available.  Wireless issue can cause your exam to disconnect and your instructor may not be fond of resetting your exam attempt for the umpteenth time.

Go Solo!
Close down any other programs that my distract you from the test or interfere with your network connection.  Having only one active program ensures your computer will be running at its best.

Idle Computers are the Devil’s Playground
Check your laptop idle time to make sure that it will not go into sleep mode prematurely and sabotage your assessment attempt midway through.

Be Up for Pop-Ups!
Disable all pop-up blockers. These blockers come installed in the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox, in third-party toolbars such as Google and Yahoo, and they can come with utility software such the Norton products from Symantec.

Get Patched Up!
Ensure that your laptop has the latest Operating System (e.g., Windows) patches. Automatic updates can disrupt your current browser session or make your laptop very slow.

Are You Compatible?
Use a web browser that is compatible with or certified to work with the current version of your Learning Management System.

Using Special Software?  Practice, Practice, Practice!
If you are using a lockdown browser or special proctoring software, be sure to download and install it BEFORE you take the exam. Your instructor may provide a practice assessment that will let you make sure you are familiar with the special software involved.

DURING THE EXAM

Don’t Get Click Happy!
When beginning the quiz/test, click the quiz link ONLY ONCE and wait at least a minute for the quiz/test to load.. Do not keep clicking on the quiz/test/test link. Clicking on the quiz/test link two or more times may trigger a message saying you already took the quiz/test. If, after clicking once and waiting the full minute nothing happens, contact your instructor or test proctor immediately.

Leave-off of Leaving
Once you have started the quiz, do not leave the quiz/test page for any reason. Using the browser’s back and forward buttons to move to and from the quiz/test will end the quiz prematurely and prevent you from further access until your instructor clears the attempt. If you are permitted to view other online resources during the quiz/test, open a new browser to view them.

Problem?  Reach out and Touch Someone
In case of computer problems during the test notify your instructor as soon as possible. He or she will reset your quiz/exam attempt or authorize a designee to do so. Your instructor may have policies on if they allow you to reattempt the quiz at all.

Sizing it up BEFORE You Begin!
Do not resize or refresh your screen after loading the quiz/test. Make sure the screen is the size you want before going into the quiz/test. Most browsers refresh the page when you resize the screen so the browser will try to reload the quiz/test if you resize/refresh.

Connect With Online Students – Make Feedback Personal

banner-people-connectedOne of the challenges for any online instructor is making students feel a sense of community or connectedness in their online course.  There are multiple strategies that can be put into place to meet this challenge head-on.  Today’s blog post will focus on the feedback the instructor gives in an online course and how it can connect the student more personally with the instructor.

The type of feedback an instructor provides can have a tremendous affect upon the student/instructor dynamic in an online course.  Students who feel like they know their instructor report higher satisfaction levels and tend to be more engaged with the courses they are taking. Conversely, students that don’t sense instructor presence in the course tend to feel less satisfaction and engagement, and that can be reflected in course evaluations.

The following are steps an instructor can take to connect with online students via course feedback:

1. Leave specific feedback.

Be purposeful about leaving feedback that deals specifically with aspects of a student’s submitted work. A side-effect of a good best practice to save time for online instructors is that sometimes generic feedback can be used to a fault. The online instructor can counteract this by leaving specific feedback about the students’ attempt every few assignments.

2.  Use student names when leaving feedback.

Starting assignment feedback with a student’s name immediately personalizes the interaction.  Placing emphasis on the personal before leaving the feedback of the assignment, points to interest on the part of the instructor in the student’s individual attempt. The idea that an instructor cares about student success is vitally important in any course, online or otherwise.

3. Use multimedia to personalize the interaction.

To a student sitting at their workstation/laptop/tablet, a grade or text-based feedback in an online course can seem almost sterile and devoid of the human touch that comes from the professor handing back grades in a face-to-face course.  Luckily, most LMS’s these days come with tools that can make the feedback interaction more personal.  Just the sound of the instructor’s voice will add a personal dimension to the feedback experience.  The addition of video to assignment feedback kicks it up a notch!

Audio Feedback with Blackboard Collaborate Voice AuthoringAt SHSU, Blackboard is the Learning Management System for online, hybrid and web-enhanced course offerings, and it comes equipped with tools that can enhance the feedback experience.  It also interacts well with third party tools and other types of files that can fulfill the same type of need for students.  For example faculty can use the Blackboard Collaborate Voice Authoring Mashup to leave audio feedback directly in the feedback of the assignment.

As a bonus a student is not just limited to hearing the disembodied voice of the online instructor for feedback.  Faculty members can also use the Video Everywhere tool to drop a recorded video into the feedback shown to the student.  The Video Everywhere tool utilizes YouTube to either link to a video uploaded to the instructors YouTube account or record a video at the point of feedback and place it directly.

Using Video Everywhere for FeedbackIf the instructor does not have ready access to a webcam or microphone on their computer, he or she can record a video with their smartphone and upload it to YouTube as an unlisted video, then link to the video with the Video Everywhere tool.  Instructors can also use voice recording apps to attach audio files to feedback for online students.

Personalizing feedback for an online course is an important best practice for any instructor. However, personalizing every feedback entry for every student would take too much time away from grading and other important interactions.  As with all things, moderation is key.  Try provide a few personal interactions for each student, each semester, letting them know that the instructor is committed to their success and is willing to connect with students on a more personal level.

New Semester? Check Your Course Before You Wreck Your Course!

Check your CourseAnother new semester has arrived at my workplace and Alma mater. We are just days(2) away from the start of a the fall 2014 semester. Many of us have moved last fall’s content over or re-purposed course materials from last spring. Copying course content from previous semesters saves us time and effort that we would otherwise spend re-inventing the wheel.

As you prepare to unleash your online course resources to your students via a course in your Learning Management System, you will need to take some things into consideration to ensure a smooth start to the semester.

Here are a few steps you can take to help guaranty a good start for you and your students:

  1. Get your course’s dating life straight. – Content Availability & Due Dates
  2. Take….these Broken Links! – Check Your External Content
  3. Get a second opinion! – Is Your Course Navigable?

Get Your Course’s Dating Life Straight
(Content Availability & Due Dates)

Date AdjustmentNothing can be more frustrating for your students than having an assignment that is due in the syllabus but unavailable in your Blackboard course.  Obviously this is not done on purpose to confuse the students.  Some content from a previous semester could have been date specific and so a new semester needs new availability dates.  Checking your due dates is also an important part of getting your course’s dating life straight.  Not only to ensure that you have days and dates mentioned correctly throughout your course, but you want to ensure you don’t have things due on holidays etc..

This date checking session also provides you with a good opportunity to make changes for the better.  Think back to your previous semester when you taught the course.  Maybe there wasn’t enough time to complete an assignment, or maybe there was too much.  Make changes to this semester’s calendar based upon issues or opportunities from the previous semester.

Blackboard provides a great tool for date management inside your course.  The Date Management tool can be found here: Control panel>Course Tools>Date Management. The tool allows you to change dates based upon:

  • Using the Course Start Date
  • Adjust by number of Days
  • List all Dates for Review

Being aware of your course’s dating life will greatly benefit you and your students.

Take….these Broken Links!
(Check Your External Content)

One of the primary benefits of posting files and content in Blackboard or any Learning Management System is that you can feel very secure in the knowledge that within reason, your content/files will always be accessible.  This is NOT true with links to external content.  Whether you are linking to an Internet article, a YouTube video, a SlideShare presentation or some other external content, you never know when that content might disappear.

This is why it is uber-important for you to check links to external content prior to releasing it to your students.  This means checking prior to the start of the semester as well as just before your students have to use the content.  Ensuring that links to external content work before your students need them will help reduce pain and frustration within your Blackboard course.

Here is a helpful (and funny) eLearning Best Practice music video to help you remember to Take….these Broken Links!

Get a Second Opinion!
(Make Sure Your Students can find Their Away Around)

So, you have dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s.  Your course dates are adjusted and your links have been checked.  You’ve even read through your course and feel pretty good about it. There is another best practice you can use to help ensure success for your students when it comes to your Blackboard course.

Why not have a colleague, a friend even a family member read through course instructions to make sure they make sense?  Unfortunately ‘they’ haven’t invented a pill that conveys all knowledge of how to operate inside a Blackboard course yet so the importance of contextualized mechanical & academic instructions is key for any LMS-based course.  Layering instructions throughout your course will help your students feel like they have way-points to guide them as they move along through their learning journey. 

Your course might make sense to you the twelfth time you’ve read through it, but there might be some obstacles that people who have never seen it before could come across.  So getting a fresh perspective on your course is always a best practice.  Ask a colleague, your instructional designer, a family member, heck even your son or daughter could help in this endeavor. 

These three steps can go a long way toward reducing consternation and frustration for both you and your students as they and you move through your Blackboard course.

The Best Browser for Blackboard Learn

Jacob and his MinionSo last week I went on a trip to visit a very good friend of mine.  He can’t see very well and he is addicted to wearing overalls, but he is a great dancer and is the life of the party wherever we go (especially with the younger set).  Any-who, we were walking down Fremont street together and he asks me a fairly straight forward question.

“Jacob, what is the best browser for Blackboard Learn?”

I smiled back at my friend the minion and told him that was a question we get often at our Technology Support Desk for SHSU Online. We strolled along together while I tried my best to answer his question. Well, my friend the minion liked the answer so much he asked me to share it with you.  So, with this blog post, I shall attempt to do so.

Traditionally our support desk has leaned heavily toward one particular browser, Mozilla Firefox when answering this question.  While I still think that Firefox is probably the best answer from a stability and fails-the-least-with-all-of-Blackboard’s-bells-and-whistles standpoint, the real answer is more nuanced than that.

While visiting with the minion last week in Las Vegas, I had the occasion to make a small side-trip to the Blackboard World 2014 (#BbWorld14 – for those that tweet) conference.  One of the sessions I attended on supporting Blackboard’s user community was put on by the University of Knoxville, Tennessee.  During the session they stated something that we here at SHSU Online always knew, but never put into words:

“The best browser for Blackboard is every browser.”

This zen-like statement on viewing Blackboard via the lens that we call our Internet browser is almost mind-blowing. It seems like something that “the Dude” would have uttered.  If you think about it though, it is true.

Internet browsers are on an accelerated development schedule.   They receive updates sometimes weekly in order to be sure that they are safe & secure to use for netizens across the globe. Blackboard, on the other hand, receives updates officially twice a year for the most part (not counting any cumulative patches your institution decides to apply).  The update disparity here is clear. You can already see where the pain points might happen when a browser is updated as often as they seem to be.  If one browser’s update messes with how you interact with Blackboard Learn, then try another.

Sometimes you may be on a deadline and “It’s my Blackboard and I want it now!”  In this case, just being able to launch another browser rather than making sure you clear your cache, delete your cookies and cleanse any temporary Internet files, makes life easier.

This is why it is important to have a stable of tools you can turn to when the need arises.  For PCs, your browser list for Blackboard should be: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox & Google Chrome.  For Macs: Safari, Mozilla Firefox & Google Chrome.

Blackboard even provides a supported browser list that will work with your particular version of Blackboard Learn.

Well, the minion and I had a great visit.   I also visited a few more of my friends and they too had some questions that might interest you, but I’ll save those for another blog post.

BbWorld14 Session Blog – Bridging the Gap: Supporting Users’ Wide-Ranging Needs in an Ever-Changing Technological Landscape

Murano 3201
Frederick Kelly IT Administrator University of Tennessee Knoxville
Mary Lee Stewart University of Tennessee Knoxville
Rosie Sasso Instructional Technology and Research Support Specialist III, University of Tennessee Knoxville

Background: Knoxville has 1,400 Instructional Faculty, Student Enrollments 27k, Colleges 11, Degree Programs 300+, Course Delivery staff of 5.

Course Delivery Tools: Bb Learn, Bb Collaborate

Bridging the Gap

When You are in Support – Every Day is Different!

We are ambassadors among different groups and people with unique backgrounds and traits with which to synthesize superior support.

Don’t be THAT guy.  – It’s okay to say “I don’t know”, Investigate, Give Users Options

User Real Life examples and practical experiences – even if anecdotal – and then apply them to tech.

– Use analogies, metaphors, and/or similes.  “Like drinking a milkshake through a cocktail straw”
– Computing Systems are like a fingerprint – browsers, operating systems, java, security, MS Office, third party- All users are diverse  (verbal, visual) get to know users and needs

Embracing Change

The only thing constant is change – Heraclitus, Greek philosopher (535 BC – 475 BC)

  • Change is often forced on users, but it’s constant, so roll with it.
    – Know you are a change agent. (Make it as not scarey as possible)
  • Browsers are on accelerated schedule
    – Best browsers for BbLearn? More than one.
    – Your browser is the window for the internet like your windshield is a window to the interstate
  • Sites like Amazon tweak GUIs all the time and no one freaks out.
    – Literal people may view a GUI change as catastrophic
  • Focus on positives from the change.  Yes, things an break, but new features are helpful
  • Find balance between experimentation and frustration.
    – If something looks different play with it.
    – If you’ve got the time to experiment, do.
    – If you start to get angry or frustrated, call support.

“For every ailment under the sun there is a remedy, or there is none; if there be one, try to find it; if there be none, never mind it.”
– W.W Bartley American Philosopher (1934-1990)

Empowering Users

  • Provide cheat sheets, walkthroughs (printable & Postable)
  • Myth: Technology is supposed to make things easier – not true, just different
  • Hold users accountable and foster a sense of personal responsibility. (“let’s schedule a time to get together an set up Grade Center BEFORE next semester.”)
  • Take the Heat when its applicable
    – Know when to say no. Do not be run over.
  • Make a checklist for Instructors to get them started

Fortune favors the brave!  – Publius Terentius After the roman playwright.

Asking Questions

  • What did you do BEFORE BbLearn or BbCollaborate?
    – I hate BB, but I want it to paint my house and do magical things
  • How far did you get?
  • WHY?
  • Would you be willing to try this a different way?
  • Are you interested in learning a potentially more effective way of doing this?
  • Are you willing to come in and meet with us?

Professional Development:

Workshops – F2f, Online, your place or mine? (5 or 6 a month f2f)
Consults – Brief topical – how do I do x with y? one-on-one or group, where can i find? But what about..
Faculty Assist – Detailed, specific need (ID work) Was, Is or Will Be, Across support groupsKnowledge Base – Online constantly updated

Summary –

Offer multiple avenues of support, consistent message.  Be Technical & Practical, Address Expectations, Expect change!!

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